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The use of Momentum and Doom for NPCs

posted Feb 20, 2016 11:33:23 by Alex Jeffries
Looking at the Quickstarter rules I've noticed something that looks unbalanced to me (not that I'm obsessed with game balance like some precious snowflake). Let me explain (I hope I've understood the rules correctly);

When PCs gain Momentum they must spend it or bank it, but they loose some of the banked Momentum, "At the end of each scene, and at the end of each round during an action scene, the group loses a single point of saved Momentum from their shared pool."

Firstly, I'm assuming the loss comes off the pool weather the group earned any Momentum during that scene round or not. Is that correct?

That sounds fine. Whittling away at their Momentum stops the group form accumulating a huge amount of Momentum and unbalancing the game.

NPCs also get Momentum.

One aside. The mechanics around NPCs only makes sense if they are antagonists not allies. I think this should made explicit in the rules when referring to these NPCs, that they are foes, not ally NPCs, otherwise it might get confused with the NPC members of the party.

In any case. The rules for NPC Momentum are; "Similarly, the gamemaster does not need to keep track of any Momentum earned by non-player characters. Instead, any unspent Momentum from non-player character skill tests are added to the Doom pool, and can be spent by the gamemaster as Doom."

That means, when the foe NPC gets Momentum, they can do bad things to the PCs immediately. But if they don't spend it, they don't pay any penalty like the PCs have to. Instead all that earned Momentum gets converted into Doom, which can also be used against the PCs. In addition, that Doom is not whittled away like Momentum is for the PCs. I think I'm reading the rules correctly here.

This seems unfair/unbalanced as it gives the foe NPCs an significant advantage over the PCs in the Momentum economy. It feels too GM vs players (at least for my tastes).

I'd be interested to know if I'm not understood the rules correctly, if they've inadvertently been written incorrectly/ambiguously or if that is indeed your intention.
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14 replies
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Nathan.Dowdell said Feb 20, 2016 12:02:27
I understand your reasoning, and there's decent logic there. You're reading things correctly, but it isn't the whole story. The important thing to remember is that the GM has more things to use Doom on than the players have to spend Momentum on. Doom subs in for any resource the NPCs are using, such as those extra shots of arrows when an archer NPC uses the Volley rule, for example. It also affects the GM's ability to nudge and tweak scenes as they're playing, the ability of NPCs to act sooner (PCs just get to go first in combat by default), and a variety of other things. More than that, it also has to be divided amongst a greater number of creatures - it's spread more thinly, and weaker creatures may not generate enough Momentum to meaningfully contribute to Doom with their tests.

The balance is there, but that balance isn't found in symmetry - as much as there are parallels between Doom and Momentum, the differences require slightly different handling.

For allied NPCs, the rule of thumb is to reverse their interactions with Doom - if an NPC would spend Doom to do something, an allied one pays Doom instead, and vice-versa. The responsibility for controlling the Doom spends of NPC allies can be handed off to one of the players if you wish. The mob rules (seen in abridged form on the Pict Warriors in the quickstart) can be used to emulate larger battles, giving PCs a group of NPC followers each that serve as an extension of the player characters mechanically, which alleviates some of those issues anyway, by putting NPCs under direct player control. This will be addressed in the rulebook.
Game Development - 2D20 System
System Design - Star Trek Adventures

Rules questions and playtest feedback to nathan@modiphius.com
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Alex Jeffries said Feb 20, 2016 12:43:47
Thanks for your prompt reply Nathan. I understand the logic of your argument.

Embedded in my previous post was another question (with an egregious spelling error). I wonder if you could clarify that as well;

I'm assuming the Momentum loss comes off the pool whether the group earned any Momentum during that scene/round or not. Is that correct? Does it mean, the party pool of Momentum gets whittled away 1 point at a time over play unless it gets topped up regularly through earning it during tests? Or is the intention to pay the 1 Momentum cost only when Momentum is being deposited?
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Nathan.Dowdell said Feb 20, 2016 21:33:29
It sheds a point each scene/round regardless of whether or not any was saved that round - you can't expect saved Momentum to stay around forever.
Game Development - 2D20 System
System Design - Star Trek Adventures

Rules questions and playtest feedback to nathan@modiphius.com
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Alex Jeffries said Feb 21, 2016 09:36:04
Thanks for that clarification. Perhaps it's made clearer in the core rules book compared to the Quickstarter. If not, might be worth emphasizing this point in case it gets misinterpreted.
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Nestor Rodriguez said Feb 21, 2016 23:38:04
There's another point of disparity I've noticed. The Momentum pool is only increased through extra successes in rolls that are not used right away. Meanwhile, there are a variety of ways in which more Doom is added to its pool. And, as mentioned, there is no attrition rule, so that Doom stays in the pool until used.

But there's a more general question I have about Doom. What is its purpose? I mean, as a GM, I'm basically free to add any complications to the players at any point I feel it's warranted. Why do I need some rule mechanics to determine when and if I can?

If anything, having a physical expression of the GM's ability to complicate the players' lives, it would seem to engender or reinforce an adversarial relationship between the GM and the players ("This may seem hard enough, but, look! I just made it that much harder!") Is that the environment you want to create for your games?
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David Thomas said Feb 22, 2016 00:53:33
In general, PC's are rolling more often with larger scores than NPC's, thus the Momentum Pool increases much faster than if the Doom Pool only increased in the same way. The Doom Pool is also used for many more things than Momentum.

