Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Rerolled, pt.2


There are a lot of games out there with their own customised dice, which is fine for the game they are designed for, but what about using them in other ways? 'Rerolled' is all about re-purposing custom dice to get more game play out of them, focusing on dice included with board or card games rather than those designed for promotional purposes or for use with a specific role-playing game.



In the last Rerolled article, I used the unusual dice from Betrayal at House on the Hill to create a game about space marines with a variation of Otherkind dice. In this article, I'll show you an entirely different game using a different property of the same dice: their capacity to create a pool of points with a sharply controlled progression.

With most point pool systems, where you roll a handful of dice and add the results together, the growth of the pool can get rapidly out of hand unless you start adding modifiers to the system; it's also easy to get a large disparity of results between similar numbers of dice. For example, if you're rolling 4d6, the least you can get is 4, the most is 24 and the average is 14; add just two more dice though and your lowest score is 6, your highest is 30 and your average is 21. Even one or two dice difference between rolls can be a deciding factor, because the average added by each die is a relatively significant amount, e.g. if rolling 1d6 gives you a reasonable number of points to accomplish a task with, then each die added, on average, gives you 50% more points for that task.

Looking at standard pools another way, there is the wild range of difference in the results on a single die, so rolling very few dice produces very unpredictable results: if 3 points is enough to hit an opponent with your fist, then rolling 1d6 gives you a range from missing the target entirely to being able to hit them twice over. This issue, and the previous one, can both be addressed by using modifiers in conjunction with the roll, usually based on the character's skill or the circumstances of their action, but this risks making the modifiers the central part of the system, with the die roll just adding a few extra points here and there: it's difficult to balance this type of system so that the incompetent still have a chance but the super-competent don't just breeze through every situation without a hair out of place.

The advantage of using the unique dice from Betrayal at House on the Hill is that they only generate three results: 0, 1 and 2. That means, no matter how large your pool of dice, the minimum is always zero, the maximum is always twice the number of dice rolled and the average is always spot on the number of dice rolled. There's no problem with the point pool growing rapidly larger as dice are added to the roll and also, with so few points to manage, the system can handle lower costs for successful actions without also making higher totals redundant.

The Psirarchy

Conspiracy theorists like to tell us that a cabal of global masterminds are the puppeteers who pull the strings of global politics, that everything we see in the media is placed there by Them, that every politician who gets elected is Their choice. The conspiracy theorists have been wrong... up until now. Something is changing, a shift in the balance of power locally & globally, politically & commercially; you know it's true, because you're making the change.

In The Psirarchy, the players are members of secret global movement, connected not solely by their ideology, but by their ability: every member of the Psirarchy is an awakening psychic displaying strange powers of the mind. The Psirarchy is almost undetectable by the rest of the world: they don't need telecommunications when they have telepathy, they don't need guns & poisons when they can squeeze a target's heart from the other side of the room and they don't need to conduct surveillance when they can see what's going to happen in the future.

Agents

As a player in The Psirarchy, you take on the role of an agent within a cell: the cell plans missions that garner them more assets with which to covertly take-over society. First off, everyone should discuss the cell that all the agents are part of: where is it located and what is its agenda? A cell can operate within any city in the world and its agenda can range from accumulating wealth to creating a single global government.

The agents of the cell are drawn from all walks of life, as latent psychic abilities can emerge in any member of the population; once they do, the newly awakened psychic is like a beacon to other psychics in the area, so they are quickly located and recruited. An agent has three stats they are defined by: Telepathy (TP), Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP) and Psychokinesis (PK), which are rated as +1, =0 and -1, as assigned by the player.
  • Telepathy: any mind-to-mind communication, including mind-reading and deleting memories from a target.
  • Extra-Sensory Perception: any extraordinary sense, such as remote viewing, dowsing, precognition and so on.
  • Psychokinesis: any use of the mental to manipulate the physical, whether moving objects at a distance or squeezing a target's heart until it stops.
Agents may also have up to three Talents, which are specific uses of their psychic abilities, including but not limited to:
  • Mind Scan (TP): the ability to read what a target is currently thinking.
  • Mental Probe (TP): conducting a search through a target's memories.
  • Neuro-Location (TP): being able to detect & locate a specific target from their thoughts.
  • Memory Editing (TP): erasing a specific memory from a target or implanting a new one.
  • Remote Viewing (ESP): seeing locations and objects at distance or through barriers.
  • Precognition (ESP): getting a vision of future events.
  • Psychometry (ESP): picking up impressions of events in an objects past.
  • Dowsing (ESP): detecting the presence of elements or energies.
  • Psychic Strength (PK): moving objects at a distance.
  • Psychic Shield (PK): protecting yourself from physical harm.
  • Pyrokinesis (PK): raising the temperature of a target.
  • Remote Manipulation (PK): the fine control of objects which are obscured or out of sight.
A downloadable resource for the game.
Besides Psychic Talents, agents may also have Regular Talents that equate to their career or training, such as Pilot, Thief, Journalist, Assassin, Doctor, Hacker, etc.

Missions

In each session of play, the cell may carry out one or more missions; the players should agree on what their mission is, aiming it towards acquiring an Asset. The GM may present the cell with opportunities, but some of these should include threats to the cell's agenda: if left unchecked, these threats may endanger the cell's activities or even prevent them from fulfilling their agenda.

The more valuable the Asset the cell hopes to acquire, or the greater the threat to their agenda, the more operations the mission will require before it is complete: for example, if their mission is to cover up a story that reveals their existence, they might only require one operation to squash the story or silence the reporter who filed it; on the other hand, if they want to insure that their candidate is elected President, five or even more operations might be required.

