Skills Don’t Recharge

character-generation-cards-dee-sanctionOne thing that has come from my reading and through player feedback has been a bit of confusion and even dissatisfaction with abilities that recharge. If you know how to do trick shooting, forensically search a room, or break a safe, why would that ability not work every round?

From a mechanical point of view, recharging creates a bookkeeping overhead for player and gamemaster alike. The player needs to remember to shift the card into recharge, and the GM needs to be mindful that it’s happened. Also, what does it mean when a recharging power comes into play passively? If someone has just used an ability and set it to recharge, will they then lack the faculty to spot a detail in the background because their expertise ‘got tired’?

The other thing about the cards and recharging them is that I don’t plan on making the cards mandatory. I want the option to allow for character generation without the cards. The book for 214 will include setting outlines that have tables for the random generation of characters, and I also intend to provide advice on freeform character generation.

That’s more player comments that have presented a clear goal for my writing and development – why cripple a game by making it dependent on a component you might forget?

The game offers cards, but they shouldn’t be mandatory. The game includes dice with little symbols to enhance the story-telling, but if you forget the dice, you can just pick up two 6-sided ones you have spare and use those. Character sheets work just great for organising your game, but you don’t absolutely need them.

If I can make 214 something that you can play with scrap paper, pencils and scrounged dice, all the better. A mechanic and a setting – then get on with playing. Improvise some counters – or just write stuff down – and get on with playing.

Anyway – that means that abilities don’t recharge. If you have a skill, you can use it. On the other hand, you can still find yourself stuck in a recharge-like situation. If you can break a safe, it might take you 30-seconds to complete the task. In the meantime, everyone else could be battling security gargoyles or whatever. The GM will be going three times round the table calculating combat events, but you need to concentrate on opening the safe. You’re not recharging an ability – you’re simply busy.

Practically, the game system allows you to use more than one ability to improve the chances of success. You can use one ability associated with your past career and one esoteric fact gleaned from a book on magickal theory, for example, in The Dee Sanction. In this instance, that’s fine. Still no recharge. You expand your threshold for success by two levels – meaning that you can get a success with a roll of 5 – 9 on two 6-sided dice.

However, if you succeed with a straight roll of 7, you will Stress yourself out – which might have a negative impact later on the in the game. And, if you fail, your team still have the chance to make themselves look great and claim all the glory – reducing their Incriminating Evidence total – when it comes time for the adventure debriefing, or bards tell tales of your groups exploits.

(Yeah, that Stress bit is new and I’m still tinkering with the idea.)

So, abilities, knowledge, expertise – whatever – they don’t need to recharge anymore. They stay on, though using them might take time. Simpler to manage in game, and cuts out any need for analysis paralysis holding you back from using a card now on the off-chance it might be better used next round.

Matters Magickal and Mechanical

IMG_20141011_131147419Running The Bell Tolls last night for my local group. This will be an adventure I’ll run at conventions to playtest The Dee Sanction. I want to run this one in a single session, about 3 1/2 – and the version I ran bodes well for that. While we didn’t finish, we also didn’t play for 3 1/2 hours.

What I did find is that it’s actually quite hard to support an investigation scenario in a way that considers some (if not all) of the bases. I had the core sketched out, but who was going to be following the mystery the same way I sketched it.

In writing this adventure out for use by anyone else, I would need to give consideration to a few side treks and red herring paths. The players actually engaged in some pretty lively brainstorming on the solution and generally came up with some solid ideas. They also considered things I hadn’t, like the fact that people who do bad things – no matter how good their intentions – invariably need to be thrown in a cell and/or tortured/executed. This is Tudor England – rough justice is pretty much the order of the day where you have the wellbeing of the monarch under threat.

In respect of theĀ 214 system itself, not enough happened to give it any significant testing. We had about four rolls in the session, one a success, two a success by Teamwork, and one a success by personal effort. I believe I need to more firmly state the bounds – and indeed the existence – of a challenge. Just allowing the story to flow along leads to situations where I found asking for roll felt awkward – but that might just have been me.

I think the scenario structure and game flow warrants defining clear challenges, whether social, physical, magickal or otherwise. I feel some boxed text coming on, with clear parameters about the situation and the degree of success required to overcome it. Faced with a wrongdoer stricken with panic and desperate to escape, you need to beat them in a 2-point Access Challenge to overcome their obstinance, for example.

The custom dice worked well for me, but I didn’t explain their significance to the players. I think I just forgot about it until mid-way through the game, which is a shame. Given the trouble of creating them, it seems silly to forget them.

They worked well for me, as I used the dice with the sigil to guide my story-telling for success and near failure alike. When one player looked to use esoteric scrying powers to determine the next step in the investigation, he used a card and rolled a 9 – one away from the success threshold of 6 to 8. Another player offered a point of Power to get the success and I noted the player roll showed a 3 – with a Magick sigil. Despite the actual lack of magickal ability, the sigil suggested a success with hermetic overtones – so, I had the assisting character accidentally trip the rolling player up, at which point her sustained a head injury against the street that left him temporarily and inexplicably blind – as if suddenly trapped somewhere in total pitch darkness. A vision of the future or the solution, perhaps?

I managedĀ to fluff the progress of the adventure a couple of times by skipping something unintentionally and then not going back. The start of the adventure should have had the chance for some pressure, but I discounted it. Later, when I could have had a fight start, the characters found the aftermatch instead. I plan to correct that – given this is a playtest session – by rewinding to the start of the encounter again next session and running the more physical and action-orientated version of events.

That’s assuming the players come back.

I have asked for feedback, and I’ll see how that turns out. I can clearly see that for one-off and convention settings I need some tight and informative patter to get the setting across. You’re a band of investigators given powers by the Crown to investigate magickal and heretical threats to Queen Elizabeth and her dominion. Something like that.

Random character generation – with the cards I prepared – provided the basis for some interesting characters, but I blustered straight into running the adventure. I needed to be more conscientious about giving the characters, and the players, some genuine context and background.

The random cards actually meant that the combination of past career, magickal text and/or secret society jarred somewhat. It warrants discussion to determine a little about what dark deeds / actions might have forced the character to abandoned their profession and put themselves in harms way for the good of the nation. The Dee Sanction is not the easy option. Faced with heretics, witches and the daemonic, the likely end for most will be a gruesome one… at least if the Gamemaster can pull his finger out and get a battle going!