Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Success Points

I'm back from comic con! Today I'll be testing toxins, spines (like a porcupine's quills--it attacks you when you attack them!), and pincer (a grab/worry style attack).

I got a series of questions from a reader to work on. I'm starting here with Success Points. But before that ... a quick note on Disease.

We actually have had some notes on disease at various places in the rules. The problem with disease is that (a) it's seriously un-fun but moreover (b) it serves some very strange purposes in RPG-play. I love the nasty colorful diseases from Warhammer. If we do a dark fantasy game it'll probably have some notes. Diseases can be a sort of slow wasting that spur PCs to action (we must save the prince by getting a healer!) or they can be simple 'realistic' hazards of injury or environment (don't go down in the sewers, you'll get skin-rot!). If a PC is diseased then usually it means either (a) it's part of their character and is long term of (b) it's simply an obstacle that has to be overcome in the short term. I suspect dying of disease would be very unsatisfying.

Finally there's the carrier issue: in a post-apocalyptic wasteland it might be cool to have a disease carrier character who would spread doom on towns he crossed (or, you know, maybe those who spilled his blood?).

In any event the issue is two fold: the first is a question of infection. The deadliness of a disease is not proportional to its infectiousness. In fact, the really deadly diseases are probably harder to catch than the other way around. JAGS Disease rules will need a way to handle infection apart from the actual effects. This would likely be a CON roll modified by the disease itself and circumstance (if you bathe in it, roll at -4).

The effects themselves (once you have it) would indeed be a Resisted Attack with long-term effects (most diseases will not kill you during combat). The rules for curing would likely be a Resisted Attack roll vs. some portion of the initial Intensity based on the Result (i.e. a Catastrophic Result might be 3x the initial Intensity, while a Minor Result might be 1/4).

There is probably a note for each level at how often the PC has to re-roll their defenses hoping to get better but possibly getting worse. These are complex rules and would need at least a page or two in order to be covered. They're low priority for the next release.

Success Points
Success Points are fairly new to JAGS and they exist because of a couple of specific needs. These are:

  • A way to measure the progress of a Drama Roll. A Drama Roll is a series of rolls (usually 3), where the amount each roll is made by is tracked against a Target Number. So, for example, if your safe-cracker is working on the safe (and gets one roll every 20 min) and they need a total of 20 SPs to crack it, over a given time they can likely eventually crack the safe--but each 20 min it's likely something happens (roll for a guard to come by?). This creates DRAMA!
  • A 'meta-currency' in the game which can be expended during play to make the character more effective. For example, a character with the trait Loser has Success Points and can loan them to other players. The PC, as seen by others, is a bit of a hapless dork--but his or her friends get "buffs" from being around them. This is sort of like Xander in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
These are two different things and they (confusingly) share the same name.

What Are We Going To Do?
Well, it's very possible that we'll change the name of one of the two things. I'm open to suggestions. However, as the two are somewhat inter-related let's discuss in more detail how they should work.

Do You Get SPs From a Drama?
If the safe-cracker in the example above needs 20 SPs to crack the safe and generates 30 does the character keep the other 10? No. You don't. SPs generated for a drama are lost when the drama ends. That, however, is not the whole story: sometimes the point of a Drama is to generate SPs. Huh? Let's take a look:

Trait: Con Man. The character can run "confidence games" to generate money and SPs which they can later use. In this case the con itself is a drama: the PC must beat a Target Number with three rolls to successfully pull off a Con against a mark. If they succeed they get some money and they get 2 SPs! A Con Man has a "battery" of 4 SPs per level.
What does the above mean? Let's break it down

