Tuesday, July 9, 2013
System Shopped: Wagers in Pathfinder
System Shopped: Pathfinder
by Tobie Abad
I love Houses of the Blooded's Wagers system. It has changed how I view games so much that I've been introducing so many of my friends to the game system. I think within the last two years alone, I've gotten around sixteen people to try the game (which might not sound like much, until you realize how many games I run in a year, and how many systems I explore and introduce as well).
What's a Wager?
In Houses of the Blooded, whenever a Challenge is called for (with a Challenge being a time when a roll is needed to resolve an action which has a desired Intention), the player gathers dice equal to the Virtue applicable and if he has an Aspect that applies, then these six-sided dice are rolled to beat ten. Given how easy it can be to beat ten with more than three dice, you can opt to "put aside" dice that you don't roll as Wagers. These dice, if you roll successfully become facts which you can declare in relation to your Intention.
Sounds confusing? Here's an example:
You are hiding from the guard who is roaming the grounds of the museum you have broken into. Your Intention is "The guard does not see me." Let's say you had six dice to roll and you decided to Wager three dice. With your remaining three dice, you roll a fourteen, which is more than the ten needed. So you get your intent: The guard does not see you. However, you also get three Wagers, so you get to mention three more facts in relation to that Intent. You might say, "The guard is sleepy." "The guard decides to steal a nap in the next room." "The guard is a deep sleeper."
So Wagers allow you to shape the story as if you were the Game Master as well. And they allow you to add facts and twists to make the scene more interesting! I love the system so much. It really makes the narrative more unexpected and cool. Given how much I like it, a friend once messaged me that he'd love to see a way to adopt that to Pathfinder games. That is what this article is for.
So Wagers in Pathfinder (and similar systems).
At its most basic, the way I can introduce Wagers into the game is to base it on the standard roll. Whenever a player rolls a Skill check, every 3 higher than the target number is a wager. So if the player, for example, was trying to sneak past the guard, and you call for a Move Silently check at 15, if he rolled an 18, he not only moves past the guard quietly, but also gets to add a fact in relation to the action! That simple.
Simpler Way in Combat
In combat, you can incorporate Wagers as well in a lesser degree (given how mechanically tied the balance of the game is in Pathfinder) by allowing the players to throw in an added factoid or twist to the fight whenever the roll a Critical threat. If they successfully roll a Critical hit, they get an additional Wager too.
So if the fighter slashed at the Dragon's throat and rolled a natural 18, which is a Critical threat based on his weapon, that very moment, the fighter can mention a small fact such as "I swing my blade and find a position that allows me a good position under the Dragon's own shadow." If the Threat comes out a success, the player can even throw in an added detail, "The Dragon is in so much pain, it actually pulls back from me." Again, given how much Pathfinder and similar games are very tactical in nature, the mileage of such facts may vary depending on how flexible and creative your Game Master prefers his fight sequences.
The More Complicated Way
The Concept of the Wager system is to "decrease your chances of success but getting more bang for the buck if you succeed" and the closest way to do this without adding a whole new system to the game is to base it on the Ability bonuses.
A player can opt to "sacrifice" the ability bonus as a wager to throw in an additional result/fact. Given again the importance of such perks in a tactical game, I feel this can be balanced out in this manner:
a) The bonus must at least be +3 or higher.
b) The WHOLE bonus is lost as a Wager
c) The player earns a Wager if the successful roll is at least the target number plus the wagered amount.
d) The Wager gained is the equivalent of a successful Skill Check or extra attack at base damage.
So for example:
A Fighter with a Strength bonus of +3 is fighting a Vampire. As the Vampire closes in to strike, the player attempts to bring it down first! He wagers all of his +3 and rolls. The Vampire, given its benefits, can only be hit with a 15 or higher. The Fighter's swing hits at an 18, which is 3 more than the target number (3 being the Bonus he wagered), therefore, he get's a Wager.
With the Wager, the Fighter strikes at the Vampire and gains an additional effect equivalent of a skill check or extra attack. The player opts for a "Skill check" equivalent and describes the strike so strong, the Vampire is tripped to the ground.
The Cleric is attempting to get information from the tavern on where the hidden Temple of the Evil Deity is located. He needs to make a Gather Information roll, and his Charisma gives him a +3. He decides to risk it and throws out his bonus as a Wager.
He rolls a natural 20. This gives him his intended result (the information he wanted) and two wagers. So the player states, "The barkeep tells me where the temple can be found, and as he talks, I notice the brand of the Deity on his inner arm. I pull my hand around his throat, grappling him to keep him from drawing a weapon or sounding an alarm as I say, "I see how you happen to know all this quite well. Now, shall we consider your purification?"
Now, if the player hits a Critical Threat in his attack, he gets a second Wager! And finally, if the attack is a Critical Hit, he gets a third!
As much as that might sound very imbalancing, realize that the system does apply the other way around. So yes, enemies and monsters MIGHT get Wagers too against the players. Wagers however cannot cause impossible things to happen. So you can't say, "The Wizard's Magic Missiles miss" since system-wise that's impossible. Nor can you say, "The Beholder's eye stalks all are non-functioning" cause that is just being a jerk. Wagers are best used to add drama, to make things more interesting and fun for all concerned.
So there you go, a quick and dirty way to add Wagers to your d20 games. Hope you try it out!