Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Fate and Doom

In the sixth issue of the Minotaur, Igor A. Rivendell introduced the Fate/Doom mechanics to Mazes & Minotaurs (for which boxes later appeared on the Vikings & Valkyries character sheet designed by Rubén Navarro, rising to a sort of "semi-official" status - at least, that is how I see it). Below I first describe the original mechanics, point out some aspects it covers and others it does not, and finally introduce my own, not yet playtested, version of the rule. It was designed with Vikings & Valkyries in mind, but with minimal tweaking it should be applicable to most D&D-esque systems.

(I would like to thank my Vikings & Valkyries group for reading and commenting on this sub-system, Gábor Palkó and Kapitány, and especially ZeroDivide for his keen insights. Thank you guys!)

The Original Mechanics

Characters may spend a Fate point in lieu of a d20 roll (thus no Reaction or damage rolls), so they treat it as if they rolled a 20; it is important that their Fate pool sets to match their level every time they gain a level (characters start with 1 point), thus Fate points cannot be hoarded across multiple levels. Each time they spend a point, their Destiny total increases by one; if it reaches their Luck score (it is one of the six attributes), they are Doomed, and then each Fate point spent decreases their Luck score by one (which may be pretty bad, because the Luck modifier is added to every roll except for damage).

Features, Consequences, and Wishes

This mechanic gives some edge to the characters without making them too powerful. It establishes an indirect connection between one's fortune and fate (cf. Destiny) while still keeping them apart. It also manages to distinguish the effects of them, making fortune unreliable (Luck modifies everything but does not guarantee success) and fate pretty much a sure thing (if a roll of 20 does not bring success then it is the character's fate not to overcome the challenge yet).

What I miss, though, is some real conflict between the Fate and Doom mechanics; they were conceived as optional rules and that is noticeable: they only affect characters who choose to be affected (by spending Fate points). Furthermore, with the starting average of Luck (13) and its increasing by 1 each level, the repercussions of spending too much Fate can easily be ignored (it would occur well into 6th level, by which time 1+2+3+4+5=15 Fate points could have been spent, 6 points would be remaining, and one's Luck score would be around 13+5=18). Even with minimal Luck (starting at 8), it is not until 4th level that one could be Doomed.

What I would like to have is a similar pool of points tied to in-game events, the negative effects kicking in much earlier and, if countermeasures are not taken, rendering a PC very unlucky or even dead; to make this outcome possible, we need to make the power of fate tempting and also somewhat fickle, so that there is a real risk involved.

Proposed Mechanics

There is only a single pool which we call Doom. Players have a theoretically unlimited number of chances to manipulate fate by choosing one of the options below; however, each time they do so, they must add a point to their Doom pool.
  • Treat any one Saving Roll you make as if you rolled 20.
  • Treat any one attack roll you make as if it was a 20.
  • Ignore a single damage roll that would otherwise kill you.
  • Instantly refresh your Power Points (spellcasters only).
Furthermore, there are a number of events for which Doom is awarded (of course, this list every Referee can make their own and adjust it to their campaign):
  • being reduced to 0 or less Hits
  • being maimed by a Major NPC (may be combined with the previous one)
  • being cursed by a god (perhaps 1d3 Doom instead of just 1)
  • picking up a cursed item
  • entering Helheim
Each time a player's Doom increases, he must make an unmodified d20 roll against a target number equal to his current Doom. On a failure, he must pay a price for the gifts of the Norns he previously received, details depending on the difference between his Doom and the roll (margin of failure):
  • 1 to 3: The next 1d3 threats (charging enemy, roaring beast, surprise fire, etc.) mysteriously target you and are slightly advantageous doing so (+2 to hit you or your Saving Roll is penalised by -2).
  • 4 to 6: As above, plus your Luck score is permanently reduced by 2.
  • 7 or higher: As above, plus your next 1d3 Saving Rolls are at a disadvantage (roll twice, keep the lower result).
Here is an example. Thorin, a sneaky magician, is cornered by Sven, a hulking warrior in his prime, who is very much angered by Thorin's prior behaviour. Thorin knows he needs to act quick but, unfortunately, he is out of Power Points. To be able to cast Invisibility, he calls for the favour of Fate and his Power Point pool is fully replenished. This, in turn, grants him a point of Doom, raising his current pool to 7. Because his pool increased, he must check against Doom; the player grabs a d20 and rolls an unlucky 3, which means his margin of failure is 4. Thorin's Luck is lowered by 2 and the next 1d3 threats are going to give him a hard time (the Referee secretly rolls 2); but at least, he is able to cast Invisibility and get away with mocking the clan's warriors and stealing a few precious jewels, as well.
There are also a number of ways to get rid of Doom (individual Referees should alter this list as well to reflect their campaign's theme, goal, etc.):
  • upon levelling, your Doom decreases by 2 points but not lower than your current level
  • accomplishing a task assigned by the gods
  • slaying a cthonic monstrosity
What these rules accomplish is giving the players some - not game-breaking - power which they may use at their will. It also comes with a cost, a price, if you will, that they may avoid paying for quite some time (depending on their rolls), but inevitably looms above them, sort of marking them as heroes destined to fall, eventually. Like real viking heroes.

Further Alternative

Suppose you like this sub-system except for its randomness. Assuming you prefer a more gradual (and less forgiving) approach and you do not mind keeping track of another number, I got you covered. The following effects are triggered in sequence, one at a time, each time a check against Doom fails (the list below intentionally lacks flavour and concentrates on game mechanics so that each time a check against Doom fails there is some clear mechanical penalty involved):
  1. The next 1d3 threats (charging enemy, roaring beast, surprise fire, etc.) mysteriously target you and are slightly advantageous doing so (+2 to hit you or your Saving Roll is penalised by -2).
  2. Your Luck score is permanently reduced by 2.
  3. Your next 1d3 Saving Rolls are at a disadvantage (roll twice, keep the lower result).
  4. The next 1d3+1 threats mysteriously target you and are moderately advantageous doing so (+4 to hit you or your Saving Roll is penalised by -4).
  5. Your Luck score is permanently reduced by 3.
  6. Your next 1d3+2 Saving Rolls are at a disadvantage (roll twice, keep the lower result).
  7. The next 1d3+2 threats mysteriously target you and are clearly advantageous doing so (+6 to hit you or your Saving Roll is penalised by -6).
  8. Your Luck score is permanently reduced by 4.
  9. Your character dies, either immediately or the following round. The Referee is encouraged to describe it as gruesome as possible. Furthermore, one of your possessions you secretly name becomes cursed; use a random table of your choice and add the following effect "bearers of this item are granted a point of Doom".

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