Drifting Steel

There are plenty of Hesitation-reducing traits out there, and they’re pretty cheap. Fearless is a steal at 3 pts. There are lots of others. If you want to be Tough as Nails, you’ve got to pay for it.

I’m really not in it to shout down your hack, guys. You can argue with me if you want, but I’m gonna cut myself off presently because this isn’t the place. Before I do, though…

  1. Hesitating for MoF in Volleys is almost always more punitive than in Actions. Reflexes 4 is about the lowest you’ll see on a fighting PC. I think we can all agree that for 5+, volleys is worse than actions. But this is true even for Reflexes 4, because the wound penalty to reflexes is applied only on the next exchange. So if I take a Light wound on Volley 2, Action 1 and hesitate for two actions (and I didn’t put my second action into the first volley), I lose the rest of the exchange and script three actions next exchange. If that’s applied in volleys instead, I’d better Run Screaming or else my opponent can hammer me unopposed in the first volley of the second exchange. If I get hit later in the exchange, or if I did put my second action into volley 1, they are the same. This means roughly half of the time, volleys means hesitating longer than actions for a Reflexes 4 character with a Light wound.

Admittedly, volleys might be kinder to a Reflexes 4 character with a midi wound, but that might very well be a good time to run. Anything past that and a Reflexes 4 character is fairly likely to be incapacitated anyhow.

  1. Ten of Swords’s response has only heightened my suspicion that this hack was written without a full appreciation of narrow Steel failures. I’m seeing “I blew my Steel test almost as badly as it could be blown, and that really sucked and was hard to understand, and then I noticed that it’s hard to succeed ever and so the most likely result of a Steel test is what just happened to me,” which isn’t the case at all. Yes, you will fail a lot. No, those failures won’t usually end the fight (unless it was endin’ time anyway). Personally, I look at the situation and if I wasn’t on the verge of running or surrendering already, and I’m not hesitating into the next exchange, I very often suck it up and Stand and Drool for a couple actions, then keep fighting. Other times, I’ll Run Screaming to keep myself safe while I’m hesitating, then charge right back into it.

So let me ask you guys straight up: How many Steel tests have you had around your table thus far? Have you had many low-margin failures? Do you have a good sense for how the game plays when you almost succeed at a Steel test? (“Yes we do, and we don’t like it” is a perfectly reasonable answer here, by the way. But so far in this thread we’ve had an awful lot of talk about this one Steel test that you guys didn’t like, and just one brief acknowledgement from Dean that it was an unusual result, with no talk at all about more common results.)

Oh, a Duel of Wits! Time for my Points and Rebuttals …

Firstly, I’ve received lots of comments about why the vanilla Steel system is fine as-is. That’s cool, but I would prefer more feedback on the proposed mechanics and fewer attempts to dissuade me from my intent. As I mentioned before, I’m not totally against Steel or anything. I am experimenting, because I enjoy this kind of thing, and will go back to vanilla Steel if I fail. But I don’t want to fail, so if you have some ideas, or notice where I’ve gone wrong, tell me and help me succeed! I have received quite a few useful suggestions thus far, and I am grateful.

Now, in response to the comments:

No worries, man! I’m not arguing at all, only discussing. Your comments were spot on, and if you have anything more to point out, I’d appreciate your input!

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a helluva lot of experience with the game. However, while the incident with Ten’s PC was the one that caused me to look into the matter and analyze the math involved, drifting Steel was something I had had brewing in the back of my head for a while already. I’ve been running a daily solo campaign since September, and the PC in that campaign has been swooning and drooling all over the freakin’ place. Like, a lot. So much so that it kind of detracted from the fiction, IMO, lending his character more of a comedic effect than a realistic one. I’ve run lots of light-hearted campaigns in the past (it’s what I usually do), and I picked up BW because I wanted to try something a little more serious… And then you get the other extreme of Steel, where hesitation can be just bloody brutal, not funny – and for the victim, not much fun – at all.

So, I asked the other players in my group campaign (Ten’s in the group campaign, not the solo) what they thought about hacking the Steel mechanic. Of the two players with extensive BW + BE experience, the answers were: “Yes, please do!” and “I’m fine with the current mechanics if you only call for Steel tests for serious wounds and really scary stuff.” So, I started work on the mod, because I have no intention of going easy on these guys, and I want a Steel system that can cater to the tastes of everybody at my table.

