Monday, January 02, 2006

Path to Defeat

Why dazzle your opponent with swordplay when your rapier wit can be more fearsome than your sword!? Outwit, enrage, confuse... let your mind be as effective a weapon as your sword and shield. This abstracted damage system allows non-physical attacks to have the same opponent-defeating effects as physical attacks. What's more, you can inspire your comrades and bolster their confidence as well!

"Path to Defeat" provides you with an alternative to traditional wound systems. It draws much of its inspiration from games like Dan Bayn's Wushu and S John Ross's Risus in that it reflects one character's ability to defeat an opponent by any means, not just physical damage. Using this system, a rapier wit can be exactly as useful as a rapier, and a careful plan as deadly as a carefully placed bullet. Because it doesn't just track physical damage, the "Path" can be used to model any confrontation the characters may enter into, and remains exactly the same if a war of words results in a crossing of swords.

The Path

This system uses a modified wound track, shown below. This version is just an example; the gamemaster should customize this track as needed for any given campaign. You can also create customized tracks to represent more or less formidable opponents.

MOS Condition Penalty Track
1-2 Shaken -0 OOOO
3-4 Hindered -1 OOO
5-6 Thwarted -2 OO
7+ Defeated -all O

MOS is the margin of success of your roll. Condition is a description of your current state. Penalty indicates the penalty a character takes to their next die roll after being "damaged". Track is where you'll track how close you are to defeat. When all the marks on a given level are filled, any additional damage of that rank is marked on the next available level beneath it.

Combat

When using the "Path," any skill or trait, properly described, can be used to help defeat an opponent. A character can even describe themselves as losing the fight in every other way, only to come back at the end and win with a single, well-placed blow! This meshes with all but the most detailed Fudge combat systems, specifically those which go into great detail about weapons, armor, tactical movement, and the like.

In this system, combat is resolved with a simple set of opposed rolls. Each player describes the action they'll be taking that round. You will find that in many cases, these actions will fall into a logical order; in these circumstances, initiative takes care of itself!

Example: Luke the Barbarian, Sarah the Wiseacre Bard, and Will the Brave Accountant encounter an ogre. Luke wants to charge them, battleaxe swinging. Sarah plans on goading them into foolish anger by insulting their lineage. Will would like to deliver a rousing "Once more into the breach"-style speech to inspire his fellows to great deeds. The players decide that Will should act first, then Sarah, with Luke acting last.

If there is no clear cut order, you can use a more traditional initiative system, or just let everyone roll and let the character with the highest result act first.

To resolve your action, each player makes an opposed roll against their opponent, with both sides using an appropriate trait. A tie means there was no effect; otherwise, the side with the highest result wins, pushing their opponent closer to defeat.

A character could also take an action against which there's no clear opposition by the opponent. In these cases, the GM can assign an appropriate difficulty level to the action.

Example: Will makes his speech. Since he's inspiring his allies rather than directly opposing the ogre, the GM assigns a Good difficulty to the action. Will rolls, getting a Poor result, coming off as more of a post-_Happy Days_ Henry Winkler rather than Henry V. Embarrassed at his -3 margin of success, he takes a Hindered level, and will take a -1 to his next action.

Sarah is up next. She digs down deep, rattling off a stream of insults that infer that the ogre is capable of self-copulation and asexual reproduction via various bodily functions best left to the imagination. She has a Great Wit; the GM opposes this with the ogre's Fair morale. Sarah rolls very well indeed, getting a Superb+2 result, compared to the ogre's Good result; that's a 5 MOS for Sarah. The ogre is absolutely flabbergasted with rage; he's Thwarted for now, and takes a -2 to his next action.

Luke, with his Good Barbarian trait, swings his axe at the ogre, a Poor Fighter. Both sides roll, with Luke getting a Fair result and the ogre a Poor one. That's a margin of success of 2 for Luke. The GM records a Shaken for the ogre, who'll take a -1 to his next roll, and declares the attack swept the ogre's club aside, leaving him momentarily vulnerable.

Groups of Opponents

Groups of similar enemies are best handled as a single entity with a set of shared traits and a single Path. Dissimilar enemies can have their own list of traits, but can still share a single Path.

This can lead to trouble, however: if the players pick out a weakness in one of their opponents, they may try to exploit it by concentrating all their attacks on that foe, ignoring the others while still doing damage to the group as a whole. You could allow them to do so - they did figure out the weakness, after all, and what are weaknesses for if not to be exploited? - or simply remove the offending enemy once the players score a successful Hindered or Thwarted result. Another option is to remove the problematic trait once a Hindered or Thwarted has been scored; once that particular weakness has been used to it's fullest advantage, it's no longer an option to attack it.

Example: When fighting a pair of warriors sharing a single Path, the players realize that one of them has a Poor Self-Esteem. The players hurl a series of insults at the poor fellow until they score a Hindered result, at which point the GM declares that he can't possibly be more embarrassed and marks off the Self-Esteem trait altogether.

Traits can also be eliminated altogether, and replaced with one or more Challenge Levels (CL's) which represent how difficult the enemy is to overcome. A single CL can be used for speed and simplicity, or multiple CL's can be used to represent an enemy who is easier or more difficult to defeat with certain attacks.

Note also that CL's can be used as a shorthand when creating almost any opponent, and can save you from having to devise specific powers for enemy creatures, the exact spells a wizard can cast, etc.

