Previously we looked at steps for setting up your game. Where these are certainly needed, there’s only a couple of pieces that differentiates Krendel from other games there. Today, we’re going to start tearing into the guts of Krendel and something wildly different. Today, we talk about the Core Mechanic (see Chapter 2 in Krendel Core).
- Gamer Contract
- The Core Mechanic
- Actions & Powers
- Character Creation
- Faith - spin-off
The majority of games that I played growing up had one of two general resolution systems. The first was a binary die roll (i.e. did you hit) followed a secondary die roll that determined the efficacy of the action (i.e. how much damage did you do). Most of the older games did this: D&D, Star Frontiers, Palladium, etc. The efficacy was sometimes hidden by way of hit location (e.g. Battletech). Later resolution systems combined those two steps by having you toss many dice at once, each one a binary die roll, and then you counted the number that came up a successes. Vampire (and all its children) and Shadowrun worked this way. There were some other variations, such as looking up a single die roll on a chart (Marvel).
Ever since my first 20 followed by a 1 for damage the whole binary then efficacy thing didn’t sit well with me, and I didn’t like tossing handfuls of dice. I liked the idea of rolling one die and getting both a determination of success or failure and the gradient of success. This interest was renewed when I worked on Incarna. However, I wanted something less… linear.
The first steps for actions probably look familiar: 1) declare your intent, 2) determine what action fits best, and 3) decide if a test is necessary.
We often couple steps one and two, declaring an action and assuming it’s the intent. For any number of reasons you may try something that doesn’t mesh with your intent. As described in the Getting Started chapter, understanding your desired intent helps everyone make sure you perform the appropriate action. When choosing that action, Krendel has many examples already made for you. I’ll discuss them at greater length in a couple of posts.
So you have intent and action, do you really need to roll the die? If you would automatically achieve your intent, then don’t roll, you just do it. The sample actions give pretty good examples of when you might roll. So can difficulty, particularly when you just care about a binary result.
This is where things change up. You need a ten-sided die (d10) and a target number. Your target number is four plus your skill level (4 + Skill). That’s right, it goes up, not down. I know that seems a bit weird.
When you roll your die, you want to get as close to that target number without going over. It’s like Blackjack, and if you do this, you succeed. The number on the die is the number of successes you get. You then spend these successes to tailor the result of your action.
If you roll over, then you fail, but you can ask for an alternate result.
Each action tells you how you can spend successes to build its results. To use a really simple example, the attack action lets you spend 1 success for 1 point of damage, in addition to the weapon’s base damage. There’s also a couple of universal options for all actions: You can spend 3 successes to reduce the power pool/well cost (think mana, sort of) of an action, and you can spend 4 successes to get a bonus standard action. So let’s take another look at an attack.
You roll an 8 for your attack, which succeeds. This gives you 8 successes to spend. So you may…
- Dump all 8 successes into damage for 8 additional points of damage. This will drop most people (average human has 8 Health).
- Spend 4 successes to regain your standard action and spend 4 successes to increase your damage. This lets you perform a new standard action, like moving or taking another attack.
- Spend 3 successes to regain a point of power pool/well you just spent (you may have spent something to boost the attack so it caused an extra effect) and drop the remaining 5 successes into your damage; or
- Spend 4 successes to regain your standard action and 3 to regain the power pool you just spent with the last 1 going to damage.
You might get additional options through equipment. For example, a burning sword allows you to spend 2 successes to light your target on fire.
Successes will mean different things for different actions. For instance, when gathering information, the first success gets you one piece of information. Each additional piece of information costs you 2 more successes.
A special rule that you need to know right off is that you can perform one free counter each round. This is an action where you block, dodge, steel your will, see through the lie, tough it out, or whatever is appropriate for the situation and the Skill being used. The successes you get are removed from those against you.
So if you get 5 successes to smack me around (you wouldn’t be the first to think it’s a good idea) and I get 3 successes to deflect it, then you get 5 - 3 = 2 successes.
You can tailor the results of your counter the same as any action, but in practice, it’s usually best to just spend all the successes to diminish the incoming action because if you reduce the successes to zero, then that action has zero effect: it’s been completely countered. Resolve any counters before you start assigning successes to the effect of the original action.
It’s important to note that although the skill used to counter is listed with the original action, you can also counter using the skill that was used against you (e.g. I can use my Melee to block your Melee instead of dodging with my Acrobatics).
So let’s play through an example. I’ll keep it simple and in a scene that is bound to have lots of rolls: combat. Krendel is certainly more than just combat, but combat is always a quick way to get used to mechanics.
Larry is cornered by a pair of risen that want nothing more than to suck out his eyeballs and masticate on his bone marrow. We’ll say that Larry goes first and has a Melee skill of 3. We’ll ignore any powers or armor for the moment.
