[InBetween] Monster Qualities, help me assess them

Hituro

Eager Critmouse
Validated User
#1
Fellow game designers, I need help! (waits for obligatory jokes to die down)

In my mouse adventure game InBetween, a system exists to allow GMs to create customised Monsters (which are any antagonists that take active actions, as opposed to passive Obstacles). As part of this, I have created a list of suggested Qualities, but I am struggling with how to assess them for flaws/overpowerdness/bad combos. I don't have the resources for a massive private playtest, and although I have used many of the Qualities in games, that won't catch every bad combo — in fact you can make a strong argument that, as designer, I'll never even see them.

So I was hoping that more eyes might help, which is why I am here.

Relevant Rules Overview

Monsters are represented by pools of Dice (d6s), which it rolls when taking actions. When a Monster is damaged it loses Dice from its pool, being defeated when it reaches 0 Dice (or when the contest is no longer interesting). Players take Damage in a similar way (though they lose dice differently). Actions are symmetrical i.e. a Monster rolls dice when initiating an action and when targeted. Actions are resolved by rolling dice, counting successes (4+), and then spending the excess of successes on effects such as Damage. (e.g. a Monster and player roll 5 Dice each. The Monster gets 4 successes, the player gets 3; the Monster can spend 1 success).

Initiative for Monsters is equal to the current number of Dice. A Monster with 3 more initiative than any foe gains First Strike and gets an extra dice on the first round of combat (and may gain surprise).

Monster Qualities are special abilities purchased with Advancement Points which are 1/3rd of a Dice, i.e. a Monster who has spent 3 AP has their Dice pool reduced by 1 (e.g. a 6 dice monster has 4AP of Qualities added, it is now a 5 Dice monster).

Here's the list of Qualities I've got so far.



 

Hituro

Eager Critmouse
Validated User
#2
My design goals here are that:
  • 0 cost Qualities should be detrimental, or neutral
  • 1 cost Qualities should be worth 1 Dice rarely
  • 2 cost Qualities should be worth 1 Dice sometimes/often
  • 3 cost Qualities should be better than a Dice some of the time, and equivalent most of the time
  • Plausible Monsters should be able to have 2-4 Qualities without breaking
  • Qualities make Monsters more interesting/exciting/varied/playable, rather than broken
  • Qualities shouldn't invalidate the flexibility the system already has to spend successes on narrative effects
  • Qualities should be often equivalent to player skills (which give dice) or items (which give 1 Dice, prevent 1 Damage, or deal 1 Damage)
Looking at these I may want a cap on number of Qualities, in addition to the AP cost?
 

cloa513

Registered User
Validated User
#6
Also what is the nature of encounters - grind the characters down or one bad guy and then recover or let's avoid combat at all costs.
 

LuciusAlexander

PalindromedaryRider
Validated User
#7
Initiative for Monsters is equal to the current number of Dice. A Monster with 3 more initiative than any foe gains First Strike and gets an extra dice on the first round of combat (and may gain surprise).


"Hello! I'm the farmer's wife!
I carry around a carving knife!
I stomp around in the farmer's house
And scream whenever I see a mouse.
A deadly terror I am to mice
That's why I have so many dice.
For all my noisy stomps and wails
I caught three mice and cut off their tails!
They were blind mice without working eyes
But I still don't know how I got to surprise.
You'd think they'd hear me and run away
Not run right at me as they did today."


I would actually agree that the more likely something is to surprise you, the more dangerous it is. I am not sure the reverse is true - that the more dangerous something is, the more likely it is to surprise.

Of course, it's entirely possible (likely even) that I am completely misunderstanding your game; or that you see "dangerous=surprising" as an acceptable simplification. In either case My comment has no validity at all.

Lucius Alexander

Did you ever see such a sight in your life, as a palindromedary?


 

Hituro

Eager Critmouse
Validated User
#8
I would actually agree that the more likely something is to surprise you, the more dangerous it is. I am not sure the reverse is true - that the more dangerous something is, the more likely it is to surprise.

Of course, it's entirely possible (likely even) that I am completely misunderstanding your game; or that you see "dangerous=surprising" as an acceptable simplification. In either case My comment has no validity at all.
Thanks for the reply!

There's a couple of things going on here.

Monsters (which can be any form of active opposition) are simple dice polls (unless they have qualities), and that dice pool serves as both health (number of damage that can be taken), skill (number of dice rolled), and initiative. That is, clearly, far more abstract than many games, and a deliberate choice here, because encounters shouldn't take more than a few rolls, and new Monsters can be created on the fly just by assigning successes to them. The quality system I'm seeking to refine, provides the ability to turn those simple pools into more complex creatures, if desired — mainly through the use of Specialised which gives +1 or more dice in specific actions while dropping the overall dice pool. If you want a dangerous but not quick monster you could give it +3 Specialised and drop its overall dice, resulting in a lower initiative. (I'm not against negative costed Qualities, I could add "Slow" and have it give AP).

The First Strike rule which you allude to gives a little edge to Monsters acting first, by giving them 1 more dice on the first round of an encounter — basically because they are setting the pace/terms of the conflict. Because rolls are symmetrical (a monster can take damage on it's own action), without this rule, a one on one Encounter with a high initiative monster is the same as a low initiative one (i.e. the order of rolls doesn't matter).

