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[TSoY] Stealing from the best: Alternative rules for group actions

Started by oliof, March 01, 2007, 04:27:10 PM

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I am just enjoying the read of the Esoterrorists, and since obviously I have a lot of TSoY on my mind right now, the rules for group actions sprang in my sight since I read some criticism about the rules in TSoY (which I personally have no problem with).

So, there are two variants: A group wants to benefit from a leader in a combined action (called piggybacking), and a group wants to work together (called cooperation). Adding something like piggybacking might help with people who see a problem with the normal gestalt rules in cases where a lot of highly skilled people have to rely on the weak link to succeed, only getting some bonus dice.

So, here are my two first selfmade secrets to emulate piggybacking. If you want this to be available to each and all characters, just use this as a general rule.

Secret of the Commander: Your character has been trained or is born to lead people. If you make a simple ability check or lead a group in a contest, the result of your roll is the result for all you lead. Cost: All that want to benefit from the leader's ability check have to spend a point from the related pool. If they cannot spend the point, they get 1 level harm in that pool AND the leader gets a penalty die. Prerequisite: Competent Level in the Ability used.

Secret of the Crewman: You don't cause a penalty die if you benefit from the ability check of a character with the Secret of the Commander. You still suffer one level of harm, though.

I am unsure what to do about the Secret of the Commander in BDtP, though. Leave at it is? Treat it like a supplementary action? Forbid outright?

Clinton R. Nixon


This seems pretty tight. I would let it be used as-is in Bringing Down the Pain, although I'd want to playtest that first.

- Clinton
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

Eero Tuovinen

I don't think that I've translated the group action rules from the Finnish edition, so let me just lay them out here for comparison. I've found that this set of rules for BDtP works pretty well:

Quote from: The Finnish version of the rulesSeveral characters in BDtP

If more than two characters want to enter BDtP, the goals of the participants are compared: if several characters have the same exact goals, they are considered to be of one party. In principle this means that they act as one character in BDtP. The grouping is voluntary, and the players may decide to not team up despite the same goals.

The effects of having a team

Common checks: the group gets only one action each round. The group decides in the free-and-clear who uses the action. Other members of the group may support with Ability checks, or run Defensive Actions for the whole group.

Common Pools: group members may use the Pools of other members to support their checks.

Common Harm: Harm is distributed in the group among the members. If the members can't arrive in agreement, the active member suffers the Harm.

Multipolar Conflict

If there are three or more groups/characters in BDtP, the conflict is multipolar. Each group names a specific other group as their primary target, which suffers all Harm caused by the group. The target may be switched by changing goals. The conflict ends only when just one group remains.

If several groups have chosen the same group as their target, the actions of the target group/character may be perpendicular, parallel or non-affecting independently towards each opponent, depending on the exact action. Sometimes a character cannot defend against all opponents at once. Even a defensive action will not necessarily protect completely if two opponents come at the character in completely different venues of attack, like physical and social at the same time.

Some notes

Sometimes a character comes into BDtP in the middle, or groupings change during the conflict. This is not a problem, just make sure that the separating or newly arriving character declares target and goal in the next free-and-clear phase. If the goal is identical with a group, the character joins that group.

If a character changes goals, he drops out of his group. Because the new goal is declared at the beginning of the next phase, the character is outside all groups for one round when he changes goals.

A character may never return to BDtP after giving up.

Perhaps the most important difference from the English version is that I've removed the explicitness of the Zeitgeist method and made it a default part of the resolution. Another important difference is that the group chooses among themselves which one will be the main roller for the group; this is important for the SIS (as that character leads the effort for the round) and for balance compared to splitting the group. A third important difference is that the group may have several defensive actions. This is important when balancing the separate vs. group methods of resolution, as otherwise the group would be vulnerable to simultaneous attacks from different venues.

There's also some other minor features, including some more robust definitions for being in/out of conflict, joining in the middle and such, but they're just fiddling with the basic concept.

Anyway, that's mainly background for considering Harald's Secrets, here. From where I'm coming from the Secret of the Commander is slightly underpowered. Here's how I'd do it:

Secret of the Commander
The character is capable of seizing command. When multiple characters are in conflict on the same side, activate this Secret to reorder the remaining check queue of the group, regardless of order of Ability use in the fiction or comparative Ability levels. Activate the Secret before your own roll. Cost: 1 Instinct.

