Sunday, 3 February 2013

House Rules

Since there's no game session this week (RL scheduling for players), I decided to write up the house rules that I'm using for the campaign. The T:EPT system has a lot of potential, but it's also terribly flawed in many places. This is a combination of it being rushed into print, and the system it was derived from, and every T:EPT GM has to deal with this. Here's what I've come up with to address these shortcomings.

Blackjack Rolls

The first thing I did when I started playing T:EPT was to change the basic dice roll to follow the "blackjack" system I've seen in other RPGs. The object is to roll as high as you can, without exceeding the skill level, and hitting the skill level exactly is a potential critical. Instead of calculating how much you succeeded by, just read the number off the die. So, if your skill is 7 and you rolled a 5, then your MoS is 5. If you fail and the amount you failed by is relevant, then caculate this as normal.

Exactly what difference does this make? From a probability point of view, none- except for eliminating the zero-MoS. But from a gameplay point of view, you'd be amazed just how much quicker thing go, especially in combat, just by eliminating that brief calculation everyone has to make after every die roll. The margin or failure is relevant less often, so keeping it doesn't slop things as much- especially with higher skill levels (see below).

If you play T:EPT, then I urge you to try it. It makes a big difference to the game.

Skill Point Doubling

When I was putting together the pre-generated PCs, I quickly found that it's very hard to build a compentent character using the skill points allocated in the basic rules. I see the reasoning in the skill levels, but honestly, I don't agree with it. I feel that 3s and 4s should be much more common than they are. I've also found that high numbers all around actually seem to make the game system work better- characters rarely fail, unless there's some factor (negative penalty or opposing NPC) acting against them.

So I double the skill points given to characters in creation, both the basic allocation and the bonuses from Older and Highly Skilled. This also makes playing an old veteran rather than an inexperienced prodigy an attractive option- Tsodlan and Kemuel were at opposite ends of the skill vs stat point extremes, and it definitely seemed that Tsodlan was short-changed.

Always remember- something like this isn't unbalancing if everyone has it applied to them. So the NPCs will have higher skills as well.

Armour and Fatigue

One thing I quickly noticed about the T:EPT rules is that it's basically impossible to march long distances wearing armour in Tsolyanu and be able to function afterwards. Whilst this might be realistic, the PCs and their NPC entourage had been wearing Medium Armour a great deal of the time. How to square this?

I decided to employ the idea that armour, when worn, was not fully fastened and key pieces were missing. This made the armour cooler, but afforded less protection. A character could choose to take levels of the Partial Armour drawback, up to the usual maximum (3 + armour rating). These levels would then act as a bonus to the Exhaustion check for wearing armour. If the character suddenly faced danger, it would take 1 round per level to remove the Partial Armour trait, representing hurriedly putting on helmet and greaves, fastening the chestpiece properly, and so forth.

I feel that this rule strikes a good balance between taking away armour- not a good thing given how lethal T:EPT combat can be with all the advanced damage options used- and failing to drive home just how brutal the climate of Tekumel is.

Critical Hits

In the basic rules, when a 1 is rolled in a skill check, the check is re-rolled and if successful the Margin of Success is doubled. This is all well and good, and works fine most of the time. However, in combat, when a character has a high skill total- say, 8 or higher- then this doubling could potentially kill whoever they hit regardless of how well they roll, and will definitely end the fight.

If both characters have a Skill+Stat of 8, and one rolls a 1 comfirmed as Critical, that's 14 MoS; if the opponent gets a 2, then despite only being 1 point different, that's only a 6 MoS, meaning the attacker gets an 8 MoS hit. High skill level combat thus comes down to a 1 in 10 chance of ending the fight every time an attack is made.

This is fine against 90% of NPCs, but when the one on the receiving end is a PC or Major NPC, then it clearly shouldn't be the case. So how to handle it? A Critical Hit shouldn't be nerfed in any way, but at the same time, it needs to be made more survivable.

My solution is as follows. When a critical hit is made, instead of doubling the MoS, the MoS is applied twice- once to the character hit, and once to the Weapon, Armour or Shield of this character. Damage thus caused is applied exactly as per the Attacking Weapons and Armour rule. The item affected is a GM call, though I'd say that if the defence roll was good, it's the Shield/Parrying Weapon, and if it was bad or failed then it's the Armour.

