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Extended Tasks: The Next Generation

posted Jan 22, 2017 18:05:48 by Nathan.Dowdell
A separate thread for the ongoing discussion of Extended Tasks, to stop it from overwhelming other discussion.

I've copied my conceptual overview of the mechanic below, for reference and to hopefully kick off some productive discussion.

Extended Tasks
The purpose of Extended Tasks is uncertainty. As we probably all know from experience with other RPGs, uncertainty plus peril is a good recipe for excitement. It's one of the reasons why combat is such a persistent part of RPGs in general - fight scenes are uncertain and perilous, and that can organically produce those memorable moments where everything comes right down to the wire. Extended Tasks are an attempt to achieve that sort of dynamic for activities which aren't combat.

An Extended Task is appropriate for a specific range of activities: if the activity is time-consuming, and occurs in circumstances where it must to be completed within a finite amount of time, or there is an increasing risk or hazard involved in performing the activity that makes it naturally undesirable to take too long. If there's no time limit or peril, then the fact that the activity is time-consuming is irrelevant - you should probably just roll a single Task for it, or even just let it happen after X amount of time, no roll required (this is one of the flaws with some of the Extended Tasks used in the first adventure - the need for an element of peril wasn't fully understood at the time).

The key is that specific intersection between "activity that will take more than one character-action to complete" and "situation where taking too long is particularly bad". These are situations where, ideally, victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat, or where success comes just in the nick of time.

And I don't think that this is something that can easily just be "roleplayed out". How long the Extended Task takes to complete is not something that anyone around the table (or any of the writers) should be able to conclusively decide: GM fiat doesn't work here, because it's one of those things that the dice should decide.

The ur-example of the Extended Task, for me, is characters trying to fix some vital piece of technology in the midst of a firefight. It might be that the Warp Core is offline and the ship is faced with an overwhelming enemy force, or that you need to get that subspace relay or transporter working so that you can beam out. Those represent situations where there's an ongoing, severe peril (a fight), but the fight itself isn't the objective (as should be the case in Star Trek - a fight is something that happens along the way, but it isn't the point of the story).

In this example, the fight will conclude when the Extended Task is complete, which means there's a finite-but-unknown duration to the scene. Nobody - not the GM, not the players, and not the writers - has direct control over this duration, but both GM and players can influence it in various ways: the GM sets the basic parameters (Progress, Magnitude, Difficulty, Resistance) and can adjust things on the fly with Complications, Threat, and the attacking NPCs, while the players can influence the outcome through use of skilled characters (putting the right characters in the right places), division of labour (some characters do the fighting, some characters do the repairs), and the spending of resources (Momentum, Threat, Determination) to try and make things as favourable as possible.

Now, while the rules may not be to everyone's tastes, can people at least understand what I was trying to do in concept?
[Last edited Oct 10, 2017 23:51:29]
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53 replies
avatar said Jan 22, 2017 19:58:48
@Nathan Even though I am one of those who don't see the need for the mechanic I can see what you are trying to do. I don't personally believe it is necessary in fact as kevin_rolfe has said my group and I find that it is a mechanic which would just bog down the game. I have purchased virtually all of the Star Trek RPG's from the FASA one to the Decipher one, but to be honest there are a couple of rules (extended tasks and the phaser charges for example) which will probably make this one I will skip. I hope not as there are aspects I really like.

Having read through this thread I can see that there are those who really like the idea (not including the developers who I would expect to be enthusiastic about it, after all they wouldn't release it if they thought it was rubbish). Personally I would dump the CD because they add nothing useful in my opinion. I would just have a number of successes needed and an amount of time each dice roll took and complications would add to the number of successes required. I don't believe that my method would be great, just less kludgy than the current one.

My personal suggestion to deal with this division would be to have a cut down rule, like the one I have set out above, with the current one as an optional alternative for GM's/Groups to decide which one they prefer.
DavidRosson said Jan 22, 2017 20:06:24
At this point, having used them a bit more and studied the discussions about them I am:
* Totally fine with the concept.
* Relatively happy with the rules, especially seeing as how they are a reskinned application of the Stress/Injury system which I also find to be a functional design.
* Think some people just have the wrong impression about the frequency / application of them because the Xerxes scenario experimentally dropped them a bit heavily to see where they worked or not (aka the point of a playtest scenario).
* Would probably prefer a terminology change (i.e. Effort instead of Progress and Progress instead of Breakthrough) to remove the "I'm done with progress, so why isn't it done?" argument that will likely keep coming up.
"It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid." - Q
Star Trek RPG Files (Character Build Reference and Constellation Class Starship)
avatar said Jan 22, 2017 20:16:27
Personally it wouldn't make a difference to me. I am trying to run the game using all of the official rules but for me even once using the current rules for extended tasks is too much.
[Last edited Jan 22, 2017 21:02:21]
aramis_erak said Jan 22, 2017 22:17:03
I like them much as they are. They're a very useful pacing tool, and I've used similar in a number of other games.

