Monday, October 20, 2014

Qualities of Qualties

As I discussed last Friday I'm going to be stripping down the skills, advantages and drawbacks system from my first attempt to a set of qualities that are mostly player defined and, for the major qualities, have large penumbras of what they can be used for in play.

Penumbras are a wonder piece of gaming technology - I first started using them, though no one had a term for them yet - in Villains & Vigilantes, where characters have "Backgrounds" such as "Science" or "Business" that the GM and player are able to interpret. In my case having a relevant background meant that you could or could not make inventing rolls, or that saving throws against your stats to do or know certain things went from d% down to d20, or that you could reach out to contacts in those areas. One player realized how useful these were and had his PC (who was a mish mash of powers) undergo a radiation accident that cost him his powers to be replaced with more logical devices _plus_ a whole bunch of Backgrounds that his 'character based on player' didn't have through highly advanced training. His PC suddenly became the very effective scientist/secret agent of the group.

Anyway, I like moving to this - the freeform element of Penumbras fits the table more. we can interpret things more loosely as befits the genre and there's no looking around on the character sheet for the right skill.

As for disadvantages I limited the players to two and made it clear that some of them are Flags. A disadvantage is a straight up mechanical penalty: "my PC is emotionally insecure and suffers a -2 on interaction rolls under X circumstances". Flags are asking the GM outright to give you spotlight time in these ways, and at this much of a penalty, which as GM is pure gold. It tells me the players want to have these sorts of enemies, these sorts of problems, and will engage with them when they hit the table. There isn't a frequency component (otherwise the lure of more spotlight time would be too great) but the point value is based on how far the player wants to start in the hole - when this happens, how bad is it? How many miracles will I have to work to make it out with everything I started with? I think it will work well.

By limiting the players to two disadvantages some things that were disads before aren't now: Nadia is missing an eye, but the mechanics of having to take her decent Perception stat + her high Notice skill + her Situational Awareness bonus - her Diminished Vision was just clunky. Plus it didn't fit for Nadia, who as the badass spy should be seeing things. So we ditched it as a disad. She's still missing an eye, but now rather than being a mechanical penalty it's the explanation for any failure: If Nadia does miss something it's because it came in through her blind spot. If she doesn't miss an ambush and gets off the first shot it's because she tricked someone to coming in at her blind spot when she saw them coming. The missing eye is now color that explains how her failures and successes are more cool rather than a simple penalty. Again, I think that's a much better construction.