Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hunter Combat

It struck me last night that there should probably be one more Hunter Weapon, Cunning. this represents low animal cunning and trickery, and all the areas where books won't save you. Mechanically, it's the fallback weapon, when nothing else quite applies, which is important, because I as thought about it, charm was going to end up getting rolled a LOT if there wasn't something to roll over to.

Also, since Superage and Levernatural are both terrible words, I'm just going to call this "Hunters" and leave it at that.

So with that said, let's get on to kicking things in the head.

Since Combat is a bit more common in the context of Hunters than Leverage, we'll uses a slightly more fiddly damage system revolving around "statuses". Those statuses are Hurt, Tired, Confused and Scared. During a roll where there is a possibility for damage, the loser gains these statuses as die traits, at a level equal to the highest opposing die not used in the roll. If that value is lower than the character's current status value, then just increase their status by one (if there's no unused die, treat it as a d4).

Frex: Frank is started by a ghost who wins a roll and scares him. The ghost rolled 3d6, keeping a 4 and 5, not using the 2. Since the highest unused die is a d6. Frank is now Scared d6

If the exact same roll were to happen again, Frank's Scared d6 would bump up to a scared d8.

Status Effects
When a character is carrying a status, it is initially just an inconvenience. So long as the status is less than the appropriate stat (Sharp for confused, Tough for Hurt or Tired and Stubborn for scared) then the character rolls an extra d4 along with rolls where the status might apply. So long as stress is at this level, it's easy to get rid of - it just needs the character to spend a scene doing something dedicated to removing it, such as putting on bandages, taking a nap and so on.[1]

Once the status equals the stat in question, it's become a serious matter. In addition to the d4, they now put their status die into play, allowing opposition to roll it against them. At this point, getting rid of the status will take some serious downtime, possibly in a sickbed.

When the status exceeds the stat, the character is taken out of play in a manner of the GM's choosing (though this may be a great time to spend plot points to soften the blow). Alternately, the player can spend a plot point to stay on his feet for one scene. He can keep doing this, paying plot points every scene to stay on his feet, as long as he has the budget for it, but once he stops, he's down.

Like most of the rest of the world, critters are defined more simply than players, as traits. Most critters have a core trait that reflects what they are like Vampire d6 or Wumpus d8. They might have more traits, but that core trait ends up being very important for much of what the critter does.

Killing Critters
When critter's take a status (usually hurt), they also roll the d4. Unlike Hunters, critters usually go down as soon a status equal's their core trait. A lot of critters can be killed in perfectly normal ways using this system. Some monster may be a little tougher or more fragile (being taken out as if their die level was higher or lower) but none of that's very complicated. (and yes, when players take something out, they describe how it happened, that can matter a lot).

Where it gets problematic is when you start dealing with things that can't be killed in a normal way. These tend to fall into one of three categories:

1. Dispersible - You can beat these things, possibly very easy, but that only gets rid of them for a scene. Ghosts are a great example of this (though they're a bit more complicated).
2. Fast healers - These things shrug off damage done. They take statuses normally, but they only remain in effect for the next roll, then they're gone. Vampires and Demons work this way.
3. Invulnerable - You just can't hurt these guys. Think Angels.

In each of these cases, there is usually some way around this resistance, and it's a function of knowing what that is and getting your hands on the right tool for the job. Finding out and acquiring the thing you need makes a good adventure seed for oddball monsters, but a lot of them are standard enough (silver, iron, salt, holy water) that hunters are usually equipped. In such a case, all that's required is that the hunters have the tools and describe using them.

This applies equally well to knowledge of weaknesses. Decapitating a vampire is not a function of making an awesome roll, rather, it's a function of taking one out and being able to describe it in a way that includes decapitation. Smart players will make sure the scene includes enough large blade to make sure that's reasonable.

One interesting point about these weaknesses is that they're often two-layererd. There's a reasonably simple trick for fending the critter off (iron and salt for ghosts, holy water for daemons) but actually getting rid of it requires something more substantial (like salting and burning the bones, or an exorcism). This two-tiered structure tends to work itself well into plot design.

Nasty Critters
This merits more discussion later, but in short, a lot of monsters aren't going to make it easy for you to kill them. Even if you have a gun full of silver bullets, a werewolf is strong and fast, enough so that you may never get a shot off.

There are a lot of different potential critter tricks, but here's the key one. Depending on the scariness of the critter, their core die might be treated as a kept die, or a hard die (or in some cases, a hard kept die, which is nasty).