Example: The stalwart trio encounters a group of ten goblins. The GM assigns them a single Path, and since he hasn't had much time to think about it, gives them a flat Fair Challenge Level. If he'd had a little more time to prepare, he might have given them a Fair Combat CL, a Poor Thinking CL and a Good Morale CL, for example.

A few encounters later, a dwarf, an elf, and a hobgoblin walk into a bar (spawning a whole sub-genre of bad jokes in the process) and confront the players. They each have their own set of specific traits, but share a single Path and must defeated as a group.

When the group meets a dragon, the GM gives it a general Superb CL, with a Fair Ego CL and a Poor Greed CL; the long-suffering gamemaster doesn't need to calculate exactly what the dragon's fiery breath can do, but he knows that the dragon will be a formidable opponent unless the players use their wits rather their swords.

The Boss Level

Characters may find themselves having to fight through a group of mooks led by a more experienced or powerful leader. In this case, you have a couple of options.

First, you could simply use a single Path, with the leader represented by the Thwarted or Defeated level. The leader can still have his own set of traits, but you don't have to give him his own Path.

Or you could give him his own Path while at the same time requiring the players to defeat the mooks first. They can still direct attacks against the leader, but until all the mooks are defeated, the only effect they have is reducing the mook morale and making them easier to defeat.

Mixing it Up

With any trait being a viable option for defeating an opponent, it's only natural that the players will consistently use their highest-ranked trait more often than not. And considering the alternative - that they'd be using at most one or two combat traits almost exclusively - this isn't a problem as long as the trait is used appropriately. You can easily reward players who use other, lesser traits in a creative fashion by granting them a bonus to their roll or an extra Fudge point.

Alternately, you can enforce the use of multiple traits by making the successive use of the same trait progressively less effective. When a character uses a trait initially, they roll normally. The second time in a row they use it, they take a -1 penalty to their roll. Each successive time they use the same trait after that, they take a -2 to their roll. This penalty is reset to 0 whenever the character uses a different trait.

Defeat

When an enemy is defeated, the victor gets to decide what form the victory has taken, though it should be appropriate to the form that the battle has taken. If the players win, they can decide as a group what to do with the losers, but the character who struck the winning blow has the final say.

Example: Luke and Will have been engaged in a bitter chess match, with Will coming out victorious in the end. While it's possible that this could have been a chess match to the death, it's not likely; instead, Will declares that Luke has lost their bet, and must burn his filthy barbarian loincloth and put some pants on.

Later, when fighting a group of misguided town guardsmen, Luke bashes the last one with his axe, winning the fight for the players. He wants to behead them, much to Sarah and Will's horror; they were just doing their jobs, after all, and no one was hurt. Luke grudgingly agrees, and declares that, since he has to wear pants now, he might as well take theirs: the guards are left alive, tied up, gagged, and de-pantsed in an alley, with Luke expanding his wardrobe at the same time.

Recovery

Removing defeat is left largely to the GM's discretion and the specifics of the campaign. In a four-color superhero campaign, for instance, the characters might remove all defeat levels after each fight. A dungeon crawling fantasy campaign might have them all removed once every 24 hours, or whenever the characters have a chance to stop and rest.

Character's can also try to remove their allies' defeat markers. Like combat, this can be done with any trait that the character uses appropriately. This has a default difficulty of Good, with a penalty applied to the roll equal to that of the defeat level's penalty; i.e., removing a Shaken level has no penalty, removing a Hindered level takes a -1 penalty, etc. Characters cannot remove their own defeat markers in combat. Any defeat marker except Defeated can be removed. Only one defeat marker can be removed at a time.

It is possible - encouraged, actually! - for characters to remove an ally's defeat mark before the ally can take the penalty to their next roll from it. Any character can "drop what they're doing", (i.e., change their action during their round so long as they haven't acted yet) in order to aid an ally. Failing an aid roll has no ill effect to the aiding character or their ally; it simply means that the aiding character has lost their action for that round. Any number of characters can try to aid the same ally on any given round.

An aiding character will still have to face an attack by the enemy. In this case, the aiding character's appropriate trait becomes the difficulty level for the enemy's attack. If the enemy fails their attack against an aiding character, they will not suffer any levels of defeat; they get a free (cheap) shot at the aiding character.

Example: Luke is doing badly in a fight with a powerful wizard; he's already taken two Hindered marks, and has just taken a Thwarted. Although Will had planned on confusing the wizard by reciting one of the many actuarial tables he's committed to memory, he drops this action to help Luke. He shouts a few words of encouragement to Luke and rolls against his Fair Charisma., taking a -2 penalty since he's trying to remove a Thwarted level. He rolls badly, getting a Poor result, so Luke keeps his Thwarted level. If Will had succeeded, the Thwarted level would be removed, and Luke would make his next roll with no penalty applied.

The wizard still gets to attack Will, though, throwing a Good blast of energy his way, making a static roll against Will's Good Agility; the wizard gets a Superb result, or a +2 MOS, so Will takes a Shaken mark for his troubles.

Smart players might arrange their actions so that a nearly-beaten character will go last in a round, so that the other characters will have a chance to aid them before they have to make a heavily penalized roll. Let them! Heck, give them a smiley-face sticker on their character sheet if you have them; they should be rewarded for their altruism.