Friday, December 30, 2011

SIFRP Hack: Playtest Recap

This past Thursday, Kainenchen and 2/3rds of my college gaming group sat down to playtest the hack of SIFRP that I've been posting about over the last few months. Our Christmas one-shot is now a matter of tradition, though this was the first of the games that did not use 4e D&D as its game system. The homebrewed Aurikesh setting is an early-Renaissance setting (yay, flintlocks!) with arcane and divine magic. Quick summary of outcome: I think everyone had a pretty good time, but there are significant areas of the rules that need more thought (such as the economy of actions as relates to spellcasting), and I'll be going back to the drawing board on the balance of all but one of the spells that the PCs ever cast.

Our heroes (a veytikka rogue, a kagandi fighter-mage, a human Parthé fighter, a human wizard, and a veytikka priest) awoke in a small chamber inside a larger cavern complex, only to see the Gorgrom guards and their Tiger's Claw commander drop a sixth prisoner in their midst. Listening closely as the guards leave, they're able to hear a door closing and a bolt slamming home some distance away within the caverns. The five heroes get to their feet, introduce themselves to one another, and inspect the prisoner who was so unceremoniously dumped in the middle of the floor. The sixth prisoner proves to be an old and blind beruch named Kalesh. They talk to him for awhile, but quickly conclude that he has little else to offer them in planning a jailbreak.

Desperate for something like a weapon, the human warrior finds a nice heavy rock. The veytikka, of course, content themselves with their claws, and the spellcasters of the group cast their armoring spells.

Design Notes on Armoring Spells:
1. Armoring spells may be too good, but that's an issue I'll need to revisit in the future once I've addressed the problems with the dispelling mechanics, because I hung dispel mechanics on Intrigue Defense - this decision gave an overwhelming degree of primacy to the dispelling character. There are also economy-of-actions issues around dispelling, but more on that later.
2. Armoring spells were the first long-term buffs that the PCs played with, and they really highlighted the issues with hanging any amount of cost on the easily recoverable stats of Health and Composure. To wit, the Catch Your Breath action restores a pretty much guaranteed 2-3 Health or Composure per action, so the long-term buffs effectively have no cost at all. I'd like to move to a system in which Health and Composure are "tied off," as seen in Dragon Age and other games with toggled abilities.

Three of them cautiously begin to explore the passageway out of their chamber, but quickly retreat when they hear something clawed approaching. It turns out to be three veytikka looking for carrion. One of them, Atrik, explains a bit about the caverns. There are 15-20 people stuck down here, including the PCs. Var Dyrak's guards come down here every now and again, grab one of the prisoners, and return with them some time later. They experiment on the veytikka and torture the kagandi; Atrik doesn't know what they do to the humans, and they've never had a beruch down here before now. The cavern complex is quite large, and the most powerful leader of the prisoners is a human named Damornus. Atrik agrees to help with a prison break, if and only if the PCs successfully gain Damornus's aid.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How to Write Advice for GMs

One of the most significant challenges that I've faced in running Mage: the Awakening is working out how to structure a satisfying challenge. For all that the many books of new Mage include chapter after chapter of advice to GMs on different kinds of campaigns one could run, ideas for threats, and advice on pacing, along with reams of setting detail. What it doesn't ever do (that I've seen) is offer suggestions on how to create a viable challenge: something from which the PCs will probably emerge, battered and drained, and having had to show some degree of creative thought, but that will not frustrate or overwhelm them to the point of ruining the game.

Mage is particularly significant for this, as compared to other nWoD lines or most editions of D&D (after first level, anyway) because of the remarkable fragility of characters. A reasonably tough mage has three dots in Stamina, and therefore eight Health boxes. Mages rely very heavily on their armoring spells to keep them alive in a bad situation. In nWoD, a mage's armoring spell is a surprisingly absolute defense, because reducing the attacker's dice pool is a pretty big deal. You might still take some hits, but empirical evidence to date suggests that if you can diminish an attacker's dice pool to 3-4 dice while still having a decent attack pool of your own, that's going to be about all she wrote. (Of course, if you're also a Thyrsus, you can probably heal through, as long as you have a decent mana pool. But I digress.)

