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Suldokar's Wake - the good stuff

·1986 words·10 mins

In this post I talk about some of the things that I like about Suldokar’s Wake. I go into more details on a few aspects of the game and into why I like the way it works.

Difficulty #

Suldokar’s Wake uses inverted rolls for most of its task resolution, which is a great way to include both the concept of a Difficulty Number (what other systems often call a Difficulty Class) and a way to include the impact of attributes (called stacks) without resorting to modifiers. The DN represents how hard the task is in itself, and your stack represent how good you are at it.

You don’t have to look-up what the modifier for your attribute is, the whole attribute is used. And your attribute doesn’t affect the Difficulty Number, those two things are separate. The DN is determined by what you’re trying to do, and your stacks represents innate ability, background, aptitude and augmentations that help you resolve the task. It’s a great idea! Aside from simplifying the math a little, the inverted roll also adds a level of success: if you roll within your stack it’s a regular success, but if you beat the DN it’s a special success. With criticals and fumbles that makes 5 types of results with a single roll instead of the usual four1.

Inverted roll results
Inverted roll with a stack of 6 and a DN of 15

You still have some math to do, of course. There can be things that modify the difficulty of the task. Suldokar’s Wake has a default DN of 15, so most of the time you simply ask for a “Bulk roll,” for example, and everything is said. Sometimes the DN is determined in the adventure, or the task is harder or easier and the DN is shifted up or down. In Suldokar’s Wake this shifting is done in increments of 5. So the base DN scale is 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, etc.

You generally think about the DN twice: the first time for the general difficulty of the task, and a second time for the specific circumstances that may modify it. The first is made on the base DN scale, the second can adjust it by a few digits. For example, climbing could be a regular DN of 15, but if you have a guide it can be 13, or if it’s raining it can be 17 instead.

Shifting #

The base DN scale is also used in other ways in the rules by what’s called shifting, which is simply to move up or down the DN scale. Shifting one step changes the DN by 5, two steps by 10, etc. Some examples of rules that make use of shifting:

  • helping: if someone helps you in a task, she describes what she does to help and resolves it like any other action. If she is successful, it will generally, depending on circumstances, shift the DN of your task one step down.
  • combat conditions: as for other action rolls, combat uses the default DN of 15 (and either Close or Ranged stacks). Some conditions will shift this up or down. For example shooting at long range is one shift up while if the target is busy or confused the DN is shifted down once, etc.
  • scale: I discuss scale in the next section, but generally the effect of scale is to shift the DN by 2 steps.
  • apt: one of the apt’s abilities is to use one of her spaced item to treat one of her stacks as if it was on an adjacent higher scale (see below).

Scale #

One thing that is often not really well taken into account in RPGs, especially sci-fi RPGs where it’s often more relevant than in fantasy RPGs, is the difference between things of different scale, for example the difference between being fired upon by a handgun or by a ship’s guns.

Suldokar’s Wake has a great way to address this issue. It uses scale which is a progressive scaling of sizes relative to a human (blood) reference. As a general rule, you can only hope to affect something on an adjacent scale. You may want to affect a shuttle, but you’re just too small. But if you get into an exo, now you may have a chance to affect it.

Category Typical Size
-II Bug, fly
-I Drone, bat
Z Droid, blood, walker
I Exo, large walker, small crawler
II Shuttle, large crawler, colossus, gargaunt
IV Planet

Scale doesn’t have to be applied to a whole creature, it can be applied to a specific stack. A huge but dumb creature will have its Bulk scaled but not its Archive for example. Another example is Superior Artificial Intelligence (SAI) have scaled Archive ranging form I-III but may have sub-scale (i.e., negative scale) Morph. Damage can also be scaled.

By default, scale affects the difficulty number by shifting it 2 steps. That means that it’s harder to affect something bigger, and easier to affect something smaller. For scaled damage, the end roll is shifted two steps, but only if the end roll is made directly as a result of the scaled damage, i.e., in the same round, not postponed.

Apt types can, once a day, use a spaced item to treat a stack as if it was on an adjacent higher scale. For example imagine that an apt character has a kingun in one of her spaces. She’s trying to make a double range shot which would normally bring the DN to 25, but she uses her ability to treat Ranged as scale I. Since this is on a higher scale, the difficulty is shifted down twice, bringing it to 15.

Harm #

There are no hit points in Suldokar’s Wake, instead you accumulate “harm.” There are two kinds of harm, one for physical damage and one for nanite “stress,” but let’s only talk about physical harm for now.

