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[TSOY] commanding NPCs via an ability

Started by xjermx, July 02, 2007, 05:15:56 PM

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This may not be the first time this flavor of question has been asked, but I couldn't locate its twin, so -

It occurred to me to have an ability called Command(R), that a player can use to Command some small - or large - groups of underlings.  In a game I'm running, it would be appropriate for a character to have a small group of no more than a dozen arms-men, that would have no mechanical bearing.  This would allow her though, in conflict, to ask for stakes creation that dealt with her sending her soldiers into battle, or otherwise achieving her goals.  I intend for it to be used right alongside everyone else - mechanically, I don't want there to be any real difference between what she is doing with Command, than what the next player/character is doing with Swordwork or Scrapping. 

I just wonder if anyone has tried this with any success or failure, or if anyone sees a large hole in my plan?  Assuming that all of the players are bought in, and everyone is cool with one of the characters leading a squad of semi-existent NPCs, should this work as advertised?    The only hole that I've discovered so far is regarding BDtP - I like Eero's translation regarding Sides in BDtP - shared Harm and Action and so forth.  I guess I'd just need to assume that since they're played equal to all other abilities, and the "soldiers" provide no more or less benefit to her than a "sword" does to our Swordwork guy, that BDtP would work for her exactly the same as it would for everyone else.

Eero Tuovinen

Sounds fine to me, we do that kind of thing all the time. To be exact, though, I'd differentiate between two conditions:
- This character has the posture and charisma for command. He can command underlings. This is an ability, usually Command(I), and may be used in conflicts where the character just happens to have a sizable group of underlings to coordinate.
- This character has ensured underlings the SG doesn't mess with without conflict declaration. This is a Secret, usually something like Secret of Office, that ensures that the character has some underlings to boss around when he needs them.

My point above is that having the ability to command and having somebody to actually command are different things in my games. This allows the commanding officer to be ousted from command, say, and switch sides, and go on commanding a completely new group of underlings. If you assume that the very fact of having the ability to command implies having underlings, then you end up in a situation where you're forbidden to separate the character from his underlings - the underlings are an implied part of the Ability, and you can't just tell a guy that he can't use his Ability because you say so, he's entitled to a conflict over it. So better make it clear that the Ability doesn't alone ensure that the character can actually use it all the time.

Also, there's the fact that having a group of underlings to boss around is practically pretty powerful. That's why I pretty much require a Secret in addition to an Ability if somebody really wants to ensure that he has underlings on a permanent basis. They can, after all, be used to do almost anything.

Considering the above, this is the "default" set of crunch I offer to anybody wanting to be a leader of men:

Command (Instinct)
The character is used to the burden of leadership. The ability can be used to train, lead and keep order within a body of men under the command of the character on a permanent basis. Penalty dice may be applied for an improvised grouping of men, men operating outside their comfort zone, or adverse morale conditions, for example. Characters directed under this Ability are not considered participants in any conflict they feature in; possible fatalities or other adverse conditions directed at the men may be contested as a separate conflict that has no bearing on the original situation.

Secret of Office (office)
The character has an office with an organization. This comes with social respect and whatever other perks the setting implies, including a group of reasonably loyal underlings. The underlings do as they are told in routine situations or when the character uses Command (I) (opposed by Resist(R) in extreme situations); if the character wants his underlings to use their own resources, separate negotiations are required. The character regains an Advance if the office is lost.

A careful reading tells us that a character with the Command ability above works very much like you outlined - his NPC followers do not participate in conflict as anything but color. However, this is only the case when he is using Command (I) in a conflict. In any situation that is directed directly at his men, the men act as characters on their own right. The PC could even decide situationally to not use Command, so as to get to use the Pools and Abilities of his men. However, as written, this will require the men, played by the SG, to specifically accede to the additional risk.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Forgive me if I'm being dense here, but isn't this already what the existing Battle ability does? Does that ability not exist in TSOY 2nd ed? So, yes, something like your Command suggestions work perfectly with the way that TSOY is written.

Eero's suggestions about how and when to handle soldiers/lackeys as independent entities with their own pools and abilities (a la the Resist roll he suggests) is exactly how we handle this and related situations in the games I've run and played in, and it tends to work fine. My only suggestion is that the Secret of Office seems like a needless Secret if you assume that an ability like Battle or Command works the way it should. My philosophy (and I assumed one integral to TSOY as written) is that you shouldn't really need a Secret to make an Ability do the thing it does, any more than you should have to buy a Secret to own a sword once you have the Dueling ability or a Secret which affords you paint and an easel if you have the Create ability.

How we tend to do things like Eero's Secret of Office is to provide the player who has such a Secret (which can represent, say, a faithful sidekick, a gang of thugs, the crew of a sailing vessel, or even a fierce animal companion) a bonus die on the Command/Battle/what-have-you ability check. Assume that normally the character with said ability has to muster forces from whatever is around him, and just makes a standard Command/Battle check; the benefit of the Secret is knowing that they're always standing at the ready when you need them, and well-trained/faithful enough that they afford you a bonus die.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)


Some examples, from my point of view:

Battle is for commanding fighting troops, but it also is for the analysis of battle ground, enemy forces etc. It is a general's (or an officer's) skill.

Command is for commanding people. This might be a ship's crew, or a group of civilans you want to get out of trouble. it is a captain's or mayor's skill.

As with a lot of skills in TSoY, there is some overlap between those two, which I generally don't see as a bad thing.


Overlap is definitely a good thing, and I definitely wasn't trying to edge out the creation of a new Ability. After all, there's plenty of overlap in what Dueling, Scrapping, Bash and Hold, Infantry, Guerilla Warfare, and a few other abilities can do, and its never a problem.

