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Author Topic: [Exemplar Revised] Plot protection and death  (Read 2517 times)
Jeph
Member

Posts: 338

Jeff Schecter


« on: May 14, 2005, 05:28:22 AM »

A year or two ago I wrote this, a dystopian kung-fu action game set in the far future. I'm doing a revision at the moment, with a stronger Sim bent and a darker tone. I've got the mechanics pretty much down--I've come here for help with a specific issue.

So, in the game, everyone who's anyone has a pool of points of Nemesis. Player characters get 4-5 points per session that the campaign is expected to run, minimum of 10; in the playtests, which will be starting in a week or two, I'll be running an 80 point game. NPCs who aren't mooks will have 1-4 points. Major villains might have 2-3 points per session in which they are expected to play a major role. An outline of the use of Nemesis:

:: When a character is knocked unconscious, they lose 1d6 points of Nemesis. If they are now at 0 Nemesis, they will die without medical attention. If they have 1 or more points of Nemesis remaining, fate will conspire to see that they recover.

:: When a character's Willpower pool (which can be spent to gain bonuses on any roll or activate psi abilities) runs low, you can spend a point of Nemesis to regain 1d6 points of Willpower.

:: You can spend up to 3 points of Nemesis per session to make your character become more powerful more quickly.

:: Certain rare and potent psychic abilities that deal with the manipulation of time require the expenditure of a point of Nemesis to activate.

Nemesis has two overarching purposes. Firstly, it is a way to make sure that, over the course of their tenure as a protagonist, each of the player's characters displays about the same amount of Badassitude. You can basically use it in one of three ways, or a combination:

You can spend it on temporary benefits (replenishing Willpower) to be incredibly badass on accoasion, quickly work yourself down to 1-6 points, lose a fight, and go out in a blaze of glory;

You can spend it on long-term benefits (advancing skills and learning more powerful special abilities) to be consistantly badass, eventually not have enough to spend in a tight situation, and die fighting overwhelming force;

Or you can spend conservatively, only use it when you need to, play it safe, and survive throughout the entire game.

BUT, there're things that fuck with this. Poison that is completely fatal, for instance. The slitting of throats, for instance. I don't want to have to say to my players, "No, you can't do that, he's got too much Nemesis."

And I'm honestly completely stumped on what to do about it.

So, oh great minds infesting this message board, what say you?

Thanks for reading,
--Jeff
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Jeffrey S. Schecter: Pagoda / Other
Jasper
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Posts: 466


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« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2005, 05:53:33 AM »

Hi,

First, not pertaining to your designated question, why do characters lose 1d6? I mean, why a random amount? It doesn't seem to me that having 4 Nemesis left and randomly losing them really constitutes much of a "blaze of glory." Unless those last points, even though gone, get activated and allow me a few more rounds of bad-assitude before I expire. Of course it depends on how being made uncoscious can come about -- just by any old attack?

Now, addressing your major question. You wrote that you don't want to say to your players, "No, you can't do that, he's got too much Nemesis." Why not? What's the purpose of giving bad-guys Nemesis? I would think it's to create a viable enemy for the PCs, who can be so bad-ass as to destroy ordinary enemies too easily. So if Nemesis just gets waived away because of "in game causality" or something...what's the point of it?

Why couldn't you just say, in the case of poisoning, "Alright, you poison him but he's just too strong. He wills his body to expunge the poison, and he survives." Or something more circumspect, such as, "You delvier the poison, but luck goes his way again and his poor mook eats the poisoned layer cake first, alerting your enemy before he even takes a bite."
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Jasper McChesney
Primeval Games Press
Jeph
Member

Posts: 338

Jeff Schecter


« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2005, 06:54:23 AM »

Quote from: Jasper
Hi,

First, not pertaining to your designated question, why do characters lose 1d6? I mean, why a random amount? It doesn't seem to me that having 4 Nemesis left and randomly losing them really constitutes much of a "blaze of glory." Unless those last points, even though gone, get activated and allow me a few more rounds of bad-assitude before I expire. Of course it depends on how being made uncoscious can come about -- just by any old attack?


Huh. Now there's an obvious question I've never even stopped to consider.

As a side note, something I forgot to mention about nemesis: just having it is a modicum of defense against getting KOed. When a character is hit by an attack, they gain 1-4 wound points, and must make a roll (d6 + stuff vs. TN) with a target number of their new total wound points to stay conscious. If you don't have any Nemesis, you're always making the roll flat, and don't get to apply that "+ stuff". With Nemesis, you get to apply your Cool rating (normally 3-4 for most protagonists) to the roll, and also your Athletics (another 3-4 points) if you used a combat move to actively defend against the attack.