The way this works is that when your accumulated harm is greater than your Bulk, you normally make an End Roll, unless the opponent who just harmed you decides to suspend it. You read that right, the opponent can decide to wait until you’ve accumulated more harm. That is because your current level of harm serves as the DN in the End Roll, which is a clean roll. That means that if you roll with a lower accumulated harm, it is easier to succeed. If you succeed at the End Roll then all your harm is removed.

So if you have a low Bulk, you’ll have to make an End Roll more quickly (unless it’s suspended), but it’s easier to pass, and if you pass then your accumulated harm resets to zero.

Harm can only be accumulated up to 20 (anything above that is disregarded), and the End Roll is then forced. It’s normally impossible to make an End Roll with harm at 20, because you need to roll greater than 20 on a d20, but you might spend a Gunta Coin to turn the clean roll into a Bulk roll, giving you a fighting chance of succeeding.

Harm works the same way for major enemies, but regular enemies just become ’ended’ when their harm is higher than their bulk (usually dead).

Player’s skill #

Suldokar’s Wake places importance on player’s skill. That would seem to be obvious, but not all games are explicit about it. When searching for something, what you say your character is doing is the most important part. If you search in the right place, you’ll find what’s there without needing to make a roll. If you’re looking for traps, you have to explain what your character is doing exactly to spot a trap.

Of course that doesn’t mean that a player has to be as good at something as her character is, or that a player who is good at something can’t role-play a character who isn’t. What it means is that players need to describe what they’re trying to do and that affects the resolution. It means that you don’t simply enter a room and roll perception. But on the other hand, if a player isn’t good at puzzles and her character is, the AI can let her roll Archive to get a clue.

OSR without the “R” #

I appreciate the OSR movement. It’s a reaction against some aspects of what 5e has become2. As someone who has been playing for 40+ years, I’m happy that people are willing to try other ways to play the game. But while most of the trend is good, there is also some bagage that sometimes come with the “renaissance” movement that I don’t like. For example it’s apparently an abomination to have a system where there are more than one mechanic. It seems that people are confused if not everything is resolved with the same dice or if, haven forbid, sometimes you have to roll high and at other times you have to roll low. How awful! People also complain when the GM has to stop play and open a book to check something. As if this would make people loose focus or something. 3

It’s perfectly ok to stop the game and check the rules, and it’s perfectly ok to have different paces for different aspects of the game. If your players are confused by more than one dice roll resolution mechanism, I say this might be a good opportunity for them to grow.

And having a detailed setting is a good thing, it’s not “restrictive” in any way, just like the rules in a RPG aren’t restrictive. If there are things you don’t like, just change them.

Suldokar’s Wake is “old school” but has this design philosophy that makes it so that sometimes you have to change pace, for example when you’re hacking a system, it goes into more details. That is a good thing. This is an event that warrant taking some more time. A subsystem is not a dirty word!

I very much like the design principles, or the mindset for which the game is written. It’s clearly explained in the first pages of the omnibus:

  • quirky vs streamlines: Suldokar’s Wake is quirky rather than streamlined.
  • slow vs fast: Suldokar’s Wake aims for varied game pace.
  • reading vs improvisation: it’s expected to sometime read directly from the adventure text.
  • as written vs modified: when there is procedurally generated content, roll instead of picking a result.
  • fated vs causal: there are events that occur in the game world that are tangential to what the characters do, tied to them by fate rather than by causality.

All of these are great, and it’s refreshing to see that in a “modern” game.

No weapon proficiencies #

There is no such thing in Suldokar’s Wake

Armor affects damage #

Armor does not reduce chances to hit, only affect damage. There are simple and complex rules, etc.

No experience points #

Shadow encounters and graphs give a flexible character path, and no math for the AI. Characters are capable to start with, but to go against tougher opponents they need to improve.

Conclusion #

All in all this is a very different system. It takes a while to learn the terminology and wrap your head around the system, because it’s very different than other games, but it’s well worth it and, once you ‘get’ it, it’s not a complex system (to play or to run).

Give it a try!

  1. in typical systems there are four: success, failure, critical, and fumble. ↩︎

  2. I’m not saying that 5e is bad, it’s a great game! But it doesn’t have to be the only way to play, and there are other systems that are better suited for other types of games, or other genre. ↩︎

  3. Don’t tell me you never stop for food or bio breaks. And for checking your phone even. This is playing a game and checking the rules book once in a while isn’t a sin. ↩︎