This has two benefits. Firstly, it means that taking a Critical Hit is survivable for PCs, whilst still making them something you'd rather you hadn't been hit by. Secondly, it means there's now more chance for weapon and armour damage, without requiring an opponent to specifically try to cause it.

Naturally, this requires that the character have armour and a shield to break in the first place- if a character is wearing neither, then just apply the damage to him as normal and treat it as an object lesson on why not to venture onto a Tekumel battlefield without proper protection.

As stated above, this rule should only be applied to PCs and major NPCs- it's too much book-keeping to use for every minor combatant, and they should just use the old version of the rules and die whenever a master swordsman rolls a 1.

I've just stated that characters make a Strength roll and gain hit points equal to the Margin of Success each week. This roll gets modified based on the character's situation (+6 for bed rest and medical treatment, for instance) and means that, lacking magical healing, characters will be living with any wounds for quite a while.

Injuries and Healing

Natural healing is a definite sore point in the T:EPT rules. The published rulebook doesn't have any rules for this at all- it seems they somehow got lost in the editing process. There are playtest documents about that have the rules if you look around, but these rules just don't fit at all. They are taken from the Big Eyes, Small Mouth system that the T:EPT rules ultimately derive from, and are much too fast- appropiate for the anime-based BESM, but not even close to the gritty realism I feel Tekumel should have unless magic is involved.

After much pondering of my favourite damage and healing rules from other RPGs, I've come up with the following system.

Injuries are divided into two types- hit point damage, and serious wounds. Hit point damage represent the cumulative effect of many minor injuries, and are treated as just the number of hit points lost. Serious injuries are significant enough that the character needs to handle each individually. When damage is taken, if the amount is greater than the character's Shock Value, then this is a serious injury. In addition to being deducted from the Hit Point total, the level of the injury is noted. Each Serious Injury gives a wound penalty of it's own, in addition to that caused by total hit points lost- so the

Hit point damage and serious wounds heal separately. At the end of every game week, any injured characters roll their Strength stat, with the following modifiers:-

Toughness Advantage +1 per level
Fragile Defect -2 per level
Medical Treatment +skill of physician attending
Bed Rest +3
Physically demanding activity -3
Penalties from serious injury -total penalties (not counting Hit Point Damage)

If the roll succeeds, then the character recovers a number of points of Hit Point damage equal to 2xMoS, and also reduces the level of all serious wounds by 1. Failure means no healing this week, and a critical failure means the wounds have become infected- GM call as to how this goes, but it should be VERY bad.


Firu hiBurusa has a shock value of 10, and 50 Hit Points. When fighting a group of bandits, he's hit several times- for 6, 4, 12 and 14 hit points respectively. The first two injuries are 10 points of Hit Point Damage. The last two are serious injuries. He's lost a total of 36 hit points, and after the final blow is very badly injured and at -5 to all actions, -3 because of the 36 points of total damage, and -1 for each serious wound.

After being carried back to the Clanhouse to recover, Firu is attended by a Physician with a skill of 2. He's resting in bed, and has a Strength of 5. He therefore rolls against (5+3(bed rest)+2(skill)-2(serious injuries)=) 8 or less on a d10. The roll gives an MoS of 5, so after the first week of healing Firu recovers 10 points of Hit Point damage, and each serious wound is healed one point. All the minor injuries (hit point damage) are recovered, and the serious injuries are now 11 and 13 with a total wound penalty of -4.

Some weeks later, Firu has healed to the point where the wounds are 7 and 9, with a wound penalty of -1. Neither wound is enough to give a penalty in itself, but the total is enough for a -1 penalty.

Any magical healing applied to a serious injury must be cast on that injury specifically. The number of points restored is divided by the wound penalty of the injury plus one- so if Firu were to take 30 points of damage in one hit, any spells healing it would be at one-quarter effectiveness.

When a serious injury is first taken, the GM also has the option of rolling against wound penaltyx2 on a d10- 2 or less for -1, 4 or less for -2, and so on. If this roll is made, then the injury is a crippling one and it's penalty is given to a stat, or a defect of equal value take. This optional rule should only be used in campaigns where Regeneration magic is available or combat is something the PCs should try to avoid.