I've only addressed Mage so far, but it's a point that generalizes to many other games. D&D 3.0 was the first game I'd played that had clear and definite rules for "okay, PCs of this power level should be able to handle this much of a threat." Challenge Rating is something of a wedge issue for the D&D blogosphere, of course, and one that I could write about for hours; I'll short-circuit that digression by saying that I like the existence of Challenge Ratings and Encounter Levels, but there are flaws in the system that can only really be corrected with very pointed advice to DMs: discussions of economy of actions, for example (cf., "why a wizard by himself is not a great way to challenge players").

Then there's non-combat challenge, such as 4e D&D's skill challenges. I and the rest of the 4e-friendly blogs have written reams of commentary about the good and bad of 4e's skill challenges. The 4e DMG and DMG2 do their best to give cogent advice on writing a discrete scene that challenges the players in a non-combat fashion. It takes an above-average DM to make skill challenges feel like a risk that the players can engage. It's entirely too easy for a skill challenge to come across as "okay, all attacks do one point of damage. Do 4, 6, or 8 points of damage before you (collectively) take 3 damage." It took a lot of development time before WotC and blogging writers started to improve on the systemic side of this model, generally by creating situations where an attack might deal more than one "damage," or a character's action could remove one "damage" from the party. No discussion of skill challenges is complete without nods to Stands-in-Fire and Ben, two excellent DMs who can make the system feel like something more than the sum of its parts. Even if the 4e skill challenge system is flawed, though, it's a better engine for creating non-combat challenges than the vast majority of games offer. Only Technoir and SIFRP match or exceed it, in my experience, and SIFRP only offers social challenges.

Maybe I can get to the meat of what I'm talking about with a few case studies from my own gaming experience.

Monday, December 19, 2011

3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars: Player-side Review

This past weekend, Stands-in-Fire ran a session of 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars, a rules-light game written to be about space marines killing bugs on the Planet of the Week. Our GM reworked the game's assumed setting, so instead we fought zombies in various Left 4 Dead configurations as the zombie apocalypse descended upon a local office park.

For starters, 3:16 is a very strange game, and I can't help but be glad that the GM's reframing of the game allowed us to ignore a number of the game's assumptions. In 3:16, a character has two numerical stats, plus some descriptive phrases attached to their Flashbacks (on which more later). These numerical stats are Fighting Ability and Non-Fighting Ability. If you're making an attack, you roll FA. If you're doing anything else at all, including shifting from one range of combat to another, you roll NFA. Stats range from 2 to 8, and you want to roll under your stat number on a d10. I played Eddie Mackenzie, a loudmouthed gun nut who was a pretty good shot, but was otherwise seriously lacking in competence (7 FA, 3 NFA). My dice completely supporting my willingness to have Eddie be a braggart rather than a hero - this led to a lot of jokes about how my dice thought we were playing Mage, because I rolled more 8s, 9s, and 10s than I could shake a stick at.

The stats of your weapon are also a relevant concern, and explaining weapon stats reveals one of the game's strangest conceits. We started the game with very few weapons, surprising given that we were part of the Security division for that building. (My character, for example, left his gun in his car because "if I have my gun on me, I'm just too dangerous. I might... snap." ) So we had a couple of fire axes, some heavy bludgeoning toolboxes, and a handgun. All of these weapons were rated at 1 damage; the melee weapons could only deal damage at Close range, while the handgun could deal damage out to Near range. (A later acquisition, a hunting rifle, could deal damage out to Far range.) This one point of damage means that, on a success, the Threat Token that is removed (because all successful attacks, regardless of the weapon's damage rating, defeat one Threat Token) had a value of one (1) zombie, rather than being a larger pack of zombies.

So the GM actually can't tell you how many enemies are attacking, if weapons have variable damage ratings, because he won't know how many zombies there were in that group until a successful attack kills them. I'm pretty sure it's the first time I've seen someone try to manifest the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in survival horror. Because the GM can't tell you how many zombies there are before the end of the fight, you as a player obviously can't really care at the time; what you care about instead (at least as far as survival goes) is the number of Threat Tokens that the GM places.

