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Dogs mechanics, action-adventure, and lethality

Started by zornwil, June 13, 2007, 06:53:17 PM

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Warning - long post.

First, we are really digging Dogs a lot.  So much so, that we are expanding it into "traditional" action-adventure realms, as it well-complements the kinds of social interactions/conflcits we have as a group, including intra-PC confflicts, and the mechanics allow a level of detail as well as lack thereof that seems to suit us quite well.  We're still early in branching out from the traditional Dogs themes, but so far so good.  Certainly, I appreciate the argument that in so doing we're "breaking" the system...but hope to concentrate in this thread on what we're doing to make it work, and work well. 

One thing in traditional action-adventure is that hails of gunfire and so on may e common and different genra (we play different games, anywhere from one-offs to serial campaigns) have different needs in how lethality interacts with player choices.  Although in some games you want traditional Dogs level of lethality versus stakes, in others you want a more liberal approach, encouraging PCs to take greater risks.  There's lots of ways to do this - some simple ones are just to reduce the Fallout d-types accordingly.  But there's other aspects in terms of the flow of the game and how players deal with the Fallout knowledge and how medical follow-up conflicts occur and what they do with the flow of the game.  For example, in using Dogs for a weird conspiracy/semi-supernatural espionage game, in which there were 4 major violent conflicts along the way (not including various non-violent intra-PC conflicts and the like), we had some sort of medical follow-up in each conflict.  Now, to be fair, some of this is all the players learning that Giving is not a dirty word, and with more Experience Body rolls are more and more likely to make these follow-ups unnecessary.  But, still, Dogs (rightfully, for its initial goals) makes going against lethal stuff scary, and we only want that to a lesser degree in action-adventure (unless of course that action-adventure is like Full Metal Jacket or something, in which case it's fine as is).  Other than this, the system is working fantastic as is, with one other exception when intending to run a long serial/soap opera campaign, but I'll put that into a different thread.

So below are the tweaks we are going to be playtesting.  If it's okay with the mod (assuming he's reading this far into it, hi, Vincent), I'll come back and post the results here later, which means the thread will bump much later - I realize in general the Forge does not like thread necromancy, but I saw Vincent state elsewhere he was reasonably okay with it in this forum.  But of course if not acceptable, I'll glady start a new thread, just let me know.

Okay, all that said, here are the tweaks we're putting in to manage lethality in our various games, with an example of using the tweak for our weird conspiracy/semi-supernatural espionage game (called Disavowed after a brief comic book that more or less inspired it, along with Hellboy and some other influences):

Predictable Action Switch:
     - Turned on, this means that PCs have a much better grasp on how damage is affecting them.  Each time Fallout is taken, roll the dice for it IMMEDIATELY.  Do NOT take the actual Fallout yet, but record or otherwise maintain the dice results somewhere so that you know the result and can enact Fallout results after the Conflict.  This Switch is recommended for all action-adventure games where PC survivability is specifically intended/desired.  It is not appropriate for judgement games because it dilutes the issue of what one is willing to give, and is not appropriate for high-lethality games (such as a
traditional Lovecraftian game or a gritty military game where death is all around and the PCs should be particularly realistic in their concerns of gunfire and so on)

Deferred Follow-Up Conflicts Switch:
     - This allows games to have fewer medical conflicts where guns are flying and so on.  It can be used especially for Rambo-type games or other games where PCs are expected to soak up a lot of damage and complete the mission; when mixed with the Lethality Dial and Lethality Timing Switch, it is a powerful tool to control the flow of the game and PC reactions to potentially lethal damage.  When turned on, the player may choose to NOT engage a  medical follow-up conflict when called for by Fallout to see if the PC survives.  Instead, the PC may continue on BUT the dice against him for Fallout must be
recorded and if the PC suffers more Fallout, these are ADDED to any Fallout not yet resolved by a life-or-death conflict.  This Fallout piles up until the life-or-death conflict occurs, which may occur at any time at PC option - including the very end of the session/town/situation/episode/mission.

