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Author Topic: Special Damage Less Lethal  (Read 5639 times)
Frank Tarcikowski
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« on: February 24, 2008, 12:32:27 PM »

Okay, so in my group I've got four players with demons of power 6-9 and each has special damage (lethal). There's also lots of armor and protection around. If I want to give them real opponents (which I want to), they will also have these powers. Thing is: Special damage lethal does X + power lasting damage. And armor and protection only reduce X, right? But as long as X is at least 1, with a power of 9, that's 10 lasting damage which means exitus. It's kinda too binary for my taste.

So I've been thinking about just switching the lines in the chart: 2X lasting and X + power to the next action. Watcha think about this?

- Frank
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angelfromanotherpin
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« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2008, 01:08:30 PM »

Howdy Frank,

First, Armor does not reduce only the margin of success as you imply, but affects the entirety of the incoming penalties after damage has been calculated, to a minimum of what the attack would have done if it were Fists: 1 lasting and (margin-of-success) temporary.

Second, remember that Demons can choose not to use their full Power for any ability.  So if the demon wants to toy with an enemy, or watch their bound Sorcerer sweat, they can turn down the gain as much or little as they want.

Third, I think it's a mistake to look at Sorcerer like it was Champions, with everyone having to have roughly equal damage classes and defenses to compete.  It's also a mistake to say about any NPC: 'I want this guy to be real hard to take down.'  That's just going to lead to frustration, because the rules don't support it.

In my experience, the way to put the pressure on players with access to Special Damage: Lethal, and Armor isn't through throwing bigger numbers at them, but through the Demon relationship.  If they keep using those abilities, they'll keep having to feed the Demon's Need, and they'll become dependent, and then the Demon starts toying with them, withholding help at crucial junctures, and so on and so on. 

Remember that you don't get to pick what the conflicts are or who they're with.  In Sorcerer, you have to be ready for when the players decide that the necromancer trying to conquer the world has a sweet gig and try to sign up as lieutenants. 
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-My real name is Jules

"Now that we know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, how do we determine how many angels are dancing, at a given time, on the head of a given pin?"
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2008, 02:06:20 AM »

Hey Jules, yes, I use the demon relationship and all that, I just also want some nasty combat (and my players want it, too). Please trust my judgement on that one. Letís focus on the mechanical issue.

I donít have the book here right now, so I canít look up what it says about armor. This is how I thought it works:

Letís say my demon attacks yours and yours attacks back. They both have stamina 8. We roll, you are faster. I abort to defend, but still donít beat your attack. Letís say we use d10s and youíve got a 10 and a 9, and Iíve only got an 8. Youíve got special damage (lethal). But my demonís got armor, so I roll his power of 9 in addition. I get two 10s and a 9. So overall, I beat you and there is no damage done: My demonís armor has protected it from the blow.

Here is how I think you say it works:

Again, my defence roll gets me only an 8, youíve got a 9 and a 10. Thus X = 2, your demonís power is 9, this means 2 + 9 = 11 lasting damage. Ouch. My demonís got armor, so I roll his power of 9 in addition and get two 10s and a 9. Two 10s cancel out, leaves me with a 10 and you with a 9, so thatís one success in my favor, so instead of 11 lasting damage, itís 10 lasting damage.

Am I reading you correctly? Because that makes armor, uh, pretty useless agains special damage (lethal)Ö

Also, yesterday in the heat of battle I tried to look up the rules on character death and couldnít find them in the book, can anybody point me toward them? Especially, how much damage can a sorcerer take and still pull off the will trick? Canít be indefinite, can it?