Right, well, why even have variable damage on weapons, if players aren't really able to care about it until after the weapon has been fired? Because the number of zombies you kill (one in the case of our starting weapons; 1d10 in the case of an explosive that Eddie jury-rigged) increases your kill total, which is to say your score. In the assumed space-marine setting, you need to keep score because that's how you increase in level between missions. You can also increase in rank, either from field promotions resulting from Tragic Accidents Befalling One's Sergeant, or from using a Strength Flashback during the session, or you can juice up your gear. Promotions, including commissions as officers, are key to the continuing play of a 3:16 campaign. Ranks above Corporal carry increasingly complex priorities and orders, written to generate a certain degree of conflict between players (since lower-ranking characters are likely to be marked as Acceptable Losses).

Since we were playing Zombie Apocalypse Survival Horror, though, we don't have military hierarchy to worry about. We had... a Project Manager (the character with the highest NFA). After that point, as we all know, performance does not contribute to promotion... But the idea of competing within the team, rather than cooperating for maximum survival chances, neither appealed to us nor made any sense in the scenario. It's also a lot easier to care about protagonists when it's clear how and why the antagonists are a threat that must be defeated (because they'll eat me and everyone I care about!), as opposed to the casual fascism of the space marine setting (this isn't my planet, this isn't anywhere near my planet, and I can't imagine how hard the enemy would have to work to even find out where my planet is, much less go there). The rules of 3:16 strongly and repeatedly encourage players and the GM to revel in the unbridled machismo of slaughtering the local lifeforms. I guess I'm a bad gamer, because the whole idea bores the hell out of me. If I'm going to kill something in a game, I'd like to have at least a slight effort to show me how the bad guys are bad.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Tower of Var Dyrak: Aurikesh One-Shot

(What follows is the intro text for this year's Christmas one-shot, set in Aurikesh and using my SIFRP hack.)

You awaken in a natural cavern, with a muddy floor. It is lit by a single tallow candle that burns in a crevice in the wall. All of your possessions, save for the clothes on your back, have been stolen by whoever beat you up and brought you here (though you still have a small complement of prepared spells, if any); you are desperately hungry. A few other individuals, presumably victims of the same kidnapping that you suffered (and likewise worse for wear), are just now stirring.

The only obvious way out of this chamber is a narrow, jagged tunnel leading somewhat downward. Hearing footsteps and low, growling voices from that passage, you fake slumber, keeping your eyes just barely cracked. Four more people crowd into this chamber; three are massive Gorgrom, monstrosities that dwell in the mountains and the badlands of Pereil* and Ferradona.** They have pallid, tough skin that ripples over dense, corded muscle. One of them drops a bundle in the middle of the room. It moans in pain.

Accompanying them is a human who seems to be giving them orders. You note the glint of his metal armor under his tiger-skin cloak. A long, curved sword is bared in his hand, and a starlock pistol is tucked into his belt. The tiger-skin cloak answers a few of your questions by itself; such trophies are the distinctive insignia of an elite cadre of warriors, the Tiger's Claw, who serve Var Dyrak.

Var Dyrak is one of the most feared wizards in all of Balioth,*** powerful in both sorcery and politics. His famous stronghold (which, years earlier, he seized from a dark cult) stands at the end of a long, narrow peninsula in a storm-wracked sea, on the coast of Merestine.† It is fiercely guarded by the Tiger's Claw, warding magics, and monsters such as the Gorgrom he recruits into his service. Who can say what else is hidden in his tower, waiting to be unleashed against any who cross him?

What is Var Dyrak planning, that would lead him to capture you - and in fact keep you so close to all of his secrets? What will it cost you to uncover his secrets, foil his plans, and win your freedom?

(Geography notes. You do not need to know this; it is included here chiefly to communicate flavor in broad strokes.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Races of Aurikesh, SIFRP style

Since I'm now definitely running a session in Aurikesh for my Christmas one-shot, I'll be posting about this hack of the SIFRP rules even more frequently. If I have time, I will also post a bit about the setting beyond what is stated or implied in the original posts on these races.

Nonhuman Races

I've decided to offer my nonhuman races a much more extensive package of racial abilities than Wombat Warlord went with; as much as anything I've made this decision to allow me to keep these races a little closer to their original conceptions. Selecting a nonhuman race costs one of a character's starting Destiny Points (with the exception of the Parthé; see below), but grants full access to the listed racial abilities.

