One of the most interesting mechanics in Demon Hunters from a GM perspective is the badness table, which allows the GM to trigger special effects by spending Demon Dice. It’s modelled after the Doom pool used by the Marvel Heroic iteration of Cortex Plus and, in my opinion, is one of the hardest parts of the game to use effectively. Pretty much every time I run the system I end up with a surplus of dice left at the end.
Why is it so hard to use? Firstly because it requires a shift in how a GM runs their game. In Demon Hunters you set up scenes like any traditional game but once the action starts any changes to that scene require spending Demon Dice. Want to introduce a complicating aspect? Demon Dice. Want to have a baddie suddenly appear? Demon Dice. No GM fiat of ‘it just happens’ like in most traditional games. Making that mental switch takes practice, hampered in my case by the fact I run the game intermittently between other sessions.
The second reason that I find the badness table hard to use effectively is because I don’t like the generic table, which I’ve posted below.
|1+||Create a new situation aspect and get a free invocation on it OR add another minion|
|4+||The bad guy or one of their minions clears a condition OR one of the Demon Hunters must mark off a condition|
|8+||Create a new situation aspect and get two free invocations on it OR add another bad guy to play|
|12+||The bad guy and their minions clear all conditions OR the Demon Hunters must all mark off a condition|
Let’s take a look at those numbers in closer detail.
1+ – This is your guaranteed result entry and is the easiest to use. It allows you to introduce a complication in the scene or a minor foe. The 8+ result is essentially a more powerful version of this and overall these two work for me. Add complications, add baddies.
4+ – Clear a condition or mark off a condition. Alongside the more powerful 12+ entries these don’t sit well with me. I struggle to find compelling narrative reasons to back up these options and generally don’t like the idea of baddies clearing conditions as it feels like I am cheating the players of their success. I would be okay with a werewolf being able to rapidly heal, but for most NPCs it doesn’t make sense. Likewise, just hitting a PC with unavoidable harm doesn’t feel fair.
For those reasons I tend to under use the badness table despite the fact that it is a central mechanic of the game. I am most comfortable using it when an adventure includes a mage as an antagonist. Why? Because I always include a custom badness table that highlights their magic (more on that some other time). For example The Amazing Velma’s table in Trick of the Light included a number of ways in which she might use illusions to confuse and waylay the Chapter.
During the recent playtest of Talentless Hacks I decided I wanted to go a step further by including some new options in the base table. I removed the 4+/12+ entries and added the following new entries:
4+ Interrupt the turn order. An NPC who has yet to act this round takes their action immediately.
6+ Zone attack (mobs only). A mob makes a single attack roll that targets everybody in the zone.
8+ Second action. A single NPC (no mobs) makes a second action at the end of the round. This option may be used multiple times in a round but increase the difficulty by 2 each time.
8+ Gain a discipline. An NPC or mob gains a new discipline at d8 (useful for when I realise I’ve underpowered them part way through an adventure!)
10+ Gain a stunt. An NPC or mob gains a new stunt for the duration of the scene (Again, this is useful for when I want to change up the opponents mid-scene)
16+ Escape! A major NPC escapes the scene and the Chapter are unable to prevent it.
Adapting the badness table is going to be an ongoing process, especially as I shift from running one-shots to a new campaign later this month. I’m aiming to introduce a direct replacement for the ‘PCs mark a condition’ that gives them a chance to defend but have yet to finalise the wording. The topic is also one that Don Early has been diving into recently as part of his Patreon, so give that a look if you want some insights from one of the creators of Demon Hunters.