Had a useful GMing break of Die By the Sword for about six weeks (though have been on it for the last few weeks).
I’ve been able to look at the game with a better perspective and this week have done some revisions and two very successful tests to iron out the last few kinks.
I’ve taken out the Bonus and Penalty Points for Tropes and simply replaced them with Trope Points.
I found that Penalty Points didn’t really work in campaign play where people made their own characters, as they didn’t come up often enough in context to use against players.
I’d forgotten my campaign character stats too after the break, and had to keep looking at sheets to see if I could use Penalty Points… and most of the time I couldn’t.
So they are out.
Tropes work much the same, you just can’t have a Trope that is wholly negative; they are created as a beneficial statistic that may occasionally go against you or prove useless in specific contexts.
So how does risk, stupid Decisions and character weaknesses come across in play now, and what weapons does the GM have to spice the drama when their role is largely passive?
I’ve created a new mechanic… Twisting Decisions.
When you spend Points to perform an action or series of action, what you spend and what you describe constitutes a Decision.
The GM already had Reactions as a tool, and this remains: the Decision can be altered from secret Modifiers from the Challenges.
However, this only makes things worse if players make a description appropriate to Trigger an Obstacle, and once its Triggered, that Penalty doesn’t reduce further Decisions.
So I created Twisted Decisions for those moments where the GM feels its contextually appropriate for things to go wrong.
When Twisting, the GM can convert the Points you just spent into Penalties, reducing the Engagement Total rather than increasing it.
If you are below the Challenge Total, Points can also be Twisted into Limit increases (as your Decision causes you some form of harm or degradation) and Scale Points (the Decisions you make adds Challenges and/or make them worse.)
GMs can Twist whenever they feel it’s appropriate to the narrative and for the character to fail in some manner.
To stop them abusing the power, after Twisting, the players gets to Fuel back all the Points they spent.
They have to Fuel statistics that match the Twisted Decision description however.
They still get the negative ramifications of the Decision, but if they pour lots of Points into a move, they’ve not been wasted. They might Fuel back different Points than those they Burned too, which should encourage a different approach for potential success if they want to make a Decision.
Say Ter-Saa (sample sheet provided) is dealing with a Soldier Challenge (Challenge Total 3). The soldier is searching for them in an alleyway. The player decides they are going to Engage them initially by climbing on a roof to get above them and evade them.
They Burn 1 Display of Strength Trope Point as this befits climbing and then 3 Focus Points just to at least match the Total.
The GM asks the player how they want to climb: they have no climbing equipment. They want to shimmy up a drainpipe. The GM decides this is not going to be a Display of Strength alone, so decides to Twist the Decision.
Your Engagement Total starts at 0, so is already below the Challenge Total, meaning the GM can Twist for any of the three options: Penalties, Scale Points and Limit increases.
They describe Ter-Saa climbing high but then sliding down the drainpipe, practically into the waiting arms of the surprised Soldier.
The GM Twists one Point to a Penalty to create a -1 as the Soldier is now closer and a greater a problem. They think some damage needs to be done here and Declare a Limit increase; the player ups Punishment by 1 as they burn their hands.
The GM decides the Soldier is more of a threat now so Twists a Scale Point, adding an Obstacle of Gaining On You, adding to the intended evasion narrative.
The player gets 3 Points Fuelled; however, their now a further -1 from besting the Challenge Total, a step closer to their Limit Threshold and on the next Engagement anyone makes, they’ve got an even higher Challenge Total to deal with.
Clearly Focus and Strength have failed Ter-Saa, so rather than Fuel them back, they Fuel 3 Curse Points, as their Curse of Weight can be Fuelled by Decisions that involve “handling great weight”, which is this case, would be trying to slide down the drainpipe enough to not fall.
Now it’s up to Ter-Saa’s player whether to make another Decision or Resolve in Failure; they may as well continue, as they only have -1 to their Engagement and have the Points they started with.
They Burn two Focus Points and two Berserker Trope Points to throw themselves on the Soldier as they approach, screaming and snarling, grappling him.
The GM does not Twist the Decision; it’s in the remit of Ter-Saa’s capabilities and the GM has not described the Soldier drawing a weapon yet, so this Decision could be advantageous.
So the Totals, match, a Stalemate… but because of the last Twist, the Soldier has Gaining On You as an Obstacle; as part of the Reaction (after a Decision, Twisted or otherwise) the GM imposes a -1 since this puts Ter-Saa right in the Soldier’s grip.
They describe the grapple going on wrong, and Ter-Saa being pushed against a wall.
It’s only one Failure Point if they Resolve, so the player might decide to accept that rather than Burn Points on another Decision. Then again, they have over half Focus Points remaining, and at least three Trope Points that might get them out of the situation, so more Decisions are certainly possible.
But is it worth Burning that many Points on one Choice… YOU DECIDE! That’s the main fun of the game.