Veytikka:
  • When bearing no more than 2 points of Bulk, veytikka can travel on all fours (with empty hands), increasing their speed by 33%. (Round fractions of a yard down.)
  • Claws: Veytikka deal Athletics -1 damage with their fists, rather than Athletics -3.
  • Keen Scent: Veytikka can purchase levels of Scent as bonus dice of Awareness.
  • Voice Across the Veil: Veytikka gain +2 bonus dice in all Intrigues or social rolls against ghosts and intelligent undead.
  • Lore of the Dead: Veytikka can roll Persuasion (Bargain) in graveyards or crypts to communicate with those buried there, typically for the sake of gaining information.
  • Veytikka cannot start with more than two dice in Status. (This relates to Status across all of Aurikesh society; this value does not represent their standing in all-veytikka communities.)

Beruch:
  • Beruch have a natural point of armor value that stacks with armor that they wear. This armor carries no armor penalty or bulk.
  • Beruch have an additional 2 points of Intrigue Defense and Combat Defense against hostile magic.
  • When a beruch is affected by a damaging spell that deals fire, cold, storm, or force damage, her melee attacks (armed or unarmed) are empowered. She gains her bonus dice in Resilience as bonus dice to her melee attacks for the following round.
  • Beruch cannot start with fewer than three dice in Knowledge.
  • Beruch are difficult to heal with magic, thanks to the same mystical properties of their crystal growths that protect them from harmful magic. When targeted with any spell that would heal Health, Injuries, Wounds, Composure, Strain, or Curses, the spell’s Difficulty increases by 2.

Kagandi:
  • Kagandi are dependent upon fish or replacement alchemical compounds in their diet, at least once a week. Every full week without this nutrient inflicts an Injury and a Strain upon a kagandi.
  • Kagandi have excellent night vision, and suffer no penalties in Shadowy conditions. In full Darkness, they take penalties as per Shadowy conditions.
  • Sorcery of the Fen: When a kagandi consumes ulishau root poison, she gains three dice in Wizardry (if she has none) or 2 dice in Wizardry (if she has at least one but not more than seven). Kagandi who already have eight dice of Wizardry gain one die in Will instead. This benefit lasts for three days. The kagandi must suffer the full effect of ulishau root poison to receive this benefit.
  • Poison Resistance: Kagandi resist all kinds of poisons other than ulishau root poison with two bonus dice to their roll (whether it is Endurance, Heal, or Piety).
  • Kagandi may not start with fewer than two dice in Athletics or Agility.
  • Once per combat, a kagandi gains +1D to a Fighting roll.
  • When in or on the water, kagandi may reroll 1s that come up in Athletics tests. They may do this a number of times per test equal to their current Destiny point total (including spent Destiny).

Parthé:
  • Spend (not burn) Destiny to gain +2D to Athletics and Endurance. While thus enhanced, they take two points of Composure damage per round; this may not be reduced through any means. Parthé can take Strain or Curses to mitigate this damage. If they cannot or decline to sustain further Composure damage, the enhancement ends on the following round.
  • Parthé may not start play with fewer than 3 Endurance or more than 4 Agility. This rule overrides any existing racial restrictions.
  • Parthé are vulnerable to force damage, suffering +1 damage (multiplied normally with additional degrees of success).
  • Parthé begin play with one bonus die in Intimidate (a specialty of Persuasion).
  • Parthé may be of any race. Being one of the Parthé does not cost additional Destiny.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hacking SIFRP: Arcane and Divine Magic, Part 3

I've posted several times in the past about a nebulous homebrewed setting and my ongoing work hacking the SIFRP rules to include PC spellcasting of some kind. The current working title of the setting is Aurikesh, and during a recent business trip I found some time to scribble out maps and brainstorm names. I'll post more about the setting once I've gotten the map into a more complete form. I've also created a thus-far-small spell list, as I think there's a reasonable chance I'll get to run this as my traditional Christmas one-shot game. Creating even this short list has led me to create a few additional keywords, which I'll also explain. Once again I want to mention the many indispensable contributions of Wombat Warlord that made this possible; the Spell Types in particular are his sole creation, though I'm using the types he identified more as categories than as spell seeds.

