The Act of Hubris
Basic resolution systems
Dicepools: Players assemble and roll pools of ten sided dice to determine whether the dramatic actions their characters take succeed. Most such pools are either Attribute + Attribute or Attribute + Skill, and sometimes further include an Edge derived from circumstance or equipment. Finally, a Difficulty might remove dice from a dicepool before that pool is rolled.
The Attribute (or attributes, for rolls which include no Skill) used in a roll depend on the character of the action being taken. Power attributes (Intelligence, Strength, Presence) are normally used to directly defend, take control of, or damage something, Finesse attributes (Dexterity, Wits, and Manipulation) are used to detect, obscure, or exert subtle influence, and Resistance attributes (Resolve, Stamina, and Composure) are rarely used actively but often invoked to withstand stress or harm brought on by some other character’s action.
- Mental Attributes are called on to assess and confirm the facts of the world in general or one’s surroundings in particular. Wits is almost always involved in any attempt to notice details about one’s surroundings or find things which have been hidden, while Intelligence might tell a character the meaning of those details. Mental attributes can be used to analyze the behavior of other characters in a scholarly or medical fashion, or to puzzle out the relationships between someone’s actions and some part of the wider world, but aren’t generally used to read or understand people themselves. Resolve is used to resist attempts at subversion, confusion, or domination.
- Physical Attributes are used to interact directly with the world. Strength measures how much speed and force a character can bring to bear, and is usually used to cause damage, traverse obstacles, or interdict the actions of other characters. Dexterity might be used for investigations involving touch or proprioception but is more often used to measure a character’s aim, reflexes, and precision. Stamina resists adverse influences on the body, whether poison, fatigue, or transfiguration.
- Social Attributes govern influence and interaction, and are largely used on other characters with social attributes. Success on a social roll to debate doesn’t indicate being right, simply sounding right. Presence is used to project confidence, make credible assertions, and otherwise leave lasting impressions on people, whether positive or negative. The Manipulation attribute represents a subtler ability to find and work the angles; it’s rolled to hide one’s own motives or ferret out another’s, to communicate discreetly or misleadingly, and to generally navigate social situations with deftness and guile. Presence might make a lie look sincere on the spot, but Manipulation ensures that a lie holds up to later scrutiny. Composure is rolled to manage emotions and withstand the effects of social problems. While Resolve protects a character’s mind from being changed or their will from being broken, Composure ensures that a character’s bearing, demeanor, and general emotional state don’t become a social or psychological hindrance in themselves.
The Skill used in a dicepool is usually whichever is straightforwardly appropriate to the task at hand. When a task can be accomplished through the use of a variety of skills, or if multiple skills seem appropriate for the same roll, the player usually chooses the highest applicable skill they have to include in their dicepool. Occasionally, tasks requiring a breadth of expertise require instead that the lowest out of a set of skills be rolled. In such cases, the bonus die that comes from having an applicable Specialty is considered part of that skill’s overall rating.
Rolls often enjoy an Edge due to useful equipment or a favorable environment. Edges derived from ordinary circumstances usually don’t provide more than five dice and can vary from situation to situation; for instance, the Edge a battleaxe provides in melee combat is greater on an open plain than in a tightly cramped hallway. Edges normally don’t stack with each other, but are assessed overall by the Storyteller; a dozen different details that might individually justify an extra die on a roll might collectively provide two or three, not twelve.
The Difficulty of a roll is a penalty to the number of dice before that pool is rolled. Difficulties often result from badly-maintained equipment, poor visibility, hostile crowds, or any other elements of a given scene working against a character’s success. Difficulties normally don’t take more than five dice, but can in principle be arbitrarily crippling, to the point where a roll defaults to a chance die regardless of the initial dicepool or can’t even be attempted. As with Edges, Difficulties stack with each other holistically rather than arithmetically.
Static Obstacles: Only one success is needed for a character to overcome a static obstacle such as a hostile environment, a dearth of information, or a dour audience. Challenging obstacles usually impose a Difficulty on the roll made to overcome them, and might require an expenditure of time and resources to make a roll possible at all. Whether a character who fails in such a challenge can try again, and whether further attempts have any kind of penalty or bonus, depends on the situation and is decided by the Storyteller.
