Destiny: Initiative Rules Overview [pt. 2]

Combat is broken into a series of 10-second rounds. Each round has two phases.

In open conflicts (assume combat for now), the participants are divided into Heroes (the PC’s and allies) and Villains (bad guys and their allies.) Most times, the whole of one side — the Heroes or Villains – acts in one phase (in descending order of Dexterity), and their opponents the other.

Having The Initiative means you have the choice between the two phases. You can choose to act first, taking the battle to the enemy, or choose to act second, allowing the enemy to act, then taking action to disrupt their strategies.

At any given point in time, one side can have The Initiative, the other can, or neither can. The Initiative can switch back and forth at any time, but once one side has it, they keep it until the enemy manages to Seize the Initiative and take it away from them. This requires an attack or gambit that shocks, demoralizes, or disorients them so much they are forced to react to the attack, forced to be the defenders rather than the aggressors.

Concurrent with The Initiative is The Advantage. This reflects, in game mechanical terms, how organized and effective the aggressors are, and how disorganized and ineffective the defenders are.

This is measured in terms of an Advantage bonus. Each round the aggressors make a successful attack against their foes (called Pressing the Attack), their Advantage bonus grows. (Reflecting what a Civil War General called “keeping up the skeer”).

Their opponents can Counter-Attack, countering the Press, or even Seizing the Initiative for themselves. If they successfully Seize, they gain the benefits of the Advantage, and can begin to garner their own bonus.

Most importantly, The Initiative doesn’t indicate who is winning or losing (in terms of raw body count), and doesn’t automatically go to who is winning or losing.

It goes to the side who is forcing the enemy to react to his choices. Who is disrupting his enemy’s plans, time and again. Who is choosing when and how to attack, thus forcing the enemy to flail desperately as he tries to respond.

In an individual combat, in a battle, in a theatre, in a war, one side has The Initiative and one doesn’t. It is key to winning the conflict.

[Note: This is a multi-part post. Keep track of the previous posts here.]

Destiny: Initiative [pt. 1]

[Note: The Initiative system is the most radical mechanical design in Destiny. It is very different from other RPG’s, for good reasons, reasons this first post attempts to explain. It is also the last piece of writing that needs to be finished before the Alpha Test is ready to run. So get ready…]

The Initiative

Traditionally, combat Initiative is about action scheduling, determining when characters can go in combat. Sometimes this depends on rolling the dice, sometimes weapon speed, sometimes other factors.

In real-world combat, The Initiative is about being aggressive, taking the fight to the enemy, keeping them off balance, and using their confusion to defeat them. One side makes and executes plans, the other side reacts to those plans as best they can.

[Two pilots battle in the skies. Both make decisions and execute attacks, but Blue has the Initiative.]

While Red is still orienting himself, Blue has already chosen a maneuver and executed it. This renders Red’s [decision] useless: Blue is no longer where he was a moment before.

Red must…make a new decision. Out of rising panic he commits to an action that may have been appropriate [moments] ago, but which is now — no other word for it — obsolete.

Blue sees the confusion and delay. He decides and acts again. His advantage increases.

To Red, Blue appears psychic, magical, demonic: able to read his mind, anticipate his every move. The more this goes on the more rattled, confused and demoralized Red becomes.

Blue owns the initiative.

– Bill Whittle

The Initiative represents taking control of the pace of the combat. You are on the attack, you are making decisions and acting, and the enemy is reacting to your decisions. You chose to attack, when and where and how you will, and all the enemy can do is respond to your choices.

To those without the Initiative, this is a disconcerting experience. Their enemy appears prescient (almost omniscient). Each gambit is a surprise, each attack an ambush.

They have no time to analyze the situation, to understand what is being done to them. They don’t understand what is happening, they only know they are being defeated.

This is demoralizing, shocking, and confusing. It interferes with their ability to observe, organize, and fight back.

As the side with The Initiative keeps up the press of combat, the other side begins to make mistakes, which makes them even more desperate. They lash out in panic, but can’t seem to hurt the enemy, or even find them.

