Hacking the Badness: New generic options for Demon Hunters

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.

RollThe Badness
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.

The Amazing Velma’s custom table

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.

#RPGaDay2019 26th August: ‘Idea’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 26: Idea

Project Cassandra started life as a hack of Lady Blackbird but the idea for it actually came from The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. It’s a Cold War, third person tactical shooter and prequel to the typical XCOM games. It’s highly stylised and over the course of the game you gain access to a range of advanced technology that include things such as levitation, cloaking and even mind control. Playing the game it struck me that many of the abilities could easily be explained as psychic talents. It was a simple leap to go from that to secret government projects to develop psychics given they actually existed! MK-Ultra and the Stargate Project may have never yielded any results but what if they had?

The idea to focus on saving the life of the President was also inspired by Lady Blackbird. While you can play in the expanded setting of that game the published rules have a clearly defined and singular goal – escape the clutches of the Imperial forces and deliver the titular character to her secret lover. I wanted the same for Project Cassandra – a clear, single purpose adventure that could be run as a one-shot or mini-campaign. While the game could be expanded out into any number of ‘psychic operatives complete secret missions’ I felt that would spoil the central conceit. It’s worked well in playtesting and I’ve yet to feel the need to push out into a full blown campaign format.

RPGaDay August 16th

16th) Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

I’m not sure there is a single RPG I’ve played where I haven’t wanted to tweak it in some way or another but at the same time I’ve enjoyed using most ‘as is’ and I make it a point to play at least a few sessions that way before I consider tweaking them.

In terms of the games I’ve modified the least it’s probably the lightweight indie games. Many of those are built around short term, highly structured games with a single central premise. Given those tend towards shorter experiences the desire to modify them didn’t have as long to form. That’s not to say it can’t, Project Cassandra started as a hack of Lady Blackbird and I’ve only played that once.

RPGaDay August 15th

15th) Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

Cortex in its various incarnations. It cortexwas the first system that I really grokked, not just in terms of how to play but in how the different aspects of the system clicked together. It helps that from a design standpoint it is relatively modular with elements that can be slotted in or out easily. I’m really looking forward to tinkering with Cam Banks’ new Prime version of the system when it comes out and hopefully will be able to put something interesting together with it.

As I’ve slowly started tinkering with game design it’s one of the systems that I keep coming back to and I’ve got notes for a few settings that I’d like to adapt to it. First and foremost would be one centered around stuffed toys and their adventures as they try to protect their sleeping owners. Nothing too original but something that could be fun. Second was the Powers campaign, think the TV series Heroes as a good example of where this was going. We tried a short campaign of it using Classic and a bodged together mechanic for the system (where you had to roll as close to the target number as possible). That didn’t get far due to issues with both the narrative and the mechanics but it’s one that I’ve always wanted to revisit and flesh out more.

Future Projects

With Project Cassandra edging ever closer to completion I’ve been given some thoughts as to what I want to work on. The length of the list was rather surprising, I didn’t realise I had accumulated notes for so many ideas already.

Niska’s Race – A Firefly Adventure. Having run this at multiple conventions it’s about time that I wrote this up and put it online for others. I’ve got a partial draft of the adventure, what it really needs is some focus on the structuring and what information needs to be presented for others to run it.

Demon Hunters Adventures – Again adventures I’ve run in the past that I’d like to get out for others and again I’ve already got a partial draft to work from. For these I’d love to be able to get them released on drivethruRPG as some sort of semi-official / recognised adventure for the system. First step though is writing then I can worry about layout / publishing.

Neon Blades, cyberpunk reality TV – Aim is a lightweight system with a focus on the idea of looking good over all else, hence the idea of some sort of reality TV show focused on a team of operatives. I’ve got the initial outlines of a system but it’s lacking any details, so in keeping with the theme of style over substance for now.

The Fallen Mountains –  I’d still like to flesh out my Legend of the Five Rings setting  to the point of it being a resource for a future game. Likely to be a slow ongoing process as I detail characters, events and locations.

The Delve, Leverage / Cortex+ hack – The idea for this actually came from a series of images I got through JEShields stock art patreon. The idea is of a group of fantasy dwarves trying to break into a wizards vault. Thinking more along the lines of D&D style fantasy than Tolkien with magic being relatively common. At the moment just an idea, first step will be to go over the original game again and see how much can just be used as is.

Cortex+ hack based around the adventures of soft toys –  Another vague idea for the moment, could probably be achieved with just some custom distinctions  and renaming of a few elements. Originally inspired by a DoubleClicks song called Lullaby for Mr Bear.

Powers, PbtA followup to Project Cassandra. Again a vague idea for a thematic follow-up to Project Cassandra using a hack of the Apocalypse system  dealing more with the consequences of gaining powers in a world dominated by global conspiracies. Will hopefully incorporate some ideas from an old Cortex game  where powers regularly went out of control  with devastating and tragic consequences.

Demon Hunters / Faith Corps: Tonal Conditions

Just a quick post to highlight a hack over at Spirit of the Blank, where Mike Olson has been sharing some details about using the Faith Corps system (aka the Demon Hunters system) for running Star Wars. One of the aspects he’s tweaked is the way conditions work, introducing the idea of predefined, character specific mild conditions. It’s a hack that I really like, especially for convention games where it provides players further insight into their character. This is especially emphasised by the fact that Mike has eschewed from the approach of describing physical harm but instead favours emotional responses to stress. For Star Wars it really fits with the tone of the films, where characters tend towards taking only a small number of moderate (or greater) injuries while also being constantly stressed by the scene or antagonists.

All in all it’s a compelling tweak and one that I’m likely to incorporate in future, both when running Demon Hunters and when designing my own systems.

Project Cassandra: Veteran Sarsin

sarsinSo progress continues on Project Cassandra, to the point that I’ve now got the basic rules pinned down and thus have been able to put together a draft of one of the five characters that I’m planing. Working on this has really made me appreciate the elegance of the Lady Blackbird characters, which manage to get both character stats and a rules summary on a single page. While I doubt I’ll manage to get it down that far due to the skill trees the layout definitely needs work.

Oh and obviously playtesting, which will require the rest of the characters.