Multiple successes against a static obstacle might indicate that a character completes a task more quickly, efficiently, or safely than usual but are never required. Tasks that must be completed within a certain time or below a certain cost are assigned more severe Difficulties than they otherwise would be.
Conflict With Other Characters: When characters compete against, struggle with, or otherwise oppose other characters, their players each roll relevant dicepools and compare total successes. In any situation in which one character acts directly against another, the player of the other is entitled to contest with a roll of their own, unless the means or circumstances of the attack are such that the defender is categorically incapable of resisting. Contests aren’t necessarily between single characters; one or both rolls in a conflict might represent the collective actions of an entire group.
Opposed rolls don’t have to happen simultaneously – sometimes one character attempts to bypass or undo something another character previously put into place, or one character’s traits are rolled on the spot to determine in retrospect how effective that character’s efforts or defenses have been. Either way, whoever has more successes is considered to have won, and can often claim the margin of successes by which they won as a measure of the extent of their victory. Net successes might become a bonus or penalty on future related rolls or damage inflicted on the loser’s reputation, holdings, or physical person.
THE STAKES OF A CONFLICT:
- Mental: Opposed rolls using mental skills or attributes usually test whether one character can outthink, outplay, or otherwise outperform another.
Examples: cracking a computer network, stealing an identity, winning a game
- Physical: Simple roll-offs are usually used for physical contests in which neither participant is attempting to directly harm the other. The loser might end up embarrassed, exhausted, or empty-handed but usually not unconscious or dead.
Examples: barring a door, outrunning someone, sneaking by undetected
- Social: Social contests against other characters (as opposed to unopposed social rolls) generally represent rhetorical battles or ideological stand-offs more so than genuine attempts to change minds or build understanding. The defeated party might end up becoming flustered, looking stupid, or otherwise losing face and social standing, but is not necessarily convinced of anything.
Examples: maintaining a poker face, telling the best joke, winning an election
Prolonging a Conflict: Two or more players might end up making multiple contested rolls if the result of a prior conflict was inconclusive, if some new development changes the situation, or if the loser of a prior confrontation wants to somehow reverse or countermand their defeat. Each specific roll-off in a prolonged conflict between characters should have its own definitive resolution and set of consequences. As a rule of thumb, once a character has lost contests within a certain arena equal to the relevant Resistance attribute (Resolve for mental, Stamina for physical, and Composure for social), that character is too tired, discouraged, or flustered to continue a struggle and must accept defeat.
Opposed Actions and Difficulties: Penalties to dicepools from Difficulties might apply to either participant in a contest or both, but aren’t necessarily present. Difficulties represent impersonal and passive complications that make a character’s job more difficult, not an active attempt by another party to foil or countermand one’s efforts. Opposition by another translates by default into a success total to match or beat, not a penalty to a dicepool’s size.
Teamwork: Help – an apprentice, a research team, a construction crew – usually serves as an Edge on an appropriate roll.
When multiple characters all attempt to complete some task or oppose another character, their players roll individually and whichever single roll produced the most successes is applied.
Rote Actions: Intense preparation, or the use of special tools or powers, can turn an a roll into a rote action. After an action is rolled and its successes tallied, each die from the original pool that didn’t produce a success is picked up and rolled as a separate dicepool. The player then chooses whether to use the successes of the first or second roll for the task being attempted.
Automatic Successes: Some special tools or powers add successes to the result of a roll, either guaranteeing a minimum number of successes after the fact or simply increasing the result by some amount. Since static obstacles only require one success on a dice roll to overcome, most sources of automatic successes only enhance contested rolls. Automatic successes that apply to static obstacles are literal, simply obviating the need to roll all together and allowing the character to assume victory. Mundane efforts usually can’t countermand automatic successes except by producing normal successes in the normal fashion, but some supernatural powers can cancel out opposing automatic successes in specific.
