Smallville rules questions and play techniques

edited September 2012 in Play Advice
So hey, now that I'm Watchtowering (Earth Commanding?) a Smallville series grounded in mecha anime, I've got a lot of little rules questions coming up. I will ask them here, ongoing. We played our first full episode this week (Pathways formed a sort of mini-episode, since I snuck in a rules tutorial bit with brief roleplaying attached for each Pathways step), and here's what got us brow-furrowin' and head-scratchin':

1. Check me on this: You can always roll, for free, one Value, one Relationship, one Asset, one Resource, and one Opponent's Stress. (and the first two are mandatory.)

2. Does it cost a Plot Point to roll one of your own stress dice?

3. When an Asset Trigger instructs you to Give a die to your opponent, when does the opponent use the die, and how long does it last? For a contest? For the scene? In our game I enticed a Lead player to pay a PP to activate my such a Trigger, during dialogue between Contests, and after the second Contest the Scene ended and he'd forgotten to use it. It hung around in front of him for several scenes until we remembered it and realized its moment had long passed.

4. Speaking of Triggers, it seems to me that some Triggers are simply No Good for Features. Some require the players to activate with a PP, but that's fine, if a bit awkward--you have to stop and ask, rather than just continuing to play the scene. But those aren't the REALLY awkward ones: some basically have effects that are nigh-meaningless to a Feature: "Spend a PP to gain a D8 Relationship with a Feature for the rest of the scene"? Sure, I guess I could, but it's not really the Features' job to explore their Relationships with non-Lead characters. "Spend a D6 from Trouble to Reveal you have access to someone who owes your family a favor, allowing you to buy your way out of a situation"? Uh, as Watchtower can't I just SAY she has someone who owes a favor, without spending anything at all? Is there anything I'm missing with these, or is that just how it is?

5. Can a Test target multiple Leads and force them to each roll a reaction separately, basically like a Sweep effect? For instance, if a squadron of enemy Mobile Frames (D8 Extra, plus Trouble pool) are attacking the space frigate Arbalest, and Officer Welker and Commander Zhang (Leads) are opposing them, the former from his Meta Frame and the latter from the bridge of the Arbalest. If they EACH have to answer the Test separately, the attacking forces are pretty formidable. If it's just one Test and one of them can Aid the other, they can generally make mincemeat out of the enemy unless my Trouble pool has swelled considerably.

6. Should Features ever be targeted by Tests, or Contests with other Features? For instance, Hiro Kobayashi, Franz Welker's buddy, flies into battle alongside him, and has a thing going where he's overprotective of his naive and sensitive friend. Franz, meanwhile, feels guilty all the time about everything, including any time he gets Hiro hurt or in trouble. So it makes sense for Hiro to face real opposition in battle, to give robust voice to all the nuances of Hiro-shields-Franz and Franz-pushes-past-Hiro-to-do-it-on-his-own. Now naturally, when they're actually DOING the jostling over who faces danger, it's a Contest between them; we had just such a Contest this ep. But if Hiro can't ever really face the enemy mechanically, that issue loses some punch. (Mind you, when they face the vile traitor Richard Medeyev--aka the other Lead, this won't be an issue! But that won't be the case in every engagement.)

7. How do Stress Relief scenes happen, in terms of narrative authority? Watchtower frames all scenes except Tag scenes, but the Lead players are the ones with a vested interest in Recovery. Do they just have to jump on the opportunity themselves to facilitate Stress Relief in whatever scene the Watchtower puts them in, or do they request relief scenes, or what?

8. Exactly what priority do SFX have over the normal game mechanics? I know you spend the points and they just happen, unless someone has an appropriate Ability to oppose them, in which case you have a Contest to see if the SFX works. But can SFX pre-empt or cancel a Test or Contest? For instance, after seeing his buddies blown to smithereens before the awesome might of the prototype Meta Frame Sophocles, the last remaining enemy pilot makes a desperate suicide run on the Arbalest. This is going to require a Test to stop... except Franz has the Ability Arclight Rifle, with the SFX "Spend a Plot Point to fire with pinpoint accuracy and disable specific systems or precise targets." So, can he just toss a PP, disable the enemy pilot's propulsion systems, and cancel the Test then and there?

9. You can gain Relationships, Extras and Locations temporarily, by spending PPs during a scene. To keep those on your sheet for next episode, you need to spend Advancement on them, yes? And does this mean you spend Growth dice and bam, they're on your sheet? Or do you have to roll for them?

That should be enough to go on with. I have some further stuff to discuss, like hacking the Advancement system, but let's just start with the rules-as-written clarifications.

