Trouble is a Good Thing

The first rule of the game is this: we’re in this to have fun. This is a pastime, a hobby.

And what’s fun, in an RPG? Encountering challenges, and overcoming them.

There’s a deep dungeon, full of traps and monsters. Raid it. There’s a mob boss, trying to put the squeeze on honest shopkeepers. Bring him down. There’s a starship, tumbling from orbit, a dozen doomed passengers aboard. Rescue them.

There’s a term for all these challenges: TroubleTrouble Fuels the Action. Trouble makes the game interesting. Trouble provides the challenges you must overcome.

The entire point of the game is player characters getting into Trouble and finding their way out. It’s why the game is exciting and fun.

Trouble is a good thing. When offered a chance to get into Trouble, take it. Choose five Difficulties. Play the Subplot card. Poke your nose in where it doesn’t belong.

That’s what makes the game fun: landing face-first in a big pile of Trouble, fighting your way out, and winning. Outlast it, convert it, defeat it: it doesn’t matter how you win.

What matters is that Trouble will find you, and that’s a good thing.

[Some more advice to players on how to get into the spirit of Destiny.]

Destiny: Playing the Game

Destiny is an Action-Movie RPG, and the player characters are action movie heroes. This means one thing above all: Expect Trouble.

The character’s Hindrances are Trouble, Doubles are Trouble, Disasters, Mishaps, and Complications are Trouble, Failing at a Challenge means Trouble. There are bad guys galore, all enemies of the PC’s, and they are most certainly Trouble.

What will save the character’s life are his skills, his ingenuity (the part the player is responsible for), and his Luck. Action Points are Lucky, Destiny Deck cards are Lucky, and Spectacular Success is Lucky.

Between his Luck and his Trouble, a character’s life can get very interesting. (In a strictly “Chinese curse” kind of way.) Which makes for fun and involving play, which is why we play the game.

[Part of the “System at a Glance” Chapter of the 0.2a release, intended to introduce players to the mechanics of the game (or, in this case, the expected style of play).]

Use Failure to Fuel the Action

[A sidebar on Failure, from the in-progress 0.2a release of the Destiny Gaming System.]

In most games, the default assumption for Failure is that the character doesn’t succeed, and nothing else happens. Sometimes, this is what Failure should mean. But not all the time. Especially not in an action-movie game.

Action movies are about excitement and fun. Things should be happening. And that won’t occur if most Failures bring the adventure to a grinding halt.

Instead of nothing happening, Failure can mean that something happens (just not something good):

  • Consequences for failing (bad things happen).
  • Success (1 SR), but at a price (loss of resources, injury, offending a friend).
  • Success that causes problems (immediately or later).

The gamemaster has the authority to decide what Failure means. And, as much as possible, it should offer new avenues of action.

Example: A character is looking for a rare piece of gear (using the streetwise skill). Failure can mean he doesn’t find it. Period. 

But it can also mean he finds it, but it’s owned by an enemy or the Mob. Maybe obtaining it obligates the party in detrimental ways. Maybe he has to buy it illegally or steal it. Maybe he has to do someone a favor to get it (now or later). Even better if the favor involves noticeable risk to himself or the party.

All of these problems represent Failure, but in ways that fuel the action.

As much as possible, Failure should drive the adventure forward. It should introduce new complexities, new challenges, new opportunities.

Failure should Fuel the Action.

Destiny FAQ Part III: Gettin’ Lucky

[More questions about the current mechanics, answered with explanations and snippets of new rules.]

Doubles are Trouble

Q. So “Doubles are Trouble”. Where is the corresponding good luck?

A. Here’s the design principle: Bad luck is random, good luck is player invoked.

Bad luck? Determined by the dice. While good luck is in the hands of the players, in the form of Action Points and Destiny Deck cards. (Rules for the deck aren’t finished, so this isn’t apparent.)