Health: A character’s Health trait, normally the total of 5 and their Stamina rating, measures their capacity to withstand physical injury. As characters take damage (Bashing, Lethal, or Aggravated), that damage fills their Health track from left to right, with the most severe on the left. If no empty boxes exist to accept a new wound, an extant wound is upgraded instead, either Bashing to Lethal or Lethal to Aggravated. Few characters are willing to keep fighting after taking even a few points of lethal damage, but die-hard or desperate characters can continue to function until every box on their Health track contains a wound.
Whenever a normal character’s last health box contains a Bashing wound, their player makes a Stamina roll at the beginning of each turn; as soon as this roll fails, the character falls unconscious until their last health box is cleared. If a character’s last health box is filled with a Lethal wound, that character is incapacitated until the wound heals, and they take an additional point of lethal damage per minute until somehow stabilized. A character whose health track is filled with Aggravated damage is dead.
Unless some circumstance or power dictates otherwise, being wounded doesn’t impose any penalties on a character except for increasing likelihood that further damage will incapacitate that character entirely.
Most characters naturally recover from damage over time. Points of damage heal one by one, least severe first. Fifteen minutes remove a point of bashing damage, two days remove a point of lethal damage, and a week removes a point of aggravated damage. Medical care, merits, and supernatural powers can all speed the recovery of health.
Some wounds, whether bashing, lethal, or aggravated, are considered Resistant. Resistant wounds heal at the default rate regardless of most Merits or supernatural powers, although they can be downgraded by medical care when they manifest as treatable physical injuries. At best, magic might be able to transfer resistant wounds from one character to another. Resistant wounds usually result from events that drain a character’s life force instead of or in addition to injuring their body.
Willpower: Characters can store up to as many temporary Willpower points as they have permanent Willpower dots. At most one Willpower point can be spent as a reflexive action in any turn. Willpower points can be used to:
- Add Three Dice and the Rote Action Property: A Willpower point can increase any dicepool including one of a character’s attributes, skills or other personal statistics by three dice. Any action so enhanced gains the Rote Action property: all failed dice are rolled a second time, and the player can choose to use either the original or rerolled success total for the action. This can represent retroactive or even unconscious effort; unless something specifically prevents a character from spending Willpower, they can use their Willpower to augment their personal efforts.
- Mitigate Harm: A Willpower point can reduce by one the damage or effective success the effects of an attack or hazard afflicting the character that no roll was made to contest. This reduction takes place after all other effects and damage caps.
- Take A Special Action: Some actions and supernatural powers cost a Willpower point to use.
Characters usually regain Willpower points in the following ways:
- Rest: A character regains one Willpower point after a full night’s (or day’s) sleep, unless a crisis of conscience prevents them.
- Intimacies: When a character spends a Willpower point to directly defend or avoid betraying the object of an Intimacy, roll their Morality rating as a dicepool. Success on this Morality roll means the character immediately regains their spent Willpower point.
- Vice: Up to once per scene, a character can gain a Willpower point by pursuing or acting out their Vice.
- Virtue: Up to once per game session, a character can refill their Willpower points entirely, as well as regain a lost Willpower dot, by putting themselves at risk or in harm’s way in the course of pursuing or exemplifying their Virtue.
Intense psychological or supernatural stress on the mind or spirit can sometimes cause a character to lose one or more Willpower dots. Characters immediately lose any points of excess Willpower if their maximum Willpower rating decreases. Humans regain lost Willpower dots at a rate of one per month. Some sources of lasting psychic damage might specify conditions beyond the passing of time that a character must fulfill to regain lost Willpower dots.
Supernatural creatures have greater difficulty regaining Willpower dots than regular mortals do. Roll a creature’s supernatural power trait (such as Blood Potency or Spirit Rank) whenever they would naturally regenerate a Willpower dot. On a failure, they don’t regain the Willpower dot, and may only attempt the roll again after another month. Willpower points can’t be spent to add dice to this roll, although at the Storyteller’s discretion favorable mystical circumstances can provide an Edge.
