Dramatic Task Question

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zamboni
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Dramatic Task Question

#1 Postby zamboni » Thu Mar 22, 2012 3:07 pm

I've been prepping my Savage Star Wars game for GenCon and I ran into a problem with a Dramatic Task I was play testing with some friends.

The task involves the PC's slicing into an armory during a prison break to get some weapons. One of the pregen PCs is a decent slicer so according to my reading of the Deluxe rules he has 5 actions to get 5 successes. On a success he gets into the armory without setting off an alarm. On a failure they get into the armory, but they alert the Imperials to what they are doing.

The problem was that it didn't seem very dramatic because the slicer and one other guy were dealt cards and tried to get successes and the other guys just waited. What am I missing? I don't know what to do with the other PC's while the slicers are making 5 rounds of computer checks.

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#2 Postby JDSampo » Thu Mar 22, 2012 3:18 pm

Dramatic tasks make more sense when the situation is well, dramatic. In this case I would have called for a simple skill roll since the only cost of failure is the alarm going off.

Dramatic tasks are useful for a race against time. For example, if he didn't break into the armory by turn five a platoon of storm troopers would show up.
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#3 Postby ValhallaGH » Thu Mar 22, 2012 5:11 pm

Agreed - the task is not nearly Dramatic enough.

Prison break? Check, alarm is already blaring, and the first squad arrives at the end of round 5. A full platoon arrives 2 rounds later. Failure means that the party is outside and unarmed when the troops arrive. Major Failure, such as for a Complication, means that troops arrive immediately (slicer accidentally open the most-direct route between the troops and the party).

In the mean time, the other prisoners are trying to get to the weapons as well. The rest of the PCs have to fend them off with unarmed attacks, or whatever cleverness they can figure out.

That should give you a nice, dramatic sequence for opening that locked door.
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#4 Postby Bavix » Fri Mar 23, 2012 4:43 pm

Honestly, I've never seen hack (or "slicing") to be very Star Wars without something much more dramatic happening around it. There are a few options to make this more pulpy, Star Wars, fast, and furious.

The most obvious for me would be to have the slicing going on right in the middle of a fight with a squad of troopers, prisoners, etc. That automatically gives all the players something to do. I think I'd use the action cards to tell me when enemies arrived or firewalls occured. A club could mean encountering an "obstacle" in the system's security (kind of like a mix between a Dramatic Task and a Chase).
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#5 Postby 77IM » Tue Mar 27, 2012 11:23 pm

One nice thing about dramatic tasks, is when there's no time pressure, you can usually just collapse the task into a single check with the same penalty, and the probability of success is about the same. (It's slightly easier on hard tasks due to being more swingy and vulnerable to benny spends, but I think that's OK when there's no time pressure.) So in your example, just turn the task into a single check.

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Re: Dramatic Task Question

#6 Postby Dracones » Wed Mar 28, 2012 9:59 am

zamboni wrote:The problem was that it didn't seem very dramatic because the slicer and one other guy were dealt cards and tried to get successes and the other guys just waited. What am I missing? I don't know what to do with the other PC's while the slicers are making 5 rounds of computer checks.


I think for dramatic tasks there needs to be a time pressure and the other PCs need to be able to assist in some way. Generally I'd break the dramatic event into "steps". For example, with breaking into a prison armory:

Skill slicing(hacking), steps:

1> Interface with the prison computer system.
2> Break the encryption.
3> Unlock and open the door.
4> Disable the armory room camera.
5> After all the PCs enter, close the door back up.

There's a heavily armed patrol that'll come by in 5 rounds. The PCs need to be in the armory and close the door in those 5 rounds or they're facing up against the patrol with no personal weapons(they'd better run). Or, if they hacked in far enough they can get to the weapons but have to fight off that patrol.

Some PCs may aid the hacking, some might keep an eye out for the patrol, maybe someone helps to pry open the door or has a creative way to disable the room camera.

But I think it works better if you lay out steps, come up with creative ways for other PCs to assist, and put down a very real threat if they fail. But also have the failure be a part of the adventure. That armory hack failure might turn into a chase scene if they didn't get the door open to get at the weapons or it might turn into a firefight with them stuck in the room.

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#7 Postby The Dread Polack » Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:58 am

Pardon my long-winded analysis here, but it's something I've given some thought to:

Most uses of skills involve a single roll to see if you succeed or fail. Some times, you need to make multiple rolls, like when you're climbing long distances.

We could, if we wanted, resolve all combat with a single contested fighting roll. Instead of the various combat statistics, characters could have a single modifier. The winner would decide the fate of the loser. Some games actually do it this way, but most of them don't. Why? Because, combat, for one thing, is something we find interesting. We want control over the particulars of what happens, and want to know the details, more so than things like climbing or persuasion.

You could, if you wanted, have detailed resolution rules for other skills. The IZ rules for computer hacking is one example, sailing is another. I played a healer in Shadowrun, and after watching some medical shows, like ER, I thought it might be neat to have some detailed rules for treating wounds and illnesses. Characters could decide what to do based on the supplies and tech available. It could even be a dynamic system where the healer is "fighting" against the injuries, toxins, or diseases as one side gets the advantage over the other.