I like the v1.3 change to momentum simply adding progress (rather than adding cd).

If there were one thing I'd change, it would be to divorce magnitude and difficulty from each other.
Just because my shirt is red
does not mean I'll soon be dead.
ChrisFougere said Jan 23, 2017 02:30:56
The extended tasks rules don't bog the game down any more than combat does. It may need some fine tuning (clearer examples of when an extended task is suggested over a challenge for example) but the gist of it is something that I like quite a bit.
AdamColeman said Jan 23, 2017 09:16:03
You see, I think as they are that they work well. They parallel other systems nicely, i.e. combat that if you use them as part of a firefight - as suggested - then everyone's actually making use of BASICALLY the same mechanic.

One of the big issues with other games that try to mix combat and non-combat tasks is that the systems are so divorced from one another that two players may have to be in entirely different headspaces when engaging in them - such as hacking in most cyberpunk games.

In this case, an extended task to bring down the shields that just went up on the Borg Cube you were infiltrating when all the Drones activated, while your security detail take them on feels exactly the same and, realistically, has the same, if not more impact to the overall narrative. This is exactly the sort f scenario that SHOULD come up in a Trek game and makes the non-combatant Engineer feel jsut as useful - if not moreso - than the security officer.
Nathan.Dowdell said Jan 23, 2017 12:57:32
Personally I would dump the CD because they add nothing useful in my opinion. I would just have a number of successes needed and an amount of time each dice roll took and complications would add to the number of successes required. I don't believe that my method would be great, just less kludgy than the current one.

See, I'm reluctant to do this because it runs into a couple of issues of its own. If it's about the total number of successes generated (those to complete each Task, plus Momentum), it becomes a big Momentum vacuum - if the Momentum you generate is the primary measure of how quickly you get past the situation, then all Momentum will go towards it, which has some issues with the pace of things going on at the same time and afterwards. If it's just a set number of Tasks to complete, then Momentum serves little purpose in that framework and just ends up being saved up with no short-term outlet.

In either case, the interaction with the Momentum mechanic is too extreme in one direction or the other - either use all the Momentum, or generate all the Momentum - with nothing in between.

The additional step of "rolling damage" creates circumstances by which there are a wider range of possible outcomes than simply pass or fail (each successful Task generates an amount of Progress, which may in turn cause 0, 1, or 2 Breakthroughs depending on roll and circumstances; plus whatever factors are otherwise impinging upon each Task, such as Complications, ongoing pressures, or consequences for failure), which can be modified by Momentum, but where Momentum isn't utterly essential (meaning that there's player choice involved rather than a no-brainer best-course-of-action). This is where the uncertainty comes from, but it's uncertainty that the players can influence, as I covered in my initial post above.

An aside: I believe in the idea of RPGs being both interesting as games and interesting as a means of telling/creating a story. An RPG that does only one of those things, for me, quickly becomes unsatisfying. If I want pure gameplay, there are other games that I can enjoy. If I want pure storytelling, there are ways I can do that too. For me, the RPG sits at the point where two things that I enjoy for different reasons overlap. Thus, for me, the notion of "you don't need rules for that, just roleplay it" is an unsatisfying one, because it simultaneously presumes that a) I wasn't roleplaying already, b) that gameplay and roleplaying are mutually exclusive, and c) that everyone is equally capable of "roleplaying it out" in a wide range of in-character situations.
Game Development - 2D20 System
System Design - Star Trek Adventures

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ScottB said Jan 23, 2017 13:51:21
I also completely understand what you are trying to do Nathan. I've tested several different scenarios on paper and agree that the best part about Extended Tasks is they use mechanics that track just like personal or star ship combat. The players in my group like them better now that there are clearer rules on Momentum spends while doing them as well.

All I can say to those who feel Extended Tasks somehow "wreck" the game enough to not consider purchasing it - like a lot of rules in a lot of games, you can use it or not at your own prerogative once you purchase a copy of the rules. The idea of Extended Tests has been done in a lot of games that I play, so I just don't understand how this is such a strange idea I guess.