Morality: Human or humanlike beings have a Morality trait, rated from 0 to 5, that measures their sympathy for other people. High Morality represents an ingrained reluctance to harm others and might act as an advantage or an impediment depending on the situation. Characters can begin with any Morality rating they want. Each dot of Morality represents a wider range of crimes against other people that a character finds difficult to stomach:
5 — physically injuring someone, stealing or destroying something of great sentimental value, emotionally damaging someone
4 — brutalizing someone, stealing or destroying something important to someone’s health or well-being, accidentally killing through neglect
3 — killing someone without premeditation, “rough” torture, destroying everything someone owns
2 — murder, horrific torture
1 — truly heinous crime
A character with zero Morality feels no gut-level revulsion whatsoever at the prospect of visiting any conceivable harm on another thinking being. Nothing can drive them into a crisis of conscience, but they’re also too jaded and detached to draw strength from their intimacies.
Any sapient, relatable being is potentially a violation of Morality to harm. Creatures that are completely feral or completely incomprehensible can be injured without fear of Morality loss, but otherwise the sufferings of vampires, spirits, and stranger things might all give a sufficiently sensitive person pause.
Crisis of Conscience: When a character becomes aware they’ve committed a sin at or below their current Morality rating, their character undergoes an internal struggle in attempt to hold on to their moral center. Each time they could regain Willpower from rest, even if their Willpower is at maximum, roll dice equal to the rating of the crime they committed. On a failure, they regain no willpower and instead lose one willpower point.
A player who fails this roll can choose for their character to degenerate rather than accepting the roll’s results, hardening the character against those they’ve harmed. The character regains Willpower as normal instead of losing it and end their crisis immediately, but lowers their Morality score by one.
Once the roll has succeeded a number of separate times equal to the struggling character’s Morality rating, the character has resolved their crisis and can regain Willpower normally. Characters are either in crisis or aren’t; a player keeps track of the crime being grappled with, the dicepool rolled to regain Willpower from rest, and how many times the crisis roll has succeeded. A new sin replaces an old one if it’s of equal or greater severity, resetting the success count to zero and potentially lowering the struggle’s associated dicepool. A new crisis doesn’t reset the count of accumulated failures, however. This normally doesn’t matter to mortal characters, but can have ramifications for supernatural creatures.
Resolving Crisis: Characters who actually confront and atone for whatever crimes caused their crisis of conscience can overcome that crisis more quickly. If a character in crisis meaningfully engages with the source of their turmoil rather than ignoring it, such as by confessing their crime to a loved one or meditating on the consequences of their actions, a crisis roll can be made at the end of the scene, producing a Willpower point and a step towards resolution on success and removing a Willpower point on failure. Characters who fail this roll can choose to degenerate on the spot and regain Willpower, as above. Characters who take serious strides in resolving the consequences of their crime, such as by making peace with whoever they harmed or working to undo the damage they caused, are allowed a roll and can count that roll as successful for resolution purposes whether or not Willpower was gained or lost.
Intimacies: Intimacies represent strongly-held emotional ties to other people. Intimacies aren’t commitments to abstract concepts or large organizations, but specifically to individuals or small social groups (like “my partner” or “my family”) that a character is in regular contact with and that it would be a violation of Morality to harm. Pets or monsters can sometimes become intimacies, but then provoke crises of conscience in the character committed to them just as regular humans do.
A character can have a number of Intimacies equal to their Resolve plus three. Intimacies can shift, change, or replace each other, but not instantaneously; replacing one with another or developing one from scratch normally takes days or weeks of interaction. This is not a hard and fast rule, and particularly dramatic revelations or upsets might cause a character’s Intimacies to change on the spot.
Souls and Soul Loss: Certain dire circumstances can cause a character to lose their soul. Mortal characters deprived of their souls suffer gradual psychic deterioration until and unless their souls are somehow restored to them.
- Morality: Soulless characters can’t gain dots of Morality and can’t resolve a crises of conscience – until they degenerate, they remain in crisis into perpetuity and might fail to regain Willpower after each and every rest.
- Willpower: Soulless characters can’t regain lost Willpower dots. Each day, a soulless character’s permanent Willpower rating is rolled and decreases by one on a success. When a character has only one Willpower dot left, this roll is made each week instead.
Characters reduced to zero permanent Willpower usually become some combination of listless, catatonic, and insane, but it’s up to a player if and when their character succumbs. Once a character’s soul is restored, they regain one Willpower dot each time they regain any number of Willpower points, but any lost Morality must be regained through normal means.