Peace,
-Joel



Comments

  • 1. Check me on this: You can always roll, for free, one Value, one Relationship, one Asset, one Resource, and one Opponent's Stress. (and the first two are mandatory.)
    Yes.
    2. Does it cost a Plot Point to roll one of your own stress dice?
    Yes. (Final para, p. 7)
    3. When an Asset Trigger instructs you to Give a die to your opponent, when does the opponent use the die, and how long does it last? For a contest?
    That's how we play it.
    4. Speaking of Triggers, it seems to me that some Triggers are simply No Good for Features. Is there anything I'm missing with these, or is that just how it is?
    That's how it is.
    5. Can a Test target multiple Leads and force them to each roll a reaction separately, basically like a Sweep effect?
    Yes, if that's makes narrative sense. I'd probably do it with separate rolls against each Lead, though. In your example, I'd have two groups of Enemy Mobile Frames, one for each Lead.
    6. Should Features ever be targeted by Tests, or Contests with other Features?
    I'd say no, it's all just GM fiat.
    7. How do Stress Relief scenes happen, in terms of narrative authority?
    In our group, we generally allow the players to request scenes when the Watchtower doesn't have a pressing one to hand. Players can also twist scenes into stress relief if they want to.
    8. Exactly what priority do SFX have over the normal game mechanics? I know you spend the points and they just happen, unless someone has an appropriate Ability to oppose them, in which case you have a Contest to see if the SFX works. But can SFX pre-empt or cancel a Test or Contest? For instance, after seeing his buddies blown to smithereens before the awesome might of the prototype Meta Frame Sophocles, the last remaining enemy pilot makes a desperate suicide run on the Arbalest. This is going to require a Test to stop... except Franz has the Ability Arclight Rifle, with the SFX "Spend a Plot Point to fire with pinpoint accuracy and disable specific systems or precise targets." So, can he just toss a PP, disable the enemy pilot's propulsion systems, and cancel the Test then and there?
    Yes. Exactly that.
    9. You can gain Relationships, Extras and Locations temporarily, by spending PPs during a scene. To keep those on your sheet for next episode, you need to spend Advancement on them, yes? And does this mean you spend Growth dice and bam, they're on your sheet? Or do you have to roll for them?
    Additional Relationships are d6 for the scene where you spend the PP, then step back to d4. That's permanent, and you can spend your Advance to increase them the same as any other Relationship (p. 9). Extras and Locations work similarly: spend a PP, get them at d6 for a scene, then it steps back to a permanent d4, increasable as normal (p. 127).
  • Thanks!
    2. Does it cost a Plot Point to roll one of your own stress dice?
    Yes. (Final para, p. 7)
    3. When an Asset Trigger instructs you to Give a die to your opponent, when does the opponent use the die, and how long does it last? For a contest?
    That's how we play it.
    So, does that mean you can't use this Trigger DURING a Contest? If Commodore Krieghoff tells Franz "Trust me," while just conversing, tyhe D6 doesn't do anything?
    9. You can gain Relationships, Extras and Locations temporarily, by spending PPs during a scene. To keep those on your sheet for next episode, you need to spend Advancement on them, yes? And does this mean you spend Growth dice and bam, they're on your sheet? Or do you have to roll for them?
    Additional Relationships are d6 for the scene where you spend the PP, then step back to d4. That's permanent, and you can spend your Advance to increase them the same as any other Relationship (p. 9). Extras and Locations work similarly: spend a PP, get them at d6 for a scene, then it steps back to a permanent d4, increasable as normal (p. 127).
    The pages you referenced are a bit confusing and contradictory, to me. On p.9 it says:
    Add A Relationship. If you’re midway through an episode and you’ve started to take a shine to a particular
    Feature—or really come to despise a particular Feature—you can spend a Plot Point to add a d6 Relationship with
    that Feature to your sheet. Be sure to write your opinion of that Feature right then as the Relationship’s statement. After
    the first scene with that Feature, the Relationship steps back to d4. You can step it up during tag scenes if you want to
    maintain this Relationship, or if the Feature is only around for one episode you can eliminate it.
    So, you either STEP UP the Relationship during a Tag scene, or you ELIMINATE it. Keeping it around at d4 doesn't seem to be an option. Which is weird, but maybe I shouldn't complain; starting a new Relationship at D6 is a nice boon.

    And on p. 127 reads,
    If a Location or an Extra you want to use during a scene doesn’t appear on your Lead sheet, you have to pay a Plot Point to use it. If the Resource is listed on another player’s Lead sheet, the Plot Point goes to him; otherwise it goes into the general pool. If more than one Lead or Feature has this Extra on their sheet, give the Plot Point to the last person to use or talk to that Extra...