Larry steps up and tries to lop the head off the first risen with his axe (+2 damage). His intent is to damage or kill the bugger. His target number is 4 (base) + 3 (skill) = 7. He rolls a 6. The risen tried to counter, needing 4 + 2 = 6, but rolls an 8 and fails. With 6 total successes, Larry could put it all into damage, delivering 8. Where this would drop your average human, Larry knows that a human risen usually has 12 Health (the dead just keep coming). So he spends 4 successes to get another action and puts his last 2 into damage for 4 damage with the axe’s bonus.
He immediately attacks again, rolling a 3. The risen no longer has a free counter. Where it can use its standard action to counter, it doesn’t. So Larry dumps it all into damage, causing 5 for 9 total damage from both attacks.
The first risen takes a swipe at Larry, rolling 4. Larry counters with a 3, reducing the number of successes of 1. Using its grimy fingers (+0 damage), it only does 1 damage.
The second risen rolls a 7 when trying to grab Larry and misses.
The combat then goes to round 2.
So you can tailor your success, what about your failure? If you fail, you can accept this. You don’t gather any information, you fail to modulate your barrier in time, or you get lost in the woods. Alternatively, you can ask the Game Master for an alternate result.
When this happens the Game Master chooses the results. The Game Master can give you one of two benefits: two successes or you think of a new approach to the problem. But, this comes at a cost, and that is where things get interesting. You may lose an action, insult someone by accident, use up a kit, take extra time, or something else.
Normally, when a player asked me for an alternate result I would go around the table and ask other players what they think should happen. Not only do they usually come up with awesome options, but it’s a lot of fun for everyone to pitch suggestions. It can also help involve players whose characters are off screen or who may be waiting for their turn still.
Larry’s a bit desperate to end the fight. The last risen is almost dead, but Larry’s down to 3 Health himself. He rolls a 10 on his attack. Rather than take the miss he asks for an alternate result. Larry is given two successes, which enables him to deal 4 damage and kill the risen, but as he goes in for the kill, the risen is able to tear one final pound of flesh from him. Larry takes 2 points of damage as the cost.
There are, of course, a number of ways you can shift the numbers. One of these merits some attention. Karma is a fungible asset that may warrant its own post. You can have up to 5 points of karma at a time, and you can spend karma to adjust actions by or against you. You can spend karma exactly like successes. You can also spend it to do things like adjusting your target number or giving you a re-roll. These two effects can wildly swing the outcome of an action.
Larry rolls an 8 to try to hit a risen. His target number is still 7, so he misses by one. Larry spends one karma to change his target number from 7 to 8. Suddenly his miss becomes an astounding success.
Flexibility and Cost
As you can see, you are very much in the driver seat when you try to do something. This lets you tailor the action, giving you both tactical and narrative choices that can have a meaningful impact. I count that as a good thing.
Naturally, there’s also a downside. Options slow things down. Most actions were squished around so there’s only one thing to spend successes on, which helps speed things up. When you get to non-core powers, this does change. In practice, players start slow with the system, but then speed up as they get more comfortable with it. Also, other players and the Game Master tend to help others at the table.
There’s a lot of other things in the core mechanics chapter. Things like measurements, test modifiers, damage, action types, and the like. All of these are ultimately dressing to the test resolution Core Mechanic, that’s the engine that makes things go.
One thing that is also pertinent to mention is that everyone gets one standard action, one “move” action, and free actions on a case by case basis. You can do anything with that standard action: move, sing, swing, or count your bling. Your move action is restricted to one movement type action, such as move or jump. You can get more actions with powers.
As you can imagine, I have changes planned. You can see some of these in SHARDS, at least the general direction.
The main one is that I will more than likely make Krendel’s passive defense option (Krendel Core, page 10) the default and the active defense the option. You can see this in SHARDS. Personally, I prefer this approach a lot. The math is upfront during the target number instead of during the counter. It’s also one less die to roll. Enough playtesters liked rolling for the counter though. It made them feel as though they had more control or impact over their defense.
The success options for actions will also be streamlined further, which will take some effort. The goal is to make it so that each action indeed only has one effect option to spend successes on. Those other options are being spun off into boosts. I’ll talk about boosts more when I get to actions and powers, but for now, just know that the options remain, they just aren’t handled by successes. Again, this was done in SHARDS, but what you see there probably isn’t a final version.
I also intend to be more upfront about success costs for effects. On pages 10-11 you can see a list for common effects: countering, healing, damage, information, difficulty, and force. There’s many more effects, but they aren’t listed there. By contrast, on page 9 of SHARDS you can see an expanded list. It’s not a final list, but it gives you an idea. This list allows for easy reference and descriptions when using existing actions or making your own.
One change I do not intend to make is the die. The d6 in SHARDS gives too small a range for my taste. I like d10 and will stick with it; though, I will probably include an option for d20 as well.
One change I’m toying with, and toyed with during development, is to make it so that you don’t test for an action. Instead you test for a skill. You then build your action, not just the result. For example, instead of rolling to attack, you roll Melee then you might combine grapple, knock prone, and damage effects. Where I may do this as its own optional supplement because I really like the approach, I very much doubt it will be in the main rules given the complexity it introduces.