But yeah. Why did I make it 1d6 points? Dunno. The advantages and disadvantages of a flat loss as opposed to a random loss are something I'll have to consider. It also brings up another question--why does spending a point of Nemesis to replenish your Willpower pool replenish 1d6 points, instead of a flat number? I'll have to think on that, too.

I guess it's because I want the mechanics of the game to give me surprises.

Quote from: Jasper
Now, addressing your major question. You wrote that you don't want to say to your players, "No, you can't do that, he's got too much Nemesis." Why not? What's the purpose of giving bad-guys Nemesis? I would think it's to create a viable enemy for the PCs, who can be so bad-ass as to destroy ordinary enemies too easily. So if Nemesis just gets waived away because of "in game causality" or something...what's the point of it?

Why couldn't you just say, in the case of poisoning, "Alright, you poison him but he's just too strong. He wills his body to expunge the poison, and he survives." Or something more circumspect, such as, "You delvier the poison, but luck goes his way again and his poor mook eats the poisoned layer cake first, alerting your enemy before he even takes a bite."


I could, but I won't... because I do not want to. That is not what I'm going for in this game. This revision of Exemplar has a very strong theme of humans being able to push their minds and bodies beyond normal limits because of the inherant qualities of Life combined with discipline and training. If a character pulls a Paul Atriedes and alters their biochemistry to survive a poison, it'll be because they have conditioned their body and mind intensively in order to be able to do that. If they send an underling to sample the cake when they have no reason to expect a poisoner, it will be because they are a  Khashav adept, a human-calculator, and have computed from seemingly irrelevant minutea that the cake may be toxic.

[ Yeah, the game has a strong DUNE influence. :) ]

Such preternatural abilities and many others are incredibly important to the game--or rather, the fact that such abilities exist, and the only way to get them is to work hard for them, is incredibly important to the game. The Nemesis pool is there help the characters display these abilities when they have need to do so. For example, altering your biochemistry and performing Khashav calculations both require a point of Willpower. If a character has recently been exhausted from a fight, and has no Willpower left, they can spend Nemesis to replenish their pool.

You are completely correct about the purpose of giving bad guys nemesis pools. I am searching for a rule that will serve that purpose without being contrary to the theme of the game.

---

The game has multiple sub-systems that all basically work along this algorithm:

1: State intent.

2: State any game-mechanics that you are taking advantage of (combat maneuvers, Willpower and Nemesis expenditures, the use of special abilities, &c &c).

3: Roll dice.

4: Apply game-mechanical effects as determined by the result of the roll.

5: Describe the how the action is executed and the situation as it stands after the action takes place without contradicting step four.

6: Apply game-mechanical effects of the description.

I guess my problem is stemming from a self-contradiction in step 4. The poison says that the character is dead. Their Nemesis pool says that the character is not dead. How to reconcile this?

I am thinking that perhaps there is, in fact, no contradiction. The poison is on the level of the Shared Imagend Space. The poison says that the thing that got toxicated in the SIS is now dead. The Nemesis pool is completely on the metagame level. The Nemesis pool says that the metagame entity is not dead.

The character is dead.
The concept of the character is not dead. In a sense, their spirit is not dead.

I just need a way to combine these two statements in an elegant fashion that doesn't detract from the game.
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Jeffrey S. Schecter: Pagoda / Other
Jasper
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Posts: 466


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« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2005, 07:19:49 AM »

How about, when a villain is killed by something (like poison) he dies. But his Nemesis points, if he has any left, get rolled into something else. Like a new force of evil somewhere: an underling could take the opportunity to rise to power himself, for instance.

And there could be a tendency to create the same kind of bad guy as before...by which I mean that the concpet of the villain gets reused in some way. So if the villain stood for, I don't know, corporate tampering with human life, then smoewhere else a cyborg rises up as a terrible threat.

A side effect of this, which may or may not be good, is that the PCs would have an incentive to absolutely drain a villain dry, by pushing him to use up all his Nemesis, before actually doing him in. And it creates a system whereby the PCs aren't just battling individual bad-guys, but rather the evil use of Nemesis in general, which becomes a kind of uber-enemy; always taking on new manifestations.
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Jasper McChesney
Primeval Games Press
FzGhouL
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Posts: 76


« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2005, 11:21:54 AM »

Why not let them do it if it is successful, but lets say they are attempting to slight the enemies throat. The enemy uses his nemisis to boost his evasion of the assasination.
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Doug Ruff
Member

Posts: 445


« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2005, 12:10:40 PM »

Quote from: FzGhouL
Why not let them do it if it is successful, but lets say they are attempting to slight the enemies throat. The enemy uses his nemisis to boost his evasion of the assasination.


