Sunday, October 26, 2014

Heroic Smack Talk

Back in August, the Prismatic DM posted a neat idea about modeling the dramatic "throw down" in your B/X or LL game. It reminded me of my old blog post on vows, but with a more immediate, impactful effect on game play. Which is (in my mind) better...because it's something that can be practically implemented by player choice, rather than waiting for the DM to "set something up."

Anyway, cool as it was I wasn't 100% down with the mechanics of the maneuver, and I hadn't given it much additional thought until I was posting yesterday's entry on Eowyn. I said I wanted to model the same type of Eowyn-Nazgul interaction in the new heartbreaker, and I've already got a couple systems that will work (in aid of) that goal, but I really don't have anything for the "throw down" or heroic smack talk (as I like to call it) in place.

Not that what Eowyn does is really a challenge. In B/X terms, it's more of a standard negotiation (reaction check) kind of maneuver. "Hey, leave my dead uncle alone, huh? I don't want to fight over this." But the character blows the reaction roll and the fight's on. Not that Eowyn has a low Charisma, but there's probably a penalty involved here given the overall circumstances.

Usually, smack talk is made to ENCOURAGE a fight. Unlike the B/X reaction check, where combat only results due to a low roll, there are times in heroic fiction when a person is actively trying to entice an individual to battle. That's the kind of "smack talk" I'm talking about. And while it may not apply to Eowyn's case, as she was trying to discourage a fight, there are times when one might want to go the other way.

SO...I offer two slightly different game mechanics for your perusal. Both should be compatible with B/X. I call them The Goad and The Challenge.

The goad is what you use to encourage a fight with a lesser opponent. This is the classic dun moch maneuver of Star Wars (when Dooku or Vader taunts some lesser Jedi into a fight). This is Rage getting Armor all riled up so that he loses his cool in combat. The goad issues a challenge to the weaker opponent (a character of lesser HD/level), calling into question the character's courage and saying, "Here, come get me. Heck, I'll make it easy for you."

To goad an opponent, the person goading (called "the antagonist") rolls 2D6 using their Charisma reaction modifier. The result of the goad (which must be done prior to initiating combat) is determined by consulting the following table:
  • 2 or less: the target is immune to the goad (or future goads); if the target of the goad chooses to fight anyway, she receives a +1 bonus to attack rolls against her antagonist, who receives no benefits.
  • 3 to 5: the target is immune to the goad and future goads from this antagonist.
  • 6 to 8: the goad has no effect; the target may choose whether or not to fight; if the target chooses to fight, treat this result as a 9 to 11 instead.
  • 9 to 11: the goaded target must fight, receiving a +1 bonus to attack rolls (the antagonist leaves himself open, inviting the attack). However, anytime the goaded target misses an attack, the antagonist immediately receives a bonus attack against the target. The effects of the goad continue until the goaded target receives an attack that inflicts maximum damage.
  • 12 or more: as the 9 to 11 result except that the target is goaded into attacking recklessly, suffering a -2 penalty to all attack rolls instead of receiving a +1 bonus.
How's that? Individuals more than four HD/level lower than the antagonist should be immune to a goad attack (assuming they have an accurate gauge of the antagonist), as should ALL 1st level characters. You don't want the neighborhood ogre calling out newly minted adventurers!

Different tactic from Eowyn.
Now a challenge is similar to a goad, but here the the challenger is calling out someone of equal or greater HD/level. The challenger rolls a 2D6, again modified by any Charisma reaction modifier (how lordly/intimidating is the challenge?). The result of the challenge depends on the result of the die roll:

  • 2 or less: the target is immune to the challenge (or future challenges from this source); if he chooses to fight he receives a +1 attack bonus against the challenger (the challenger receiving no benefits).
  • 3 to 5: the target is immune to the challenge and future challenges from this person
  • 6 to 8: the challenge has no effect; if the target chooses to fight treat this result as a 9 to 11 instead.
  • 9 to 11: the target accepts the challenge (i.e. the target must fight); the challenger receives a +2 attack bonus and a bonus die of hit points (rolled immediately) for the duration of the fight.
  • 12 or more: as a 9 to 11 result except that the target of the challenge fights at a -2 penalty to all attacks, as he seeks to prove his greater skill "playing" with the challenger.

Issuing a challenge can really give the edge to someone of equal level, and so DMs may wish to limit the bonus effects only to targets that are of actual greater HD/level than the challenger, though a successful challenge (9+) should still entice the target to fight...a result of 12 or greater, should force the target to make a morale check or surrender to the challenger. Again, this is only for challenged targets of HD/level equal to the challenger.

It should probably go without saying that only sentient creatures (and only those with the ability to mutually communicate) can issue or accept goads and challenges.

I suppose that some negotiations, like the one between our friends Eowyn and the Witch-King, have an implicit challenge within them...a do this, or else kind of negotiation. With this type of system, you really can't mix and match...a challenge is something designed to provoke someone to battle...which is not at all what Eowyn was trying to do. She was attempting to back off the Nazgul: a "Get thee hence, demon!" kind of thing. In many ways, this is the equivalent of a turning attempt...and perhaps it should be modeled as such and not limited to clerics/undead (think Gandalf vs. the balrog: "You shall not pass!").

Hmmm...that may be fodder for another blog post.
; )

Okay, that's enough for now; I've got a baby to attend to and coffee to brew (not necessarily in that order). I will say that I want to return to the concept of "vows" sometime this week. But, to go now (hold on, bebecita!)...


  1. My baby's in bed, giving me some time to catch up on my blog reading. I'll have to read your Eowyn post after I comment here.

    Just wanted to say that I like this idea, and will probably borrow it. I'm already reworking the reaction roll for several other purposes in Chanbara, and the goad/challenge mechanics here would work especially well in a world of stalwart samurai and kensei who go around dueling each other when not fighting off monsters.

    And thanks for the comments on the Marvel/Gamma World thing. I probably will do it if I ever get that game going. Just have to decide whether to let the players know in advance or have it be one of the "campaign reveals" if they find the right clues in the sandbox.

    1. @ Lord G:

      Glad you like it; just striking another blow in my battle to make charisma "not a dump stat."
      ; )

      RE your GW/Marvel mash-up. I just think it's a cool concept to use GW as a system to do the post-apoc X-Men thing. It certainly fits, and I don't think I've ever seen it tried before. I don't really know enough about that particular story arc to do it myself (I stopped reading X-Men circa '87), but I'm tempted to mess around with the concept anyway.

      BTW: finished reading Flying Swordsmen and will probably be posting something about it (here) in the near future.
      : )

    2. I dig the goad and the challenge.

      Re: Marvel/GW, gw fits superhero post-apocalyptic action better than it does grim and gritty. Its not Mad Max, The Road or Earth Abides, it's The Knights Atomic, Kamandi and War of the Worlds with Kll Raven.