Oh, and @aramis - I didn't realize Magnitude and Difficulty were married? Can't you say have a Magnitude 5 but a Difficulty say 3? The aforementioned would be an example of a task not necessarily very difficult but requiring a lot of time and effort? Or vice versa?
RichardTurnbull said Jan 23, 2017 15:04:09
It is not a particularly strange idea, I just find this method detracts from the system (as do my group). I intend to continue with my own scenarios until the next official one turns up and see how we get on from there, and we will test the extended tasks in this new version of the rules, but I anticipate that we will end up sidelining that rule. At least one member of the group has suggested we go back to the dnd 5E game I had been running previously, and he is a player who enjoys games which are more than just combat.
Nathan.Dowdell said Jan 23, 2017 15:05:12
There's no hard link between Magnitude and Difficulty, but having a Difficulty much lower than the Magnitude means you'll end up with a lot of Difficulty 0 Tasks once you've scored a couple of Breakthroughs, which can rob the situation of some of its tension. Being aware of how they interact is important when devising them, to get the kinds of results that you want.
[Last edited Jan 23, 2017 15:21:18]
Game Development - 2D20 System
System Design - Star Trek Adventures

Rules questions and playtest feedback to
ScottB said Jan 23, 2017 15:18:23
Yeah I think in the specific case you mention Nathan, it would be the equivalent of the "monotony" that would come with wrapping up a long but not difficult project. Of course, probably best to not even have that be a task if it is so "easy" - just mathing out different scenarios. Thanks for the answer!
DustinMa said Jan 23, 2017 20:44:49
Me and my crew really liked the extended task mechanic. Because the system works very intuitive concerning how and with what skill you can contribute to a specific task no one felt left out. The science and engineer officers used their research skills while the security officer defended against the neanderthals and the command officer helped out both. Everyone had a blast while they found new ways of how their skills could apply. One change I made was that I made up scientific reasons (technobabble) for why the colonists were degrading and came up with a star Trekkie sulution/cure. For every milestone they achieved, I gave my players one part information of the puzzle and later one part idea for the solution. I had the impression that it really motivated them, to achieve the milestoneafter milestone. That way, it wasn't only about dice successes, but also about discovery.
blizzard36 said Jan 23, 2017 22:00:34
While my group hated the Extended Tasks in general in the first iteration, with a better understanding of how they work and should be used we have in this test we are warming to them.

There is clearly still more feeling out and testing to be done before we are confident in them, but they have a clear niche in the system with the changes and clarifications to them now. It will take some time and experience to find the right balance of Progress required, Difficulty, and Magnitude, but I'm sure we'll get there. It has a much better fit we feel than the other example options already presented.

Our group also equated it with Decking from Shadowrun once the general idea and objective of it became better understood. We know from experience that option doesn't usually work well, we tended to either near handwave decking by breaking it down to just a couple rolls or it would have to be its own separate session to be done properly. We found the clarified rules to be closer to Ritual Magic, something which operates much better alongside regular combat even if still removed from it. (Though the roles they play in combat are reversed, Ritual Magic often sets a deadline the combat or other life-threatening event needs to be over by to have effect, while Extended Tasks are trying to be finished to prevent a threat from taking effect.)

We tried in our initial Xerses mission both of the other ways of doing Extended Tasks (because we didn't understand how they worked and were trying to figure them out). When trying to finish them by the deadline, but we didn't roll CD, they were indeed a Momentum or Determination sink. When we instead switched to a group Task that everyone rolled once on to see if we got enough successes it was a let down because the situation was resolved before it could ever get really tense. And if the group failed, it was frustrating for the players because they didn't feel like they'd had an adequate chance to overcome it.

After that moment in particular, in conjunction with reading the clarifications on how they actually worked, I think we started to accept the idea of an Extended Task more. Combat is rarely over in 1 round, so why should life or death moments outside of combat regularly come down to 1 die roll?

At this point I think our biggest hangups with Extended Tasks are with setting a good Difficulty and Breakthrough combo for them (that's just going to take iteration to figure out I think) and our dislike of the CD in general.
I'm not crazy. I just use different logic than most people.
aramis_erak said Jan 24, 2017 08:54:21
Nathan -
What I meant by "divorce" is "A breakthrough either reduces magnitude OR reduces difficulty" ... whereas the rules currently have it doing both. It's an additional meaningful choice.

Also, I want to remind you that there are a significant minority (I estimate about 10%) who simply dislike all non-combat mechanics more complicated than a simple skill roll. They also overlap with a "Let's resolve combat with one die roll" crowd... It may be worth a sidebar to address these play style issues. Perhaps to say, "It's ok to do so with player consent, but it's not the intended mode of play," or some such...
Just because my shirt is red
does not mean I'll soon be dead.
RichardTurnbull said Jan 24, 2017 11:58:18
@Aramis I think that would help, my group don't dislike more complicated rules for the most part but we just don't find extended tasks to be interesting and tend to use other methods to resolve them. I think that it would be a great idea to say "this is how it works but if your group want, they can run with these more streamlined rules".

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