  1. The trait itself will be a Generic Archetype Trait and will cost 4 or 8 AP per level. It grants a "special ability" to generate SPs through Con Games. NOTE: you do NOT need Con Man to run a con game. Anyone can do that. You don't even, necessarily, need Con Artist skill although without it you will be hugely disadvantaged since the GM can't assume you get things correct when you don't specify them. What the Trait does is grant the PC the ability to generate SPs that they can use for other things (possibly "whatever roll they want to improve").
  2. The rules will sketch out a general drama for a con game. Any PC with the right skills can do it. Again, you don't need the Trait to try to con someone. What changes if you do have the trait is that you get, in addition to money, SPs for it.
  3. When a character with the Trait does the drama and succeeds all the SPs generated by the Con Artist skill rolls will go away (poof!) but if successful the character will then GET 2 SPs to mark on their sheet. These can then be used for other rolls or whatever.
  4. We are working on the concept of a "battery." This limits how many SPs the character can walk around with (4 per level) and answers the question: "how many SPs does an NPC with the Con Man Trait have?" NPCS are generally assumed to be either half or fully loaded.
What Can You Use SPs For?
This is tricker than it sounds--we do have some rules for this in the book ... but ...
  1. The general rule is that you can only spend SPs if you made the roll. The SPs just make it better. This is done because we want your roll to be important in the game--moreso than SPs.
  2. Can you "buff" someone else's roll? Often yes. We expect many SP-pools to be able to be lent to other characters. This is a good way of handling certain meta-game things like a commander who improves his men's abilities.
  3. What about restricting SPs to certain kinds of rolls? We plan on it. Imagine a magical sword that gives 3 SPs for dealing more damage or getting around a block. That's offensive. What about a magical shield that gives 4 SPs for making a block with it more likely to work or improving what a CON roll was made by. Those are defensive. There are several other possibilities (a lab that generates SPs for science rolls?) 
  4. How do SPs effect Resisted Rolls? We need to determine this because those rolls are important and SPs need to have impact. Likely an SP can improve the roll by 1 per pt spent? Something like that?
When Do You Use SPs?
We need to understand how big a deal SPs are by testing in the simulator. This will be especially key for magical treasure. Here are some "use cases"/scenarios that I foresee for SP usage.

  • Improve hit-by to 4+ for PEN damage. The character will only spend SP when the hit is by +0 to +3 and will get it up to +4.
  • Hit Around Armor. The character will spend SP on any roll that hits to hit around plate armor.
  • Get Around Block. The character will spend SP to get around a block. How does this happen when dealing with the defender spending SPs as well? Does it go back and forth? I'm not 100% sure.
  • Reduce Armor Save. Each SP will reduce an Armor Save by 1pt. The character will spend the Armor Save down to an 8- if possible.
  • Make block work. When the block roll is made but not by enough SPs will be spent to shore it up.
  • Improve CON roll. SPs are spent to move a CON roll towards No Effect.
  • Improve Armor Save. The character can spend SPs at +1 to the Armor Save for 1 SP before the roll is made to ensure it will be made. The character will always spend up to a 12- if they have the SPs.
What Else?
There could be SP pools that regenerate during combat (the sword recharges every time it kills an enemy) and so on. We should think on that (what if the shield recharges when it Blocks five attacks?).


  1. Thanks for talking about those, Marco. So if I'm getting this right, the actual "success" success points used in Dramas aren't supposed to be the same thing as the "hero point" style usage, though both can end up being generated in a drama.

    I'd really suggest renaming one of them; probably things that tell you whether a Drama has succeeded (result points perhaps?)

    As to disease--yeah, I realize this is even a weirder case than poison, but for some settings and purposes you need something. If I get around to running that Morrow campaign before you've tackled it, I may put something together and see how it works and let you know.

  2. I came back to this because I realized on rereading the discussion in the JAGS Revised rule book, that I'm not clear how someone who, say, has no Trait that yields SPs can get them (its possible I've missed something). Besides the Traits, and the sort of dramas you mention, is there any way to acquire them?

  3. Let me get to this in another post--but the basic answer is this:

    1. You can get them through treasure (magic items, for example)
    2. The GM can award them as a bonus for anything (good role-playing? Outstanding victory)
    3. The GM can /tempt/ you with them (going into the bar where you know the evil biker-gang is is worth 5 SP).
    4. Winning Dramas can get you SP whether or not you have a specific trait for it.

    There's some explanation that needs to be figured out around all of this but that's our thinking.


  4. Okay. I'd gotten the idea some of that would be the case, but it wasn't as clear as it could have been from the discussion in the book. Thanks.