- Frank
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angelfromanotherpin
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Posts: 135


« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2008, 07:13:40 AM »

As far as I know, Armor isn't rolled, except to see if it can be 'raised up' before an attack goes off.  Once it's up, though, it's usually up for the duration of a fight, and it functions like this:

Again, my defence roll gets me only an 8, youíve got a 9 and a 10. Thus X = 2, your demonís power is 9, this means 2 + 9 = 11 lasting damage. Ouch. My demonís got armor, so subtract his power of 9 from 11 and get 2 lasting penalties (this can't reduce incoming lasting penalties below 1, which is what the attack would do if it had been made with Fists).  For temporary penalties, there are (2X) = 4 incoming, and I subtract 9 from those as well, except that it can't be reduced below the damage that would be done by a Fists attack, which is the original margin of success, which is 2.

So characters with significant chunks of Armor are usually taking very close to Fists damage.

Quote
Also, yesterday in the heat of battle I tried to look up the rules on character death and couldnít find them in the book, can anybody point me toward them? Especially, how much damage can a sorcerer take and still pull off the will trick? Canít be indefinite, can it?

On the Will thing, the cutoff point is penalties greater than twice the Sorcerer's Stamina (pg 108).  On the death thing, there was a whole thread, much earlier on the site, about how the issue was not explicitly laid out, but in the table on page 109, it says that after combat (and after lasting penalties have been halved) if a character still has more than twice their Stamina in lasting penalties, they need intensive care.  What is not spelled out is '...or they will die, and soon.'

Oop, found it!  Here's that earlier thread: Death, Combat Sorcery and Punishment
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-My real name is Jules

"Now that we know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, how do we determine how many angels are dancing, at a given time, on the head of a given pin?"
"What if angels from another pin engaged them in melee combat?"
Frank Tarcikowski
Member

Posts: 387

a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2008, 07:28:25 AM »

Damn, I think I mixed up "armor" and "big"! My bad. I'm going to look it up at home, but your example sounds much more sensible than mine. Thanks!

- Frank
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angelfromanotherpin
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« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2008, 07:59:37 AM »

You're welcome.  On a side note, I should mention that in my experience Special Damage: Lethal is for suckers (and assassins).  Nasty fights come when the participants use Confuse and Hold, with Perception and/or Shadow as set-up. 
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-My real name is Jules

"Now that we know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, how do we determine how many angels are dancing, at a given time, on the head of a given pin?"
"What if angels from another pin engaged them in melee combat?"
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2008, 08:31:50 AM »

Jules answered everything! Many thanks - I really appreciate the skill and clarity.

Happy fighting, Frank. Are you interested in discussing the larger issue of high-damage, high combat Sorcerer, and how that relates to characters and Kickers?

Best, Ron
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angelfromanotherpin
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« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2008, 09:39:24 AM »

If Frank isn't, I am.
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-My real name is Jules

"Now that we know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, how do we determine how many angels are dancing, at a given time, on the head of a given pin?"
"What if angels from another pin engaged them in melee combat?"
Frank Tarcikowski
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Posts: 387

a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2008, 12:41:19 PM »

Me, too!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2008, 11:27:56 AM »

Hi everyone,

Finally, I nabbed a bit of time for this.

Quote
the larger issue of high-damage, high combat Sorcerer, and how that relates to characters and Kickers

I've noticed that some ideas about how Sorcerer plays have crept into dialogue about the game, but they are often not quite right. I've also had a hard time dealing with those, including on the thread you linked to, Jules, because when you're answering person A, it's hard to handle some nuance of what person B says in relation to A.

I think that character death in Sorcerer has to be considered in relationship to a given Kicker and its resolution. Basically, I see it as a subroutine to the Big Four Outcomes, a very extreme one because it means, unlike the usual resolution for a Kicker, that the character is no longer available for a new Kicker (exception: time-shifting play in Sorcerer & Sword). Usually, at the Kicker's resolution, one chooses whether to write a new one or to say, "this guy's story is done." If he died, though, then the Kicker may be considered resolved right at that time, and that's the end of all stories for this person.

