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5E Inquiries, Pursuits, and Secret Missions

When I directed the adventure path ZEITGEIST: The Gears of Revolution, the PCs were law enforcement officers who later acted as secret agents. I tried to make sure each adventure had at least one encounter that was something out of the ordinary for D&D, like maintaining security at a royal visit, battling during a carriage chase, or going undercover on a train to figure out who among the other passengers were members of a conspiracy.

It's always possible (and often preferable) to just handle these scenes by role-playing and a bit of dramatic narration. Mechanics can bog things down if they're too complicated. I certainly remember complaints about 4e's skill challenge system (and tons of articles on how to make good skill challenges).

I've taken a crack at some new rules for three common types of encounters that I think could benefit from light-touch game mechanics. All of them using a guideline of Peril Before Failure. You'll often need to succeed a small number of checks to win the encounter, but one failed die roll doesn't cause you to lose. Instead, a failure increases the risk, and gives you an incentive to bail out and try again later. If you fail a second time, you get the actual bad result: the suspect refuses to talk, the overwhelming force of bad guys catch up to you, or your cover is blown which puts the whole mission at risk.

I'd be thrilled if you'd take a moment out of your pandemic to take a look and offer some feedback. Are they a total waste of time, and better handled without rules? Are they too rules-light, calling for dice rolls that don't feel tethered to the narrative of the game? Do you have any suggestions for improving them? Am I too wordy and need to be more concise? Do I need some examples to make it clearer how to use them?

Inquiries. The PCs need to get information out of a suspect or out of a crowd. This requires two successful efforts. First they establish rapport, then they extract the information.

Pursuits. The GM comes up with three 'stages' for the chase to pass through. In each stage, the quarry does something to try to create a challenge, which the pursuer must overcome. Then the PCs try to outpace the other side (either getting away if they're quarry, or closing the distance if they're pursued). The PCs need to outpace twice to win.

Secret Missions. This is where we get complicated. The GM comes up with a number of obstacles (usually 2 to 5). The PCs each can make one effort before the mission to prepare, and then during the mission the party as a whole can make one check to try to overcome each obstacle. (And if they fail a check, that's peril first; they can try again if they want, but usually with dire consequences.)

Thanks!
 

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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Nice work, very nice work. I'm very much in line with your desire to overlay some soft mechanics on social interaction and some related subsystems. It's my prime complaint about 5E generally, and a lot of my system hacking time is spent doing more or less what you're doing here. To shine a little light on some of my suggestions to follow, I borrow a lot of ideas from Blades in the Dark when it comes to cumulative success tracked on clocks, so that's where that comes from. I also use a 5E version of the flashback mechanic.

For extraction, I was sort of expecting the skill rolls to be the other way round, with the PCs using CHA Deception to overcome the targets WIS Insight. It works both ways though. Have you considered using gradients of success to vary the quality of information extracted? So, say, for every five you beat the DC by you get additional details or whatever? Just a thought.

One of the ways I like to encourage party cooperation in these sorts of skill challenges is to link the results. So one party member does some info gathering and surveillance to determine the targets habits, likes and vulnerabilities. That allows the Face PC to go in armed with specific levers to get what he wants, either through blackmail, common interest, whatever. For example, maybe the targets daughter goes to school X for Y. There are a ton of ways to use that. I'll usually provide moderate bonuses for a successful previous part of the montage and/or increase the DC for a failed one.

I like the pursuit rules. The use of environment and discrete stages with different challenges is a great way to model that. On the subject of things like move through danger, would you consider also having the pursued character also roll? When I think of cinematic pursuits scenes, the fleeing party often runs into difficulty and the relative success of navigating that danger either close or open the distance. I usually use opposed clocks for this sort of thing. If the pursued fills his clock first he escapes and in the PCs fill theirs first he is caught. I like clocks because as the DM it's easy to set the number of segments to reflect how you want the scene to play out. If you want a quick chase set the segments low, and if you want something more dramatic, set the segments higher. I also think some way to link the skills of the pursued more firmly to their success at escaping would be good, and especially useful when it's the PCs doing the escaping, so they can better see the effect of their skills on the scene, rather than having the focus be quite so firmly on skill tests made by the pursuer.

I have to do some actual work here, so I'll get back with my thoughts on the Secret Mission section later on. Again, great work, and I'm going to steal some of it shamelessly. (y)
 

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