Right. As mentioned above, I did the math. Or rather, I used the math already done by other people, because the formula for open-ended dice is beyond my capabilities. I converted a table of decimal point probabilities posted on rpgnet.com to a percentile table for easier analyzation. Here’s a link to a pdf I made with the math all laid out. I make no claims for the validity of the calculations, as I did not make them, but they seem right.

So, Ob 5 with 7 dice has a 40% chance of success. And that’s if you’re unwounded. Steel 7 is supposed to be badass, but you’re still hesitating 60% of the time.

What I’ve done is made Steel not open-ended, and installed variable Obs. Many tests will be lower Ob, but not all. Ob 5 with 7 dice in my system has a 22% chance of success. Suddenly that Steel 7 guy who rocks the Ob 3 tests 77% of the time is faced with something MUCH scarier.

The Obs vs wounds I am working with currently go as follows:
[ul][li]Ob 3 ~ Incidental hit
[/li][li]Ob 4 ~ Mark hit
[/li][li]Ob 5 ~ Superb hit[/ul]
The intent here is to have the quality of the hit itself have an effect on the system beyond the actual damage it does. The pain shocks your system, but how hard or efficiently or luckily the opponent hit you is what shocks your mind. A few examples, using Mr. Steel 7, starting with no wounds for each situation:
[ul][li]An Incidental hit by a badass demon delivers a Traumatic wound. 12% chance of passing the Steel test w/o artha. “Holy crap, it just grazed me, and my guts are hanging out …” hobble away screaming
[/li][li]A Superb hit by a fairy delivers a Light wound. 10% chance of success. “WTF?! Did she just DO that? What the heck just happened?” blink blink
[/li][li]An Incidental hit by an orc delivers a Light wound. 65% chance of success. “Oof! That all ya got?!” laugh it off[/ul]
[/li]Etc. For the more debilitating wounds and the really lucky hits, the Obs are harder to meet than in the normal rules. Superb hits that deal huge wounds require artha to pass the Steel test in almost all cases. But for incidental grazes than cause minor damage, you stand a good chance of not flinching. I prefer this, because –

– I don’t agree with this statement 100%. Surprise and stress, totally, people freak out bad if they’re unaccustomed to it. I might even stick with 10-Will for some of those Obs. People definitely freak out at pain too, but it depends on the situation. When you’re in a fight, the adrenaline is pumping, and adrenaline is a huge pain-killer. Minor wounds – and sometimes even serious ones – often go unnoticed until after a fight is finished. Only serious or debilitating wounds tend to override the brain when in the heat of the action.

Of course, this isn’t always true. However, when it comes to artha, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re in a knife fight, your “artha” is already being spent. You’re in a life-and-death scenario. You’re going to fight for all you’re worth. You’re not going to stand and drool as your enemy goes stab stab stab. You’re gonna put your arms up to block, try to defend yourself. This isn’t out-of-the-ordinary or anything. The actual game-artha that gets spent should signify actions you take that go above and beyond your “all” … I guess what I’m trying to say is that in my estimation, people are more capable on average than BW allows for, and “artha” is capable of quite a lot.

This is accounted for. As noted above, I am making lucky strikes pretty hard to pass the Steel test for. Artha can be spent to lessen the nastiness of Hesitation. Most NPCs would have limited or no access to artha, so this favors the PCs more than anything.

I realize that. I’m aiming for realism here. Fast guys shouldn’t be braver by default. Sorry Reflexes 4 dude. Tuff break. The trade-off is a fair playing field for all. Also, the actions lost are only really missed if they were defensive actions – in which case you could just spend a Persona point in my system, and get defensive hesitation options.

Yes, I’ll adjudicate them as they come up. I might get around to tweaking them all to fit the hack, but probably not for my campaign at least. All the PCs are already burned. Not too hard to do, in any case.

Die Traits are used to “break the rules”, so, yes, we could just use vanilla Steel + Steel/Hesitation-based Traits. But is this actually the best solution? The rules “sans traits” are supposed to represent the level playing field the game revolves around. Die Traits are used to “break the rules”, to give advantages or disadvantages above and beyond the rules in certain situations. I’d just like the “playing field” to be a tad more level, and that requires either a reworking of the rules or a whole lot of traits.