These spells are more samples of things I could do with the magic system, rather than any kind of comprehensive list of what's available. Damage values on spells are multiplied with extra Wizardry successes just like weapon damage. Any casting time that is not one Lesser Action will be noted in the spell's Effect.

Arcane Spells

Mystic Dawn
Type: Thorn
Difficulty: 4
Range: Self (portable) or Close (fixed)
Cost: 2 Composure
Effect: Provides light equal to a torch; under most circumstances this will not blind enemies, but may dazzle them (-1 to opponent's next test) at the GM's discretion. The light lasts for a number of minutes equal to the caster's Cunning.

Forgeheart's Armor
Type: Boon
Difficulty: 9
Range: Self
Cost: 4 Composure
Effect: The caster gains an armor value up to his Cunning score. As long as this effect is active, the caster takes a penalty to Intrigue Defense equal to the chosen armor value minus 2. If the caster sets the armor value to 1, he instead gains 1 point of Intrigue Defense; likewise, setting the armor value to 0 grants 2 points of Intrigue Defense. This armor stacks with existing armor.

Piercing Glare of the Silver Eye
Type: Wrack
Difficulty: Target's Combat Defense
Range: Close
Cost: 4 Composure
Effect: The target takes damage equal to the caster's Cunning -1. This effect has the Piercing 1 quality (ignoring one point of armor value).

Fulmination of the Purifier
Type: Wrack
Difficulty: Target's Combat Defense
Range: Close
Cost: 4 Composure
Effect: The target takes damage equal to the caster's Cunning -2. This effect has the Explosive quality. (A spell with this quality spreads its effect over a larger area, including all targets that are adjacent (within five yards) to the primary one as designated during the casting of the spell. The test result made to cast the spell is applied to all targets within the area of effect to determine degrees of success.)

Arcane Tempering
Type: Boon
Difficulty: 9
Range: Touch
Cost: 1 Strain
Effect: The caster touches one weapon to cast this spell. That weapon gains the Magical property (allowing it to injure certain magical creatures, and possibly other things I haven't designed yet).

The Wayfarer's Treacherous Touch
Type: Bane
Difficulty: Target's Intrigue Defense
Range: Close
Cost: 6 Composure
Effect: The target takes Composure damage equal to the caster's Cunning.

The Malice of Sechir
Type: Bane
Difficulty: Target's Intrigue Defense
Range: Close
Cost: 8 Composure
Effect: The target takes 1d6-3 Strain (minimum 1).

Least Conjuration of Forgeheart
Type: Conjuration
Difficulty: 9, or named demon's Intrigue Defense
Range: Close
Cost: 6 Composure or 1 Strain
Effect: A random minor demon appears; its initial disposition toward the caster is neutral, but this can be improved through roleplay or an Intrigue challenge. Alternately, the caster can conjure a specific minor or moderate demon by invoking its truename. This spell's base duration is a number of rounds equal to the caster's Cunning, but the caster can extend this to one day at the cost of one Strain. (I haven't established anything about demons yet, but the setting probably doesn't treat this spell as being demon summoning, even though it technically is.)

Memory of the Silver Eye
Type: Divination
Difficulty: 4
Range: Close
Cost: 2 Composure
Effect: This spell grants the caster mystical insight. On one or two successes, the caster can sense magical auras. With three or more successes, the caster gains further information, such as any planetary or sacred sympathies that the magical aura may possess, its effect, and so on. This spell lasts a number of rounds equal to the caster's Cunning.

The Skyguard's Sanctum Ward
Type: Thorn
Difficulty: 9
Range: Touch
Cost: 6 Composure
Effect: The caster targets a physically defined and delineated area of up to an acre in size. The caster becomes immediately aware of any sentient creatures or large animals that intrude upon this area during the spell's duration. The caster is aware that intrusion has occurred and the particular part of the defined area in which the initial intrusion occurs. This spell lasts for a day.

The Inferno of the Forgeheart
Type: Wrack
Difficulty: Target's Combat Defense
Range: Long
Cost: 8 Composure
Effect: The target takes damage equal to the caster's Cunning +1. This effect has the Piercing 1 quality.

