Tuesday, March 1, 2011

GodWar: Tarot System Design

This is sort of the bullet, design doc style writeup for the GodWar system thus far.  Any and all feedback welcome. 

GodWar is designed with the goal to create a story that the players and the gamemaster will enjoy taking part in.  To this end reality has been cast aside at points in favor of story.  Characters are rated in Destiny according to their importance to the story and Destiny determines many of their abilities, so under this system an unnamed veteran soldier who exists as window dressing is likely to be less effective overall than Gunther, a plucky new recruit with dreams of heroism and the heart to follow them.  Characters are more powerful depending on how important they are to the story and the world of GodWar.  Ultimately the players are the most important characters in the story you are telling and so start out pretty powerful, but in the grand scheme of GodWar they aren’t necessarily the movers and shakers so they aren’t top rank yet (assuming you use the suggested starting point for characters, but if t hat doesn’t float your boat feel free to jump them up some Destiny levels). 

The core mechanic of GodWar is effort cards, which characters have a number of based on their Destiny.  The deck used in GodWar is a standard taror deck with four suits running 1-10 plus face cards and the major arcane.  When a player encounters a task they wish to accomplish that is narratively important and that the character mail fail a contest is used to see if the player succeeds.  A task uses the following process to resolve:

1.      All characters deal themselves a number of cards from their shuffled deck equal to their effort. 
a.       Only named characters get hands of cards. 
b.      Unnamed characters have a static number of actions with set results during each round. 
2.      Characters assign cards to actions they wish to take during the contest. 
a.       A number of cards may be assigned to a task equal to the ability related with that contest.  So if you wish to stab someone and you have a Melee of 5 you can assign up to five cards towards stabbing someone. 
                                                                i.      Abilities:
1.      Athletics
2.      Craft
3.      Dodge
4.      Interaction
5.      Knowledge
6.      Magic
7.      Mechanics
8.      Medicine
9.      Melee
10.  Perception
11.  Ranged
12.  Stealth
13.  Toughness
14.  Willpower
15.  Survival
                                                              ii.      Abilities can have specialties, meaning cards can be assigned to the ability when certain situations occur, like when using a specific type of weapon. 
1.      I’d like to develop some sort of “aspect economy” like system where there is a give and take and specialties behave more like aspects, but I’m not sure how to do so.  I’m afraid the game will have too many decision points each round if I layer that mechanic on top of the existing system. 
b.      Multiple actions require multiple assignments of cards and the combined total of cards cannot be higher than your related skill.  So if you wish to stab two people and you have 5 effort and a Melee skill of 5 you could assign three cards to stab one person and two cards to stab the other, but not four to stab one and three to stab the other as the total number of cards would be higher than your skill in Melee. 
c.       Players may assign cards to defend against incoming attacks. 
                                                                i.      Cards assigned in such fashion are counted against all attacks during that round which the chosen skill will defend against.  So if you place three cards in Dodge, they count against all attacks that Dodge will defend against until the round ends. 
                                                              ii.      Cards may be assigned to defense at any time from unassigned cards or actions that have not yet been resolved. 
3.      The action with the most cards assigned is resolved first.  If two characters have the same number of cards assigned to an action, the one with the higher Destiny is resolved first.  If there is still a tie the character with the highest result (see below) is resolved first. 
4.      The cards assigned to each action have their total point value added up, which is the result for the action. 
a.       Face cards and major arcana have special abilities that can be activated depending on the card and action attempted, or they may be used as a 5 of no particular suit. 
b.      Suits may have certain benefits for certain actions (like Swords cards giving you a bonus in combat) but this may add unneeded complication. 
5.      If the result is higher than the target number for the task, usually set by the GM or equal to the result of an action opposing the contest, the task succeeds.   
a.       Target Number Examples:
                                                                i.      Easy Task: 5 (climbing a tree)
                                                              ii.      Average Task: 10 (climbing a rock wall)
                                                            iii.      Difficult Task: 15 (climbing a rock wall with few handholds)
                                                            iv.      Very Difficult Task: 25 (climbing a rock wall with no handholds)
                                                              v.      Nigh Impossible Task: 40 (climbing a brick wall)
                                                            vi.      Impossible Task: 60 (climbing a glass wall)
                                                          vii.      Alternately could determine difficult by the GM drawing some number of cards and totaling the result for the target number. 
b.      The player can assign unassigned cards still in his hand to an action (assuming his ability is high enough) after success or failure is announced, but before the penalty for failure is revealed. 
c.       If the task is successful, the difference between the result and the target number is the margin of success.  This can be used to determine how successful the character is and acts as a bonus to damage on attacks.  It is up to the player and the GM to decide together what the effect of the margin of success is. 
                                                                i.      Margin of Success:
1.      1-5: Basic success – no special benefit. 
2.      6-10: Success – task accomplished in 10% less time, 10% more efficiently, etc. 
3.      11-15: Major Success – task accomplished in 25% less time, 25% more efficiently, etc. 
4.      16-20: Amazing Success – task accomplished in 25% less time, 25% more efficiently, etc.
5.      21+: Astounding Success – Up to GM discretion. 
                                                              ii.      Some tasks that require a lot of time, such as building structures or research, may require a certain amount of margin of success to be totaled over a series of rounds, each taking some set amount of time to complete. 