Here are the new rules for hesitation I’ve worked up. Some new options, some tweaks to the old ones, some big rules changes. Will be using them this Saturday’s game. Basic rules are:
[ul][li]Fail your Steel test, you hesitate for MoF in volleys. (Note: currently play testing the volleys-hesitation with my new Obs. Will switch back to actions if I find it’s too much.)
[/li][li]Basic hesitation options are as normal, straight out of the book.
[/li][li]If you spend a single Persona point, you may eliminate Hesitation entirely at the cost of a Consequence. The consequence must be nastier than all available hesitation options.
[/li][li]If you spend a single Persona point, you may choose from the list of Defensive Hesitation options below.[/ul]
Defensive Hesitation Menu ~ Cost: 1 Persona

See Stars
You’re seeing stars for a bit, but can recover yourself quicker. As Stand and Drool, except the Hesitation time is halved. Round down, minimum 1 action.

Stagger Around in Pain
You stagger around, clutching your head, but you may defend yourself despite the pain (shock, fear, etc). All your remaining actions for the duration of your hesitation change to Block, even if you had scripted something different. If you are attacked at a time when you have no action scripted, use the Obs versus Stand and Drool, not the Obs versus No Action. Extra successes on Block tests do nothing.

I Surrender
As Fall Prone and Beg for Mercy, except that a Persuasion test is allowed to plead for your life. Roll the dice and keep the successes on the table. Remove one die after every subsequent action. You may not be attacked or acted against offensively so long as your remaining successes equal or exceed an attacker’s Will. Persuasion tests to plead for your life only work against sentient creatures capable of compassion. This is a gamble, most suited to characters with a high Persuasion exponent.

Play Dead
As Swoon, but you fall prone and only pretend to be dead. Make a Falsehood test. Anybody who tries to approach your character must pass an Observation test versus your Falsehood to realize you are alive. Failure means that they truly believe you are dead. This also applies to allies! You may remain “dead” for as long as you like once your hesitation is complete. When appropriate, other skills may be rolled in place of Observation, such as Surgery or Field Dressing if they are checking your vital signs, etc. Playing dead should only be done if you swooned after taking a serious wound. In all other cases, a penalty between +1 to +4 Ob will be applied to your Falsehood test.

Turtle Up
You may fall prone and writhe around, turtling up in defense. Your next action defaults to Change Stance (Defensive), and all your remaining actions until the end of your hesitation default to Block. If you are attacked at a time when you have no action scripted, use the Obs versus Beg for Mercy, not the Obs versus No Action. Extra successes on Block tests do nothing. You still suffer the +1 Ob penalty to Block for being prone.

Dive for Cover
You drop prone and try to crawl away and hide somewhere –– under a broken cart, behind a bush, in a trench filled with water, etc. Make a Stealth test. Anybody who tries to locate your character must pass an Observation test versus your Stealth to find you. This also applies to allies! You may remain in hiding for as long as you like once your hesitation is complete. Note that there must be cover to hide behind very close-by, or this action may not be performed. It must make sense that your opponent might lose track of you –– you were hit by a crossbow bolt from afar, or you went down in the middle of a raging battle. You can not crawl away to safety in one-on-one melee combat.

Tactical Retreat
As Run Screaming, except that you do not drop what you’re holding, and you may tactically retreat. Your next action defaults to Change Stance (Defensive), except that the action counts as an Avoid instead of a Block, and all your remaining actions default to Avoid. If you are attacked at a time when you have no action scripted, use the Obs versus Run Screaming, not the Obs versus No Action. If you are still hesitating at the end of the exchange, you must Disengage without benefit of weapon length dice, just like normal.

Not true. Notice that my entire focus is purely on whether your opponent can rescript while you hesitate, not on what you’re doing while that’s happening. I don’t care if you had all Strikes scripted, hesitating into the next exchange is worse than hesitating only for actions your opponent has already scripted. The elapsed time does matter independent of what you had scripted.

But whatever. It is more punitive, but you know that, so that’s fine. Be aware that you are removing a lot of the grey area from Steel: Hesitation will be less common, but more serious when it happens (specifically, more likely to end fights or to get characters killed). I think that’s weird, is all.