As for Doom, it's a narrative mechanic, not adversarial. See Fate Points, Bennies, MHR's Doom Pool, Star Wars force points, etc, etc, etc.
They create a nice back and forth flow of play, add narrative power to the players, and create a resource for powering NPC's, etc.
Plenty of modern successful games use similar mechanics to great effect, and so does this one. Give it a try.
[Last edited Feb 22, 2016 02:31:32]
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DouglasJessup said Feb 22, 2016 08:46:39
I ran the quick-start and found i spent my doom too early i did get a few back later as they used parry's on the more dangerous foes but it seemed to work well i didnt gain doom through complications as i had things happen to the pc's
it was very enjoyable for all just need to re read the quick start and clarify a few things
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David Thomas said Feb 22, 2016 10:16:36
I've had the same experience as you Douglas. Doom and Momentum balanced out pretty well.
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Nathan.Dowdell said Feb 22, 2016 11:02:18
But there's a more general question I have about Doom. What is its purpose? I mean, as a GM, I'm basically free to add any complications to the players at any point I feel it's warranted. Why do I need some rule mechanics to determine when and if I can?

You don't need them, but, speaking as an experienced GM myself, I find it quite useful. There's a defined cause-and-effect with Doom - it's not arbitrary, as GM fiat can often seem. The players can see things that add to Doom, and they can see the overall level of Doom and the tension it represents.

It's a tool as much as anything else. For inexperienced GMs, it's helpful to provide structure for a role that is typically and traditionally unstructured. For experienced GMs, it's a pacing tool to play with that can be extraordinarily flexible when it comes to shaping the ebb and flow of an adventure. I've used it for escalating situations before in the other 2D20 games ("The flames are creeping closer to the crashed school bus; I'll add a point to Dark Symmetry every round, so you need to act fast"), and for tense infiltrations ("If you draw too much attention, you will add to Heat in these ways, bringing more guards and more problems"), and I've looked at using it for dark rituals in Conan ("the ritual generates X Doom per round, where X is the number of acolytes performing the rite; when it gets to 20, the ritual is complete and the sorcerer will cast his spell"). It's also a nice, in-built way to reflect the players' choices during an adventure - if you're fighting through a fortress, the Doom generated by reckless characters can then be used to make the next load of enemies that little bit tougher and more determined, as you start facing more prepared foes the further in you go... but if you're sneaky and careful at the start, then the GM won't have that Doom, so the NPCs don't get those same opportunities to prepare.

It's nothing that a God-GM in many other games can't do... but the fact that the system handles it takes some of the work away from that responsibility. And I'm all for making GMing take less work, because that means the GM's effort can be spent doing other things, and it means that getting new people into GMing is easier, which helps grow the hobby.

If anything, having a physical expression of the GM's ability to complicate the players' lives, it would seem to engender or reinforce an adversarial relationship between the GM and the players ("This may seem hard enough, but, look! I just made it that much harder!") Is that the environment you want to create for your games?

I'm the furthest thing from an antagonistic GM - I want the player characters in my games to suffer, because it's fun to watch them triumph against adversity. Doom lets you tweak the challenge on the fly in a way that can seem petty and arbitrary when done through GM fiat, but which is justified by the presence of Doom as an abstract measure of "this is the ways the situation can get worse".
Game Development - 2D20 System
System Design - Star Trek Adventures

Rules questions and playtest feedback to nathan@modiphius.com
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Alex Jeffries said Feb 22, 2016 17:30:23
Just a thought. If you're faced with the situation as a GM that something nasty is going to happen to a PC or the group and you'd rather it doesn't (to avoid the accusation of being adversarial), you could use the Doom pool as a way of giving them a second chance;

"That was rather reckless of you to run across the rope bridge. You've failed your task roll and normally you'd plummet to the ground and be killed, but that's no fun. So I'll add two tokens to the Doom pool and say you happen to get your foot entangled as you fell and now you're hanging upside down from the bridge."

In my ACKS campaign, I'm pulling punches on my players all the time otherwise their beloved characters would have been killed long ago. I indicate this by figuratively rolling my eyes at them on Roll20. A Doom mechanism would be a bit more concrete and obvious.
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Nathan.Dowdell said Feb 22, 2016 19:06:53
That's a solid point, and a perfectly valid approach - it's already present to an extent with buying off complications, so being able to buy off immediate problems with the promise of later challenges is entirely fitting.
Game Development - 2D20 System
System Design - Star Trek Adventures

Rules questions and playtest feedback to nathan@modiphius.com
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Alex Jeffries said Feb 22, 2016 21:38:05
I've only read up to page 19 of the Quickstart so nice to know I anticipated a rule, not that it's a great stretch of imagination.
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Nestor Rodriguez said Feb 23, 2016 01:19:09
Now that I can see as useful; having the Doom pool serve as a way to monitor the lethality of a situation in both directions. The players can survive a failed roll in exchange for greater trouble ahead.

As a GM, I tend to be so involved in the storytelling part that mechanics like keeping track of tokens often goes to the wayside. I'll have to see how well the Doom pool concept will work for me.
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Nathan.Dowdell said Feb 23, 2016 10:54:56
If anything, part of the point of Doom is that you're only tracking one set of tokens and resources and mechanics, rather than lots of little ones for each NPC.
Game Development - 2D20 System
System Design - Star Trek Adventures

Rules questions and playtest feedback to nathan@modiphius.com
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