So the counterpart of a Disaster or Mishap is the Destiny Deck. The many cards of the Deck represent fortunate happenstance, such as finding an important clue, getting a hint to a mystery, or locating just the piece of equipment you needed. The players control when this happens (if they have the card).

One card, Lucky Break, deals explicitly with Disasters and Mishaps. The Aid portion of the Lucky Break card can cancel either a Disaster or a Mishap. The Injure half can inflict a Disaster or Mishap on an enemy, with a successful enough Combat Interaction skill check.

I think it’s better for players to be able to have control over when something lucky happens, it makes such events more useful in the game. “I needed it, and I got it!”

Disasters and Mishaps are random and capricious, and that fits their nature as well. They are, and should be, “Oh, crap!” moments that come out of the blue.

Thomas Stephens, one of the playtesters, suggested a “lucky failure” mechanic, where even if you failed, you got something out of it. I like this, in part because it happens in movies and novels and in part because it happens in real life. (Edison has a famous quote about it, Abraham Lincoln’s life evinces this, and so forth.)

To implement this, here is the Insightful Failure card.

Aid

Play this card on a Skill or Combat Challenge, and explain how a previous Failure gives your character an insight into this situation. Gain a +3 to the Total.

Injure

Play this card against any enemy who has attacked you (with Combat, Skill, or Power) and failed. They suffer a -3 penalty to this attack.

Action Points

Q. Can you earn Action Points?

A. Yes, in three main ways. Troubles are Character Traits that represent potential problems for your Character. Addictions, enemies, dependents, anything that might cause complications during a session can be Trouble.

The GM can trigger Trouble whenever they feel it would be apt or interesting. When they do, the character gains an Action Point.

The Subplot card, from the Destiny Deck, offers adventure-specific Trouble. Perhaps your character has fallen for the wrong person, or the wrong person fell for you. Perhaps they’ve been mistaken for someone else. Or perhaps an enemy has fixated on them specifically. Whatever happens, it’s Trouble and you gain an Action point when the GM triggers the Subplot.

Last is the “Disastrous Failure” rule. Any time your character fails at a Challenge, the GM can trigger a Disaster. (They should do this when it’s interesting or would drive the action of a session forward.) You gain an Action Point for the Disaster.

As an example, suppose you’re working the street, trying to locate an enemy. A Failure means you come up dry. Roll Doubles and Fail, and a Disaster occurs — the enemy hears about your inquiries and comes looking for you. If the GM wishes, they can trigger such a Disaster, and give the player an Action Point for the Trouble about to descend.

(As development continues, this list might be expanded.)

[There are still unanswered questions, so look for FAQ Part IV in the near future.]

Destiny Rules FAQ 2: Combat Edition

[Some more questions about the “whys?” of the game mechanics. These questions mostly arose in play, because of small rules that were necessary for play, but hadn’t previously appeared as part of the Destiny Game Mechanics series or in the 0.1a Rules pdf.]

Melee Weapons

Q1. Does Strength really add twice to melee attacks?

A1. Sort of. Sometimes. And pretty much on purpose.

Your Attack Rating is Skill + Damage. Power melee skills (see next question) are based on Strength, so the Base Skill Rating is +1 to +3. Melee Damage is also based on Strength (such as a club which is STR +3). So, a STR of 8 will add a total of 10 points to the Attack Rating (8 from damage, +2 from the Skill Rating), purely from the character’s Strength itself. And an Olympic weightlifter, with a Strength of 12, gets 15 points from skill and damage, due to his Strength alone.

In a modern setting (or a viable cross-genre one, one of the design goals of Destiny) high-Strength characters are at a disadvantage. Firearms are available, and guns do a lot of damage, at range, and are fairly reliable. Giving strong characters a little extra boost (from +1 to +3) makes them more balanced.

Q1. What’s the difference between a power melee skill and a fast melee skill?

