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SWADE: Let's talk about the non-combat tools.

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I am doing final prep for some games for a convention next weekend (TotalConfusion in MA, USA) and was reviewing the SWADE core to make sure I had my brain straight. It occurred to me that there really are a lot of tools outside combat to get things done in SWADE, and if you throw in things like setting rules and all the various switches and dials, SWADE becomes one of the most versatile action adventure games on the market just from the core book.

Don't get me wrong, I really like SWADE combat: it's tactical and swingy and medium crunchy. It's fun. But that said SWADE provides some really good tools other than it's combat system.

There are quick encounters for when you want things to have some uncertainty and consequence, but not eat up a ton of time. There are specific networking ("gather information") and hacking systems. The chase rules are dynamic and fun.

Mostly, though, I really like Dramatic Tasks as a play tool. They are at once easy to implement and versatile, serving a similar function as the Skill Challenge or even immediate clocks a la PbtA/FitD games.

They do take a little system mastery by the GM to keep them from getting repetitive, and I usually recommend ditching the initiative count for most uses, but overall it is a great subsystem for maintaining cinematic style without constantly resorting to life or death combat.
 

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dbm

Savage!
Dramatic Tasks are cool, they are a really good way of putting some mechanical crunch into scenes and abstracting them if you want to. Some examples from a sci-fi game I ran:

The team wanted to infiltrate a military space dock and steal a ship; this involved getting through the outer perimeter, sneaking through the complex, tricking their way onto a ship and then hot wiring it.

Later on in that arc they had to break their way out of a military space station which entailed out thinking and out manoeuvring the space station defences.

And at another point in the campaign the team were undercover as asteroid miners and during a mining mission one of the other mining teams had their pod crash - the team decided to rescue them, jury-rigging a way of reaching them, getting in the pod, rescuing the injured miners and getting back to their own pod in time to be collected by their command ship.

Each scene was really fun to play out, the action was driven by the player’s decisions and the characters abilities.
 


GMMichael

Guide of Modos
The team wanted to infiltrate a military space dock and steal a ship; this involved getting through the outer perimeter, sneaking through the complex, tricking their way onto a ship and then hot wiring it.

Later on in that arc they had to break their way out of a military space station which entailed out thinking and out manoeuvring the space station defences.

And at another point in the campaign the team were undercover as asteroid miners and during a mining mission one of the other mining teams had their pod crash - the team decided to rescue them, jury-rigging a way of reaching them, getting in the pod, rescuing the injured miners and getting back to their own pod in time to be collected by their command ship.

Each scene was really fun to play out, the action was driven by the player’s decisions and the characters abilities.
Cool examples, but how did SWADE Dramatic Tasks make these different from something the GM just came up with?
 

dbm

Savage!
Cool examples, but how did SWADE Dramatic Tasks make these different from something the GM just came up with?
Dramatic Tasks have some qualities which are really cool in my opinion.

They are inherently fail-forward. The group needs to collect a number of successes by the end of the task (with each success or Raise counting) and so if the early rounds go poorly that doesn’t mean the party have failed at whatever they were trying in those early stages, it just means they need to pick up the slack later on.

They encourage all the party to be involved, so for example in the infiltration scene when the PCs were trying to cross the base one party member used stealth to find the best route, but another used persuasion to talk their way past a guard they bumped into and the third (who was an engineer) used his knowledge of how docks are usually set up to help find their target location.

There is, of course, a desire to use your best skills all the time as a player. The rules discourage this - the GM can veto or penalise repetition. More mechanically, though, the target is quite high - typically two successes per character per round for a tough but achievable dramatic task. This is because you can assume that the PCs will achieve a Raise on average (i.e. two successes per roll) each round. The balance works well in my experience.

The system meshes well with the other parts. It uses the same initiative mechanism (with a twist I will come to) and that means edges which influence initiative or trigger off Jokers all work as expected. Your character’s abilities have the beneficial impact you would expect.

The twist is complications - if you draw a club card for initiative then your action that turn is at -2 and if you fail, the whole task fails. This creates risk and drama in any task as nothing is ever assured. It also adds a degree of tactical choice - the player could avoid working on the task that round and so avoid the issue indirectly but put the rest of the team under pressure.

Put this all together and you have a situation where the GM sets the starting parameters but the players’ choices drive how things move forwards narratively, based on the approaches that they take. Add in the mechanical aspects and overall it is a great way of putting a mechanical skeleton into any non-combat scene you want (unless there is one of the other non-combat tools you would rather use).
 
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I have to wait for my books to arrive :( However, I am eagerly looking forward to them, and to making a fantasy campaign that has far less fighting and more exploration, mystery, and other fun adventure stuff.
 


Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I've started playing it and highly recommend it. It's pretty easy to learn and, according to the GM, it's easy to adjust encounters on the fly.
There isn't really a solid "CR" system, so as GM you are playing by feel anyway. If your players get in more trouble than expected, just give them bennies or have your bad guys burn bennies on unimportant stuff so they can soak damage.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
There isn't really a solid "CR" system, so as GM you are playing by feel anyway. If your players get in more trouble than expected, just give them bennies or have your bad guys burn bennies on unimportant stuff so they can soak damage.
Yeah, the bennies are really important. We had our first really major combat and, as one player put it, they were what kept the game from having CoC-levels of lethalness.

(Which is funny, because in our CoC game, we have so little combat that there has been only one death, and that was because I really didn't like the character and wanted to switch to another one, so I asked the Keeper to kill her off.)
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Yeah, the bennies are really important. We had our first really major combat and, as one player put it, they were what kept the game from having CoC-levels of lethalness.

(Which is funny, because in our CoC game, we have so little combat that there has been only one death, and that was because I really didn't like the character and wanted to switch to another one, so I asked the Keeper to kill her off.)
Bennies are essentially hit points in SWADE. They have other uses, yes, but if you burn them all before the big fight, chances are you're done for.
 

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