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Author Topic: [Steel Shadows] The Power 19  (Read 13317 times)
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #45 on: March 01, 2006, 10:01:51 AM »

OK, I get you, but constraints can be really fun too.  If I have a really cool gun with only one bullet, where and how I pull the trigger becomes a fun decision to make.  From a design standpoint I think it would be easier to commoditize skills - you have grenade skill, moderately useful, and you can use it five times.  You have "climb on the fucking ceiling" skill, which is super useful, and you get to do it exactly once per mission, the end.  The causality is essentially cinematic - the really cool stuff only happens in limited, show-stopping quantities.  Since the GM does not know how you are going to outfit your team, I don't think challenge balance is a huge issue - if it is all fighty all the way down, you're hosed if you outfitted wrong, but that's always true. 

If levels max out, the number of uses could be inversely proportional.  I'll stop talking about this now!

Jason,

I totally agree with you! Maybe I didn't say so well enough above.

A typical setup for a character (abbreviated, since, you know, it's not written yet) might be:
  • Ninja Sword d8/d4 (unlimited)
  • Grenade d12/d3 (3 times/special - attacks all)
  • Healing Poultice d10/- (2 times)
  • Spider Spell d12/d12 (1 time/climb on the ceiling)

Quote
It'd be interesting if there was a formal briefing component where the GM laid out the general nature of the challenges ahead, like "for every 50 points, you have to describe all the challenges of a single room and sketch out the challenges of two others" or whatever.  So the ninjas could outfit accordingly. 

Oh, so in there.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
John Harper
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« Reply #46 on: March 01, 2006, 10:18:41 AM »

Should intelligence gathering be part of the game? Like, between missions you roll the Clan dice (or whatever) and successes let you peek ahead at certain rooms in the next mission? Something like that could be fun.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #47 on: March 01, 2006, 11:14:00 AM »

I love the Steel/Shadow Health/Stealth dynamics. That's a game right there.

Now, about the potential breaking point:

Quote from: Ben
...but if I could get Blades (1d10/1d10) then I just kill everything  with my cutty bits.

Oh yeah.  That would kinda suck.  I was just assuming that a High/High combination wouldn't be possible.  Like, you'd have to have either Medium/Medium or High/Low. ...

There's another simple solution to this besides "each skill use is a non-renewable resource" (which is cool, but a pain to balance, and you clearly don't wanna go there) or capping the total of both aspects so any increase to one decreases the other (which is the Trollbabe solution): The cost to buy up each aspect is the current level of the other aspect. (This is Ars Magica in reserve, which I stole for apocalypse girl but may or may not use).

So, in character generation, if I've got my guy's "Drip Poison Down Wire Into Teapot" skill up to Steel 10, Shadow 7, it costs seven points to increase my Steel to 11, and 10 points to increase my Shadow. I know you're not doing "character advancement" over time, but you can still do this pretty easily with a point-buy table.



P.S.: Ninjas are cool, sure, but they're only half a game. Nobody's really talked about the point-buy resource game for the GM. How much do I pay for axe blades that swing down from the ceiling while the floor falls away to reveal a pit of spiders with lasers attached to their heads?
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #48 on: March 01, 2006, 11:49:20 AM »

I love the Steel/Shadow Health/Stealth dynamics. That's a game right there.
...
There's another simple solution to this besides "each skill use is a non-renewable resource" (which is cool, but a pain to balance, and you clearly don't wanna go there) or capping the total of both aspects so any increase to one decreases the other (which is the Trollbabe solution): The cost to buy up each aspect is the current level of the other aspect. (This is Ars Magica in reserve, which I stole for apocalypse girl but may or may not use).

Sydney,

Thanks!

I was working along the same lines at lunch, thinking that the cost would be the two combined. So it's 1 point for d4/d4, 2 to raise it to d6/d4, 3 to raise it to d8/d4, and 4 more to raise it to d8/d6. I'll have to compare the two options, but I like mine a lot right now.

Note: I compared the two options, and functionally, yours may encourage disparity at a higher level, which is cool, but mine seems easier to manage from a balance standpoint. Hm.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #49 on: March 01, 2006, 12:14:41 PM »

Maybe this is dumb, but I had this appealing image - what if you paired dice up physically?  That is, the challenge is measured in maximum pips, and you put the dice in a bucket and then pair them up. 

