Monday, June 9, 2008
Reign Of Discordia Design Diary 1 - Healing and True20
Let's admit it, healing in True20 is a bitch. There really isn't any way around it. If you're unlucky enough to be rolling badly on a given night, you could very quickly run out of Conviction points and be sidelined very early in any given game session. It's easy enough to break the rules in a fantasy setting; just give your guy a healing potion and he's back up and ready for more. Modern and scifi games that omit the majority of the supernatural and fantastic elements have a real problem to contend with: the ease of character death.
I've said many times that Reign of Discordia is intended to be a bit like retro-70s scifi. But what exactly do I mean by that? Here are a couple examples off the top of my head. The original Battlestar Galactica was really a pretty dark setting, yet things still looked bright and shiny, and the heroes rarely took a hit. Within a few episodes after this great interplanetary apocalypse, there were discos and upscale restaurants in this "rag-tag fugitive fleet." Wow, talk about seizing the day! How about where everyone suffered under the oppression of the Galactic Empire in Star Wars, yet the characters were irrepressible and naively heroic? Battles were big, blasters were the great peacekeepers, and no matter how dark things got, there was always room for heroics!
Reign of Discordia is not Star Wars, nor is it the original Battlestar Galactica, and there are certainly no disco joints after 99% of the human species has been wiped out. In fact, in this setting Humanity is far from wiped out, though it does face some very serious threats. Despite the political chaos that has shaped the setting and brought poverty, oppression, chaos, and pain to the people, there is room for the irrepressible characters - the heroes, the scoundrels, and the loyal sidekicks. There is room in this setting for swinging across a chasm that drops hundreds of feet into the depths of some industrial beast while people are shooting at you from all directions. Of course, where there is room for heroics, there is also room for unforgiving miserable failure. Suppose Luke Skywalker had swung Leia to the other side of the chasm, only to catch a blaster bolt to the chest, and was reduced to Disabled status. Would that be the end of Luke? In the Star Wars verse, it would be a flesh wound and he'd continue on, even while the guys in full armor take lesser hits and fall down dead.
True20, by default, is a little more deadly than that. The trick was to create a mechanic where there would be less punnishment for doing what you're supposed to be best at: being a hero. Now, I reiterate, if this were a fantasy setting, a simple healing potion would do the trick. The problem is that Reign of Discordia tries to stick mostly with things that can be explained by science. Adepts are present within the setting, but they're pretty rare and they have a limited selection of powers. With no cleric and no healing potions, how exactly is a character supposed to achieve these great heroic feats, even in the face of a good shot by an NPC?
The answer is through feats. According to the core rules, you can make a healing check once per day. If you spend a conviction point, you can make an immediate recovery check, or do one of a number of other actions. Obviously conviction points are important, they're very helpful, and they're versatile, but they are not plentiful. To address this, there's the Bounceback feat in Reign of Discordia.
So what's up with Bounceback? In Die Hard, Bruce Willis walks across a floor covered in broken glass with his bare feat, cuts himself pretty badly, bleeds all over the place, but still manages to go on fighting. In Rambo III, John Rambo takes a bullet to the abdomen, but yet he manages to go on and kick some commie butt. In Raiders of the Lost Arc, Indiana Jones takes a bullet to the shoulder, but yet he still manages to wrap his whip around the bottom of a vehicle and ride along down the road behind it. Sure these wounds might hurt like hell, but they were able to somehow recover from them enough to keep on fighting through sheer stubbornness and force of will. What Bounceback allows you to do is recover two damage conditions once per day. Say you just took a blaster bolt and you're now Disabled - use your Bounceback feat and you're simply Hurt. There's also an improved version of Bounceback, which allows you to do the same thing as Bounceback, except that you can do it a number of times a day equal to your Constitution score.
Finally, when Bounceback and Conviction fail, you have one more tool at your disposal: Biocort. This is one of the items that was ported from the Modern SRD to Reign of Discordia. However, unlike the way that Biocort works in the original rules, rather than speeding healing, it actually can take away some of the damage immediately. Use one dose of Biocort and you get to make an immediate recovery check. Of course this does not guarantee that you'll succeed at your recovery check, and it also doesn't necessarily make normal healing any faster, but it might just offer enough relief for the character to keep on going. However, unlike healing potions in fantasy games, Biocort has its limits. You can use it up to three times per day, but no more or it loses its effectiveness.
The main idea behind these items is to make the setting more fun. It gives the characters what they need to survive long enough to rescue the princess that the R'Tillek have taken captive, or take out the Lamogos soldiers who guard the shield generator.
In the next design diary, I'm going to talk about the ever fun and exciting topic of starship combat, and how the Reign of Discordia rules give you the option to bring a bit more realism to the game than the standard D20 Future rules do.