Saturday, December 23, 2017

House Rules: The Despair Deck

4e DnD had a lot of really interesting ideas, one of which was the Despair Deck (complete card list at this lovely person's blog here) . Made for their Shadowfell boxed set the Despair Deck was supposed to model walking into the Shadowfell and absorbing the energies of a world that was death itself. Each card had two sides: up and down. The up-side had a vice that the player had to roleplay with some mechanical impacts for said vice, which is essentially a Die Trait from Burning Wheel. Once you fought off the effects you rotated the card and got a positive mechanical effect for the rest of the day.

Well, 4th is dead and gone for the majority of people, myself included. While the majority of people have gone to either Pathfinder or 5th, I went more of the Indie and OSR route, where these cards can have surprising utility. Anyone who has ever been severely injured or almost killed in real life can attest to the effects of PTSD from those situations. Does everyone get it? No, but no one I know has a goblin screaming at them in the face as they get stabbed either. Plus it gives combat a real edge in that characters change from the effects of being dropped.

So, at least in future games that I'll run, if you are rendered unconscious you have to make a Wisdom check (or a Steel check if it's Burning Wheel or find another corollary). Fighter types or anyone with a trait that makes it harder to scare them get a bonus on this roll. If you fail this check you have to draw a card from the Despair Deck and apply its mechanical and role-play effects. The first conflict that is faced by the party after the Despair Card is drawn must always be played with the Despair Card in its negative position. At the end of every conflict the player may make another Wisdom (or analogue) check. Make this check harder for every time they've failed it. Friends may help, but that help had best be roleplayed. You may also make this check anytime a friend is injured, with no penalties from previous failures. Success means that the card is flipped and stays with the player in its positive form until they go to sleep for that night.

Example for Burning Wheel: Telos takes a Mortal Wound and is down. His player makes a Steel test (with the appropriate 5 dice penalty) and fails, thus making him draw a card from the Despair Deck. The card drawn is Wrathful, which in 4e terms makes you grant Combat Advantage to enemies who are adjacent to you until you overcome the despair effect. In Burning Wheel terms that would probably be a +1 Ob in conflicts where you have to get close to your opponent (so any social and melee situations). The GM makes this ruling and Telos's character agrees to it. Angered by his helpelessness Telos rages at the slightest drop of a pin, making him unpredictable and unhelpful on purpose.Finally, however, an argument comes up and Telos runs right into the Duel of Wits. He pushes the wrathful aspect of his personality but loses the conflict. That still means that he gets to roll however, and he passes with flying colors. Something about the conflict has appeased Telos's rage and, as the card's positive side states, no one can gain advantage over him in close situations until he goes to sleep.

And since it's Burning Wheel the GM rules that these cards give you an extra Persona point whenever it gets you in trouble as compensation for an additional burden. Yeah, make sure to slip the player a bit of extra love. It'll go a long way.

Obviously there will be some issues in making the mechanics transfer over. Not every game has combat advantage and the numerical bonuses can really gimp some varieties of d20 or just be nonsense in a non-d20 game. The onus of interpreting the card rests on the GM, who should check his interpretation with the rest of the players and have them agree if he's reasonable or not. And, like the example for Burning Wheel says, make sure to give extra XP or rewards to make this rule go over smoother. It's not a natural thing for people to put their characters in trouble, so make sure to compensate them for their efforts. This particular rule hasn't been playtested in DnD so GMs, be kind.

This idea probably won't be for everyone, specifically roll-players. But the effects of combat are a real thing and I think it's fun to play that out. This rule will be rough on those players but will add a layer of characterization that will pay off as players are get into their characters as they have to face their mortality and pain. And, provided you have good players, that's a good spot to look into. But, again, don't try this rule if you think they won't enjoy it. But for those people who love character this will provide a wonderful progression as they deal with pain in a way they wouldn't have expected.

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