    After the scene ends, you can keep the Extra or Location on your sheet at 2d4 until the episode ends. It’s up to you then to make the Resource a permanent addition to your Lead sheet through the use of tag scenes and Growth—and I recommend the tag scene involve someone who already has that Extra or Location.
    So, it looks like the default principle is, spend a pp. get it for the Episode, spend Growth Dice if you want it to stick around.
  • So, does that mean you can't use this Trigger DURING a Contest? If Commodore Krieghoff tells Franz "Trust me," while just conversing, tyhe D6 doesn't do anything?
    We played it that Franz would use the d6 for all his subsequent rolls on that Contest.

    As for gaining extra Relationships etc., I read the text as saying that the d4 Relationship (or whatever) is permanent. You can drop it if it will never come up again, or you can increase it just like any other Relationship (or whatever).

    We also found most of the rulebook "confusing and contradictory" (or at least, poorly organised), so there's no guarantee my interpretation is correct.
  • The d4 is not permanent. It goes away at the end of the Episode if you don't spend Growth to step it up to d6 and keep it.

    So, if you had 4 Scenes with the Feature, you could get the d6 Relationship for the first Scene, and it'd be d4 for the next three.

    Cheers,
    Cam
  • Thanks, Cam. What's your read on this one:
    So, does that mean you can't use this Trigger DURING a Contest? If Commodore Krieghoff tells Franz "Trust me," while just conversing, tyhe D6 doesn't do anything?
    We played it that Franz would use the d6 for all his subsequent rolls on that Contest.
  • That's also how I read it.
  • It seems weird to me that the D6 would just stick around, for free, across multiple rolls. No other die-granting source works that way; it's either a free die or you pay a PP for a one-time usage. That seems like a big advantage to hand your opponent for a single plot point.

    Though hmm, this has got me thinking about hacking Resources, since their number of uses is so limited, so that each usage grants that die for the whole contest or even the whole Scene. That makes especial sense in this case, cuz if you've called in your Seurity Goons to ejecct the meddler from the premises, they're, fictionally speaking, likely to stick around to help for as long as the situation persists. "Sorry, Mr. Luthor, he wriggled free of our grasp and is now bolting for the door! You're on your own from here!"
  • I also had Resource spends last the whole Contest. Actually an extra d6 is not huge. It's bigger than it is in Marvel's Cortex+ but it's not crazy-big.
  • The d6, in general, is the "meh" die in Cortex Plus games. It's sometimes good to have around, but it won't really elevate any die roll to fantastic-ville.

    Cheers,
    Cam
  • So Cam, what is the designer intent [here we pause to allow Mr. Corley to cease hyperventilating] of the "Give a D6 to your Opposition" trigger? That the opposition gains a D6 for the next roll? For contest duration? Scene duration? Does it make sense to give the D6 at all when there's no Contest in progress?
  • Hnnnnngh!!!
  • So, while we wait for that to shake out (I mean, I'll make whatever call seems best given whatever info I have tomorrow night, I'm just curious what the rule was supposed to mean), I have another issue to explore: Advancement.

    So, the Smallville book has an option for faster Advancement:
    If your group wants to speed things up, you can make multiple advancement rolls in each tag scene. After each roll, remove the two dice that you added together for your result. Once you’re out of dice, you’re done.
    Now, we tried that last session, and it still felt a bit slim. I think we had one Lead raise two traits, another raise one, and and another raise none. That would be just fine for a regular campaign maybe, but we're looking to play about a half-dozen episodes, then quit (with option to renew at a later date). And given how Mecha stories revolve around increased power in a way that your average soap opera (even superhero soap opera) doesn't, I think I want to tweak Advancement still further. I want to capture that "I must push further, unlock my potential, to face my Rival!" thing, and in a short timeframe.

    As of now (following one episode's worth of Advancement) we have one pilot with a D6 chassis and a D6 weapon, and another pilot with a D10 chassis and a D8 weapon. The latter Lead took a Pathways route that netted him much more Mecha Ability steps right off. So the issue is how to allow the former Lead to catch up?

    Now, I suppose the Advancement rolls will get harder the greater the die rating, so I don't need to worry TOO muhc about Franz Welker topping out his mech. But I'm a bit concerned that Richard Medeyev won't get to beef his up too much over the course of 4-5 more Advancements, especially with attention divided between the Frame and other stuff like Relationships and Assets. It seems cruel in this genre to make a player choose between having a strong relationship and a kickass robot.

