How many times did you get "You need a feat for that" as an answer to your awesome move? Today we discuss how to empower players with creative ideas.


Imagine a player saying: “I jump on a shield and slide down the stairs shooting arrows into the Uruk-hai…”

Everyone at the table gets really excited and they imagine a scene that looks like this:

To which GM responds: “Well, you would need Fleet of Foot and Successive Attacks to pull that off as one action. Do you have those abilities? Too bad. You fire one arrow into the Uruk-hai horde dealing 4 damage. Next.”

At which point table excitement went down the well.

Congratulations GM, you know the rules by heart, but you just robbed your players of an awesome scene, and what’s even worse you are training them to play from their sheets instead from their imagination.

When I think about what kind of stories we retell from our games, whether they are epic achievements or epic fails, it’s never, never: “…and then the GM spent 30 minutes going through the rules to determine if my move was legit. It was not.”

Empowering Player Imagination
Player: “I jump on a shield and slide down the stairs shooting arrows into the Uruk-hai…”

GM: “OK. Sliding down the stairs will require a balancing check (DC 6). If you fail you will fall into the horde, on a critical fail you will fall into the horde and impale yourself. You can make a hindered attack if you spend effort. You must pay an initial cost of 3 Speed points.”

In the above example GM thinking went along these lines:

  • very creative move in the domain of possible, could make an awesome scene!
  • epic moves have epic fails, let’s state some possible fail states
  • this needs to be more expensive compared to doing the same with any abilities, so effort spends and initial cost are required.
  • apply Attacker is Jostled rule - attack is hindered unless trained in balancing

All in all, we ended up with an action+attack(hindered) on a successful DC check. Not quite Legolas level of epic, but still enough to make a scene work. It comes at a hefty cost and great risk, so we don’t have to worry about any potential abuse.

Concerns
While I like to empower my players, I still want to maintain diversity at the table and not devaluate similar abilities that other players might have or are waiting for them at higher tiers. I mentioned Fleet of Foot and Successive Attacks already, but what if I had a character who Fights With Panache at the table? I would need to take into account that similar ability Mobile Fighter becomes available at 4th Tier for her!

In that case, I would probably say: “No Gimli, you can’t do that as one action, but Legolas might give it a go…”

Digging Deeper
If we abstract this as an Action+Attack type of move we might find some further use for it.

Consider this move:

I can imagine a player saying: “I want to do a feint high attack, close the distance and do a takedown.”

Stated like that, takedown would be an actual melee attack, and DC would go on the risky part of the move, which is feinting to close the distance. With that settled we move on to the failure states. One is on the feint and the second is on the attack.

If the feint fails we can say that the opponent read the intention and successfully moved herself to a better position, which enables her some sort of advantage. This advantage can be a swift counterattack, where the player character just takes the damage or it could be a hindered defense on her next turn. Critical fail might be both damage + hindrance.

On a successful feint player now needs to do the actual attack - grapple for a takedown. Failure here might range from an opponent slipping away, to critical miss where the player might find herself lying on the floor instead.

Now that we have failure states sorted, we can think about the cost. As this is a two-part action, or two actions move if you like, we want the player to expend her resources. So one mandatory effort use for the takedown attempt and a static 3 point Speed cost for the feint, should do the trick.

In this example, we need to take into an account the level of an opponent. Takedown DC should be same as the NPC level, but I would mod it to +1 for larger/heavier ones. For the feint part I would think about the swordsmanship level, and add either +1 or +2 for experienced swashbucklers.

So for Town Guard (2), feint DC would be 4 (experienced so +2), and takedown DC would be 3 (in heavy armor so +1).