by Liz Danforth
One of the more controversial rule-changes appearing the beta edition, leading to lengthy discussions in Trollhalla, is about the human advantage — the ability of a pure-blooded human to get a do-over on an missed saving roll.
This is a brand new rule, never seen before, and as such it should get extra scrutiny. But I think a few words and pictures might illuminate how I came to this choice. (I’ve grown fond of the “quick sketch to encapsulate ideas” so don’t expect tight finished drawings. The purpose is idea, not fine art.)
THE MISSING CONTEXT
Let’s start with something NOT apparent from the beta rules. This was then:
And this is now, a big part of what I’ve been thinking about at as I work on the rules:
How the relative power of the kindreds seems to be changing.
Overall, Ken’s draft manuscript has made the playable illkin bigger, badder, stronger, smarter, better, faster, taller, wider, regenerative, numerous, quicker, naturally armored, elusive, poisonous to be around, and overwhelmingly rolled up as mid-to-high level characters. Orcs (uruk) used to be x1 all attributes, for example but, as written right now, they start out overpowered right from the get-go. Other monstrous kindreds were worse. (Just look at the rock troll character in the Free RPG Day book. Completely OP for a brand new character, particularly when you compare it to the other sample characters.)
A WORLD OF MONSTERS
I’m crunching numbers on the monstrous kindreds, trying to find ways to make them wonderful and playable and monstrous and fun without breaking the game.
But in addition, I am the champion of the human spirit, the way Ken champions monsterdom. Whether in literature or in games, humankind holds their own even amidst a universe of older, wiser, smarter, tougher, more magical, more deadly races. Why? WHY? This makes absolutely no sense.
I am not interested in just paying lip service to our species. We might as well all switch over to playing M!M! Don’t get me wrong — M!M! is a fine, fun-as-hell game, but but it isn’t T&T. One of my key jobs with the game’s development is to keep the game recognizably T&T. Monsters! Monsters! is a different game.
Humans: the other Red Meat
WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS
I spent about 10 days mulling over ideas for mechanics to support humankind. Some things I came up with were just plain clumsy. Some were weak. I absolutely wanted something T&T-deadKISS-simple, and yet powerful enough to make a human worth playing at all.
I tossed suggestions back and forth with Bear and ran things past Ken. Ken reminded me that he had a rule implemented at some time about humans getting heirlooms, hand-me-downs from their elders, and that would be their advantage. I felt this was, at best, weak. Look, there are half a dozen ways in use to get old weapons and armor, and the “legacy” weapons already fit more than one option there already.
THERE HAD TO BE SOMETHING BETTER
Saving rolls are a key mechanic in T&T. Tweaking a human’s ability to live or die on a saving roll is powerful as hell, yes. It’s also pervasive… it lasts the entire life of the character, not just making them OP at the time they’re rolled up.
But it is also self-limiting. Getting two bites at the apple doesn’t change the statistical odds of making or missing the saving roll... it simply gives you a second opportunity. You can fail just as badly as ever.
Moreover, it never takes place “off camera.” No 3-attribute specialist “But it really rolled up that way! I was so lucky!”
I also believe that a game shouldn’t be all about SRs… it should be thinking and RPing and not an unending clatter of random die-rolls and forced chaos. (Ken favors more chaos than I do.) Saving rolls should be used for turning points, and for the hand of fate to step into the mix now and again.
And that is exactly why I think the mechanic is so appropriate to benefit humans who have absolutely nothing else going for them. Something has enabled humankind to thrive on Trollworld. It’s sure not evident in our prime attributes, our backstories (which are infinitely varied, and every kindred can have those anyway), or in our weapons or armor or ability to acquire provisions, or boondoggle our way past foes.
The SR mechanic provides that advantage, the potentially more-generous hand of fate that can still slap you down, still make you pay full price for failure. It’s a reflection of the human will, the spirit that drives us further than reason dictates, and sometimes we over-reach ourselves to our doom. But it’s not an I-WIN button.
IMPROVING ON THE IDEA
I’ve heard two suggestions made about how to fix the mechanic (aside from simply throwing it out — which is always your option).
(1) Make the do-over apply only to Luck saving rolls. I strongly disagree with this idea, myself, because you’re only compounding chaos and saying nothing about what it means to be human. Reaching down to the marrow of your bones to lift the car off your kid (a STR saving roll), the dying warrior staggering forward with twenty arrows in his chest to strangle the bowmen shooting him (CON saving roll), or the child gnawing her lower lip determined to parse the confusing language on a Magic card (IQ saving roll) … we are not all about luck. That isn’t the only aspect that should be in play, I feel.
(2) Make a fumbled roll of 3 on a first saving roll a failure, period, with no do-over. I’m okay with that, actually. Nothing Fate loves more than rubbing our noses in our overweening expectations. So, just when you get cocky enough to think you’ve got the situation sewed up? BAMMO, you fail and fail hard. The only downside I see to this is a slight complication to the KISS principle, but it’s not severe. I’d go along with making this the final rule — that’s what playtesting and feedback are intended for, after all.
THE BOTTOM LINE
For those who think a second SR for humans is just too powerful, there are two observations I’d make. One: perhaps you’re relying on SRs too much. Two: as is always true with T&T, nothing inhibits you from tossing the rule entirely, even with the core rules.
You asked the team to make the best game we could, and I believe something is badly needed here, some reason for any human to be a desirable PC. This is a sleek, elegant, simple rule, a piece of background and story-augmentation that lets humans continue to compete with and against the other kindred in the crazy mixed-up world of T&T.
(Be sure to add your comments below…)