Exploring Modiphius

I have started to look at Mutant Year Zero as part of my following up on the suggestions I was given. The WEG d6 games are contenders but I can feel my house ruling fingers twitching, on the other hand my WEG bookshelf has already grown to 5 books.

The first impression was so great that I blogged about it own on my Rolemaster blog holding it up as an example of how things should be done.

I have tendency to treat games like the ‘net as a whole and surfing from one thing to another. MYZ is a Modiphius game. I was looking at the MYZ starter book, which I will get to eventually, and I started to look into Modiphius. From there I discovered they had created the Conan game. If any of you read my blogs you will know that it was Conan and the Conan books that got me into role playing games in the first place. I could not resist taking a look at their Conan game.

As Conan is based upon the 2d20 system rather than the MYZ d66 variant, this continues my ‘coming out’ tour as I look beyond d100 systems.

So I want to split this in two halves. Firstly, my impression of the 2d20 system. The second half will be about the Modiphius treatment of Conan.

2d20

I freely admit that I have only read the rules and not played this system but, to put it bluntly, this looks dreadful!

The basic idea of roll under the target number is fine, the idea of focus giving you a variable chance of a critical success is fine but from there on in is all down hill.

Bean Counting

This system is using a pool called Momentum. Points of momentum can be spent to gain additional 1d20s to improve your chances of success. The more dice you roll and the more of those that are under your target number the more successes you get, if you get more successes than you need then you pay the unused successes back into the momentum pool. If you get more critical successes then you can pay them back into the momentum pool as well. Every turn the pool loses one point of momentum and it has maximum level of 6 points.

That already sounds too complicated to me but it get worse. If you don’t have enough points of momentum you can buy points by spending Doom points. Doom points are just like momentum points but controlled by the GM. The basic idea is that yes you can buy an extra 1d20 but it will come back to bite you later. More about that later!

So we have Momentum points and Doom points and now we have yet another type of bean, these are Fortune points. Fortune points are exactly like Momentum points but better, they give you an automatic success rather than an die roll.

Now I would normally think that rolling under your skill target number would mean you have succeeded but not in this game. Success isn’t enough, well sometimes it is but not always. Where other games would probably vary the target number up or down depending on the difficulty of a task, this system demands multiple successes from no successes to 5 successes. So a skill that doesn’t need any successful rolls to complete, supposedly, still needs to be rolled. I can almost stomach that, I guess it allows you to test for critical successes and failures but to be honest if the success is automatic barring randomly bad dice rolls why are you making the character even both rolling? I am thinking role play not roll play!

This game actually has a mechanic that penalises players that take time to plan their strategy! If the longer the players take in planning the more Doom points the GM gets to throw against them. It even tells you to tell the players that they are getting a time penalty!

Critical Failure

So now we come to critical failures. This is actual example from the rules “For example, the Pictish warrior Dakeyah might successfully use Ranged Weapons to shoot an enemy with his bow, but on his test, his player rolls a 20. The arrow strikes the target, but the gamemaster might declare that Dakeyah’s quiver is now empty of arrows, and he must find more arrows, or seek other means of killing his foes.” So did the arrows evaporate? Did he go out this morning and forget to put any arrows in his quiver? I am sorry but if a player had 20 arrows in his quiver and he shoots 3 then he has 17 arrows left in my opinion.

In other examples the number of Doom points are used to alter the players reality for no good reason except to use up the Doom points.

As a GM I am perfectly capable of making up challenges for the players and making them logical and if the players confound my plans then good on them, that is one of the great things about table top games. I get as long as I need as GM to prepare these challenges and the players are put on the spot and have to solve them and they will.

Zoning Out

Movement and distance are measured using a system of ill-defined ‘zones’ of no specific size. Characters may move freely around their current zone without penalty. The rules state quite clearly that zones can be any size and distance is not important. Except it then goes on with additional rules about how if zones are too close together then additional empty zones can be put between zones to make them further apart. I am sorry but if distance is not important then don’t then make up additional rules to make that decision fit. In a game all about action and combat then distance is going to be important at some points.

Imagine your character staggers into a room, he has a punctured lung, a sprained ankle and the knee of his other leg has recently taken a direct hit from a great big hammer. On the opposite side of the room steps forward the champion of a Pictish tribe. He fresh and ready. Between you on the ground is a dagger, the only weapon between you. Who would you expect to get to the weapon first?

Yep, you got it, the PC. Why? Because in this system the PCs always win the initiative and move first. With the zones of movement a crippled PC can move, grab the weapon and attack before the champion facing him or her can even get to act!

Hammer-time

So lets say you do want to hit someone. Each attack now has to go through 10 dice rolls, calculations or table look ups to be resolved. 10!

I said at the beginning of this that I have not actually played this game and the reason is that I don’t think I could bring myself to even try. I think I would be embarrassed to have to explain the rules to my players.

Next time I will ignore the rules and look at the actual theme and content of the game. Conan!

6 thoughts on “Exploring Modiphius”

  1. On the one hand, you complain about the bean-counting of Momentum*, but then complain about the lack of bean-counting with ammunition. 🙂

    At least with Momentum, it’s bean counting of a game mechanic item… instead of bean counting of an in-game-world resource. Which would seem kinda boring, really.