What he said.

Specifically, anything which is going to allow an in game instakill (poison, throat cutting etc) should also result in the target expending any remaining Nemesis until they successfully evade/shrug off the attack or they run out of points and die.

However, in the poison example, the extra nemesis expenditure may be ultimately fruitless (without the right training), but it may allow the victim to survive a bit longer - maybe long enough to reach an antidote, or to go out in one last blaze of glory or infamy.
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'Come and see the violence inherent in the System.'
DevP
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« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2005, 05:13:15 AM »

Those kind of blocks seem totally fine in Wushu: regardless of what you narrate, you can't finish off the boss / mooks until you wear them down to zero, but you can narrate all kinds of things up to that point. So, just as simply, let the characters openly see each others' Nemesis ratings, and simply make it clear that "instakills" on someone with remaining Nemesis will Just Not Work - either they'll be metagame vetoed or have some in-game coincidence neuter them, but it's regardless, the players (out-of-game) should conspire reasons that that they'll wait before administering the instakill thing, only when the target is finally vulnerable.

I think this is better, but the whole separation of character/abstract-concept could also work well. I would suggest that the Nemesis points gain 25% interest or so if the character is killed before using up all her points. (So, again, the players have a reason to not end their rival characters' lives before their time.)
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Jeph
Member

Posts: 338

Jeff Schecter


« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2005, 06:07:35 AM »

Once again, I will not put metagame restrictions on in-game actions. And having an incapacitated character blow the rest of their Nemesis pool on something which they have no chance of resisting sorta defeats the point of the mechanic.

I really like Jasper's "reincarnation of Nemesis" idea, and having it increase a bit to dissuade players from using premature instakills like Dev proposes also tickles my fancy. Every character could have a designated "successor" of sorts... for instance, the head of a Noble House might choose their heir as the one to take up their legacy. Actually, in some cases the successsor of a character could be themselves, cloned or rehabilitated or with their consciousness transferred to another body, like Duncan Idaho in Dune.
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Jeffrey S. Schecter: Pagoda / Other
Jasper
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« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2005, 07:44:17 AM »

Jeph,

Yeah, I was thinking of cases like that as well. Or the "evil spirit" or whatever  could float around and attach to something the villain was connected to, like his secret powered armor which now comes to life, or his favorite weapon.


I still don't, however, exactly understand the problem with meta events influencing the "in-game" events (i.e. the SIS). If that doesn't happen, then what purpose does meta ever serve? I realize it's this specific case of influence you're concerned with, of course, but it seems that meta/in-game can't really be the issue.
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Jasper McChesney
Primeval Games Press
Andy Kitkowski
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I LIKE GAMES


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« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2005, 09:07:35 AM »

Hey Jeph.  Just a curiosity: Are you still doing the "Choose how many dice you wish to spend on this action" gig, like in the 1.X version?

Question to clarify things:

You mention Villains, and then Characters.  Let's say we're slitting some throats, an always worthwhile game activity.  Are you worried that the Nemesis pools of the NPC villains enduces metagaming?  Or do you want it so that the Players can get their throats slit by an NPC without consideration to Nemesis?

If the latter, then you've got a lot of work ahead of you, perhaps a complete re-engineering of the game, or the addition of a complicated sub-system that allows you to burrow past Nemesis in certain situations.

For the former, here's a few suggestions:
Most villains get only like 2 points of Nemesis.  That should do the trick. Major villains get more.  

Now, I see why you want to avoid the metagamey bits that come up in lots of strategy/tactical RPGs ("In a last-minute desperate attempt, I fire four arrows into the villain"  "roll the damage" "1, 1, 1, and 1" "The villain takes the blow and keeps coming at you").  However, there's already lots of metagamey stuff that has to happen in the game to keep it cohesive anyway: Like, the fact that you can't equally have the NPCs sneak up on the PCs, and poison them instantly, killing them.  My thought is to embrace the metagame.  In this fashion, perhaps:

So, give a major villain (like, say that boss dude from Chronicles of Riddick) like 40 Nemesis points.  Then, make up rules for how the characters can take away the villain's nemesis points by doing "damage" to them without even being present:

Cause a major problem for villain's resources: 5 nemesis damage
Kill a major advisor or general of the villain: 3 nemesis damage
Complete a small mission that thwarts the villain's plans: 1 nemesis
Complete a major mission that thwarts the villain's plans: 3 nemesis

This "whittles them down" without them even being present.  If the PCs on adventure One say, "OK, we know that Count Badass is the villain.  Let's launch a major assault upon his stronghold!", then they basically have to go through hell to get to him: If they suddenly find themselves in one-on-one combat with him, he's got hidden shields, poison sniffers, security guards and hostages, secret weapons, etc. It'll take forever in a one-on-one fight, and most likely they'll just die.