An operation has a specific short term goal that leads towards the completion of the cell's mission: an operation can be anything from acquiring stock predictions from a broker's secure data base to inserting an agent into a target's household as a cook, nanny or security detail. The players and the GM should plot out the necessary steps in a mission together, but the greater the reward gained or threat neutralised, the more operations are needed for that mission to be a success.

At the start of each operation, the agents involved roll 4 dice each and count up the points they generate individually; this means that each agent might anywhere from 0 to 8 points at the start of any operation. During the operation, they can spend these points to achieve tasks using their psi-powers; every psi-power works off a simple base of measurements and spending points raises one of these measurements exponentially. The base measurements are:

  • Time = 10 seconds
  • Distance = 10 centimetres
  • Mass = 10 grams
  • Velocity = 10 cm/s
  • Temperature = 10 centigrade
  • Volume = 10 cm³
Any other measurements needed can be extrapolated from the above. Whenever an agent uses one of their psi-powers, spending one point on that power will mean it has all the base measurements given above, as needed, e.g. if you want to read someone's mind, then for 1 point, they need to be within 10 centimetres of you and you can read their mind for 10 seconds; if you want to move an object, 1 point lets you lift something with a mass of up to 10 grams for up to 10 seconds, moving it at a maximum velocity of 10 centimetres per second.

The more points you spend on a psi-power, the more potent is becomes, as each point spend lets you multiply one measurement by 10, e.g. 2 points spent on reading someone's mind lets you do it from 1 metre away; 3 points lets you do it from 10 metres, 4 points lets you do it from 100 metres and 5 points lets you do it from 1 kilometre. Each point spent only affects one measurement though, so to lift a mass of 100 grams for 100 seconds would cost 3 points: the first point lets you lift up to 10 grams for up to 10 seconds, so you need to spend 2 more points to change both those measurements.

The rating of an agent's psi stats indicates whether they get a bonus or suffer a penalty to using psi-powers within that category: if an agent has PK+1, then they can always activate their psychokinetic powers at their base level without spending any points, but an agent with PK-1 would have to spend 2 points just to activate the basic level of those powers. The same goes for any psi Talents they have, e.g. if an agent has Precognition as an ESP Talent, then they can always see at least 10 seconds into the future without spending any points; if they also have ESP+1, then they can see 100 seconds into the future without soending points; if they spend 1 point, then they can see 1000 seconds into the future and so on.

Psi Stress

Whenever an agent uses a psi-power, they can push themselves a little harder by picking up any number of dice and rolling them, adding up the total as usual. These additional points can only be spent by the agent on their current action, they aren't saved for subsequent actions, so any points not spent right now are lost.

Each time an agent pushes their psi-powers in this way, they can take psi stress: they mark a level of psi stress for every blank result in their roll to push their powers. For example, if an agent rolls 4 dice to push their psi-powers and gets results of 0, 0, 1 and 2, then they have 3 points to spend on their current action, but they also take 2 levels of psi stress.

Each agent can take up to 5 levels of psi stress before burning out; the penalty of burning out rises depending on how many times they have burned out in the past:

  • Each time an agent burns out, they are rendered inactive for the remainder of the current scene.
  • The second time they burn out, they take a permanent -1 penalty to all stats.
  • The third time they burn out, they cease to be an agent, either because they have died or lost the use of their psi powers.
After each mission, each agent who took part in it gets to choose one of the following options:

  • Gain a new psi Talent.
  • Gain a new non-psi Talent; no agent may have more than three non-psi Talents.
  • Remove a level of burn out, e.g. if an agent has burned out once, this option makes it as if they had no previous burn outs.

Assets & Adversaries

The goal of each mission is to acquire a new Asset for the cell, with more powerful Assets requiring longer, more complex missions to achieve. Each Asset the cell owns gives them some leverage in working around or removing obstacles that stand in their way; write each Asset on it's own card, detailing what it is and how it can help the cell. Some sample Assets include:

  • Travel Agency: move an agent from one operation to another that is taking place at the same time or immediately after.
  • Police Informant: a low-level street cop lets enables an agent to make their getaway; a mid-level detective gives the cell access to criminal records; a high-level captain can call off or divert a police operation.
  • Investment Firm: a small firm gives the cell the resources to buy basic equipment; a medium firm gives them access to enough money to buy vehicles; a large firm means they have the cash to bribe politicians or buy a controlling interest in a smaller firm.
  • Criminal Contact: a low-level contact can fence goods for the cell; a mid-level contact can acquire illegal weapons; a high-level contact can arrange a hit.
  • Security Agency: provides protection to agents or even their assets, protecting them from direct, hostile action.
Assets and non-psi Talents can be used during an operation to overcome one obstacle that stands in the cell's way; each Asset can only be used once per operation (though you can have an Asset, like an Investment Firm, that refreshes another Asset, allowing it to be used again) and each non-psi Talent can be used once per mission. When an Asset or Talent is used to overcome an obstacle, or even to create an opportunity, the player must narrate how it does so.

There are those who are opposed to the Psirarchy and are fighting back as best they can; they can deploy ordinary espionage & counter-insurgency tactics, but they also have two special weapons up their sleeves.
  • Stalkers are psychics who have been recruited by conventional security agencies, using a combination of drugs and mental conditioning to assure their loyalty. They can deploy psi-powers in much the same way as an agent of the Psirarchy can, so whenever a Stalker is working against the cell on an operation, all agents assigned to that operation take a -1 penalty to all their psi stats.
  • Nulls are anti-psychics who are immune to any direct use of psi-powers that involves them; their minds cannot be read or affected, their bodies cannot be moved or crushed by PK and they cannot be detected at all by an form of ESP. Nulls can only be dealt with using Assets and non-psi Talents.