So the question is, what does a character's death mean in terms of a Kicker? I think it's like taking one of those four outcomes (whichever applies) and underscoring it very, very hard. Entering into lethal circumstances means accepting the possibility that such a thing can happen - that one's Kicker may be resolved instantly and slightly unpredictably, with a possible "you failed to get what you want" built into it in many cases. In which case, the choices become, more or less, "complied with your demons and didn't get what you want," and "defied your demon(s) and didn't get what you want."

It's actually quite similar to hitting Humanity 0, in that sense, which is the other way to resolve a Kicker instantly.

That reasoning is what led me to the current design for the game, which underwent many changes during playtesting to get to where it is. Death had to be possible, but I wanted characters to be functional and interesting for a long time when they were near death, or had come close to it, via the mechanics. My primary conceptual basis for the rules was not based on some aversion to killing characters, but rather that I really loved that "space" of being hurt and still going (perhaps more effectively rather than less) as the primary arena for playing Sorcerer at all. Characters in that space make all the best and most interesting decisions about their demons, about Binding, and about anything else. I also wanted brushes with death to be relatively easily moved past, once their immediate circumstances were over. I ended up taking that almost directly from Over the Edge, in which damage was halved once the dangerous circumstances were over; Hero Wars did something very similar too.

In writing all this, I spent so much time refining and simplifying the necessary mechanics for characters in that stage - i.e. they had taken damage but were still up and running, with the extreme case being recovery from 0 Stamina - that I really didn't find an optimal way to articulate how a character might actually be tipped over into the "dead" end of the spectrum. It's clear to me now that "needs intensive care" isn't strong enough, as prose. My own experiences and habits of play, in the groups I was used to, led me to think that group consensus would kill a character in that situation if we simply panned our collective camera away from him or her as they lay there bleeding. Not all groups/readers share those experiences and habits.

Also, I did want a final out (or rather, back in) for a character at the far end of the mechanical outcomes, such that if we wanted them to live, and if there were any imaginable in-game justification for receiving intensive care, then they could. Nor do I think this was a bad concept, as I still value it today for this game. One reason why is that sometimes, clearly, character death will not help or suddenly resolve a Kicker, but will simply be a classic bummer character death that ruins play. Or at least that was my thinking at the time. Does that mean the mechanics wimp out? My current thinking preserves my liking for this rule and I hope I can explain why in the next part.

OK, let's start with the current text and the possible impression that it gives, of having one's cake and eating it too. Kicker resolution is the core of Sorcerer, and character death can be a big factor in that resolution, so characters can die in Sorcerer. But they can live if we want them to? Yes, but in-game circumstances play a big role in whether they "must" die or not. Wait, aren't in-game circumstances the same thing as GM fiat? And so on, and on, we can go back and forth and 'round and 'round about this all day. People partly-inaccurately say that it only kills characters "if the player agrees," or similar phrases which rightly make others suspicious, as it's iffy and subject to social pressure. Apparently Sorcerer chokes and is some kind of pansy game that pretends to kill characters but doesn't, or promises it won't kill characters but does, or whatever.

Here's the way to break out of that cycle of confusion, and fortunately the logic is familiar because it plays a major role in resolving complex actions in Sorcerer like most combat. You've seen this before. It all depends on what was established in that scene, at that time, as the context for the actions and conflicts. As I keep saying, and which people only really understand once they've been through a few games, Sorcerer resolution and narration is very contingent on things that were narrated or established earlier in play - often which were not presented with any intention of being so important later. That's the key concept, I think, that keeps judgments about "is intensive care available" away from GM fiat. That question should not be answered by whether the GM suddenly invents a team of paramedics who dash in from off-screen; it should instead be answered by checking around all the details and circumstances of that particular location in the setting. Given all that, is intensive care available? That question can usually be answered without controversy.

I'm still working out how to explain and discuss this issue (geez! eight years after the rules for it were finalized), so all questions and comments are welcome.

Now for the next issue: how does this relate to playing combat-specialized characters, whether NPC or PC, which itself is a way of saying, playing Sorcerer with a lot of combat? What we're really asking is whether the mechanical death-circumstances can be arrived at quickly, and if so, how that can be kept from sabotaging Kickers rather than making their resolutions more extreme.