The enemy keeps striking them, killing them, and they can’t do anything to stop it. Soon their morale collapses and they are defeated.

That’s how combat works. The Initiative isn’t about who goes first, it’s about who is in control of the conflict. One side is making decisions and acting, the other reacting. Those reacting will eventually lose.

The same principles apply to individual duels, battlefield maneuvers, an entire war, even business conflicts. And these principles are reflected in the Destiny Initiative system.

Destiny: Volley Attack [pt. 3]

The Volley Attack is a maneuver common to cinema and real life. It represents a multitude of characters all attacking the same target at once, combining their attacks to deal more damage than any could by themselves. (And, though it’s called a Volley, it applies to any situation in which multiple attackers are assaulting a single target.)

Volley Attacks are a special use of the Coordination Challenge rules. Because it deals with both Skill and Combat Challenges, it is slightly more complicated than regular Coordination, though the basic rule is unchanged.

The primary skill in a Volley Attack is whichever combat skill rolls highest, no matter what it is. Related skills include any other skills the gamemaster agrees are relevant. (A manuever, for example, might cause the target to turn, exposing a weak spot.)

All characters generate Skill Totals. The highest combat Skill Total becomes the base Total. Every other Skill Total adds +1 to this base Total.

As this is an attack, the Damage Rating of the weapon used by the highest combat Skill Total is added to the final Skill Total. This is compared to the Defense Rating of the target, with the Result Rating read as Wounds.

Example: A group of characters breaking into a lab are attacked by a security robot. After a couple of futile rounds of attack, it becomes clear that individually, none of them can meaningfully damage the robot. So they volley their fire.

One shoots with a gun (firearms total 13), one throws a grenade (thrown weapons total 12), and another uses a trick to lead the robot off, exposing a weak spot (trick total 20). 

The highest combat Skill Total is a 13. This becomes the base Skill Total. Both of the other skill totals beat a 0 DR, so Coordinate. Each adds a +1 to the firearms Skill Total, for a final Skill Total of 15 (13 + 1 + 1).

To this 15, the firearms player adds his pistol damage of 16, for an Attack Total of 31. This Attack Total of 31 is compared to the robot’s Defense Rating. (Had the character throwing grenades rolled higher, his total would be the base Total, and he would add his grenade damage of 18 to the final Skill Total).

Using this method, characters can work together to bring down a single, tough target with coordinated attacks.

[Note: This is a multi-part post. Keep track of the previous posts here.]

Destiny: Coordination During Combat [pt. 2]

Coordination During Combat

The Coordination rules can be used during combat, and even include combat skills. This functions exactly the same as “Coordinating With Different Skills”.

Note: Coordinating is a Skill Challenge, not a Combat Challenge, so only the Skill Rating is involved, not the Damage Rating.

Example: Four player characters are trying to trick a squad of soldiers into retreating out of their fortified position, by convincing them they are about to be overrun. Of the four, only one has the trick skill. He decides to roll his trick. The second player decides to lob a grenade — thrown weapons — behind the sandbags, because a grenade will certainly get them moving. The third decides to roll his art (acting) skill, which the GM agrees could help (by convincing them that people are advancing on their position). The fourth can’t think of anything, so he decides to roll trick Untrained.

The first character yells out “Flank ’em boys!” His player rolls a trick of 13. This is the base trick Total.

The second character lobs his grenade behind the sandbags, with a total of 11. This is good for a +1 to the base trick Total. 

(Plus, the GM decides that if the grenade beats their dodge, they will choose to move anyway, as they’re sitting on a grenade.)

The third character says “Moving on the left, sir!” He rolls an art (acting) total of 3, so gives a +1 to the trick Total.

The fourth character yells “Yes, sir, we’ll all flank them right now, sir, moving to the flank of where they are. Sir.” The player rolls really low, getting a trick of -5. (Reflected in his roleplaying.) He doesn’t add to the group’s trick total.

The group’s trick total is 15 (13 + 1 + 1), easily enough to get the soldiers out of their machinegun nest. The GM narrates accordingly:

“As the soldiers dive over the sandbags, the grenade goes off behind them. They stand up, and find themselves looking down the barrels of the your guns. They slowly raise their hands above their heads.”