Challenge 100: 

3D12 (36)
2D10 (20)
4D8 (32)
2D6 (12)

Which turns into

D12/D6
D12/D8
D12/D8
D10/D10
D8/D6

and 1D6 crazy die, I dunno... you could have recipes for different sorts of challenges.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #50 on: March 01, 2006, 12:22:35 PM »

Maybe this is dumb, but I had this appealing image - what if you paired dice up physically?  That is, the challenge is measured in maximum pips, and you put the dice in a bucket and then pair them up. 

Challenge 100: 

3D12 (36)
2D10 (20)
4D8 (32)
2D6 (12)

Which turns into

D12/D6
D12/D8
D12/D8
D10/D10
D8/D6

and 1D6 crazy die, I dunno... you could have recipes for different sorts of challenges.

Jason,

You should totally just write this game for me, man. Your ideas are out of control good. You realize this means that a GM can make it up on the fly and still be balanced.

I am stunned.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #51 on: March 01, 2006, 01:20:32 PM »

Heya,

Quote
You realize this means that a GM can make it up on the fly and still be balanced.

-It's about time we started finding ways to give GMs the tools they need to do a good job.  Love the way this is looking, guys.

Peace,

-Troy
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John Harper
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« Reply #52 on: March 01, 2006, 01:27:31 PM »

Add me to the stunned. Damn! The bucket o' dice is so friggin cool.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #53 on: March 01, 2006, 07:29:39 PM »

Using Jason's idea about the bucket of dice, I've come to a cool realization: the whole "other method" dice thing can be whacked. It's now GM fiat, but a limited pool of GM fiat, which isn't so bad. When you come in a room, the GM will have to spend points on the fly for the challenges. The dice bought will totally be influenced by your description - if you describe how awesome your climbing on the wall is, then the GM will be tempted to let this one be easy and have more dice for a later challenge.

This also allows resource-based abilities to screw with the GM, which is a neat angle. Right now, for example, my alpha rules state that when you use shuriken, the GM has to pay twice as much for dice, as you're hitting from a distance and lowering your chance of being spotted or attacked.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
rafial
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« Reply #54 on: March 02, 2006, 01:11:47 AM »

Vis-a-vis the Ninja Clan thing: it seems like their out to be some common resource pool or pools that all players can draw from.  I'm thinking Inspectres here.  Mission successes can build up the Clan resources and of course impending failure tempts you to squander them.

Also, are you thinking of scoring individual performance?  Could one player win through with great honor, while the other heaps shame upon the clan?
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Jack Aidley
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« Reply #55 on: March 02, 2006, 02:54:15 AM »

Clinton, have you read Orx? It has a system of the GM having a finite number of dice to oppose the players with in each scene which is similar in principle to the one you are describing now.

Another thing that occured to me is that you can maybe have it so the highest dice are only available to finite use "skills", so you could have Zulan's Reign of Silent Fire d12/d10 (single use) but your Ninja Sword skill would be capped at d8/d8.
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- Jack Aidley, Great Ork Gods, Iron Game Chef (Fantasy): Chanter
Matt Machell
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« Reply #56 on: March 02, 2006, 03:29:40 AM »

Clinton, am I right in thinking you plan to have the GM build the flowchart that defines the scenario? Cos you could do interesting stuff with "uncoloured" flowcharts, where the flow between rooms and their levels of conflict are all predefined, but the colour is not. So, 100 points, 5 rooms, final room has main target might be an example, and the GM just has to pencil in "Black Lotus Gang Leader" and he's done with prep.

Also, is the game time-limited by anything other than agreement that play lasts 2 hours? Cos it might be awesome to build in a mechanic clock that ticks down (maybe your stealth decays by one rank each engagement), a bit like Inspectres mission dice in reverse...

-Matt

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CLawrence
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« Reply #57 on: March 03, 2006, 08:46:49 AM »

Thinking about my participation on RPG forums, I have to admit I’m more of a giver than a taker when it comes to feedback, so to try and redress the balance, I’ve taken some time to put together all the feedback I can on what looks like a really exciting game concept. Please keep in mind that I’ve never done a critique of an RPG before. All my previous experience critiquing has been in the literary world, where ‘brutal’ and ‘constructive’ are often taken as synonymous. So if I seem to focus on the negative, I hope I don’t offend. I really like this game idea—I just don’t think you’d benefit from me commenting on each piece that I think is great. So…

OK, first the name. I like the two elements, but not the combination. ‘Steel’ in adjective position modifying noun ‘Shadows’ sounds like ‘shadows composed of steel.’ The ‘shadows’ are probably the ninjas, so the title sounds right for a game about stealthy and/or secretive ninjas who are also inflexible and physically imposing, just like steel. However, this title doesn’t sound right to me for speedy, agile ninjas—which I think is what you’re after. These guys use steel but they aren’t made of it (they’re flexible and ethereal, not hard and bright). How about something like ‘Steel and Shadow’ or ‘Shadows & Steel?’

