Friday, February 2, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance Mechanics - Alignment & Charisma, Reactions & Loyalty

Anyone familiar with the history of RPGs and their mechanics are familiar with the dual oddities of Alignment and Charisma. 

The former exists as an outgrowth of wargames (which side of the battle are you aligned with) that was codified into game fantasy based in significant part on Pohl Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions where Law (organization, works of the forge and the mason, Christianity and other things chivalric) was the bulwark against chaos (capricious and dark magic from the faerie realms that destroyed humanity's bodies, minds, and souls), to the 3x3 grid of law and chaos, good and evil that indicated not just which side you fight for, but how you lived and thought... in D&D anyway. Most other games long since gave it up as this weird restrictive thing. 

The latter grew out of there needing to be a basic attribute that governed Henchmen/Hirelings - how many could you have, how loyal were they - because hiring NPC companions was a big part of early D&D resource management. Extrapolation said that if you were strong or weak at that you could also influence the randomly determined first contact interaction with creatures in the dungeon: a good roll means you're not fighting those goblins, you're breaking bread and trading maps with them. As RPGs moved from Old School emergent play into Story Game narrative play, both of those uses faded away and Charisma became just how charming you were, and your odds of fast talking the goblins. 

So here we are in 1982 Villains & Vigilantes, which has decidedly old school uses for both. 

  • Alignment: You're either Good or you're Evil. Only non-sentient creatures are Neutral. And if you're a PC you're Good because your first Character in V&V is based on you, the player. Quoth the rulebook "If any GM has in his group a player who could be truly classified as Evil, we should only wonder why that player should be allowed to participate at all." [For the record, I adore PC super heroes based on players, but it won't work for NS:R so it goes.]  But what does this mean? There's only one place in the rulebook where Alignment matters, and that's in reaction modifiers, which are powered by Charisma. 
  • Charisma: in V&V this basic attribute tries to do everything - it is 
    • the player characters personal aura (ability to win friends and influence people),
    • how strongly their behavior ties to their Alignment, and 
    • eventually how well known their public image is 
    • As an aside it is also the strength of your emotional psyche, as it is what you save against to resist Emotion Control. (you charisma your way out of emotional control, bit you intelligence your way our of mind control). Having a higher or lower charisma than your attack also effects your chance to be hit by either mind or emotion control in the first place. 
    • For Neutral aligned creatures, their Charisma is their Ferocity, and the higher it is the more likely they are to attack. That is just... damn strange. I mean, OK, they're animals and can't sweet talk you, but... this takes some time to wrap your brain around. 

Characters such as Superman and Captain America have a very high Charisma score because they possess all three of these in abundance. Characters like Batman and Daredevil? Welllll... That gets tricky

The design of V&V assumes that the PCs are Avengers/Fantastic Four/Justice League style heroes. They are "the Good Guys" and the risk of Charisma loss for acting outside of the framework of "Good Guys" is, and that framework is clearly laid out in The Superhero Code in chapter 6, but it's all about striving to be a hero ala Superman or Captain America. V&V as writ does not have room for anti-heroes. In fact, one of the Weaknesses a PC can have is "Prejudice: the stubborn refusal by ones own allies to recognize the character as being on the same side" and all of the characters Reactions are negative. Spider-Man and the X-Men are still striving to be heroes, but because of their Prejudice weakness they can't take credit for their actions, accept rewards, etc. because people always think the worst of them. (Individual characters can overcome this with a d% save vs. their Intelligence.) 

Wow are there a lot of assumptions to unpack in that, which we will tackle later in a post on Rewards and Experience.

At the end of Combat chapter, there are charts for reactions, loyalty and morale. I am posting the first two here for clarity and morale is discussed tomorrow

These so very, very, old school:

  • The charts are tools for the GM if no clear course presents itself.
  • They are entirely GM facing - PCs never have to make reaction rolls to people, or check morale. This matters in that high Charisma in villains does not matter against the PCs mechanically except in terms of Mind/Emotion Control in combat and for the calculation of reward money.  
  • The chart is interestingly iterative: your Charisma modifier for reactions only matters on the first encounter. The GM should record the next reaction modifier for an encounter between the PC and that NPC. 
    • This means the Prejudice weakness mechanically only applies to the first interaction; since this is an aid for the GM, they are within their rights to continue to hose you for the weakness - as they should - but it does allow for rare die rolls to get the PC an enthusiastic ally or two. 
  • Reaction feeds into Loyalty: There are absolutely no rules for henchmen or hirelings elsewhere in the book aside from how Villains with the Prejudice weakness indicates "villains will be forced to operate without flunkies or backing from a criminal organization". This is something that the GM is just supposed to know happens from reading comics or watching the 1966 Batman TV show. 
    • There are clear rules for how loyal the individual henchman will be, making space for the treacherous flunky to serving the villain amongst the stalwart enthusiasts. It's easily space for a GM Mini-game of the loyalty of various villainous henchman, which for the purposes of NS:R is GREAT. 
    • High Charisma villains, while they cannot manipulate the PCs, should have larger and larger circles of henchmen. Doctor Doom controls a country on his High Charisma. Cobra leads the entire Cobra Cult. Some sort of rule for maximum number of henchmen and hirelings would be helpful. 
    • I have never in my 40 years of running this game seen PCs try to recruit henchmen with these rules. The Pet/Animated Servant powers are very often abstracted to make kid sidekicks and support organizations, but for the latter they shouldn't need to
      • Of course money and resources get into play. More on that later. 
      • Players who want those things as an iconic part of their characters seldom want to build these from scratch, or go through the mini-game of maintaining them. V&V gives them some space to do so, though, which is fascinating
      • However the game lacks the rules for PCs to build bases, locate support staff, etc. that the contemporaneous D&D games had as part of their PCs endgames. Champions has some of these at this point (2nd edition is out in '82) but very much not in the Old School style, being point spends by the PC.
So where does this land us in terms of Alignment and Charisma in the NS:R setting?
  • Alignment is very rigid in terms of the superhero code an the implied moral fiber of the rest of the world. In terms of this setting we need a code for Unaligned - people who have not yet been corrupted by the city, but also just keeping their heads down trying to survive - and how the high Charisma characters can sway them to align with one side or the other. 
  • Charisma's ability to influence first reactions, and the whole concept of recruiting staff and tracking loyalty, should be emphasized more. Maybe the inclusion of an Unaligned category will help put some framework on Charisma being your ability to win friends and influence people, about which the game has no mechanics past that first reaction roll.
Obviously I'm deep down an unexpected rabbit hole here. More to come. 

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