As can be seen, a very simple rule, together with some player ingenuity, can be used to stage quite elaborate plans. This is deliberate. Elaborate plans are a staple of many types of cinema, and making them easy to model in the rules helps players focus on the planning, not the mechanics.

The last use of Coordination is actually a special form of Attack Challenge: the Volley Attack. The next post will cover Volley Attacks.

[Note: This is a multi-part post. Keep track of the previous posts here.]

Destiny: Coordination [Pt. 1]

Coordination

Characters are capable of working together to achieve a task. This is called Coordinating on a Challenge. Whatever the circumstances, the core rules for Coordinating on a Challenge are the same.

All characters generate Skill Totals. The highest Skill Total is the base Total. Every other Skill Total that beats a DR 0 (Routine) adds +1 to this base Total.

Example: Three characters are scrutinizing a crime scene. They all generate search totals: a 14, a 10, and a -1. The final search total for the group is 15 (highest 14 + 1 coordinating). Had the third character gotten a 1 or better instead of a -1, the group’s search total would have been a 16.

There are a few caveats.

The group has to clearly define what they want to do, so the GM knows which skill is appropriate. This is the skill used to adjudicate any Success Ratings or Result Ratings. A Declaration is highly encouraged (and worth a +1 to the base Total).

“We want to talk the judge into letting us go.” “We want to make the mob think a giant is coming.” “We need to fix this car.”

This Declaration lets the GM know which skill is appropriate. All success is adjudicated according to this skill.

By default, all characters generate totals with this skill. If they lack plusses in the skill, they roll Untrained.

Coordinating With Different Skills

Sometimes, characters will lack plusses in the skill being used. With the GM’s permission, they can use a different, but related skill in the Coordination attempt.

Example: If the characters are attempting to fix a car, that’s a mechanic Challenge. A character without the mechanic skill can attempt to coordinate, if they have a skill the GM agrees can aid the attempt. Knowledge (electrical engineering) could be appropriate, for example.

In such cases, the original skill is the primary skill. This represents what the group is attempting to achieve. The highest primary Skill Total is the base Total. Even if a related Skill Total is higher, it only adds a +1.

Example: While fixing the car, the mechanic rolls a Skill Total of 12, and the electrical engineer a Total of 16. The base Total is 12, because that’s the primary skill. This is increased by +1, because the knowledge (electrical engineering) total beat a DR 0. The final total is 13 (12 + 1).

The GM has final say on what skills are related to a specific Coordination Challenge. Take the car example. In one case, knowledge (electrical engineering) and persuasion could both be considered related skills (the persuading character talking the garage owner into aiding them some way). In other circumstances, even knowledge (electrical engineering) might not be related (if the car had a broken axle, for example).

In general, the more distantly related a related skill is, the higher the Coordination DN would be. In the case of the persuasion skill check aiding a mechanic total, the GM could require the player to actually roll (and perhaps role-play) a persuasion attempt. The GM should decide based on what makes sense to him and whatever makes the game more interesting.

There are advanced Coordination rules, dealing with its use in combat. Those will appear in a separate post.

Destiny: The Destiny Deck

The Destiny Deck is a deck of cards, the use of which (in part) emulates the strange coincidences that bless the lives of Lead characters. Meeting a friend in a foreign city, finding exactly the clue you need to decipher the mystery, discovering a working car abandoned by the side of the road — all of these are potential effects of Destiny Cards.

Each card is divided into a Hot and Cold half, and each half has a different game mechanical effect. In general, the Hot half aids the character in some way (for example allowing them to escape an inescapable confrontation), while the Cold half hinders their opponents in some way (such as making an enemy’s attack automatically fail).

Cards are be played according to the full Destiny Deck rules (described later). Once a card is played, it is discarded. Any time a character would be eligible for gaining an Action Point (from roleplaying a Trait), they can instead choose to draw a Destiny Card.

