Friday, November 26, 2010

The Dog in the Microwave Job: Lessons

It’s always interesting to see a finished product. No matter how much work you put into it the original product, there is always room to be surprised. While there were no real surprises, there were plenty of tweaks and points of polish that caught my eye. Similarly, there is a difference between playing to see how the game works and playing something that’s done. Which is to say, I learned some unexpected lessons in actually playing the finished game.

The talents were a lot of fun since they were mostly new to me, having been written up by the ever-talented Clark Valentine. Lots of good stuff in them, and the section on creating your own is nicely concise (and very handy for potential hacks). That said, upon seeing them in action, I was pleasantly surprised to find the ones that really engaged the system were more fun. Not to say the ones that just added dice to certain activities didn’t work well, but the ones that did things like enhance asset dice or move plot points around were awesome. In retrospect, I would try to make sure every character has at least one talent too take advantage of opportunities because I think those might be the most fun of all.

The Complication Dial

Cam pointed out that I’d made a mistake in play by creating complications as d8s rather than d6s. He’s right, but that got me thinking - the d8’s actually worked fine and, I think, accidentally kept the challenge level up for a short job. That lead to my thinking that it makes a fantastic dial to set the seriousness of a job, with d6 being the normal level for the show, d8 for a bit harder, and d10 for the fecal matter hitting the rotating blades. Similarly, saying the GM’s complications start at d4 is a great way to declare a job will be more wacky and lighthearted than average.

It also could be used as a tool for escalating tension, if you’re playing a game for which that is appropriate. At some point during the game (either time-based or event-based) tension ratchet’s up, and complications now start at d8, and by endgame, maybe they’re d10s. There are definitely specific genres and styles this suits better than others (and default Leverage only really suits this for the two-parter episodes) but it’s handy for hacks.

Looking for Info

I made a call on the fly that I’m very happy with to handle situations where the player wants to hit the streets and talk to people to get information. The player may choose whichever role they like when they make this roll, but the roll they choose indicates the kind of people they’re getting information from. That is to say, you can always excel at this, but it’s always looking for trouble.

That said, the more useful trick for players in this situation (which I’d forgotten to suggest) is that this sort of scene is exactly the right time to create an asset for the person you intend to talk to. Let’s the player create their own informant and gives them a bonus at the same time. Much more satisfying.

The Bucket of No

When in doubt, the GM rolls 2d6 in opposition to the players. This is a handy rule of thumb, and when the actions speak directly to the various assets and complications in play, it is very easy to build an opposition roll that it about right. The problem comes when the players are making rolls against things that are tangential to the job but are still important enough to roll - without modifiers to really tilt the rolls, things can get a bit weird.

The first example of this came up when the thief was stuck in the office with a “Big Dog d8” and the grifter attempted to soothe the dog over the comm. Strictly speaking, that should have been a d6 (the default) and a d8 (for big dog) against the grifter. Sure, I might have thrown in a complication to represent the difficulty, but this was a full on crazy idea, one so improbably that I was inclined to just say No. Instead, a turned to a physical manifestation of the “Say Yes or roll the dice” principal - three d12s that I have set aside as my bucket of no. The are respectively labeled, “No”, “No Freaking Way” and “Are You Kidding Me?”. When I am tempted to say no, I just add the appropriate number of these to the roll. In this case, I dipped in at the “No Freaking Way” level, but the players still won the roll

There were a few other lessons, but they’re a bit more involved, and more suited to making very extreme hacks of the system, so those will probably percolate for a while until something comes of them.


  1. I do like the idea of scaled Complications and Assets. I think we should throw that into the Fixer section of Grifters and Masterminds as an optional hack. :)

    Also like the big bucket of no, as well. Thanks for sharing the actual play observations, Rob!

  2. After the session, I thought a bit about what I would have done if I were GMing the Grifter instead of playing him. It's the kind of stunt I wouldn't have even tried if it weren't for the Crazy distinction and the "No, but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night" aspects of Bennie's back story, and there were all kinds of reasons to say, if not "No," things like, "First the Thief has to get the Comm bud into the dog's ear" and so on.

    So it was a pretty generous call even with the Bucket of d12 No, and the generosity itself was a useful takeaway. Your example played Jiminy Cricket just a couple days later during a Nobilis scene I could easily have smothered the life out of.

  3. Lenny just pointed me at this, reminding me of the Bucket of No for my Leverage Rules meets Mage: the Ascension setting. Thought you'd like to know it's in my head again.

    - Ryan


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