Now, onto the game…

19. Who is your target audience?
   People who enjoy D&D and other games that are mechanically focused on competition, but want it to take less time, and also really like ninjas.

I think this is the place to start. I’m guessing that members of the target audience will tend to have a strong gamist streak, will be heavily influenced by popular Western ‘ninja’ fiction (particularly films they saw as a kid), will be equally enamoured with the stealth and ass-kicking aspects of popular ninja representations and will be accustomed to the idea of ‘work together to beat the game/end-boss/adventure/GM.’


1. What is your game about?
   Ninjas hired to perform secretive missions without getting caught.

I think the target audience is as interested in martial-arts mayhem as in stealth, so perhaps the game should be about ‘Ninjas hired to perform missions, by using stealth and violence, without getting caught.’

2. What do the characters do?
  Stealthily make their way past traps, enemies, and obstacles to confront the center of their mission.

Sounds good, but again I think ‘make their way past or eliminate’ might better capture the tastes of the target audience.



4. How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
   There is absolutely no setting outside the mission. There might be rumors of setting ("The Edo clan has made a great strategem at court, and so the Hirochi clan has hired you to eliminate their master speech-writer"), but you never play in anything outside the mission. This reinforces the tactical elements of the game.

14. What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?

   I want them to sit on the edge of their seats, tensely worrying whether they will make it through the mission and save young girls from evil merchants.

Keeping focussed on the core aspect of the game is a good thing. However, I think the missions would actually benefit from the inclusion of one very important setting element: the player’s clan. My reason is that I think the game will be most effective when players are on the edge of their seat, hoping that their stealth doesn’t run out before the mission is complete. But in order to be on the edge of their seat, the players need to care about the mission, and it will be easier for them to care about it if it has important consequences for the clan. For non-one-shots, I’d suggest something like the following:

Each Ninja clan has an influence rating of 0-20. Players win the game when their clan reaches 20 (maybe this would represent something like establishing a puppet emperor on the throne). Perhaps the clan gains 1-3 points for each successful mission, and loses 1-6 points for each failure and for each relevant success of a rival faction. The clan is jointly managed by the players and the main resource that they manage in trying to increase the clan’s influence rating is, of course, ninjas. At the first chargen, players roll to establish the size of the clan (e.g. 150 people). A set percentage of that will be ninjas (say 15%, or 23 ninjas). At the beginning, these ninjas are anonymous, but each time the players generate a character, one of the anonymous ninjas is ‘fleshed out’ and given a name. The total number of ninjas is mostly finite, with only a small number of boys coming of age and becoming ninjas each year (say, 1% or 3 ninjas every 2 years). So, every time a PC is killed, the players have essentially ‘spent’ one of their resources and lost one option for their future missions. This will encourage players to care a lot about whether they succeed or fail at any given mission, and about how many ninjas are lost on the mission.

5. How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?
   While one can create a character that will continue play in Iron Shadows, generally one will create a new character every time they play, engineered for that mission. This emphasizes the facelessness and mission-oriented-ness of the ninja.

9. What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
   It puts the mission in danger at all times. While characters are faceless, and therefore we don't care if they die, it is planned that missions will tie together, making the players care about each one, as their ninja clan has a goal.

Being able to create new characters quickly before each mission is good, but I’m not so sure about the facelessness. First, I think your specified target audience will contain many folks who like some sort of character-advancement-based reward structure. More importantly, though, I think players will experience more excitement if they care not just about the mission, but also about whether their characters live or die. It's an extra layer of danger, which means more adrenaline. I think you should encourage players to give their ninjas characteristics that they care about—after all, ninjas are faceless to the enemy, not to clan and family.

Since ninjas will, I assume, tend to be very competent on average, weaknesses will probably help quite a bit to make each unique. Perhaps each ninja could be given a weakness such as ‘feels very compassionate toward children (d6).’ So, for example, if Yoshi, with the weakness ‘can’t resist the chance to steel expensive loot (d4),’ were sneaking into the target’s bedroom, and suddenly spotted a pearl and jade necklace of exceptional workmanship (d8) in the adjoining room, he’d have to roll to resist the temptation.

3. What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
   The GM designs interesting and challenging scenarios to play in, and then presents this to the players. The players quickly build ninjas and then play these ninjas doing their stealthy thing. They try to think of ways past obstacles that the GM hasn't thought of.

16. Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

   The scenario creation is totally fun and great. You make a flowchart instead of a normal map. You can even randomly create the flowchart and then go back and add the challenges. This should allow the GM to make neat adventures with a minimum of prep time.
   
   All in all, I'm trying real hard to bridge what I do enjoy about traditional "find the challenge and defeat it" games with a modern-sensibilities approach to it. The scenario creation above, for example, is built on points, ensuring that the GM makes a scenario the characters can make it through, although with great challenge. But, because characters are fluid, the GM's not constrained in what he can make.

17. Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?

   Exactly what I said above - very competitive scenario creation that is fair and balanced, not by contract, but by rules

I like it, but sense a potential danger area. Some players & GMs might fallaciously perceive this as a Gygaxian GM vs. players game. That sort of game works fine for many people, but it can also ruin games by encouraging the GM to bring out his inner jerk. Your point system is an excellent method of mitigating this, but I think you should also stress, clearly and frequently, that the GM’s role is not to beat the players, but to design a fun mission that he thinks the characters will be able to beat, but just barely. In essence, the GM’s challenge is to find the perfect level of challenge for the players.


   They do this in a quick amount of time. Scenario prep should be one hour, character creation 15 minutes, and game play 2 hours.

That would be a great balance. However, since good characters are very useful for developing a good story (which, of course, is what players & GM will be doing in the 2-hour game-play part) and since the target audience will like and be used to the idea of team members each having their own unique strengths and weaknesses, it'll be important to make that 15 minutes of chargen count. I think chargen should ignore those things that all ninjas can do and focus only on the unique traits that will define each PC.

6. What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
   It rewards solid tactical thought, deftness of ideas (that is, thinking up the unexpected), and luck. It's not a very serious game, in that luck is a major factor.

7. How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?

   The game rewards the above with an increased chance of mission success. There is no built-in punishment mechanism besides mission failure.

In some ways, I think that a high luck factor discourages tactical thinking by reducing the average value of the reward for engaging in it (good tactical thinking will give you a high chance of success vs. good tactical thinking will give you a slightly higher chance, but mostly it’ll come down to good rolling). Is there a good reason why a high luck-factor will add to the players’ enjoyment?

8. How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?

   The GM is responsible for credibility. Narration is controlled generally by the GM. Players will get a chance to narrate their success within a limited structure - the GM has final say, and they are not allowed to expand past their intent.

IMO, definitely the right choice for the game.


10. What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
   Very basically, you will have a skill and stat for every action you take. These are ranked with dice - 1d3/4/6/8/10/12. So, for every conflict, you have two dice to roll. The GM will also have two dice, determined by the conflict. You roll and compare individual dice. The player only needs one die to win to win the conflict. However, if one die fails, the difference is damage against either the character's health or stealth pools. If health reaches zero, you die. If stealth reaches zero, everyone's alerted, and your mission is in dire danger.

I like this, but I think you might be able to pump the adrenaline up slightly if there is a very small chance that when something goes wrong stealth-wise, it can spiral out of control. This way characters will be discouraged from thinking, ‘Yeah, yeah, lost two stealth points. Who cares? We’ve got lots more.’ Perhaps making the GM’s stealth dice open-ended would do the trick.

11. How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
   It's about ninjas! They're stealthy!
   
   Seriously, note that stealth is a resource, not an ability. It is assumed that as a ninja, you are always stealthy. You must hoard this resource, though, keeping your enemies in the dark at all times. If you fail to do this, then you are a failure as a ninja.

This bit is great. I do think, though, that your target audience is as interested in ass-kicking as they are in stealth, so exciting fight mechanics should be a priority. One great place to build up the fight side would be when mission failure occurs. The mission’s lost, but the players need to get out with as few losses as possible (so as not to drain the clan’s resources). Good fight mechanics and good chase mechanics could make this part really exciting.


12. Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?

   Yes and no. Characters don't advance, but missions will. The GM builds a mission with a certain number of points, which determines what level characters will be built. So, if you play three times, against 50, 75, and 100 point scenarios, then the characters will be built at higher effectiveness levels each time. You could play the same characters at each effectiveness level, but it is not required in the least.

13. How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

   The lack of character advancement against reinforces the point that the mission is much more important than the character.

Go on, you scrooge! Give those D&D players the character advancement reward they so crave! Anyway, it’s fun. It’s true that faceless characters will put more focus on the mission, but I really think the missions will be more exciting if the players care more about the characters.


