Returning to the Journal
Welcome back to the Red Scar Development Blog! Due to ill health, it’s been a while since we’ve had this up and running. Rest assured, however, that we will now be back with regular features. To get us back into the groove, we’re taking a dive into Payback and what it represents for TriCore. Over to our statistician, Benn Greybeaton
Regardless of how competent a hero is, they experience risk every time they go into battle. The lucky blow that passes under their guard, the surprising burst of strength that pushes them to the ground, or the arrow that punctures the eye slit of their helm can all lay a warrior low no matter how prepared they are. Rather than a static swing, miss, swing, hit affair, a round of combat in a roleplaying game should be imagined as a shifting of guard, trading of blows, and almost continuous motion. In a similar manner, Trauma represents the continuous physical strain that a body will experience during an intense combat. As much as it represents solid cuts and blows, Trauma also provides an indication of the toll a combat is taking on a person physically (Stress, on the other hand, represents the mental drain that also takes place). Heroes are undoubtedly able to punish their opponents—in fact, the odds are often stacked in their favour—but there will always be some element of an enemy being able to sneak in a lucky blow, and Payback is how the TriCore system models this.
On a flat test, there is a 20% chance per die of payback occurring. This is independent of success on the task being rolled for; a hero might succeed at slicing a chunk from the troll only to get angrily swatted away in return. In this case, a flat test means a standard roll in which no Keywords or traits are being employed. Most of the time, the heroes will also be able to draw on their skill and prowess to reduce the risks of Payback. Employing a Keyword on a test, for instance, allows a hero to ignore an instance of Payback, although this is at the offset of introducing another die that can then also potentially roll Payback.
On an average roll of 3d10 there’s a 51.2% chance a player will not roll payback, a 38.4% chance of 1 payback, a 9.6% chance of 2 payback, and a 0.8% chance of 3. The percentages for a standard test without Keywords are below, note that Payback doubling isn’t included.
On the surface, it initially seems that introducing additional dice to a test happens at the increased risk of Payback. As mighty heroes (or villains), however, the player characters will be able to mitigate the chances of Payback by drawing on their strengths and training. As already previously mentioned, simply introducing a Keyword will allow a character to ignore one instance of Payback. Archetypes also introduce traits that draw on a character’s training in a profession as a means to change the odds, either by adjusting a die to avoid Payback, or accepting Payback but pushing for additional successes.
Changing the Odds
To put the previous paragraph into context, imagine a character had rolled 4 dice with a Keyword on a test, which resulted in a 1, 4, 6, and 9. This result currently provides 2 successes and 2 Payback (remembering the 6 result provides 1 Payback but also counts as a success). The character can ignore 1 Payback due to the fact that a Keyword was employed, which leaves them with 1 Payback and 2 successes. However, the character also has a trait that allows them to apply a +1 modifier to any die. In this instance, the character could opt to change the 6 result to a 7, which would negate all Payback and still provide 2 successes. Alternatively, they could change the 9 to a 10, which means they accept the Payback but produce Daring and cause and Exploding 10! These sorts of dynamics really allow the system to reflect the fact that characters can push themselves harder, though doing so also sometimes comes at a cost.
Of course, putting a Keyword into play means a character is also putting the related characteristics at risk. If Mishaps are being employed, the character might drop their tool, deactivate a trap but snap their picks in the process, or strain their mighty thews whilst flexing them. With the use of Keywords, this choice is up to the player. They can hold back their character’s best picks and use standard one or opt to not swing at the little goblin with all their might.
Creatures taking part in combat rely on Powers to cause players inconvenience. The stronger the creature, the greater the disruption or pain. Many creatures will only have a 1 Payback spend they can use. Sneaky goblins tend to have Cunning Blade (1) and nothing else. It deals a little damage but that’s about it. However, more powerful creatures have more abilities. A Centaur Archer might have Relocate (1), allowing it to move for free with a point of Payback, and Cunning Archery (1), allowing it to take a quick shot that is unhindered by any movement it might be taking. Suddenly, 2 points of Payback allows a foe to attack a hero with a hit and run manoeuvre or escape them and fire a parting shot. Players should also watch out for creatures with particularly high Payback spends. If a character puts their all into facing a fearsome and gargantuan beast, they should fully expect it to return the courtesy. Take a dragon’s Immolate (3) ability as an example (p. 13 of the free Quickstart). Standing in front of the dragon and putting a character’s all into fighting it toe-to-toe also puts them in serious jeopardy. A touch more caution and waiting for the right moment might mean fewer solid blows, but greatly decreases the character’s risk of being burnt to a cinder. The choice and risk are in the players’ hands.