Under the Hood – Active vs. Passive Defence


Active vs. Passive Defence
By The Warden

PREVIOUSLY: One of the key signatures of this game is the use of a bonus action whenever you successfully roll a previous action, though there is a cost. If you roll an even number, the bonus action is yours. No strings attached. If you roll an odd number, you can take that bonus action with a Minor Consequence to complicate matters. With the parameters of why players would need to roll dice defined to attempt an action, it now comes down to handling players when it’s not their turn.

Doesn't it make sense for the intended target to do something about it?

Doesn’t it make sense for the intended target to do something about it?

I’m a big fan of giving everyone at the table a challenge during play, something I personally feel roleplaying games lack in many ways. Even Gamemasters can get left out of the play experience with so much of their energy tied up in preparation and execution that their experience is keyed into the reward of a job well done rather than the gameplay itself. Gamemasters, as I find it, are generally not challenged during play and given something unique to occupy their cognitive abilities as a player would be. Even players have to take turns having fun as players and it’s something I’ve come to actively consider in all of my designs.

Here’s what bugs me about the majority of games: all of the players’ efforts are put into their actions performed on their turns. In between turns, they wait and enjoy what others are doing. Nothing wrong with that to a point, that’s where playing with good friends and courteous strangers comes in handy and it’s what makes tabletop gaming what it is. Yet, from a translation standpoint – meaning defining the content of the game into mechanics – it’s always struck me as odd that player characters do not have a say in how they defend themselves on their turns. The majority of RPGs set a static defence number for the attacking character to hit. As a player, you have to hope your opponent does not meet or exceed your defence. Depending on the game, you may be able to do something about it, but it’s in advance to the turn in which your best PC gets whacked across the back of the head or sliced in two. For me, that’s not cool. I want to have a say (or a roll) in my character’s defence and, more importantly, I want players to become involved in the game throughout, not just when it’s their turn.

And I intend to do the same for the Phoenix Project.

HOW WOULD IT WORK?

Good question, myself. Whenever an action is attempted against another character (including player characters), both characters build their dice and roll. The opposing character – the one being threatened with violence, persuasion, or whatever else they want to avoid – now sets the Difficulty for the active character to match or best. Boom.

Or not. Here’s something else I don’t like: exceptions. That means the opposing character has to play by the same rules as the active character and that means whether or not their die comes up even or odd will play a factor. What complicates matters is that the active character is also rolling an odd or even number because of one serious… well, Complication. If I want the purpose of the odd number to always equal a Complication, it has to work for defence as well and the best way to do that is to introduce Major Complications.

A Major Complication is when things go exactly as the intended action was meant to do, including damage. It’s exactly what the character didn’t want in the first place, from falling completely in love with the seductress to taking a sword to the head. At this point, I do not have a complete parameter laid down for what a Major Complication can and cannot do, something we’ll have to get back to later on. Needless to say, someone who fails their opposed dice roll receives a Major Complication.

COMPLICATIONS FOR EVERYONE!

This creates another issue to account for and that’s the possibility for the opposing player to roll a Minor Complication. Previously, we’ve talked about successful rollers dialing up odd can choose to take a bonus option with a Minor Complication or pass and end the turn right then and there. [See here] That comes as a result of the odd number, which trumps all other mechanics. No matter what, I want this game’s signature to be a fundamental part of the game.

Pulling it off is nothing big because Minor Complications will remain the same regardless; what differs is who gains it under what conditions and that’s when the roll’s success or failure comes into play. A successful roll should provide a reward and that’s why they can choose to gain a bonus action (the reward for making the perfect roll in this game – a successful even roll) with a penalty on an odd number. Without success, the character/player has to take the penalty no matter what.

What that does is create four possible outcomes for an opposing dice roll in the Phoenix Project as it relates to the opposing player’s roll. To simplify the in-game application of the rolls, I’m going to use a common and basic example of an opposing roll – the active character (AC) swings his fist at the opposing character (OC) for a simple punch.

  1. The AC succeeds and the OC fails with an even number. The AC’s punch connects with the OC’s raised arms and while the OC is able to block the attack, the AC has gained the upper ground against the OC and gains a bonus action to attack again. Nothing happens to the OC otherwise. The AC can take a bonus action with an even number or choose to take a Minor Complication with an odd number.
  2. The AC succeeds and the OC fails with an odd number. The AC’s punch connects with the OC’s raised arms and while the OC is able to block the attack, he is knocked backwards and takes a Minor Complication. The OC will take a -1 step penalty until he is able to stand back up on both feet. The AC can take a bonus action with an even number or choose to take a Minor Complication with an odd number.
  3. The active player fails and the opposing player succeeds with an even number. The AC’s punch is blocked and the OC is able to grab hold of the AC’s forearm, which can now be used to gain a bonus action and allow the OC to punch back.
  4. The active player fails and the opposing player succeeds with an odd number. The AC’s punch is blocked and the OC is able to grab hold of the AC’s forearm. If the OC wants to gain a bonus action and retaliate, he will have to gain a Minor Complication.

What do you notice right away? Doing so opens up the possibility for the OC to immediately steal initiative and counterattack built right into the core mechanics and not as an unlocked bonus or unique trait. I want that. The actual game I have in mind will rely on frenetic, fast-paced action much like you would see on film or read in a novel. I’m talking martial arts and gunfights. Being able to counterattack your attacker will be the risk for the attacker to try in the first place. Perfect!

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