A kept die means that it's always added to the total, effectively letting the critter keep three dice (one of which is always that core die).

A hard die is never rolled, it's just set down as it's maximum value.

A hard kept die means it is always added to the roll at it's maximum value. This is, mechanically, pretty terrifying.

Fair and Unfair Fights
So, given that die advantage, what's to keep a hunter from just getting torn apart? Something as fast and strong as a vampire should, by all rights, have no more trouble with a highly trained hunter than you might with an exceptionally fierce rabbit. Thankfully, hunters know this, and they cheat.

All of those rules about hard and kept dice apply in a fair fight. A fair fight is generally one where both sides know it's coming (or at least the other side does) and has time to put their game face on. A good hunter knows to avoid any fight like that.

Unfair fights are ones that start with your opponent off balance, and keep up the pace so he stays that way. Most unfair fights begin after a successful skill roll of a non-combat kind. Maybe to sneak up on something, maybe to confuse it, maybe to just piss it off. If a hunter uses a success like that to launch an attack, then it's an unfair fight, and there are not hard or kept dice.

However, if the hunter can't win the fight quickly, and the critter has the opportunity to catch its breath and get its feet back under it, then it goes back to being a fair fight. And that's just no good.

All right, enough for today, I think.

[↩]1 - This may seem like a kindness, but the reality is it's an invitation to the GM for something bad to happen. If you think about any horror movie you can, the worst things happen when the characters stop to recover their wits, get some sleep, take a shower or the like. As such, don't just hand wave these scenes - make sure the players describe exactly what they're doing and how it lets their guard down. This is not to say that you ALWAYS attack them in these scenes, just often enough to maintain tension (and consider whether you want to attack on the same status they're recovering from or not)


  1. Wow Rob, can I steal all of this for X-Com RPG? ;) It's settled, you've sold me on a genre that I've really not been fond of till now

  2. I love the status effects.

    I wonder, have you (or anyone you know of) thought about using a set number to represent the die steps involved for inflicting stress? Such as a Banshee with a Ghostly Wail 3 will inflict an unmitigated d8 or is that the intent of the kept, hard, hard kept dice to present a more flexible (since it is useful for more than just combat) way to stat out the opposition's effectiveness? It seems like good dice tricks for Talents (maybe even degrees of mastery for a Talent, as opposed to die value shift).

  3. The kept hard dice aren't going to ever be used for Stress, at least not in this setup. Not unless they're a smaller die than the others involved.

    I like the "use the third unkept die" approach (it's quick), but in Smallville I'm not sure we found the reroll to be arduous, especially since the Stress pool was affected by certain triggers and game effects beyond the initial action roll.

  4. I really like that the stress taken is the highest unused die. It's a nice midpoint between Smallville's roll again stress, and Leverage's fixed d6.

    Can't wait to see what you bring us next!

  5. So, there's another die type I didn't mention, since it didn't actually come up, hurt dice. Hurt dice aren't rolled, but are considered to be in the pool for purposes of calculating damage. That should fill that niche.

  6. Thanks I am sorely tempted. Among other things, I'm currently debating the relative merits of separate Stress rolls (Smallville) or using the third unkept die approach. Separate allows for all of Smallville's dice tricks and Special Effects related to increasing or decreasing the Stress Pool, which could fit well with armor and vulnerabilities in X-Com, but Hard and Kept Die traits can scratch that itch as well.

    Would you mind elaborating on what you mean by that comment about unrolled Hurt dice and calculating damage? To which niche are you referring?

  7. @Rob Hurt dice sees like an appealing approach to handling damage. Would this be a "virtual die" or would you set aside a die from your pool before the roll to act as the Stress inflicted?

    Seems to be an interesting risk factor to pulling a die out and saying this is what is going to hurt you.

  8. @Dave the hurt dice are virtual, but you hit on another mechanic I like: you can set aside dice for a "called shot" by opting not to roll them to guarantee their availability for damage.

  9. Holy Cow a footnote link! Rob you just sold out.

  10. I like the idea. I kind of want the various hurt dice connected to each attribute - so either six different types, or one type that checks against two attributes, one mental, one physical. Otherwise I'm afraid of creating possible dump stats.

    I also like the idea of scared being something that mounts throughout the session rather than as a straight status effect.

  11. @RLW For other genres of Horror, slowly escalating fear is probably apt, but I think it's a bad match for Supernatural, which has protagonists rather than victims. :)


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