Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fixing Encounters With Hazards

In my last entry, I discussed changes I made to the first scenes of my House of Wookiees campaign, thanks to the skill challenge rules presented in Galaxy of Intrigue. I’d like to continue that discussion. Only this time, I want to show you how I improved the same encounters with rules presented in Unknown Regions.
For the first skill challenge/encounter, the heroes are in a bombed observatory trying to climb to the portal where the telescope had peeked through the domed roof. The PCs make their way to the roof, dodging the Imperial jumptroopers who emerge from the stairwell. As I worked on revising this encounter, I strongly considered tinkering with the insanely complicated rules I’d concocted concerning the cracked holoprojector display, which fills the observatory with refracted images of the Alliance orientation video. The broken holodisplay would make it difficult to determine reality from recording. In my first draft, this is how the rules worked:

House of Holos
The broken holoprojectors make it tricky to get around the observatory. The characters will have a difficult time recognizing what is real and what are refracted recordings.
The holoprojector shows each scene for three rounds before cutting to the next. When a character tries to make a perception roll looking in a direction, he takes a -10 penalty from discombobulation caused by the refracted hologram. Each round after the holovideo scene change, during which the character keeps looking in the same direction, the PC’s perception penalty decreases by five. This reflects the PC separating reality from the recording. As soon as the character looks a different direction, he returns to a -10 perception penalty. Other penalties may apply during specific scenes, as described below.
All the holograms affect the lower story of the dome. Once the PCs get past the first three catwalks on their way to the portal, the hologram penalties no longer apply. The exception to this is the scene showing the Star Destroyer blasting the refugee transport. This scene fills the entire dome and affects the upper level of the dome as well as the lower level.
The PCs may locate the holoprojectors (perception DC 15) and break them (ref def 12 2hp) to eliminate the refracted images.
PCs with the Use the Force skill can separate illusion from reality with a UTF check of DC10.
Scenes in the orientation holovideo; each scene lasts 3 combat rounds.
  1. The PCs see a city street. A teenage human male stands between an Imperial officer and his mother. She clings deathly tight to her baby. The teen tries to shove the trooper back. The officer holds his ground and breaks the teen’s nose with his blaster. He follows up by shooting the mother in the head. Another stormtrooper kicks the baby beneath a passing troop transport.
  2. A stormtrooper casually tosses a thermal detonator into a school. As burning children run screaming from the building, a stormtrooper squad competes to see who can mow them down fastest. PCs suffer an additional +5 perception penalty because the holographic fire creates concealment for anyone standing in the midst of the scene. Also, since there are many troopers in the video, targeting or identifying a jumptrooper from a virtual trooper incurs an additional -10 penalty.
  3. Humans flee across a mighty bridge. An AT-ST rounds the corner and clears traffic with its blasters. Bodies and landspeeders fly off the bridge and into the river far below. The last round of this scene creates an additional -10 perception penalty because of fire and smoke.
  4. In a cantina, a group of senior citizens barricade themselves behind the doors. The fridge and piled furniture separate them from the stormtroopers outside. A small window shatters, and the bar fills with fire. For the first two rounds of this scene, there is an additional -5 difficulty identifying holographic images of the cantina from the observatory’s fixtures. The third round is filled with fire, so perception is hampered by -15.
  5. The scene shows an outside view of an Inner Core city hall. The city’s leaders have their hands tied behind their backs. Stormtroopers shove them towards the town hall. Troopers fire over their heads to startle the captives into a sprint. Once the people disappear into the civic building, a TIE bomber drops its payload on the site. For the first two rounds, identifying commandos from “holo” troopers causes a -5 perception penalty. When the bombs fall, the image swings around violently as the holographer runs away. Everyone needs to make a willpower roll DC 15 to avoid dropping one step down the condition track as the result of motion sickness.
  6. Transports plow dead bodies into a bantha pen.
  7. A fleeing transport is run down by a Star Destroyer and disintegrated in a hail fire of turbolaser bolts. Everyone needs to make a willpower roll DC 10 to avoid being startled by the Destroyer’s appearance. Failure moves the character two steps down the condition track. Characters on a catwalk who fail this roll need to make a reflex roll DC10 to avoid tumbling off the catwalk.

This was for the first encounter of the campaign. I think I would have scared most rookie GMs away. It gives me a headache to read it.
Using the guidelines found in Unknown Regions, the funhouse effect of the cracked holovid lens could be turned into a simple hazard.
House of Holos Hazard CL 1
Description: The cracked holovid lens causes the displayed images to be replicated in three places throughout the observatory’s lower level. This causes anyone looking directly at it to possibly confuse what’s real and what is holographic imagery.
Keywords: Optical, Mind-effecting
Attack + 3 vs Willpower
Damage: If the attack is successful, the target suffers -5 to attacks and any skill check the GM deems to require precise visual concentration. For example, Acrobatics skill checks would suffer a -5 penalty because performing acrobatics requires knowing the precise location of walls, floor and obstacles. Persuasion checks would not be affected because it does not require precise understanding of what is real and what is virtual in the room. A target cannot be affected multiple times.
Trigger: At the start of initiative, the Hazard attacks all PCs looking into the affected area.
Recurrence: The Hazard attacks at the start of each round of initiative.
Perception: DC 14: As a full round action, the PC studies the area. On a successful skill check, the PC is immune to the hazard’s attacks for three rounds.
Use the Force: DC 14: As a standard action, the PC reaches with the Force to filter out the illusion from the reality. On a successful check, the PC is immune to the Hazard’s attacks for 3 rounds.

Oh my, this simplifies things and keeps the spirit of the Hazard alive. I think the best part of the Hazard construct is that it affects the jumptroopers as well as the PCs, creating fascinating possibilities of how this encounter might go down.
I lied. The best part about this Hazard is that I don’t get a headache from reading it.
It could be argued everything would be much simpler if I had just deleted the entire thing and kept the encounter simple. The problem with that is Star Wars is not about simple encounters. It’s a pulp movie, a space opera. It’s about taking things to extremes. If Vader and Luke confronted each other for the first time in one of Cloud City’s hallways instead of in the carbon freezing chamber and then on catwalks over massive pits, the scene would have lost a lot of its flavor. The obstacles helped make the scene cool.
A WOTC forum poster called this the Spielburgian method. “I do like to use the Spielburgian method of escalating action scenes - he often throws in one or more environmental factors into an action scene, which helps to build the task load for the heroes to a crescendo as the scene unfolds (though they often provide opportunities and new resources for the players too).”
If you’re like me and tend to overcomplicate things in your games, the Hazards guidelines are a great way to take some of the headache out of GMing. If your encounters lack the Star Wars flair, then crack the holovideo display, add a bottomless pit, and listen to your players groan, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
But they will have a childlike grin on their faces.

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