    That’s actually a standard way games that don’t count ammo do things, and also the a sort of standard way that narrative focused games handle ammo: critical failure and/or narrative complications means you didn’t have as much ammo as you thought you did, and now you’re out. (and, again, narrative focus: FATE influence).

    Zones are right out of FATE, I think.

    And all 3 spell: more about story-driven-narrative than crunchy-simulation. (which, is a good thing … simulationist games are an exercise in masturbation, IMO — and about as good for your mental health, when you do too much of it). I don’t care if you have 3 bullets or 30… I care about the story being interesting when the moment comes up. And, I don’t want you to run out of ammo when it’s boring to do so, I want you to run out of ammo when it’s _interesting_ for you to do so. Bean Counting your ammo doesn’t really contribute to that. Random event driven ammo does. Think about it this way: do you count the bullets fired in action movies? or adventure novels? Or do you recognize that counting bullets is sort of an anal retentive cop-out, and the the bullets will run out when it makes sense to the story? and never run out if it doesn’t serve the story?

    While Zones are one of my hardest-to-grasp parts of Zone based games, I don’t care if it’s 30 meters or 13 meters to your destination, I care about how much interesting narration happens while you get there.

    Also, for the zone example you gave: there’s 3 zones. The one by the door, where the PC is (zone A). The one containing the NPC (zone C). The one containing the next immediate goal (the weapon) (zone B). You say you want to move from zone A to zone B? That’s non-trivial in your condition, and not automatic: give me a roll. Let’s see if you really do get there before the NPC (who, as you described, should be able to move freely from zone to zone, in his condition).

    You even described it as 3 different places in the room. You described it as 3 zones, I didn’t impose that afterward. :-}

    (* which, I think is sort of like Fate Points from FATE — the main guy at Modiphius wrote two of the Fate 2.x major games: Starblazer Adventures and Legends of Anglere; I actually haven’t read TOO far into the meat of 2d20, but my impression is that it has some FATE influences, like Momentum and Zones … where Fate Points are absolutely a unit of narrative control, along with a way to get quick bonuses … Momentum sort of strikes me as less about narrative control and more about quick bonuses; but I could be wrong).

    From my read, and reading of reviews, 2d20 seems an attempt to make a middle ground between story-forward/narrative-driven games and conventional games (but not anal-retentively-exacting simulationist games). It uses more conventional dice (but not entirely so), a more specific skill system and equipment system (the guns, not the bullets). It uses some elements common in story-forward games (a Fate-Point-ish economy, zones, even driven accounting instead of bean counting of in-story resources like bullets and wealth (I think)).

    It’s a hybrid. Hybrids never please the purists… but they help the people who want something different if they want to gravitate away from their own end of the spectrum. And the appeal to the people who don’t care about the things purists care about.

    (I’m sort of the latter — not really a narrativist, despite what I just said … but also clearly not a simulationist; simulationists are too wordy, narrativists are too vague; I’m a minimalist, who picks elements from each time that serve minimalism and fun).

    1. “event driven accounting”
      “from each thing”

      Auto-correct keeps me from looking illiterate. Except when it makes me look illiterate. :-}

  2. Looks like I placed my asterisk foot-note too far away from the asterisk — which might make the flow of the comment a little jumpy. Sorry about that.

  3. I got it.

    Funnily enough you describe yourself exactly how I think of my self. I am also a minimalist. I am trying to move away from the simulationist end of the spectrum. Some versions of Rolemaster were certainly way to simulationist and too much book keeping for my idea of fun.

    I can certainly see the FATE influence here and maybe that colours some of my impressions. FATE is certainly not for me.

    Two of the things that really rankled was the punishing players for spending longer than the GM wanted in planning or discussion. Using ingame punishments for player (not character) actions, to me, feels simply wrong.

    The other is the dead mans click as they call it. All soldiers are told to count bullets as a essential skill. Arrows either exist or do not exist. There are times when you may no know, say you have fallen and your arrows scatter, you grab a handful and off you go. At that moment you do not know. I am an archer and the sort of archery I do is from the back of a galloping horse. I know that I can run one finger along my quiver and count the arrows I have remaining in about a second and almost subconsciously.

    Maybe if the example had been critical failure equates a frayed bow string I would have been more forgiving? The example as given broke my suspension of disbelief.

  4. I wouldn’t actually call MYZ a Modiphius game since they only act as a publisher and are not responsible for the development of the game. Fria Ligan from Sweden is responsible for everything from the game design to the layout. It’s also not a d66-based system. Sure, some tables use d66 or even d666, but the actual core mechanics are pool-based.

    I also don’t think that there’s any bean counting involved when playing Modiphius 2d20 system. I’ve played Star Trek during the playtest and the Momentum mechanic works like a charm, was quickly understood and used by everyone at the game table, and one of the elements most if not all members of our group enjoyed. Your mileage may vary, especially if you’re usually into more simulationist games.

    Your issues with zones probably are based on the same reason. Modiphius’ 2d20 System doesn’t try to simulate a game world, it’s actually much closer to narrativist games. The rules try to help the gaming group to tell compelling stories in which the PCs are the heroes. This might not be realistic but it works well at the game table, IF you are into this style of gaming.

    It’s probably mostly a matter of taste. I’d guess you might be happier with systems with a more simulationist approach.

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