A1. In the real world, melee combat depends on your muscle power “to hit”. Boxing, sword-and-shield fighting, and so forth, all require you to hammer your way past a target’s defenses, using main force. So most melee skills are based on Strength.

But a few, such as dueling rapiers, are based on Dexterity, because they depend on physical agility and speed instead. Some forms of hand-to-hand combat are also speed/agility based, such as wrestling or judo.

Power melee skills are Strength based, fast melee skills Dexterity based. This adds some skills to the list, increasing complexity, but makes the game match the real world a bit better.

It also addresses flavor concerns, as well. “Bruce Lee” characters can have their agile, fast-striking martial arts, while “Rocky” characters get their brutal, hard-hitting boxing skills. Those distinctions make for great roleplaying fodder, and having two different kinds of hand-to-hand (or other melee) skills implements them.

Defending

Q1. What is a “Full Defense”?

A1. A Full Defense is one of the few (6 or so) combat maneuvers in the game. It represents the character concentrating wholly on defending themselves.

Normally, your Defense is a static number. With a Full Defense, you can roll the hot dice and add it to your Defense against any and all attacks that round.

“Full Defense” is a rule not in the current release (0.1a), but which will be detailed in 0.2a. It came up in the playtest, however, hence the question.

Q2. Do you really want to allow Declarations on regular Defense?

A2. After some thought, yes. Declarations are optional, but they add color.

When the GM says “Your opponent dashes in, striking hard with his axe.” and the player responds with “I parry wildly.”, that’s all good. The game mechanics should, and in Destiny do, encourage exactly this sort of play.

Roleplaying games depend on description. The game “comes alive” in the imaginations of players and GM’s when they know what they see, hear, feel, smell, and do.

Immersing players in the world is hard, but good descriptions (and unobtrusive mechanics) make it easier. Declarations encourage “in-character” thinking: the player has to focus on what his character is doing just to make one, instead of worrying solely about the numbers and the dice.

Re-reading the playtest chat log convinced me of this. The defense Declarations were cool, and an opportunity to roleplay. The entire goal of the game is to support and encourage just this sort of interaction. And defense Declarations did.

[There are more questions, so expect a FAQ, Part III presently.]

Destiny Playtest After Action Report

Since the last time I posted a significant chunk of rules, I held my first playtest session (online at roll20.net). I had 5 players, covering 3 time zones from Seattle to the Midwest.

The first scenario involved an introduction to my Dead Man’s Land setting. The PC’s were rookie cops, called in to rescue a paramedic who’d been trapped by rioters (in fact, people driven insane by incipient zombieism).

After a few rounds of being torn up by the rioters (staving off significant damage with judicious use of Action Points), the players figured out their opponents’ weakness and (despite some Trouble, courtesy of doubles) rescued the paramedic and made their escape.

The session went very well. The core mechanics all worked, none were obviously broken, and the most frequent complaint was that there were missing rules (which everybody knew, because, hey, Alpha Test.)

All of the posts on this site were from the 0.1a version of the rules, basically the first compilation with enough rules to be playable, if barely. Since that release, most of the posted material has been touched, some sections only proofed, some completely rewritten (one three or four times).

Since the playtest, I’ve been compiling comments (including a survey of the players) and focusing my energies on implementing/revising 4 core features:

• Actions and Movement
• Character Traits
• Initiative Mechanics
• Combat Maneuvers and Conditions

I’m really liking how these are shaping up. Of course, I’ll be posting the revised/completed sections as soon as possible.

Once they’re finished, I’ll run a playtest with the 0.2a version.

The first playtest was a great experience. It boosted my confidence in some of the design decisions I’ve made, plus it was a lot of fun.

Big thanks to all the participants. I’m really looking forward to the next session. (Whenever that happens.)

Destiny Alpha Test Rules FAQ

There have been some questions that came up about the rules, in specific the “why?” of certain design decisions. So here are some answers. Page references are to the 0.1a release of the Alpha Test rules.

