Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grief & Trouble: A Hero's Constant Companions

At it’s heart, conflict in HoI is a relatively abstract affair resolved by having both sides roll 2d6, add the MOD of whatever Qualities apply, and see who got the higher result. The difference between the two is the amount of Grief which the winner inflicts upon the loser.

Grief is my reworking of the Damage Ranks and Failure Ranks in core PDQ.  Grief is an abstract measure of damage.  The most common conflict to occur in super-hero stories is the combat: two super-guys punching the living daylights out of each other.  Therefore, combat is usually the easiest way to explain how conflicts are dealt with in HoI.  However, that doesn’t mean that combat is the only kind of conflict. Other kinds of conflicts include navigating some kind of environmental effect (trying to rush through a burning building to save a child), a contest of wills (trying to scare the hood so badly that he tells you what he knows), or a puzzle (trying to work out how the alien Spatial Field Generator works before the asteroid crashes into the city).

This is why combat isn’t about inflicting wounds or injury.  Besides, most combats in Bronze Age comics are fairly bloodless affairs: super-fists crash into faces without knocking out teeth or flattening noses; radiation blasts pick people up and throw them far away, breathless, but essentially unharmed (and certainly free of radiation-poisoning); and nobody ever seems to wake up the next day with whip-lash or lower back injury. Therefore, in this game, super-combatants give each other Grief.

The exact nature of the Grief given in any conflict will depend upon the nature of the conflict. Players and GM’s should feel free to narrate the nature of Grief. Most of the time, Grief vanishes as soon as the conflict is over. The heroes and villains pick themselves up, dust themselves off, maybe make a wise-crack or two, and are fine and ready for more in the next scene.  Occasionally, however characters can pick up Trouble, which is a sort of Grief that lingers (discussed more below).

Mechanically, Grief acts as a downshift on the victim’s Qualities.  Each point of Grief represents one downshift.  Whenever someone takes Grief, he decides which Qualities take the downshifts and how many.  For example, The Nemesis of Crime has a pile of packing crates dumped on him by the gang he is pursuing.   The gangsters and hero both make their rolls and the Nemesis' roll is 10, while the crooks roll is 13, leaving a difference of 3. That means the Dark Guardian takes 3 Grief.  The hero’s player decides to spread out the Grief and take 1 downshift to 3 different Qualities. If he wanted to, he could taken all three to the same Quality or give two to one Quality and the last to another. It’s the player’s choice.

There is a notable exception to the abstractness discussed above. Whatever Quality takes the first downshift in a conflict generates Trouble.  Trouble is a special kind of attribute that partakes of both a Quality and Grief.  The exact nature of the Trouble is determined by the Quality that took the first hit. If The Presence, the mental projection of a man who no longer exist, takes the first downshift in a conflict to his “Inhuman Aura” Quality, then the Trouble has to be concerned with that. The player is allowed to create the Trouble, subject to GM approval. The exact nature of the Trouble needn’t be decided during the conflict and can be worked out after the end of the current adventure. In this case, the player of the Presence decides that his character is feeling depressed at his inhuman state, which reduces his effectiveness in conflict. He gives himself the Trouble “Depressed at Inhuman State”.

Like any other Quality, Trouble has a rank. When first generated, Trouble is Good +1 rank. But Trouble can never be used to help the character. Trouble acts as a constant negative modifier equal to it’s rank. Constant meaning that it applies to every single dice roll. Why? Well, that’s why the player and GM have to agree on the exact nature of the Trouble. A good choice is that the Trouble is causing the hero anxiety or worry or some other emotional problem that distracts him from performing at peak efficiency. Such as in the example above. Another option is some lingering physical problem.

Even worse, if the same Quality takes the first hit in a subsequent conflict, then instead of generating a new Trouble, the existing Trouble goes up one rank. So, in a later battle, the Presence loses a roll and elects to take the first hit to “Inhuman Aura” again. Now his Good +1 “Depressed at Inhuman State” becomes “Excellent +2 Depressed at Inhuman State”.

Which is a bummer, so most heroes will be anxious to rid themselves of Trouble. They can do so by playing out a reasonable way of assuaging the situation and paying out Hero Points equal to the Trouble’s rank. This can only be done in a later adventure than the one in which the Trouble was generated or increased. Doing this gets rid of the Trouble, but it also means that hero is down that number of Hero Points when he has his next conflict. There’s a trade-off, which is why some players might elect to let Trouble rise for awhile.

Using our example, the player of the Presence doesn’t want to let his Trouble get worse than Excellent +2, so he decides to deal with it at the next opportunity. At the beginning of the next adventure, he decides that the Presence disappears from a meeting with his super-pals and reappears atop a mountain in the Himalayas. There he sits, oblivious to the howling winds and ponders the meaning of “humanity”. The GM likes this and continues it, having a mysterious monk appear and lead the hero to a hidden monastery. Seeing the existence of men in such circumstances and feeling their goodwill, the Presence feels restored. He pays out 2 Hero Points, removes the Trouble, and waves goodbye to his new friends as he returns to Industry City. The game has now had a nice little soap-opera moment plus a mysterious new element has been added to the game. Just who are these hidden monks? Any GM worth his salt will have them show up again, in perhaps a surprising manner. Also, of course, the Presence returns to his duties to find himself in confrontation with the noble anti-hero Raptor and lacking two vital Hero Points. He’s really going to need those to defeat his foe. Oh well, such is the lot of the hero.


  1. Interesting. I think your Grief mechanic should work well in a supers game.

  2. Hrms, well constructed, I'm not sure exactly how clearly that works for plot (Ranked trouble) since logically to me, ranked trouble should have a ranked in game result--not just a cost to buy off.

    Of course it could just be that the GM tags this to drop values in play at that level of trouble UNTIL they deal with the trouble. (Things worry and "trouble" the hero meaning he's off his game until he deals with the effect.)

  3. Thanks guys. Tim, maybe you missed this part:

    Trouble acts as a constant negative modifier equal to it’s rank. Constant meaning that it applies to every single dice roll.

    Or maybe I need to express that more clearly.