Lethality Dial:
     - This manages how lethal the RPG really is.  For long-running 4-color supers or high fantasy games, for example, death is extremely rare and generally detested by players. There are 4 Dial Settings:

         - Grim-n-Gritty:  this is the traditional Dogs' setting.  A 20 kills you, period.  12 to 15 rolls against BODY to see if a life-or-death conflict occurs.  16 to 19 necessitates a life-or-death conflict.  Guns and other dangerous things (explosions, for example) are set at the normal d10 level of Fallout.

         - Near-Realistic:  this allows guns and lethal damage to be limited.  Take into account that any appropriate defenses might blunt guns or the like, and define (broadly, with player consent) the types of damage that occurs versus types of defenses.  For example, in a game where platemail armor is important, that may reduce sword and arrow damage from d8 to d6.  In a modern game, flak jackets and the like may be considered to mitigate bullet
damage from d10 to d8.  In a superhero game, superheroes with any sort of amazing invincibility might be considered to never take greater than d8 except for specialized "killing attacks" (e.g., Wolverine's claws or the like), which would be defined as special Traits or Belongings but would not be found as opportune objects in the mundane environment.  Be careful not to set defenses/weapons so that certain PC types are "screwed" relative to others; generally, PCs should be equally able to avail themselves of lessening lethality, and it is also going to be easier to manage with default assumptions about what PCs have on them.  Of course, being caught with one's pants down, literally, will present still-dangerous situations against normally-lethal force.  Otherwise, the Fallout and d-types occur normally.

         - Cinematic:  our protagonists MIGHT die but aren't really expected to.  Invoke the rule for the Near-Realistic option, above.  A 20 does not indicate immediate death, it functions the same as a 16 or better, but as an option, if the Deferred Follow-Up Conflicts Switch is set to "on," a 20 may instead
necessitate an immediate medical conflict, i.e., "he's dying, we gotta do something NOW!" - this must be decided before game play begins, not per-case or mid-game (this can be referred to as the "20 Now Switch").  For a 12-15 result in Fallout, no medical follow-up is required.  For a 16 or better, it is, but 16-19 is allowed to have an actual BODY check as is done in the normal Dogs game for 12-15, but also roll and ADD to the highest 3d6 of BODY the HIGHEST die of rolling any SINGLE Trait related to survival or defense; if equal or better, no follow-up conflict is required.  For example, a character has taken a 16.  He rolls his 6d6 BODY, and his 3 best are 14.  He rolls his Trait, "I am invincible 3d10".  His highest roll on 3d10 is a 5, so 14+5 = 19, better than the 16 damage.  This makes it fairly hard, but possible, to die - it encourages players to risk their PCs and get shot up.  (Comment - not sure yet if this will be too wussy, may need to be dialed up a bit)

         - Non-lethal:  this is the setting where PCs simply aren't intended to die.  Use the Cinematic option, above, but the follow-up conflict should be altered to not necessarily be medical but be in the spirit of whatever game type.  For example, a supers game might see a PC being lost into another dimension
whereas a sci-fi game might see the character locked into a stasis chamber until he can be healed.  If the follow-up conflict is lost, the next session should be all about how to bring the PC back, IF the player wants that.  If the player prefers, of course, he can retire the PC in a blaze of glory. (NB - Dogs
already has rules on replacing PCs with a new PC immediately - so new character generation is rapid and you don't lose any power - this allows people to remake characters when they like and can manage a "radiation accident" as well, which is why this is mentioned here, for such as superhero games where you want to have your PC radically change after some horrible event)

Lethality Timing Switch:
     - Turned on, this simply allows that any death result is deferred until the end of the session/story.  The PC should have some sort of Fallout reflecting that he is, literally, a "dead man walking."  Obviously, this PC will tend to soak up any and all damage as he has nothing to lose.  If there is a desire to temper this (especially considering it may happen early in the scenario), invoke a rule that a second death result puts the character out of commission; this will mean the PC will tend to save up his soaking damage for the last, final conflict, often Giving if he takes any damage until then - as appropriate!