1.      For example a monk is doing research in the Papacy archives.  The ritual he is looking for is arcane and the archives poorly organized, so the task has a target number of 15, he must achieve 30 points of margin of success to find the ritual, and each round takes 8 hours. 
d.      If the task is unsuccessful, the difference between the result and the target number is the margin of failure.  In similar fashion to margin of success, this can have negative effects on the task, such as making future efforts take longer. 
                                                                i.      When attempting a long term task, margin of failure is subtracted from any accumulated margin of success.  If the total margin of success for the task equals the negative value of the amount needed to complete the task, the task proves beyond the ability of those trying. 
e.       Face cards allow the activation of special facets of attacks, such as attacks ignoring armor or including movement as part of the action. 
f.       The major arcana each have a special ability associated with them that can be activated in appropriate situations.  Some examples:
                                                                i.      The Fool: If assigned to a skill, you may assign any number of cards to that skill regardless of your skill level.  If you assign more cards than your skill level, the Fool counts as a 15 for determining the result of the action. 
                                                              ii.      The Magician: Allows the player to redraw hand completely and in the process heal 10 mental damage.  Alternately can count as a 15 when used for any Knowledge or Magic task.
                                                            iii.      If played during a turn allows all players to see the next cards in their deck equal to the playing character’s Destiny.  If played during an interaction with a female or when uncovering or hiding a mystery counts as a 15. 
g.      In combat a success means an attack has hit the target.  The damage is equal to the base damage of the attack + the margin of success on the attack – any defenses or armor the target has. 
                                                                i.      Base weapon damage is usually some manner of Melee + Athletics + a constant for melee weapons and Ranged + Perception for ranged weapons. 
                                                              ii.      Base Health and Stability are calculated as follows:
1.      Health = Toughness x5 + Melee x2 + Athletics x2 + Survival x2
2.      Stability = Willpower x5 + Magic x2 + Medicine x2 + Knowledge x2
                                                            iii.      Damage is subtracted from the character’s health or stability (mental health).  If either of these is reduced to 0, the player must assign cards to Toughness or Willpower keep his character in the fight, with the character’s health or stability increasing by the card value.  Cards may be moved from unassigned cards or unresolved actions to Toughness or Willpower.  If the character has no cards to move the character falls down/passes out until the beginning of next round, when a sufficient cards to get the character standing may be assigned. 
                                                            iv.      If a character takes enough damage so they can no longer allocate cards to offset the damage (i.e. all their cards are allocated to Toughness of Willpower) they can take no action aside from drawing cards each round in the hope of drawing higher cards (and thus increase the amount of damage the cards to allocated to Toughness and Willpower can offset).  A character in such a situation may be easily dispatched by enemies and may not defend against attacks.  At the end of every round the player must draw one card; if is less than the number of rounds the character has been incapacitated the character dies. 
                                                              v.      Any character reduced to his Toughnessx10 in negative health or stability is dead. 
6.      Some abilities, such as magic spells, may require cards to remain assigned to the spell to keep it active.  If this assigned card is removed, the spell ends.  This card is not counted towards any actions involving the related ability. 
7.      The round ends when all actions are resolved.  At that point unassigned cards are discarded and a new hand equal to the character’s Destiny is drawn for the following turn. 
8.      Players can play cards for each other if their team has a high enough Teamwork attribute (group character facet). 
9.      When multiple characters work together to accomplish a task the character with the highest skill is considered the lead character.  The character allocates cards to the task as normal.  Other characters may also allocate cards to the task; for every number of cards allocated equal to the lead character’s skill, he may choose one of the cards allocated by other players to add to his result.  So if the lead character has a skill of 5, for every five cards allocated by other characters he may choose 1 to add to his result. 
10.  NPCs with a Destiny of 3 or below do not draw cards and instead can attempt a set number of actions each round with a set result for each action.  If more than one NPC attempts the same action, such as a number of minions dogpiling a player character, each additional character involved in the attack increases the result by their Destiny.  Such grouped NPCs may be attacked as a group as well with any damage divided evenly between them. 


  1. Looks cool. Couple of potential exploits:

    It looks like hanging onto cards for discretionary spend is super powerful. I'd expect that the guy that puts X cards in his attack and saves the rest of the cards is better off than the guy that puts X in his attack and also pre-allocates his other cards. A simple way to fix this might be to make initiative equal to total cards preallocated rather than just the most allocated to a particular skill.

    For extended contests that focus on one skill you're going to get way higher results than you would during a combat round where players might need to fill multiple skills: if the character has Knowledge 3 and Destiny 5, there's no reason not to just put the three best cards in the check each round. You may want to consider designing challenges (and possibly rounding out the skill list) so there's always at least two skill spends that could be useful contributions towards any given task. So for the research example, maybe Knowledge finds the information but Perception success can reduce the round length from 8 hours to something more manageable (or vice versa).

  2. For extended contests I was hoping to do what you suggest. If the players were searching the Vatican archives they could use Perception to find relevant books (or to keep an eye out for the Swiss Guard trying to find them), Interaction for convincing the librarian to help, etc. So sort of like skill challenges with lots of skills to go around.