Honeyed Words of the Wayfarer
Type: Boon
Difficulty: 9
Range: Touch
Cost: 6 Composure
Effect: The target gains a number of bonus dice equal to the caster's Cunning (multiplied with extra successes) to spread over any number of rolls in an Intrigue. This spell lasts until all bonus dice are spent. If a character already affected by this spell receives a second casting, the effects do not stack.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mage: the Awakening Experience Points

We're about fourteen sessions into my Mage: the Awakening chronicle, and I've been pondering the game's system of distributing experience points. Mages receive the normal share of experience that all World of Darkness characters receive ("general experience"), as well as earning a secondary pool of Arcane Experience.  The stated reasons for the existence of Arcane XP are interesting: firstly, mages have to be out of their sanctums exploring the world (including magical worlds beyond our own) to earn Arcane XP. That is to say, they can't just hole up in their sanctums, use sympathetic magic to screw with their enemies, and remain unthreatened. I'm fortunate that my players don't seem too inclined to do this. Well, maybe one of them, but the rest of the party can be relied upon to find some kind of trouble.

The second reason, to keep the mages on par with vampire and werewolf characters, has not the least bit of bearing on my chronicle, but I'm glad they included it. I have played in a nWoD crossover game, though I don't recall at this point whether or not the mage in that game got Arcane XP.

Since my players aren't dependent on Arcane XP to motivate them or to keep them balanced with other supernatural creatures, Arcane XP are just experience points that they can only spend on Gnosis. I doubt seriously that this is adding anything to the game other than keeping them from having to choose between the next level of an Arcanum and the next level of Gnosis. With only a few exceptions, I think they've come to feel like their only meaningful options for spending XP are their two Ruling Arcana. (If they're close to accumulating enough Arcane XP for a level of Gnosis, they might consider dipping into General XP to finish that out, but it's not a priority.)

This mindset is not great for me, as the Storyteller. Every new dot in Arcana is a major leap in their capabilities. New dots in Gnosis are also significant steps up in power, though at this point not as significant of steps. In theory, the game offers a vast list of other options for purchase: attributes, skills, skill specializations, merits, rotes, and so on. In practice, however, nothing on that list is going to offer anything nearly as interesting or useful as Arcana. On one hand I acknowledge, "Rightly so," because... c'mon. They're mages. If improving their magic isn't right at the top of their priorities, something has gone badly awry. On the other hand, I'd like for them to feel like they have more than two options, and that it's worth investing a few experience points in that huge list of skills rather than looking at me dolefully when I ask them for a roll using one of their (many) untrained skills. Increasing the breadth of skills used doesn't really help: it increases dolor, without changing their minds on how they spend experience. (Since my players will read this, I recognize that I'm making generalizations that aren't quite so absolute in actual play.)

I've been pondering a change to this system for a long time, out of a simple discomfort with any system in which the XP decisions seem easy (other than "which of my Ruling Arcana will I increase - I've watched them agonize over this decision for multiple sessions), and to a lesser degree a desire to make them more comfortable with other kinds of purchases.

The change we've discussed would be to make Arcane XP the only way to purchase all Arcana and all Gnosis. I would probably shift the balance of experience awarded; where I currently hand out 2-5 General XP and 2-5 Arcane XP (depending, more or less, on how much stuff the PCs did in that session), I'd start handing out... I dunno, 1-3 General and 4-7 Arcane XP, to avoid completely stifling their advancement in Arcana and Gnosis. As they're nearing their fifth dot in Arcana and their fourth dot of Gnosis, prices are getting pretty brutal.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

LARP Design: Invisibility and Detection

There's been a lot of discussion lately in Eclipse's Rules Forum about invisibility and powers that counter invisibility. This is a very complicated topic in LARPing; we spent the better part of a year (off and on) discussing it while designing DtD, and I'm going to try to summarize the whole topic and various proposed solutions over the course of this post. As a disclaimer, I play one of the most frequent stealth users in Eclipse, in a build path that can never have True Sight. Also, I want it to be clear that I'm not trying to persuade Eclipse to adopt DtD's rules model - I'm just laying out the situation because I think it's an interesting and thorny area of design.