The rules “sans traits” are supposed to represent the level playing field the game revolves around. Die Traits are used to “break the rules”, to give advantages or disadvantages above and beyond the rules in certain situations. I’d just like the “playing field” to be a tad more level, and that requires either a reworking of the rules or a whole lot of traits.

Huh? I don’t even know where you’re coming from here. Would you rework the magic system sans Gifted, Faithful, etc? Die traits are an important part of the BW machine, not a weird aberration. And specifically, the effect of hes-reducing traits in the Steel ecosystem is to model exactly the kind of hard fellows you want to model.

Now, I’ll stipulate that they cause serious fighters to hesitate less often and for less time, while you seem to desire a less-often-but-longer approach. So they might not be right for you. But you cannot seriously come in here and tell me that buying a trait from the rulebook is too much of a drift for your taste and so you’re just gonna go ahead and entirely rewrite Steel instead.

One thing I’ve noticed reading these. Block.

If my opponent turtles up for an exchange, and all he can do is block, why am I not scripting feint?

Your math is sort of flawed. (Actually, your assumptions about someone else’s math are flawed.)

You are only calculating the chances of outright success on a Steel test, when what’s more important is the margin of failure. In my experience, lots of tests are failed by a margin of 1-3, which is really only a few seconds hesitation. THAT’S where the meat of Steel tests is, and that’s what’s causing friction with your hack. As other people have mentioned, you’re taking out the middle ground, which is sort of a big deal. Steel tests aren’t a binary “pass/fail” system. They’re about how LONG you hesitate for more than they are about IF you hesitate.

Edit: Also, again as people have mentioned before, Traits. No reason to expect a character to be a Brave Badass without the Brave Badass rule on their sheet.

To go into more detail on what FigureFour said, your badass with the B7 steel and hesitation of 5 will likely only hesitate for 1 or 2 actions. If he spends a fate point, then the odds of passing go up to 50% and another 25% of the time he’ll only hesitate 1 action and another 16% of the time he’ll only hesitate for 2 actions. So he’ll only be standing and drooling for 3 actions or more about 10% of the time. So he takes a light wound, there’s a bloody gash in his arm, and he either is completely unfazed or he hesitates for just 1 or 2 heartbeats. That seems pretty badass to me. It seems like you’re imagining a much bigger “freakout” than the fiction is actually creating. Run Screaming for 1 heartbeat looks like this - “The knife cuts through his sleeve and into the meat of his arm. Roaring with pain, Fightor staggers back a step before renewing his assault.”

Since I’ve got AnyDice open anyway, lets go back to the character who started it all, and we’ll look at the likely results of him rolling his penalized B6 steel vs Ob 6, assuming he’ll spend a Fate Point to help his chances.

0 Actions 20%
1 Action 18%
2 Actions 23%
3 Actions 20%
4 Actions 13%
>4 Actions 5%
(Math courtesy http://anydice.com/program/cb7 )

So he has pretty well equal odds of getting any number from 0 to 3. If he wants to make sure he doesn’t fail then he should spend some more Artha. Hesitating for 5 actions like he did is quite rare. It’s unexpected. Maybe this fight where you thought you knew what was going to happen might turn out differently than you anticipated. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Maybe we just read different stories, but this outcome makes perfect narrative sense to me. I’m envisioning this big, tough guy closing in on a smaller, weaker guy fully expecting to kick the crap out of him, and then the next thing he knows, STAB. Kinda ruins your concentration. I’m reminded of some advice that my old martial arts instructor gave us: “If someone comes at you with a knife, either shoot them with a gun or run away”.

Yeah, a bully who can’t cash the checks his mouth writes would be a great character, no doubt. It’s just not this particular character. He’s not meant to be fearless, either. But, look, I think you guys are putting too much emphasis on the knife story. That was the event that got us talking about the hack, but the hack isn’t predicated on stopping that particular event from happening. In fact, it wouldn’t have made much difference in this case. In Dean’s current system the superb knife hit would have caused an Ob 5 Steel roll instead of an Ob 6 one. Let’s focus on the forest rather than the trees.

