More d20 -> HQ thoughts

Another thought from the same thread on the Forge, this one having to do with the idea that characters in HQ can fail in maybe one contest ever session and still be cool, and how to voice that to the players:

Anything in particular I could try to ease the group over into a new mindset about success/failure and fun/unfun?

First, have a frank discussion about something. How many times did you fudge the dice in D&D so that they’d win? I’m going to guess that it was a bunch. Or have to retreat in the final scene to heal up and come back later to take a second stab at it. Where’s the story in that? So you over-ride the rules in order to ensure that the story is better. Why? Because you’re one of those conscientious GMs who wants to insure that the “story” part of the game happens. D&D does little to support the creation of drama itself.

Guilty. Oh so very, very guilty. People in that game like to joke that all I want to do is kill off the group and end the game, but ladies and gentlemen, if that were true the game would have been over in November of 02. I’m just sayin’.

Then ask them if they were aware of your fudging. When they say yes, and that it bothered them in some ways, then ask them if they’d like it if you’d never have to fudge again.
When they say yes (yes I’m making a hell of a lot of assumptions here), then ask them if they trust you to make sure that their characters are cool.

See, that is a very good question — do you trust me to respect your character and the coolness therein? If yes, we’re gold. If no, then why the hell are you playing with my untrustworthy self?

Because, after all, this is what the fudging was about in the other system, where only success is cool. If they trust you, then they have to understand that you, as GM in HQ, have the power to assure that, when they fail, they fail with aplomb.
Without altering the system at all.

Yeah, something I’ve been talking about for a year now is how to be cool even when your fail. Hell, looking good while you’re failing. When you lose a fight, is it because he fought badly? No, the ability level of a character does not change in a contest, the only variable is the die roll. The character always does as well as his ability level would indicate – failure is (usually, not always) the result of the randomness of situation that occurs. I fail to seduce the chick not because I’m not cool – the character sheet says I’m good at this – usually, I’m cool. No, it’s because some stupid waiter spilled soup on me at an inorpportune moment – that’s me blowing the roll.

So, if the players trust you to let the dice fall where they may, and to make their character’s look cool when they fail, then what’s next? Here’s an interesting thing. Ask them if they thought it was realistic that all of their opponents were always tailored to their ability level? That is, why is it that they only met orcs when they were first level, and ogres when they were fourth? Why didn’t they meet up with any Ogres at first level?

Man, if I had a buck every time I’ve heard people bitch about this.
Oh, more often, get annoyed when I mention it. No one wants to be reminded that, in the Big Fight, the main fighter needs exactly the same rolls to hit and takes exactly the same percentage of his hit points in damage from the Big Bad, per round, as he did at 1st level.
The only thing that changes is (a) the names (b) the special effects (c) the painful extension to the length of each fight.


  1. The D20 game that I’m playing in there is no fudging (we (a group of six) have lost one Monk twice, one Ranger, one fighter, and a Druid over 12 levels). Risk of character is a good thing.
    Or you go to the extreme: DragonQuest where we lose up to four characters a night (mostly from one guy who has an inability to play to his characters strengths).
    P.S. Have met up with an Ogre at first level…only the rouge survived (got to love Hide and Move Silent).

  2. It’s passing obvious that your group is largely the exception to the rule in d20 play (judging by similar ‘we don’t do that’ comments elseblog 🙂

  3. Yeah, something I’ve been talking about for a year now is how to be cool even when you fail.

    You know, this is an important point. When I GM a D20 combat and the PC misses, I generally describe how the opponent has (depending on how bad the PC roll was) managed to deflect or avoid the blow. I also try to do the same thing when they’re describing social contacts, etc.
    Which leads to an interesting thing that recently happened in a Riddle of Steel game I run. The dashing, potentially larcenous cavalier character was rolling out a series of face-to-face legwork meetings with some faceless NPCs –and botched (like, totally failed) a roll mid-way through the sequence. In my game this means that A)what you were trying to accomplish abruptly ends, and B)Something exciting happens, usually involving swords and/or guns. In this case, the smuggler NPC abruptly decided that the PC looked too much like a girl and made a point of insulting the PC. Cue fight scene! The PC handily defeated the person he was currently trying to schmooze, didn’t find out any more information pursuant to the successful completion of that night’s session, and added to his growing reputation as a quick tempered, murderous badass.
    I suppose it might have been easier to describe some odd failure on the part of the PC, but I’m always going for the fun — the dramatic moment, the hilarious pratfall, etc. It seems to work out better that way for everybody… Which would tend to support the argument that “if you’re cool, failure isn’t necessarily all that bad.”

  4. It isn’t the combat that makes low-level d20 suck. It’s the skill checks vs set DCs; you can’t do anything cool. You suck.
    I think something like 1st level town clowns with a couple of extra non-combat Feats and an extra 20-30 points or so of skills — and the max increased by 5 — would be a lot of fun. Particularly if you add in things like the Blue Rose system for personal attachments, a relationship map and your OA campaign level of magic and you’re golden.

  5. Eh… target numbers, like everything else in d20, stages up and down as you level… in essence, the target numbers are always the same, relative to the roll you need to get on the dice.
    Thing is… the 1d20 variance at level 1 DOES a lot more than at level 20 when you’ve got +50 in a couple skills.

  6. I don’t know what you mean by the Blue Rose system for attachments… not something I’m familiar with.

  7. Your basic DCs for anything swashbuckly, balance on wet surfaces, jumps of moderate distance, breaking a door, pleasing a not-too-picky crowd, lifting a normal person’s wallet, that sort of thing — don’t go up. Enough to be jr. Goodfellas or Baker Street Irregulars or whatever, which, with the basic skill points, you can’t.
    As to the BR thing, you have points of “Conviction” that you can use for rerolls and such. Conviction points are regained by acting in accordance with your Natures, dark and light — payoffs for rping.

  8. Yes… they do. Stupid as it sounds, the doors get better, the locks get better, the crowds get smarter, and what’s the point of lifting a ‘normal’ person’s wallet when you’re good enough to buy and sell them.
    Bottom line: if it’s worth having, there’s a coinflip chance you’ll fail in d20… always has been.
    Which is one reason I like HQ. You can *make* yourself win. 🙂
    I used to houserule and tweak and adjust starting character generation rules and give people more stuff and skills and stats and bullshit like that to compensate for this kind of crap, but the fact of the matter is I don’t want to — it’s a fucking waste of time to work out the new ‘balance’ when I can just switch to a game system that WORKS THE WAY I WANT and save d20 for when I want to play an ignorant farm boy for six months before I get my straw-haired head out of my ass.

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