For the Disavowed game I mentioned above, and to demonstrate how these might be set for an action-adventure game, we are looking at the following (still waiting on the last player or two's comments/input/acceptance):
    Predictable Action Switch On
    Deferred Follow-Up Conflicts Switch On
    Lethality Dial - Near-Realistic (this is probably the one that is debatable, waiting to hear from the players on this), with kevlar vests and the like minimizing bullet/similar damage from d10 to d8; if we do go with Cinematic instead, I am h oping we'll keep the "20 Now Switch On" (a 20 in Fallout means a necessary, immediate follow-up life-or-death conflict)
    Lethality Timing Switch On (Second Death Result Option = Immediate Death

Comments invited, please!  Especially if you are using Dogs for action/adventure and have dealt with lethailty in other ways.
- Wilson


Filip Luszczyk

zornwil (what's your name, btw?),

I think DitV is a great system to use for action oriented game, although the overall town structure might not always fit well, and some houseruling might be in place. Basically, I prefer DitV to Wushu as it provides a nice level of detail and structures the conflicts in a cool way. Currently, I plan to run either Exalted (or something vaguely Exalted-ish) or maybe Black Lagoon using DitV mechanics in the near future.

I've never really seen a problem with DitV's lethality, however, as it's not possible for the character to die without player's choice and even if the death occurs, it's always possible to set the death scene at a dramatically appropriate later time. That said your variants look rather decent, mostly.

Predictable Action Switch is the one I don't like, as it looks bothersome.

Deferred Follow-Up Conflicts Switch is pure coolness on the other hand, especially that it provides a nice trade-off between survival and development.

As for lethality dials, there would be an additional Deadly Setting for the variant used in Afraid. The default DitV method seems rather cinematic to me already, anyway.

Near-realistic seems interesting, but tricky in implementation. I suppose you'd need a whole lot of additional rules that would clarify how exactly things work in what situations for it to function well. Also, I wouldn't really see it without all the characters having the protection by default. How would it be decided that the character is caught with his pants down, however? Handled without care this variant could invite a survival paranoia to the table, I suppose.

Cinematic - similarly, there's no reason not to have a high rated Trait connected to survival. Or, no reason not to try stretching one's best Trait to being applicable. This might or might not be a problem, depending on the approach.

Non-lethal - sounds good. Once, I've been considering what changes would be needed in a school drama game, and I figured out mechanical death could just as well equal being expelled from school or emotionally broken.

Your observation about the replacement rules and "radiation" accidents is dead-on. I'd even go further and propose a variant in which there is no death on the story level, but mechanical death is handled as normal - only always equals some kind of transformation (i.e. you reasign the dice on the sheet and add the bonus d6s as per normal death, but it's essentailly still the same character). E.g. the player could define his character's concept, and when the rules say the character dies, he would decides between death and transformation - "Defender of the Elven Kingdom" could become "Slave-Prince of the Darklands" in consequence of the conflict, or the like.

Anyway, I think there are two additional ways to handle lethality.

First, unless I'm wrong "say yes or roll the dice" applies to first aid conflicts as normal, so apart from "natural 20" on Fallout Sum it's up to the group whether to accept the possibility of PC death.

Second, the arenas of conflict can always be redefined to better fit the genre. Examine Afraid with its separate Combat and Murder arenas, only the latter being potentially outright deadly. So, in a cinematic action game Body + Will could be used for Fight and Acuity + Will for, say, Revenge (or reserved "boss level" confrontations, or whatever). In my Exalted conversion, I planned to use the d10 arena exclusively for mass combat and sorcery, so that the protagonist could die outright only facing hordes of enemies or powerful supernatural forces.


I'm Wilson, sorry, I'm just used to "zornwil" from another board, long story.

Thanks again for feedback.  Do you mind saying a little more about the bothersome aspect of the Predictable setting?  I could guess - but might be wrong!