There are two main differences in Dean’s proposal. First, Obs are absolute. A Midi hit causes an Ob 4 Steel test whether you’re a coward with 3 Steel or a hero with 8. Anybody can fail it, just like ordinary Steel checks. Even dragons. It means that getting braver is best done by raising Steel, not raising Will.

Second, Dean’s proposal lets you spend Artha to defend yourself better even after you fail a Steel test by choosing a defensive hesitation option. Many of the options he offers are quite characterful. It adds a little complication to an already complex system, but may let you play your character in a way that resonates more with you.

“Why” makes a good point about Block. Maybe Dean will say that Block isn’t a good choice for hesitation at the end of an exchange. Not sure. I don’t know if feinting would have much effect on someone curled into a fetal position covering his head with his arms, but I guess that wouldn’t offer much protection, either. I’ll wait and see what Dean says.

For the rest of you well-intentioned gents, we understand that the system isn’t “broken” and it works okay the way it is. If we break the game we’ll come back and tell you how very wrong we were. :slight_smile:

This statement seems to go against the whole point of the game. The PC’s sheet gives you an idea of who they might be. The game is about finding out who they ARE. If you already know who that guy is, why roll dice to find out what happens? Write a book.

Good luck with your hack. Looks a bit too involved for me.

Ahh, excellent point. Hmm, yeah, that needs fixing. A simple re-wording might suffice, say, Feint uses Strike vs Block Obs. Or perhaps don’t allow Block actions for Turtle Up, and just write a new Ob chart for actions played against it? Or use the Beg for Mercy Obs with a +1 or 2 bonus to defend or something? Hmmm… Thanks, will think on it!

Sure man, why not? If I wanted to run a high-magic campaign where everybody had magical abilities, that’s exactly what I’d do. BWG’s not a bible or anything. I bought the book, and am free to do what I like with it (w/i copyright regulations, of course).

You misunderstand. What I’m saying is that just relying on traits bought from the rulebook is not enough of a drift for what I want to achieve. I want to adjust the bar for Steel tests across the board. I want Steel to work differently for everybody. What am I supposed to do, give every single PC and NPC a die trait to reflect this? Modding the rules themselves is a better option, sorry.

I never said I would be removing die traits from the game – steel-affecting die traits would still be in play. The mechanics of specific traits would have to be redone, but that’s not too hard to do.

I should perhaps mention that I’m not new at this or anything. I’ve been tinkering with RPG rules for a long time. Sometimes my mods work out and sometimes they fail, but once in a while I’ve been able to significantly enhance a game. I don’t mean this to brag, but just to say that I’m not daunted by the prospect of tackling the Steel mechanic head-on, rather than just approaching it from the side with a few traits. I might fail, but I’m enjoying giving it a shot. This is FUN for me! (And a request from my gaming group, besides.)

Firstly: The hesitation in volleys is an experiment. I might not go with it in the end. So far the playtests have been good, but it needs a lot more testing before I can say for sure.

Secondly: The chances of your opponent getting a free attack in on you while you hesitate for one or two actions is pretty high. Higher than the chances you’d not face an attack. If you start hesitation in the first volley, I’m gonna forfeit my volley three action to script kill in the second volley. If you hesitate in the third volley, I’m gonna script kill in the first volley of the next exchange. The only time you stand a good chance of not getting hit with a free kill script is if you hesitate in the second volley, or if your Reflexes are way higher than mine and you scripted lucky.

So, the grey area that is getting lost is actually not all that much.

Thirdly: I’m also adding a lot more grey area back in. A lot more uncertainty. With vanilla Steel, you enter a Fight knowing your odds of hesitating. With variable Obs, it’s not so certain.

“Hesitation will be less common but more serious when it happens.” This is true, and intended. If you’re hurt and you fail a Steel test, you should run away. This is true with vanilla Steel, and still true with mine. I just have options for lessening the severity if you hesitate for something minor right out of the gate, or if you feel confident enough to risk it. Why do I want this? Because it’s more fun for the players. Games are meant to be fun. Will it kill some characters? Perhaps, but everybody knows the risks involved. At the end of the day, you could always just run. It’s always an option!

If we’re assuming a Fate point will be spent, my system will offer up a similar distribution of MoF, as the roll will be open-ended, except with a higher chance of no hesitation, on average. This is what I’m aiming for, so the math looks good to me.