15. What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?

   The characters are built with "trainings," which are like class levels. Each training has five levels, and they are going to get a lot of neat attention. Basic ninja training, poison training, animal training, zen training - all of these are going to get neat color.
   
   These are going to get extra attention because they are the players' first important choices, and therefore will be their first point of engagement with the system.

This is great! I think it’s exactly the sort of thing that will make players care about their characters.
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CommonDialog
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Posts: 31


« Reply #58 on: March 03, 2006, 10:48:43 PM »

Clinton,

I think there is the start of an exceptional game here.  I'm even more impressed by the way it's taken shape here.  Good ideas from everyone.

I wanted to comment on things for which I feel strongly about throughout the discussion.  Overall, I am excited about where this game is going.  Much more so than when I read the first P19 for reasons I will delineate below.

At first, I was afraid that your focus on missions over characters was going to be a detriment for the game.  To be blunt, I was wondering why Steel Shadows was going to be a roleplaying game it all.  It seemed more like a tactical miniatures (a la Space Hulk) game with its mission-based focus and its elicit rejection of characters (yes, you say a character can be resued, but the character is just a set of numbers that determine what dice to roll.)  Once you add clans and clan history, an emotional attachment is formed and it's a character.  This is my definition of a character, but I think that many gamers would agree with this idea, at least on the surface.

I should also say that my Warhammer 40K Chaos Champ has a name, a backstory, and I wanted to weep when he was crushed underneath a dreadnought that was knocked over by a lucky shot.  So my feelings on characters and adding them is somewhat skewed.

I think that this can be read as a vote for character advancement.  It complicates the mechanic, but I think it's worth it.  I think everyone wants to see their 50 point teenage ninja grow into the wizened old master ninja who gets to train a whole new generation of grasshoppers.

Among my other thoughts.  I don't like the idea of skills as reusable resources.  To me that doesn't make sense.  I mean I understand that a skill that is used over and over may lose effectiveness, but that almost seems like a metaeffect.  For instance, "Jeez last week someone from the Nakamura Clan used their new tea kettle and they all were poisoned, and two days ago the Kurita Clan got new porcelain and they all were poisoned.  It seems a little strange we'd get now porcelain, but hey, bad things never come in threes.  Drink up!"  However, my skill at blades should work whether I hacked the last gaurd up or not.  I also think that the idea of creative solutions to problems and skills as a resource may be at odds with one another.  If I have one charge of my poison, I'm likely to save it rather than use it in a creative manner and defeat one of the cooler mechanics of the game.  I'm also going to save it until I think it will succeed, creative opportunity or not because I don't want it to go to waste.

May I suggest keeping skills as general possible.  Instead of gernade d12/d3 and shuriken d6/d8, why not have a throwing skill?  I'd keep skills as general possible.  To me, gernades and shuriken are just equipment.  Now, perhaps a gernade is +2 ranks of damage and -6 ranks of stealth (they do boom rather loudly) and that's fine.  I think keeping a list of equipment with finite numbers of gernades, shuriken, etc. which are bought with points (or Clan points or whatever) is perfectly appropriate.  And would be a nice touch to the game and easily to do as a mechanic.

My last point is one you can feel free to disregard.  The shadow vs. steel thing works well as a game mechanic, but it has no RL equivalent that I can think of, at least in some cases.   Blades are a good example.  I can't imagine someone with a d12 skill one the  Steel half of blades (representing an excellent fighter) who would have a d3 in Shadow.  It seems that someone who had perfected their skill with a blade to the point they were d12 with one half of the skill could be difficent in the other half.  So at the very least, I think those two halves should be close.  I am not sure if I am making sense.

There might be some equivalent to that in Poison.  The argument could be made that a higher Steel rating (more damage) would mean less stealth in their application.  An amount of poison equal to one point of damage may have only a slight aftertaste.  An amount of poison equal to 10 points of damage is going to taste awful.

HOWEVER, this all goes back to equipment, IMNSHO.  A dagger has high steel and low shadow.  A battleaxe, just the oppositve.  Same with different doses of poison.

Good game.  And good interviews on the SOK Podcast.  Good stuff!
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CommonDialog
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Posts: 31


« Reply #59 on: March 04, 2006, 01:12:36 AM »

One more thought I had based off of the metaeffect idea I mentioced earlier.  Would there be a chance that a character could attempt several mini-missions before the actual mission such as bribe the cook, ambush a caravan with gaurds, prepoison the water, etc?

These mini-missions would alter the threat level in the mission.  It might also work as several missions in a campaign.
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