    So, here's a thing I thunk: What if everyone gets a step for free, in the lowest die they want to Advance, then you roll Advancement on top of that? A guaranteed improvement would be a nice safety net to keep things moving along, while keeping it at the lowest prevents a player from just zipping their favorite power to top tier.

    Thoughts?
  • Seems reasonable. Really since you know how long your campaign is going to be, don't even worry about the Advancement rules, just divide the number of steps-up you want the players to have by the length of time of the campaign.
  • I thought about doing that, actually, but I don't want to render Growth dice meaningless. I like the way Growth point toward doing the Awesome Drama Stuff (and getting yourself in Awesome Drama Trouble) within the episode. Though this group might do ok with the Challenging and the Stressing without the explicit incentives.
  • Challenging does give us the opportunity to roll more dice. Which is plenty of incentive.
  • The "give your opponent a d6" should be for the next roll (or contest, which is usually a series of rolls with the same dice pool).

    Cheers,
    Cam
  • Wait, you roll the same dice pool for the whole conflict? We've been assembling a new pool each go-around, with different Values and Relationships as appropriate.
  • Shifting dice does seem a little weird to me, but I don't see a problem with it. (Are you sure you don't now want something new from your opponent if you're doing it for someone else and for some other reason?) Anyway, if you use the same thing (a bonus die from your friend, a Challenge-tripled Value), then the die it contributes is the same throughout. Bonuses and penalties persist to the end of the contest.
  • ...quietly adding notes to my ever-expanding Mechaville rules cheat-sheet...
  • (Are you sure you don't now want something new from your opponent if you're doing it for someone else and for some other reason?)
    Well, your Telegraphed intent can and does change with each new exchange, so yeah.

  • Contest, not conflict. I roll dice, you try to beat that, I try to re-roll higher, one of us eventually has to Give In or fails. That should usually all be the same dice pools.

    Cheers,
    Cam
  • Okay, so on the subject of character advancement, here is the idea I pitched to Joel on Tuesday, in a slightly refined format.

    The main issue with what we're doing with Smallville is that we're playing what is, essentially, a single season in the vein of an anime mecha show a la Gundam (which has been established already, but bear with me...this is how I organize my thoughts). We're expecting the characters to go from relatively inexperienced protagonists in the first episode, to maybe-not-entirely-too-much-more-experienced but certainly more capable protagonists by the last episode. This represents discovering hidden capabilities, gaining new mecha weapons or devices, learning secrets that are an advantage later on, etc.

    The base advancement system favors long-term play, where maybe you'll see some real differences in ability after several episodes, or between seasons. Which is really too slow for the genre that is being emulated.

    So here's my thoughts on how advancement can work for Joel's Mechaville game.

    At the end of every episode, every character receives, just for participating, a D4 to their Growth Pool. Further dice are added as per normal Smallville, e.g. from healing Stress, challenging Relationships, etc.

    Instead of rolling the Growth Pool to try and advance abilities or gain new ones, instead, you directly spend the dice in your Growth Pool, to Step Up your current abilities (of course, this does not apply to Values...). To Step Up an ability, you have to spend a die from the Growth Pool equal to the new value or greater, and it can only Step Up by one rank. So if you have a D8 ability, and spend a D12 Growth die on it, it still only advances to a D10. If you spend a die on a new ability, it costs a Growth die equal to the normal advancement die values (for example, a new Gear would cost a D8 Growth die), and it starts at a D4.

    If you happen to have a bunch of dice of similar sizes in your Growth Pool, you can combine them to Step Up their sizes. Two dice of equal size will create one dice of one size larger, e.g. two D4s would become one D6, two D6s would become one D8, etc.

    Tentatively, I'd say there's no limit to how many of your Growth Pool dice you can group together to Step Up their values for the purpose of spending on advancements...the only limit would be that you can only choose a maximum of TWO advancements after every episode.

    So, one more example, say I had 3D6, 1D8, and 1D10 in my Growth Pool at the end of the episode. I could use 2D6 to create a D8, use that and the other D8 to make a D10, and then use that and the other D10 to make a D12. Then I could spend the D12 and a D6 on actual Advancement.

    I think that this would, in the end, encourage characters to challenge their Relationships more often, as well as take a few more risks and not Give In so often, in the hopes of building up their Growth Pools more, if even by a little.

    Does this sound like it'd work?
  • Sure, sounds good. You could alternatively just double all dice that go into the Growth Pool and permit a shitload of rolling on Growth every episode.
  • Well, this idea comes on the heels of one particular player whiffing his Growth rolls two episodes in a row.
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