However, if they whittle him down for a while without even facing him directly (destroying his supply chain, sabotaging his computer network, setting up spies, etc), and get him down to, say, "3-6 Nemesis" before taking him on one-to-one, then they know that, even if the guy is just as powerful as he was before, they've got some weakness there that they can make use of to finish the job with a poisoning or telekinetic combat.

Like in Dune, right?  Feyd tries to poison Duke Harkonnen.  He TOTALLY knows it's gonna work.  He makes carful preparations, clears the poison sniffers, etc.  And yet it doesn't- the Duke is just "lucky" or whatever.  Later, Leto breathes the poison tooth.  A couple more Nemesis offa his sheet, but still not enough.  Only after a few years of guerilla warfare, sabotage, infiltration and assassinations can the PC(s) take down the Duke to enough Nemesis points that Alia's posion dagger is able to finish him off ("I poison him" "Yep, this time you've got him.")

It's still a little metagamey, but it helps you by not essentially having to recreate The Riddle of Steel. And it sounds like you want this relationship to be one-way: That is, the NPC's can't sneak up and whack a PC without a lot of planning ahead, etc.

-Andy
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Jeph
Member

Posts: 338

Jeff Schecter


« Reply #10 on: May 16, 2005, 12:37:47 PM »

Okay, maybe I've got a bit of 'splainin to do.

Why I Don't Want Nemesis to Prohibit Characters from Taking Certain Courses of Action

Two weeks ago, I think, I was playing D&D with Peter and Wade. We wrapped up early; due to some instant messager conversations, Peter requested that I teach them the basics of the new Exemplar system. All agree that this is a good idea, and I declare my teaching method to be a sample combat, Peter against Wade. I give them each identical characters with only the combat stats filled out; both competent but not Exemplar. They've got Athletics and Cool 3 (on a scale of 1-5 with 2 being proficient), Initiative 4 (on a scale of 1-10 with 3 being average for a combat trained mook), 6 points of Willpower (a bit below average for a total badass) and 6 points of Nemesis (more than enough for one climactic fight scene).

Each character's got a knife and no armor. The setting is the outer corridors of a transport vessle a few hours into the journey between a planet and a hyperspace jump point.

Peter wins initiative on the first round and pokes Wade full of holes. Wade stays up by burning 4 points of Willpower. The fight continues with Wade spending Will like crazy to compensate for the disadvantage that the first round gave him, and, I believe, spending Nemesis to restock Willpower twice. In the end Peter lands the last blow.

"What happens now is Wade rolls a die and loses that many points of Nemesis. If he's at 0 or less, now, he'll die without medical aid."

Wade rolls a 1; that puts him at 3 Nemesis. He'll live.

Peter thinks for a moment, asks:

"What's to stop me from keeping at it until he dies?"

::

That's the root of it. There ISN'T anything stopping him. He obviously didn't want there to be anyting, and neither did Wade, really, and, frankly, neither did I. We didn't want the rules dictating the courses of action available to the players. But, after a bit of discussion, it became clear that we all still liked the idea of the Nemesis pool, what it represented, what it allowed the player and character to accomplish. Hence the question: how to reconcile Nemesis with the fact that sometimes, death is unavoidable?

I don't have any problem at all with the metagame influencing in-game events, so long as that influence doesn't suddenly result in characters having abilities that they shouldn't. Metagame is fine. I'd go so far as to say that recognizing it is good. But my group and I have placed a clear, well defined limit on to what extent metagame will influence in game.

It will not artificially limit what actions characters can take.

Now, the original Exemplar had these things called Plot Points, which allowed players to temporarily get to step in to author stance, with narration subject to GM veto (and thus really making it into a sort of bargaining process). Those were there to help introduce my group to that concept. The revision will not have Plot Points, because we don't need that stepping stone any more. Players will be actively contributing to scene framing and so forth, par for the course.

If they're trapped on water world with no way off, well, in the original, they might spend a plot point to say that a ship surveiling the system rescues them. A bit of back and forth between them and I would ensure; eventually shit would be worked out, and something approximating their original desire would take place. In this revision, all that would happen without them having to expend any sort of resource.

Revised's mechanic for chase scenes is even predicated by this: basically, the person who wins an opposed roll gets to frame the next encounter between the pursuers and the pursued.

To reiterate:

I am not against the metagame influencing in-game events. However, I have drawn the line at it prohibiting courses of character action.
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Jeffrey S. Schecter: Pagoda / Other
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