Destiny Cards are dealt to players and gamemasters alike and, with few exceptions, are usable by the gamemaster and players alike. Cards are dealt at the beginning of a session, and a character’s hand refreshes the same time their Action Points do.

At the start of a campaign, the number of cards dealt is 4. This “hand size” increases by +1 for each additional Campaign Stage (to 5 at Stage-2, 6 at Stage-3 and so forth).

Further rules on the use of the Destiny Deck, including detailed mechanics for each card, appear in Chapter 4. (And will be added to the playtest as soon as possible.)

Destiny: Doubles are Trouble

In Destiny, Doubles are Trouble. In a Skill or Combat Challenge, if a character rolls doubles when succeeding or failing, a side effect occurs.

1.) Disaster. If a character fails a Skill or Combat Challenge (-1 Result Rating or less) and rolled doubles at the same time, a Disaster occurs. Disasters are side effects of the original Challenge, and they make life significantly more difficult for the character, and perhaps the party.

Example: While climbing a mountain, the party is tethered together. A simple Failure on a climbing Challenge might cause the unlucky character to lose his grip and begin to fall. A Disaster, on the other hand, will cause not only that character to fall, but other characters to be torn loose as well.

Disasters are major impediments. They should take a significant amount of time, resources, effort, or ingenuity to overcome.

2.) Mishap. If you succeed at a Skill or Combat Challenge (a Result Rating of 1 or higher), but roll Doubles, you succeeded, but caused some problem as a side effect.

“I jumped to the moving car, but dropped my gun.” “I shot the target, but my gun jammed.” “I ran out of ammunition.”

Mishaps are not meant to be crippling occurrences, rather they are minor events that will make the character’s life more difficult in the future. By taking some time, characters should be able to recover from mishaps fairly easily.

3.) Campaign specific uses. Some specific settings and campaigns use Doubles to invoke certain effects. In Dead Man’s Land, doubles can be a sign that the character’s incipient zombieism has suddenly surged, causing them difficulties. Each setting will include its own rules for dealing with such occurrences.

Behind Doubles are Trouble

Doubles are Trouble, as a rule concept, enabled me to implement some basic functionality in a very obvious way. Not only is the title easy to remember, rolling doubles is an obvious occurrence. After a short while playing the system, players and GM’s will learn to dread rolling doubles.

Each manifestation of the Doubles rule is tied into what it is intended to represent.

1.) Disasters represent what other games call “Critical Failures” or the like. Usually, this would be tied to rolling low. However, in the Destiny Dice System, rolling low doesn’t mean Failure, much less a Critical Failure. A character with a Skill Rating of 14 will always succeed at Very Easy (DR 3) Challenges, even if they roll a -9. So why should that be a Failure, much less a Critical Failure?

Instead, Disasters occur when a character is out of their depth, attempting a Challenge much more difficult than they are trained to handle, hoping against hope to be able to succeed. A character without medical training, trying to perform an appendectomy. A skier trying their luck on a slope rated for far more experienced skiers. An untrained civilian, trying to land a plane.

Sometimes luck is with them. If not, disaster strikes.

2.) Mishaps, once I formalized the idea, were just too cool not to include, as they are so very cinematic (but rarely present, even in “cinematic” games). There are innumerable examples of a character succeeding at a task, but having some sort of accident along the way. Their gun jams, they drop the mystic pendant and a villain picks it up, they get their passports stamped, but arouse the suspicions of the consul. Mishaps simply have to be in the game.

3.) Extended Skill Challenges are Destiny’s version of Dramatic Skill Resolutions, but do not progress according to letters on a Destiny Deck card. Disasters, Mishaps, and Complications (recently added to the Success Ratings post) are ways of implementing many of the concepts integral to Dramatic Skill Resolutions, but in a more organic way, a way integrated with how the character did on a Challenge (instead of a random event, unconnected to anything happening in the game world).

Doubles are Trouble began life as a way to represent Disconnection in my home-brew Destiny campaign, Storm Knights. (An example of #3, above.) Since then, the mechanic has proven useful in a number of circumstances, allowing me to easily implement what could otherwise be some very complicated rules.