Attributes (p. 1)

Q1. Why do Attributes only give a small boost to skills? Doesn’t that make them redundant?

A1. Attributes do contribute but a small amount to skills, but their full numeric value is used in other places. Endurance is the base Rating for Toughness, and characters heal a # of Wounds equal to their Endurance each day. Strength is the base Damage Rating for hand to hand combat, and determines how much a character can Lift and Carry. Dexterity is used in Initiative. Other attributes have other uses, based on their full Ratings.

So, the full scale is used, just not for skills.

Q2. Why not just add plusses directly to the Attribute? 

A2. This decision arose from a balance issue. When a totally average person with the most minimal of training has a skill of 9 (attribute 8 +1), the character arc of power (the development curve) is very short.

Within a short amount of time, characters become more powerful than any plausible opponents. With a smaller contribution from Attributes, there’s a wider range of plausible skill ratings, and a wider range of opponents.

This decision also means that Dexterity and Intellect are less powerful than they would be, because they contribute much less to their linked skills.

Ties vs. DR (p.6)

Q. Why doesn’t a character succeed if their Skill Total equals the Difficulty Rating?

A. In combat, a tie goes to the defender. The same goes for Skill Challenges. For Skill Challenges, in order to defeat the Challenge, you must beat the Challenge.

There’s a dirty little secret, though: with Declarations (+1 bonus), players can (in effect) move back to “ties win”. DM’s don’t get a bonus for Declarations, they’re expected to be describing things. Players do. It’s a subtle way to encourage in-character and in-world descriptions and play.

So if you want a tie to win, toss out a Declaration.

Doubles are Trouble (p. 8)

Q. I’m not so sure about this. Doesn’t this happen an awful lot?

A. Disasters and Mishaps are intended to be colorful and interesting, not punitive. In fact, I’m writing a section for the rules to explain this better. Used correctly, they add to the game.

However, I’m keeping an eye on them. If it seems like they’re too disruptive or punitive, I’ll adjust the mechanic.

# Wounds (p. 9)

Q. Why can’t I take more Wounds if I have a higher Endurance?

A. Because it would be a broken mechanic. Each point of Endurance already means you take 1 less Wound. So, 1 point of END = 1 Wound. If a point of END also meant you could take one more point of Wounds without negative consequences, each point would equal 2 Wounds.

There’s no need to double the efficacy of END. It’s one of the more powerful stats already, right behind DEX.

Also, this maintains scalability. Under the current rules, I can scale characters from human (4-8-12), to superhuman (20-50+), to cosmic (150+) and all the rules work exactly the same.

A fight between two characters, one with Attack 20 and the other with Defense 15, is exactly the same as a battle between an Attack 50 and Defense 45. This makes the system much more robust, and easily adaptable to a Superhero setting (something other systems sometimes have trouble scaling to).

(Although, since you heal END wounds per day, once your END is above 20, you heal all Wounds in 1 day. I’m thinking of a rule for Supers, characters with 20+ attributes, where each 5 END points past 20 cuts that time roughly in half. END 25 = heal all Wounds in 12 hours. 40 = 1 hour. 60 = 5 min. 80 = 10 seconds or 1 round. So a character with END 80 could heal all Wounds in 10 seconds of resting. That’s perfect for a supers game. And a Regeneration power could duplicate those effects.)

Attack skills vs. Combat Interaction skills (pg. 12)

Q. Why can’t combat skills do all the same things Combat Interaction skills can?

A. Balance and color. The whole point of Combat Interaction skills is to give non-kill characters ways to be effective, and to encourage the kind of banter and interactions seen in action movies.

Combat skills already kill, they don’t need to duplicate the effects of Combat Interaction skills. It would make CI skills irrelevant. As-is, CI skills offer unique capabilities, making them worthwhile and encouraging their use.

Other Questions

There are some other questions that were asked during the playtest and in the surveys. I’ll answer those ASAP.