However, your assertion that “if he wants to make sure he doesn’t fail then he should spend some more Artha” is what I don’t agree works well with the regular Steel mechanics. Spending Persona doesn’t make sure of anything if your Hesitation is high. It increases your odds, but you still stand a pretty high chance at failure. This is what my defensive hesitation options are meant for, and also why I stand by variable Obs as being a better mechanic. All other skills and stats are pitted against variable Obs, and Artha stands a good chance of helping them. Steel shouldn’t be left out.

In my honest opinion, Artha is a better measure of “strength of will” than the Will stat is (and thereby Hesitation). True willpower is not a static thing. It is very much based on emotions. Even the strongest-willed people go through slumps, and even the weakest-willed can show strong conviction. Willpower is more fluid than a fixed “stat”. More like a pool of Fate, Persona, and Deeds that gets stronger as you embody your true self, but weakens when you stray from your Beliefs and refuse your true nature. And if there’s anything that one’s willpower should hold a strong sway over, it should be one’s Steel.

Really? I would say the game is about finding out who they will BECOME.

This could be an interesting philosophy for a game. I’ve always wanted to run a game like Total Recall or Memento where the character is just statistics with no memory of who he is. Maybe he doesn’t even get his full character sheet up front - it’s revealed to him slowly as he tries things in game. But I certainly don’t think it’s the default. Like Dean, I expect that it’s the journey that is unknown, not the starting point of the character. If I knew what would happen to him and who he would become as a result, I’d write a book. Well, not really… I’m far too lazy. I’d just tell people about the book I would write if I were to write one. At length.

I think we’ve hit that point from every serious hack discussion where someone has to say, “Just run with it.”

You’ve asked people for their opinions and they gave them to you. Maybe you don’t agree with them, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t understand what you’re trying to do. Continuing to discuss it probably won’t do anything more than degenerate discussion into an argument, since no one is likely to switch sides here. Play with it and see how you like it. There’s nothing anyone here can or will do to stop you.

For what it’s worth, the BW community tends to be pretty resistant to rules drift (often because it’s done without fully understanding how the BW rules work and interact).

I agree with FF. You may comment further in support of Dean’s hack, but otherwise it’s time for Dean to go do a few years of playtesting.

Good luck!

Thanks, Luke. Yeah, I’d rather not have to continue defending my position over and over again. I am trying this out because it is something I am interested in exploring. I fully understand the obstacles I have to overcome to make this work, so many thanks to all for their input. And for what it’s worth, hacking a system is a great way to learn how the nuts and bolts really interact on all levels, so even if I am making a grievous mistake, I’ll have a deeper understanding of the mechanics in the end.

I’ll keep posting updates. I would appreciate further feedback on what I do post – if you find an error I’ve made that has not already been pointed out, or if you’ve noticed something I’ve missed, or if you have a suggestion to make something work better, or if you just really like something and want to let me know. But for the arguments already put forth, I don’t think they need restating. If I have a question about something, I’ll post it here.

Thanks everybody! Your feedback has been very useful to me. ~ Dean

Necromancing my own thread here to say y’all were right. We tried my variant Steel rules for a few months, and they never really felt very fluid. We’ve since decided to go back to the core rules with Steel, and embrace the optional Persona Point Complication rule if players don’t want to hesitate.

Not opening the thread up for further discussion. Just giving a heads up to anyone who’s contemplating using my variant in their own games. It works OK, but declaring variable OBs for Steel tests during play tends to get a bit wonky. The GM shouldn’t be saying, “This situation is THIS scary!” The GM should be saying, “This situation is scary. How scared ARE you?” Which is how the core Steel rules work.

My brother’s a big (6’3") dude who works out. He was in the Doctor’s office getting a wart removed, no big deal. Well, he walked out into the hallway and promptly fainted. Granted, failing a steel test from a light knife wound isn’t terribly heroic, but it’s not unheard of.

And: I should read to the end of the thread so I realize it’s necro before I post. Sorry, Luke. Carry on!

Haha, yeah, that’s the reason necro threads are generally annoying. I’ve seen necro threads get re-ressurected over and over again for years, just because the thread never sinks to the back pages where it belongs.

I’ll edit the first post with a disclaimer. Sorry for the inconvenience.