Far from trying to undermine the usefulness of a "Command" ability, I just wanted to assure xjermx that what he was attempting with "Command" was well within the bounds of reason for TSOY, so he needn't worry that there any "holes in his plan."

Along the same lines, we have a sea-faring culture in our homebrew game of TSOY with a Captain ability, and it works the same way that I described above, a variation of Eero's use of Command/Secret of Office. Its the traditional ability we call for in most ship-to-ship combat, as well, so its worked well as the seaborne variant of Battle, with some nice perks of providing nautical knowledge and such, so there's incentive to go for it if you're playing that type of character. (Its also the ability used to raise a ship's crew, even by press-ganging, though we haven't really seen it used for that very much yet). And we've had plenty of opportunities to see the use for a Secret of the First Mate or Secret of the Hearty Crew providing a bonus die on those checks, or letting you use them "remotely" while you are physically somewhere else, but still acting through your designees.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)


Josh, it's nice to see we agree. This also gives nice insight into how "mooks" or "unworthy opponents" can be handled.

Eero Tuovinen

A clarification for Josh: in my games, having an Ability does not ensure that you have the tools for using the Ability. That is a separate matter, which is resolved according to setting, situation and group expectations. One of the most typical ways of confounding an enemy in TSOY, after all, is to mold the field of battle in such a way as to make it impossible or difficult for him to use his best Abilities. If I burn the forest down, my enemy cannot hide there to use his Panther Style; if I steal his sword, he cannot use his Swordfighting; if I bring down the king's wrath upon him, perhaps he cannot use the king's guardsmen against me.

This is where the separate Secret comes in, it's a player's way of telling the group what kind of interaction he wants for that facet of his character. If the fact that the character has underlings is coincidental and under the jurisprudence of the SG, then no Secret is obviously needed. But if the player wants to always have the opportunity to use his underlings, then he needs a Secret to do it. In other words: the player has to pay for privilege, and having a constant supply of servants certainly is such a privilege, much more so than having a sword or horse.

But that's just my game, mind; it's part and parcel of how the Advance economy of TSOY works that individual groups assign their own valuations for different facets of the fiction. In our games social positions have traditionally been Secrets, because they're a big deal for us and we want to bring them into the game as part of the mechanics. In some other game I could well imagine that the very same captain of the king's guard would work fine with just some suitable Abilities.

Regardless, considering Xjermx's dilemma, the main point of importance is to decide how to handle the NPCs so that they won't really become too powerful as a tool. My answer would be to make them cost one extra Advance in the form of a Secret, being that they're so much more versatile than a sword or a horse (and cooler too). Also, decide beforehand how you're going to handle a situation where the NPCs would be using their own Harm gauges, Pools and Abilities; my answer would be that it could be done, but the PC would have to get the NPC to cooperate via the usual methods (the situation is such that the underling wants to do it, or the PC wins in a social conflict to browbeat him to it) to get him to agree to do something like that.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.



I see where you're coming from on that one, and it makes sense. I, too, create situations wherein characters are (for example) thrown in prison and stripped of their weapons and goodies, forcing them to improvise and come up with clever solutions, or face penalties on the appropriate checks (Dueling to square off against armed guards with only a chair leg to use for a weapon, or a penalty die on the Theft check to pick a lock with no tools but what you can scrounge up). All of which works in the same way as your denuding the forest example, to keep someone's Panther-Style or Guerilla Warfare from being viable.

On the other hand, those tend to stand out as the abberation scenarios for me, as I suspect they do for you, as well-- the default assumption is that characters are geared appropriately, and that its up to other characters (whether player- or Storyguide-controlled) to devise scenarios which disenfranchise their opponents enough to cost them the default access to gear. I do like the Secrets you suggest in those situations, and I agree with your assessment that they're a "season to taste" aspect of the game. The "Secret of my sword is always with me" suggestion from the thread seems stylish, though a bit costly. However, I can imagine writing the same sort of thing for a Secret of Gear for a technician character who always wanted to have tools and tinkering devices available to use his Complex Crafts skills, even in the barren wasteland, so it probably is very much a subjective kind of thing (my biases towards one ability manifesting themselves in a decidedly un-TSOY kind of way, where things tend to be more equal).

As to how I'd run with the bonuses, in case anyone's interested, I'd let a character attempt to raise a small militia from local troops who are already assumed to follow him through a Battle/Command check. If he were attempting to do the same thing with the untrained peasantry, there might be one, or more, penalty dice on the check. If he had a Secret of Lackeys (or some other appropriate Secret, indicating his rank or a standing army ready to follow him), there'd be either a bonus die on this check, or an assumption that this check wouldn't even be necessary, and we could speed directly to whatever battle he's raising them for, in which case he'd keep receiving that bonus die on his Battle/Command checks to have them fight other armies.

One element which we've touched but not entirely resolved is how to handle that one-vs-many effect which can come up in these situations. For instance, if X has his militia in place and is bringing them down on a foe using his Command ability, and Y is retaliating with his Spear-fighting ability, should X receive a bonus die for sheer size of forces? I'm tempted to say "no" for fairness' sake, with the following caveats:

  • if he has the Secret of Station/Secret of Lackeys/what have you, and appropriate dice bonuses are afforded by the Secret's writeup
  • if one wanted to use a Command ability check to martial forces, then treat the Success Level, or whatever mechanism TSOY 2nd ed uses (forgive me, showing my biases here), as bonus dice for future checks, a la the Secret of Blessing; once spent, they're gone. This represents a group which has temporarily been brought together to complete a task, but who runs out of resolve and things go badly for them, or they tire out

-shadowcourt (aka josh)