My version has three benefits, as I see it:
- It enables a fun interaction in the SIS for arguing about leadership, because two characters could conseivably go into a bidding war to determine who gets to be the leader and whose plan (with its attending check queue) will be followed.
- It functions whether Abilities used are similar or not, and whether the Secret is used in BDtP or not, and whether the character himself actually has the strongest Ability or not. (The BDtP thing would only be necessary in my version of BDtP to override the group consensus, as the group can determine their check queue in free-and-clear anyway.)
- It's stronger. Multiple Pool spends and Harm levels are a bit much for a benefit that's only really equivalent to a couple of bonus dice in a rare situation (this being the case because the strongest member of the group could as well go to the conflict alone to ensure that the highest Ability rank got used). Besides, there's no rules-based reason for a character to pay just because they want to benefit from another character's check; the character in conflict chooses who benefits from his victory when the stakes are determined. Thus the crew doesn't really need to pay anything to benefit from their leader's victory, assuming that the victory is what they are all seeking in the first place.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Eero: The harm level is only if you can't or won't spend the pool points involved. My commander effectively is able to bring a group of people somewhere where they'd have a hard time to go themselves. Imagine a group secretly entering a building to look for an artifact that needs to be activated. Now, our student of three-corner-magic has mastered three foci, but is bad at sneaky stuff. A commander good at sneaking could take him in. This would cost the magic user a pool point, or a level harm. Not too shabby in my book.

That said, your rules seem more flexible, and adhering to the spirit of the idea that a group effort should be more effective than people acting independently.

Eero Tuovinen

I'll try to clarify my basic point: in the situation you describe, per the rules as written, requiring a separate Secret for being able to use your Ability to another character's benefit curtails Ability use severely. Consider these stakes:
- I sneak into the building without the enemy seeing me.
- I sneak my whole party into the building without the enemy seeing us.
Sneaking is a bit bad Ability example, actually, because the Ability description could be interpreted like it could only ever be used to benefit one person. Still, depending on the description of the situation, I could see the master thief distracting the guards to let their compatriots sneak in. At least that's how they do it in movies. Anyway, this ambivalency is not true for most Abilities, let's look at Praying:
- I pray for myself.
- I pray for my family.
I'd say that requiring a Secret for doing the latter seems somewhat weird. Or, Counseling:
- I make myself feel better.
- I make my friend feel better.

What's more, let's say that the group wants to be strict about Ability limits in this regard, and wants a series of Secrets that focus on being able to use your Abilities to benefit others. My reaction to that would be to design the Secrets per Ability or situation, because different Abilities, naturally enough, have different scopes. Some situations and Abilities allow others to benefit quite naturally, while others don't. Here's an example Ability from an actual game about a year ago:

The Thermopylae Mind
The character may fight a whole army in conflict, alone. The stakes may involve things such as halting their advance or protecting a strongpoint, for example. Cost: 2 Vigor per scene.

The above Secret only makes sense in the context it was developed in: for the purposes of that one game we determined that "armies win" would be the default mode; a single martial artist, no matter how skilled, would be encircled and exhausted by any significantly larger group of men. The singular fighter could not hope to set stakes (ie. get into conflict) against such a group, at least any stakes concerned with anything more than his own welfare and eventual escape. The natural progression for TSOY in that situation is that somebody wants a Secret that allows exactly that, of course.

But as you can see, that Secret is dependent on the Ability and stakes context. As most Abilities may be used in most situations to benefit others (especially a small, named group of others), and when they can't it is always a function of the plausibility of the situation, I see little need for a Secret that overrides those limits for all Abilities indiscriminately. For some Abilities and situations it's useless, for others it borders on strange.

That said, here's how I'd phrase it if I wanted to loan Abilities to others:

Secret of the Consultant
The character may work in close cooperation with another to loan one Ability to or from the other character for one Ability check. The pair has to know what the situation will be; the consultation fizzles at the end of the session if not used, but otherwise it activates when the prescribed situation comes along. The consultant makes the Ability check for the client character. A character may have several consultations on him at once. If consultation would cause one character to support himself with the same Ability, the Ability is checked only once. Cost: 1 Pool point from Ability-appropriate Pool, payable by either the consultant or the client.

So if a group was uncertain about whether Sneaking could be used to sneak a whole group of people somewhere, that's what I'd use to allow the consulting sneaker to roll for everybody. Seems somewhat more sensible for the fictional content, and usable for a wider range of situations, too, as you can use this to train assassins or political speakers as well...
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.