I feel like with Near-Realistic it's not so much an issue - it actually is the notion that PCs will pretty much always have the appropriate reasonable defenses against what is the mundane sort of damage of their setting (in modern games, often guns).  It would be situations like being caught and put in a trap or the like where we can easily see they don't have that protection.  As to rules, I think it can be a Dog-ism in that the play group can decide easily enough - I guess we will see by testing.  There need to be some guidelines if this were set out there for just anyone to use, but even then I think/hope play experience will bear out that such guidelines wouldn't be onerous.  But I appreciate your note, it's legitimate and I think you're right to say to at least handle with care - duly noted!

Re Cinematic, I am concerned it will be just too easy, will have to see with play.  Please note the point is that people will typically select some high Trait deliberately for this, I'm positive.  We'll have to see.  On this one I'm with you as to concern (I probably wouldn't have paid enough attention to your Near-Lethality concern had you not voiced it), and will just have to observe. 

As to arenas, I understand/agree as to redefining them.  I have run an Office Dogs game with them set as Just Talking, Bureaucratic Wrangling, Power Struggle, and Your Job is on the Line.  I won't get into the details here more than that.  I  think that, again, it's something that will depend more on the genre of action - in a supers game, bullets and all that stuff isn't going to be the d10 level, even for "human supers".

I think underlying your point on lethality and the perception of it is really important point on play styles and how groups differ.  I've seen too many players sucked into the "this is too important, I'm staying in."  Some of that is inexperience with Dogs, granted.  But some of it will depend on groups, too, plus how grabby or aggressive the GM makes the situation.  I tend to push hard, frankly (which is funny, as in traditional RPGs I was the opposite, at least in terms of anything that pushed the players to making PC life-or-death decisions!).  That said, please bear in mind one thing I want to avoid is what I've also seen too much, which is throwing 3d10 Fallout and getting a 14 or such and blowing the BODY and then you've got a follow-up conflict.  In an action-adventure game (IMHO) that isn't so gritty, this shouldn't happen much at all, and players should be somewhat less pushed than in straight Dogs to make that choice.  Although I still want them to realize there's time to Give, get in the prison, and succeed (hopefully/presumably) from there.

Thanks very much for tipping me off to include the Afraid lethality.  I've only glanced through Afraid, sort of cherry-picking, and haven't yet intended anything directly for it.  I will definitely look at and incorporate - that will be a must for CoC type sessions. 
- Wilson


To Filip - regarding your comment on Afraid's Lethality level - one thing I noticed is that it actually is more streamlined AND less lethal potentially to the PC in the 12-15 range, or, rather, it introduces a tougher choice, at least, as you have to lose something or take a first aid conflict.  Unlike in Dogs, you can't end up in a life-or-death conflict at all on a 12-15 unless you choose to explicitly (as opposed to risking it on die rolls).  Otherwise, as you cite, it's bloodier as well as extended,given the d8 Fallout versus a PC.  I'll no doubt incorporate this but not yet sure if verbatim (which begs a difference to the "standard" lethality to just ignore 12-15 across the board, perhaps) or tweaked.  But I do have mixed feelings about Dog's standard 12-15 possible death scenarios, even if rather unlikely, and Afraid might highlight that it's really not as productive, or, at least, that having the player choose a First Aid risk OR really lose something makes sense. 
- Wilson

Filip Luszczyk

QuoteDo you mind saying a little more about the bothersome aspect of the Predictable setting?  I could guess - but might be wrong!

Well, the players would have to break the normal conflict flow to roll the dice and record the Fallout results, while normally you deal with it in one big roll at the very end of the conclict. Sounds like some needless bookkeeping to me.

Also, now that I think about it, knowing the results of Fallout rolls before the end of the conflict might be problematic sometimes. Say, you roll 16 or close on your Xd8 immediate Fallout. At this point you know that you can soak any amounts of d4, d6 and d8 Fallout till the end of the conflict with no further risk (it can't get worse), and you actually want to do it until you roll 1.


They don't have to really keep records, just throw the dice and put them to the side.

Great point about the knowing it can't get worse, thanks.
- Wilson