Not too long ago now, John W.S. Marvin over at Dread Unicorn Games released a book called Gods and Icons. It’s a supplement for 13th Age RPG with a myriad of new Icons, class abilities, player races, and to augment it all, player races. Well, Mr. Marvin is back with a vengeance, with the accessory for the setting, the Icons and Conditions cards. Just for full transparency reasons, John was kind enough to send me this copy of the deck specifically for review.
Just to describe what these are: This supplement is a deck of cards, but not just any cards. Some have the Icons from the Gods and Icons book, while others have the standard conditions for 13th Age (hampered, stuck, etc.). They’re made of similar material to regular playing cards and seem sturdy. Additionally, there’s a card in the deck telling you where to find licensing info…
Before we steal Piggybacking from GUMSHOE, check out how it works there in Piggybacking Part I.
The Noisy Cleric Problem
The problem piggybacking solves can be found in all sorts of roleplaying games with all sorts of skills, but the example that comes to mind is sneaking into a castle in a fantasy game like Dungeons and Dragons. In fantasy books and movies, the heroes sneaking into places is a staple of the genre. In D&D games, sneaking is left to the rogue and the ranger for scouting. Once the GM tells the entire table to roll dice to see if they sneak into the castle, somebody always misses, and the exciting infiltration turns into a frontal assault.
In games like TimeWatch, Nights Black Agents, or Trail of Cthulhu, the whole spend resources to piggyback fits perfectly, since they are all GUMSHOE games. Most of my players have points to spend in Infiltration, but some have zeros. Every general skill is like that. You aren’t giving the party something for free, they are spending resources they might need later to succeed now.
Let’s look at other systems. I haven’t tested these, but I will.
Cypher System Piggybacking
In games like Numenera, Predation, and The Strange, GUMSHOE style piggybacking is easy, since you’re already spending the resources of Might, Speed, and Intellect to do anything.
The expert spends from their pool as normal, but the difficulty is harder because they are pulling the rest of the party with them. For a sneak into the castle test, the expert has their difficulty raised (+2 sounds good, +1 for less than 3 followers) and uses Speed. While the expert can use their Edge to lower their costs, the followers can not. They each spend one point, no discount.
If the expert succeeds, everyone sneaks in. Move on with the adventure.
Nothing to Spend Piggybacking
In games as varied as Call of Cthulhu, 13th Age, and Dungeons and Dragons, you don’t have resources to spend to sneak into castles or climb up icy cliffs. You’ve got hit points, and while spending those might make sense in a few cases, usually not. Same with Sanity, Recoveries, or Spell Slots. These games are not about spending resources on skill tests, so it seems wrong to try and force them do that just for piggybacking.
In these games I’d boost the difficulty for the expert (+5 for d20, +25% for Call of Cthulhu), but then I’d require the rest of the party to roll just to assist. And if someone fumbles, well then, we’re right back where we started from. That’s the cost right there, the more players rolling, the greater the chance of a fumble. 🙂
The other night we dove deep into our penultimate session of the Dracula Dossier. An unseasonable blizzard raged around the PCs as they had to climb up a mountain and down a waterfall. It was one of those roleplaying scenes where half the party had the skills to move the story forward, and half did not. (Athletics and Outdoor Survival in this case.)
This kind of scene happens in any kind of roleplaying game, from d20 fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons and 13th Age, to the Cypher System, to Call of Cthulhu. This is a problem with “niche protection,” where everyone has a different set of skills so that everyone can feel special and get their spotlight moments. It can also cause the adventure to stall. When a party tries to infiltrate, but someone is sure to fail their stealth roll–when everyone must impress to get information at a fancy dress ball, but someone is sure to fail a social roll–when the group must climb in a snowstorm, but the hacker and the crime boss are sure to fall to their deaths–what do you do?
(Sometimes letting the crime boss in heels fall off a cliff might be what you want. This post is about when you want everyone to make the climb, but still keep it interesting.)
What do movies and books do? Han Solo and Chewbacca take their queues from Princess Leia when dealing with big-shots. People trapped in Jurassic Park follow the lead of Dr. Grant, dinosaur expert. Sansa escapes from King’s Landing by following Littlefinger’s plan. Characters without the right skills let the experts lead, but don’t leave the scene.
You want the expert PCs get to shine for their skills without stoping the story because some PCs have holes in their character sheets. You let them piggyback.
This game system (Night’s Black Agents) is a GUMSHOE game, and it comes with a piggybacking rule built in.
In GUMSHOE you can spend skill points to add to your d6 die roll. The expert does that, while everyone else spends 1 point. For every follower doesn’t have any points to spend, the difficulty of the roll the expert has to make is +2. If the expert succeeds, everyone succeeds.
So the expert rolls the big die, spends a bunch of resources (skill points in Night’s Black Agents), and the followers spend some resources for the privilege of tagging along. Great fun!
In our game, we had so many athletics rolls climbing in that blizzard that the spotlight passed between PCs who had tons of points in athletics. They got their spotlight moments, but they didn’t have to leave the hacker and the crime boss behind. They also spent pretty much every point of athletics the group had, and there will be no time to refresh before the next game, so they are sweating it. Perfect!
This works great in GUMSHOE, but what about other games? Let’s see if we can steal piggybacking.
Next time we’ll look at 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, 13th Age, the Cypher System, Call of Cthulhu, and see if we can come up with ways to piggyback in those systems. See Piggybacking, Part II.
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