When combined with all the existing advanced damage rules from the rulebook, the effect is to make damage much more bloody and realistic. There's no more D&D-style mass of hit points with no mid-point between functional and death- and the potential to make serious wounds into hit point damage makes people really respect the value of armour, and be wary of fighting without it.

Fighting Styles

One of the first house rules I came up with involves the Fight Style manoeuvre. I like the idea of different styles of fighting, but the way the rule works seems to make it more trouble than it's worth. Instead I came up with the following.

A Fighting Style lists the weapons(s) and armour that it works with. If using these, a combatant gains +1 to attack and defence rolls, but if even one is changed, the bonus is used. This means that warriors will all have favourite weapons, and be less effective when using ones they aren't as comfortable with.

For Example- the Emerald Swordsman style is a light Duellist technique. It uses a Rapier, Dagger and No Armour. All of these give a +1 to Attack and Defence rolls. If the swordsman wears any form of armour, or lacks a dagger in the off hand, or uses a primary weapon other than a rapier, this bonus is lost- all weapon choices must be used.

Second Example- the Legion of Kurakaa teaches two fighting styles- Long Sword, Medium Shield, Medium Armour; and Long Spear, Medium Shield, Medium Armour. Legionaries are trained in both, meaning that to get the bonus, they must use Medium Shield and Medium Armour with either a Long Sword or Long Spear.

Both these techniques were devised to be given to player characters in my campaign. The Emerald Swordsman style was intended for nobles who don't wear armour as standard, but can carry a rapier and dagger on their daily business without being considered eccentric. The Legion of Kurakaa styles are designed to use the weapons the Legion is listed as being equipped with.

Combat Moves

Recently, we started making use of the Deceptive Fight Manoeuvre in combat. The principle seems a good one, but after using it a few times I started to feel it had two things that needed correcting. Firstly, using a whole action to set up an attack next round felt too slow and clunky. Secondly, the concept could, I felt, be expanded far more than the rulebook did with the Deceptive Manoeuvre as written.

My revised version I call Combat Moves. They work as follows.

Each Combat Move is purchased as a Fighting Manoeuvre at the standard cost (4 skill points). A move is defined by a name, a brief description of the move itself, a list of the skills used, then an Attack or Defence type. When the move is used, the character makes a roll against each of the skills listed. If any of these rolls fails, the character loses the attack for this round. If all the rolls are made, then the attack has a +1 bonus for each skill. Every time a move is used against in the same fight or against the same opponent, every skill used to build up the attack gains a -1 penalty. Thus, the first time a Combat Move is used in a battle, it works at the base value. The second time, all skills used are at -1; the third, at -2.

There's no real reason a stat can't be used instead of a skill, but in practice this would only make sense if the stat was a high one, given skills tend to be higher.

As examples, here are the moves Gachaya, a PC in my campaign, uses:-

Mesmerising Patter

The character talks constantly during the fight, seeking to distract the opponent's attention from the blade to the words, then striking in the moment of inattention. This works only in a one-on-one fight where the opponent can hear and understand the character's speech.

Skills Used: Oratory, Deception

Enhances: Sword Attack

Dagger Feint

The combatant, using a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other, fakes a strike with the dagger and then strikes with the sword instead.

Skills Used: Sleight of Hand, Dagger

Enhances: Sword Attack

Swirling Cape Defence

The character, if wearing a cape, can swirl it like a Matador whilst side-stepping to make an opponent misjudge his position when making a strike.

Skills Used: Style, Acrobatics

Enhances: Sword Defence

For Tsodlan, the Legion Veteran, I came up with this one:-

Supporting Ranks

If the character has an ally trained in Formation Fighting on either side, attacks can be made with more confidence, knowing that they have him covered.

Skills used: Teamwork- once for the character, and once by each supporting ally

Enhances: Sword Attack

And for Mvekku, the NPC N'luss retainer, I thought up:-

Reckless Charge

The character strikes at the enemy with no regard for his own life, filling them with fear at his savage power.

Skills Used:- Intimidate, Strength

Enhances: Any strike using the All-Out Attack Manoeuvre

I used these in combat for the first time in the last game session, and they all seemed to work really well. I think they do a nice job of showing how every experienced fighter will have a set of favourite moves or tricks, and that rather than just plain Combat Value, each combatant learns to play to whatever other strengths they have.

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