I think Dramatic Tasks are a compromise between having detailed, custom-made rules for any situation, and a simple boring roll vs. 4 to see if you succceed. To be FFF, most tasks will be a single roll. Actually, most tasks won't involve rolling at all. But, if you think the action deserves more drama, then use a dramatic task. I like Dracones' idea of splitting each step into a distinct step in the actual task.

It could be more or less than 5 rounds. Combat doesn't last exactly 5 rounds. You could also have a system by which your character can take "3 strikes," like wounds, that would define failure, instead of a 5-round timer. WCs could soak these "strikes."

I'm treading into new rules territory, so I'll stop there for now, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

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#8 Postby MonsterMike » Fri Mar 30, 2012 1:42 pm

I agree with Dracones.

For it to be a dramatic task, there must be an element of time pressure and terrible consequences if you fail. Think of the movie trope of the good guy disarming the bomb while the seconds tick away on the digital countdown timer.

The five checks should relate to five describable steps or actions to accomplish the task, and you should have an idea ahead of time what possible complications can arise if the player draws a club. In addition, you should be able to describe what happens if the PC fails a particular step.

I had a dramatic task scene in a modern-day zombie crawl I just ran at GaryCon, and it might make a good example.

This game is set at a local hospital. Two of the PC's are the ER doctor and his nurse. The zombie virus is fast acting, and an NPC (little Emily Anne Tutweiler) has just been bitten. RJ, the biochem PhD student in the lab, has been running a bunch of tests for a possible successful combination of anti-virals. Here's what I have in my game notes for the dramatic task, assuming the group rushes up to the lab to try to save Emily.

***Begin GM notes***

When you get to the lab, the doors are ripped off their hinges. RJ is dead and a rack filled with a variety of test tubes is smashed on the floor. RJ's hastily scrawled notes cover several pages of a spiral notebook. Hundreds of tests failed, but the successful combination of three different anti-viral medications is circled in ball point pen with several exclamation marks. There are a few sketchy formulas on calculating proper dosing, sprinkled with several question marks.

Dramatic Task - Dr. Cook will have 5 attempts to get a total of 5 successes or raises on Knowledge (Medicine) in order to prepare and administer the vaccine in time to save Emily. Meanwhile, the rest of the party has to hold off 6 Shamblers and 3 Strong Zombies at the lab door. Deal Dr. Cook's action card with everyone elses. If he gets a club, it throws another complication on the task (RJ rises to become another shambler) and an additional -2 penalty. Karen can assist Dr. Cook, but has to roll her own Knowledge (Medicine). Each success and raise she gets adds +1 to Dr. Cook's roll. All of Dr. Cook's tasks are at a -2 penalty.

1. Locate the right anti-virals - Failure: Fumble one of the bottles - it smashes on the floor. Find another one.

2. Mix them - Failure: Can't find the magnetic stirrer for the mixer. Find the spare in a drawer.

3. Dilute them properly - Failure: Hands shaking too much. Spill saline on the floor.

4. Calculate dosing - Failure: Fumble the calculator.

5. Administer it (Can use Healing for the last check).

With a total of 5 successes and raises, Emily makes it. Otherwise, she dies and turns zombie. If this happens, her mother will grab the nearest gun and kill her, then herself.

*** End GM notes ***

Fortunately, Dr. Cook just barely made it with timely help from his nurse, and I didn't have to go through that awful scene of infanticide/suicide.

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#9 Postby zamboni » Sat Mar 31, 2012 5:09 pm

Awesome! This has been super helpful. I tried running the Dramatic Task again and this time I had the characters that weren't involved in the slicing make notice checks. They hear some footsteps in a nearby hallway and can decide what to do (scope it out, try to distract them away from armory, set up to take whoever it is out quickly, or whatever they want). This made it much more exciting for everyone.

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#10 Postby Zadmar » Sun Apr 01, 2012 6:30 am

The Dread Polack wrote:We could, if we wanted, resolve all combat with a single contested fighting roll. Instead of the various combat statistics, characters could have a single modifier. The winner would decide the fate of the loser. Some games actually do it this way, but most of them don't. Why? Because, combat, for one thing, is something we find interesting. We want control over the particulars of what happens, and want to know the details, more so than things like climbing or persuasion.

An insightful post, and it actually brings to mind a god-level campaign I ran (using the Exalted system) where one of the players was effectively unbeatable when fighting normal mortals. Early on we used to roll for combat encounters, but later it went more like this:

Me: 30 soldiers come rushing out of the barracks, blades drawn, to intercept you.

Player: I'll fight them while the rest of the party carries on doing X.

Me: Okay, you start killing them, that'll keep you busy for a few rounds. What's everyone else doing?

I should point out that the campaign was primarily political, and combat against normal mortals wasn't intended to be interesting in its own right (it was more about the political repercussions).

Had I been using Savage Worlds at that point, I would very likely have asked the player to make a single roll each round to determine how effectively they fought - perhaps something similar to the Mass Battle rules.

However it does strike me that the Dramatic Tasks rules would have worked pretty well in that situation as well: Perhaps the player has five rounds to hack through the enemy and bar the gates before overwhelming reinforcements arrive.


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