A Bit of History: Invisibility


For readers who don't already know all of this, let's start with the basics. Shattered Isles, King's Gate, Eclipse, and Dust to Dust have all had invisibility mechanics, and the exact mechanics of invisibility have seen extremely little change since their inception in SI. The player receives or activates the effect, which is always a per-day usage (either fixed per-day usage or mana-based expenditure), and places her palms together over her head. As long as the player maintains both that gesture and Concentration, the player is invisible to all other players (except as described in Detection, below). As with all Concentration, the player cannot run, and basically any harmful incoming effect disrupts Concentration, aside from a short list of defenses (that distinctly do not include common defenses like Parry, Dodge, armor, or Skins).

About the Gesture


There is some significant genius in particular posture used for Invisibility - palms together and overhead, which until Eclipse was always empty-hands-only (with the further caveat that claws, available exclusively to NPCs prior to Eclipse, counted as empty hands, as did spell packets). Firstly, it is obvious at some distance, in low light or in silhouette, or from behind. This is useful for recognizing quickly that one should not react to the invisible character, even from across a field.

Incidentally, DtD's rules for invisibility do not allow weapons except for Claws or weapons enchanted with the Concealment enchantment.

Secondly, the gesture is tiring to maintain. My personal record is something like forty-five minutes (no weapons) uninterrupted, and very slightly more (with weapons) for a circumstance in which I got one brief break from a Hold. This is a good thing within the rules, as far as I'm concerned, as it gives the effect an inherent duration limit; I am perhaps lacking in sympathy for NPCs who want to change to a more comfortable gesture so that they can be invisible for hours at a time, since that option is not open to players and loses the other benefits of the normal gesture. It also pushes stealthers away from heavy armor, incidentally.

Thirdly, because dropping out of the gesture ends the invisibility, invisible characters cannot open doors, draw things out of pouches, disarm traps, or do much of anything but walk, sit, or stand. This is a critical limitation, and one of the best defenses against an invisible character within these rules is to enter a building you know they are not currently inside (and don't let anyone else in that the stealther might follow).

A Bit of History: Detection


There is no single invisibility-detection effect I can describe here, since this area of the rules has undergone a great deal of change and redesign since its introduction.

I think it was somewhere during the second Shattered Isles campaign that the first player-available invisibility-detection effect was introduced into the campaign. Tremorsense was a super-secret effect, found in a Double Secret portion of the Stone bond, though once purchased it was always active. I don't believe anyone gained this ability in the entirety of Shattered Isles. Further, we didn't particularly notice its lack, since as mentioned above, all invisibility required empty hands at this stage, and Forestblend (invisibility that had to stay near large trees) was the only commonly-used invisibility effect. SI's Tremorsense was an always-on effect, and if it had a range limit, I don't know about it.

It was relatively late in the second King's Gate campaign before SI-style Tremorsense was admitted to the rules. The second KG campaign had far higher-point characters than the second SI campaign, as well as a much larger population of Stone bonders; one player had the ability almost immediately after it became available. The King's Gate campaign had a much broader usage of free-roaming invisible assassins; I'm pretty sure there was a secret order of Air bonded assassins, as well as the various powers of the Skiazo. While I was not privy to the conversations that resulted from the sudden shift in the balance of power, I am aware that they led to a change in the rules shortly thereafter. I'm not exactly clear on what the new rule was.

Eclipse's detection effect is True Sight, which from the beginning of the campaign was an always-active unlimited-range power. From my possibly-flawed understanding, it requires the user to inform invisible characters that they have been spotted by announcing, "True Sight." The announcement informs the invisible people that they done been made, and the person detecting them is actually making eye contact, rather than accidentally failing to avoid making eye contact. This ruling is unpopular with players with access to the ability who want to lure the stealthed character in by pretending that they do not see them, only to reveal their ruse once the stealthed character is well and truly fucked. Importantly, True Sight is available to two power sets, one of which is very popular (but also limited in its use to nighttime, unless granted an exception by way of a magic item).

As a card to trump PC stealth detection, Eclipse has introduced NPC-only Phasing abilities. Two PCs can stop enemies from Phasing Out, but as of current writing, no PC can sense Phased Out characters or force them back into phase once they are Phased Out. Importantly, the gesture for Phased Out is exactly identical to the gesture for Out Of Play.

Below the cut: a recap of DtD's design debates on detection abilities, including the specific problems with the whole deal that we set out to address.