Surprise is a different concept. You get surprise by being concealed before your first action (socially or physically). If you have surprise and first strike, you can force the target of an action to respond with a particular defensive skill instead of an offensive one.
 

Hituro

Eager Critmouse
Validated User
#9
Also what is the nature of encounters - grind the characters down or one bad guy and then recover or let's avoid combat at all costs.
Okay, let me try to answer that :)

InBetween is a game that pits creatures called Hylin (which are like mice but smaller) against various dangers, such as Spiders, Rats, Snakes, Hunger, and even larger things — collectively Trouble. Hylin have two main resources for surviving Trouble, Stats and Edges, and Luck. Stats and Edges are traditional attributes, that provide dice pools to roll. A bad dice pool is 0-2 dice, a good one maxes around 9 dice. Luck is a meta-currency, it heals damage, provides free successes, offers narrative control, gets more dice, etc. An older Hylin has more dice, but less luck, a younger one has more luck and less dice. A Hylin character can withstand 2-7 damage before dying.

Because Hylin are small and fragile all sorts of encounter avoidance is encouraged — Hylin are cunning, quick, inventive, and cowardly, rather than tough. Various ways to avoid encounters are offered: you can scout them in advance and avoid them, flee from them, tinker one-shot junk-punk devices to get round them, etc. If you must fight then it is expected to be bad. (It's a fair comment that my system is currently not bad enough — in my current campaign no one has died). Mechanically you can choose when to spend Luck to succeed at the rolls you really want to pass, and co-operation makes a group of Hylin much better than an individual.

When you do end up in an Encounter, the GM advice is not to grind to the death D&D style, but to roll for just long enough that you know what the outcome will be and then cut to the next scene — not sure if that's exactly what you were asking. This is supported by the fact that Monsters use a single Dice pool for health and skill, as they get wounded they get weaker, so you quickly reach a point where you know the result.
 

Hituro

Eager Critmouse
Validated User
#10
C cloa513 Here's some examples from my current game, I hope they help.

Player Characters

An average PC can roll 5 Dice on a good roll, and has 5 Life. If they take Damage they roll one fewer dice at 3 damage, and 2 fewer at 4 damage. They have 4-5 Luck (each good for 1 healing or 1 success). Their Initiative will be 4. They can gain 1-2 Dice on some rolls provided they make the right approach. They are Size 1.​
The most specialised PCs can roll 7-10 Dice on their focussed ability. They have 6 Life. If they take Damage they roll one fewer dice at 4 damage and 2 fewer at 5 damage. They have 0-2 Luck. Their Initiative will be 5. They are Size 1.​
Note that it differs what they are good at. One specialised PC is all Fighting, another is all Persuading. The less-specialised PCs can roll 5 dice in either of those things.
Normal Monsters

A Wasp (4 Dice, reduced to 3 by spending 3 AP)
Size 1. Flying. Venom. Specialised (+1 Fighting when stinging)
A normal wasp. Can fly over ground based obstacles (from flying). Rolls 3 Dice, but when attacking with it's sting rolls 4 Dice and does an additional Sick Damage (from venom and specialised).
An angry crowd of Nestlings (3 Dice, reduced to 2 by spending 3AP)
Size 2. Vicious. Clumsy
An out of control crowd. Deals one Damage when it loses a roll (from vicious), and may accidentally deal damage even when trying not to (from clumsy). Ignores 1 Damage/Fact on each roll it loses when attacked by single Hylin (from Size 2).
Boss Monsters

Whiteclaw the Rat Champion (6 Dice, reduced to 5 by spending 4AP)
Size 3. Enormous. Brutal. Determined. Terrifying
The Champion of a rat tribe. At the start of an Encounter with Whiteclaw, you must make a Will+Daring test against Danger+4 or take 1 Afraid Damage (from terrifying). Ignores 2 Damage/Fact on each roll it loses when attacked by a single Hylin, or 1 when attacked by a few Hylin (from enormous). If Whiteclaw wins a roll he inflicts 1 Hurt damage for free (from Brutal). At the start of a turn Whiteclaw can choose to ignore all penalties from being wounded for that turn, but he takes 1 Damage at the end of the turn (from Determined).
A raging wildfire (6 Dice, reduced to 4 by spending 6AP)
Size 4. Overwhelming (Hurt). Terrifying. Vicious
A horrific and out of control fire. At the start of an Encounter with Whiteclaw, you must make a Will+Daring test against Danger+3 or take 1 Afraid Damage (from terrifying). At the start of each of its turns it does 1 Hurt damage to every character in the Encounter (from overwhelming). Deals one Damage each time it loses a roll (from vicious).
Note that all Monsters are adding an extra value called Danger to their dice pools, representing the overall threat level of the area/encounter. So if Whiteclaw attacks PCs in their own nest as an invader he might add Danger 1 (it is the PCs home ground) and roll 6 Dice. On the other hand if a PC must fight Whiteclaw at the entrance to the rat nest, surrounded by jeering rats, he might add Danger 6 and roll 11 Dice.
It has been suggested by my playtesters that Determined should just be a default ability open to everyone. I'm also toying with the idea that Overwhelming should deal Size/3 per turn, rather than a flat 1.
 
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