Well, that's clearly bound up with the characters themselves. If you're going to play this way, then make up a player-character who already lives in the shadow of death and knows that its claws might close upon him or her at any time. Choosing the right descriptors matters a lot for this purpose. However, it is not as simple as it sounds! A lot of role-players make up bad-ass warrior characters and assume that, by doing so, they are entitled to characters who won't die. Think of the typical Wolverine clone character and you'll see what I mean.

The same goes for choices about demons, to a lesser but still significant extent. Making up a demon which provides some personal protection or a single capability to harm is one thing; making up a savage slaughterer with carefully-chosen optimized death-abilities is another. And as a related point, it also applies to choices about a character's habitual use of weapons, ranging from none all the way to keeping a bazooka in one's car trunk.

It's also bound up with the Kickers in question, whether explicitly in the Kicker itself or equally explicitly in the character's immediate response to it during play. By entering into or even forcing violence into the circumstances of play, it's like an invitation to that deathly-resolution. Much like choosing to begin with a high-Power demon is an invitation to Humanity-0-resolution.

To play this way, one should understand the demon abilities very, very well. Armor, as demonstrated already in this thread, can keep a character from being instantly killed, but it does not protect him or her from being defeated. A lot of victories will knock the snot out of the character, Armor or no Armor, even if it's just for one action - that can mean a lot if it's followed up by another lethal hit. Armor and Protection are also defined relatively carefully when making the demon, too - some attacks will simply ignore one or the other or both. Vitality offers no protection against initial damage, although it usually permits a character to live through otherwise-lethal harm, there's a window in the middle during which someone might come along and deliver lethal damage.

As you can see, there are no demon abilities that act like protection in most RPGs - nothing allows a character to ignore damage in any generalized way. That's on purpose and has been a feature of the game since its earliest drafts. To play high-combat high-damage Sorcerer, the group should understand that character survival is not a matter of choosing abilities or other character details that will layer on more and more protection. It's about choosing fights carefully: with whom, when, about what, and where. It's also about helping one another during fights, utilizing penalties inflicted by one person as a means to ensure a second hit by another. And finally, as I keep saying, it's about embracing that particular possible outcome of a given combat situation as a valid resolution for one's Kicker.

Let me know what you think!

Best, Ron
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lumpley
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« Reply #10 on: February 29, 2008, 08:49:09 PM »

...Sorcerer resolution and narration is very contingent on things that were narrated or established earlier in play - often which were not presented with any intention of being so important later. That's the key concept, I think, that keeps judgments about "is intensive care available" away from GM fiat. That question should not be answered by whether the GM suddenly invents a team of paramedics who dash in from off-screen; it should instead be answered by checking around all the details and circumstances of that particular location in the setting. Given all that, is intensive care available? That question can usually be answered without controversy.

I'm still working out how to explain and discuss this issue (geez! eight years after the rules for it were finalized), so all questions and comments are welcome.
Ralph and I were just arguing about this same thing in Poison'd. I think it's a big deal. I think that confusion over "that question can usually be answered without controversy" is kind of a current problem, actually.

-Vincent
(Not much substance to that comment, but there it is.)
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2008, 07:16:47 AM »

I think that confusion over "that question can usually be answered without controversy" is kind of a current problem, actually.

Which is kinda confusing in itself, at least to me. Ron, for what it's worth, "needs intensive care or else will die" would have been all the clarification I would have needed. I think your reasoning makes perfect sense and will serve our play style very well. Thanks for taking the time to explain it.

With the group I have, all of whom haven't read the rules themselves, I'm still in the process of teaching them the subtleties of the rules and they are still in the process of figuring out how to use those rules to their advantage. I'm pretty content with how the two sessions so far went and I'm confident we're getting somewhere. The more I learn about this game, the more I appreciate it. Also, all the hot chicks like it.

- Frank
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