#RPG – Dishonoured RPG Review

As a supplement to my video review of the game, here’s a character and some sample play/mechanics.

Jaime Vavala, The Gutter-Blade

Truth: Loyal to my friends.
Truth: Driven by revenge.
Skills: Fight: 6, Move: 6, Study: 4, Survive: 4, Talk: 5, Tinker: 4
Styles: Boldly: 4, Carefully: 4, Cleverly: 4, Forcefully: 4, Quietly: 5, Swiftly: 5
Focus: Fencing: 5, Stealth: 4, Locks: 3, Streetwise: 3
Contacts: Urza the Fence
Talents: Flashing Steel: Second Attack at +1 difficulty if attacking ‘Swiftly’.
Gear: Fine Blade: Damage 4, Block (reroll 1d20 in defence), Melee

The rattly old cart comes to a halt just inside the city gates of Samara and the steel cage is thrown open. Huddled men, little more than skeletons, shuffle off the cart, wrapped in thin blankets. Only one man moves with any bearing or strength, a rail-thin man, looking as though he is made of coiled rope, his face thin and sallow, his eyes hollow and sunken, but full of fire.

Jaime, the gutter-blade, back from his time in the prison camps of Tyvia. One of a handful to survive long enough to be freed, in the proper sense.

Jaime draws the thin blanket around himself tighter and moves through the slushy streets, his feet numb from the ice. Two men peel away from the eel-stand to follow him.

[Contest Roll]
[Gang Member Move 6, Quietly 4]
[17/15 = 0 successes. 5/8 = 2 successes]

[Jaime Study 4, Cleverly 4]
[8/12 = 1 success]

Jaime takes not of the distorted reflection in a bottleglass window, there’s someone following him. As he trudges through the slush he waits for a carriage to pass, and ducks into a side alley to try and shake off the pursuit.

[Contest Roll]
[Jaime – Move 6, Swiftly 5, Stealth 4]
[10/18 = 1 success]

[Gang Member Study 4, Cleverly 4]
[10/19 = 0 successes. 1/9 = 2 successes]

It seems like the two men have been lost as Jaime darts along the alley as fast as he can, picking his way through streets that were once familiar until he finds the sign he’s looking for. Three golden balls dangling outside a basement shop. He shuffles down the steps, opens the door with a little chime and turns the sign to closed.

There is a large, burly man behind the counter with forearm hair as long as your thumb.

“Urza,” croaks out Jaime. “I’ve come for my things.”

Urza turns, surprised. “Jaime? I thought you were dead!”

“I asked you to look after my things. I want them. Now.”

Urza begins to shuffle through the shelves. “It has been a long time Jaime my friend, and I thought you were dead.”

“I paid you enough back then. I want my clothes, my coin and my sword.”

Urza shrugs apologetically and continues to rummage.

The door chimes again, despite the closed sign, and a pair of men enter, scarred and rough looking, the men who followed him.

“Hello Urza,” says one of the men. “Cadenza sends greetings. You’re not going to help this criminal are you?”

“Ah Yev, Miron, of course not, heh…” Urza raises his hands, leaving a battered old scabbard on the top of the table, the worn handle of the sword dully reflecting the lamp light.

“Now then,” says the taller of the two men. “Why don’t you come outside with us, Gutter-blade? Let’s have a nice little chat about what you got up to in prison.”

“If Urza won’t help me, I guess I’ll help myself.”

[It’s important to see if Jaime manages to attack first, he has his back to the gang members so they have the drop on him, increasing the difficulty by +1]
[Gang Members Study 4, Swiftly 5]
[10/18 = 0+1=1 Success, 2/18 = 1+1=2 successes]

[Jaime Fight 6, Swiftly 5, Fencing 5]
[6/9 = 2 successes, enough]

[Now the actual attack]
[15/20 = 0, + Complication]
[Second Attack +1 Difficulty]
[8/11 = 2 successes]

[Gang Member Defence Fight 5, Forcefully 5]
[20/19 = 0 successes + Complication]
[16/11 = 0 successes]

Jaime lashes out with his blade, moving like lightning. The first gang member throws himself back from the sharp edge, just barely getting out of the way, falling back through Urza’s window in a shower of glass and wood.

The second guard is slashed across the throat and falls, gurgling to the floor, dying on the dusty floor.

[+2 Chaos, +2 Momentum]

There’s a third man, waiting outside on watch, and now he draws his own knife and joins the fight, as the first man hauls himself up from the floor and throws himself at Jaime in a bearhug.

[Grapple]
[Fight 5, Forcefully 5, Brawl 4]
[1/20 = 2 Successes, Complication]

[Knife Attack]
[Fight 5, Swiftly 5]
[7/5 = 2 successes]

[Defence]
[Fight 6, Swiftly 5, Fencing 5]
[3/6 = 3 successes]
[1/10 = 3 successes]

[Spend two momentum to make a counter attack]

Jaime turns with the man who leaps into him, slashing him from his neck to his navel and opening him up like the world’s least appealing string of sausages, twisting just in time to block the knife in a shower of sparks.

[+2 Chaos, -2 Momentum, +2 Momentum]

Jaime twists, using the opening from the parried knife to do a quick double-slash, back and forth across the man’s belly and thighs.

[Spend momentum for one extra die]
[Fight 6, Swiftly 5, Fencing 5]
[3/8/10 = 4 successes]

[Guard Defence]
[Fight 5, Swiftly 5]
[10/18 = 1 success]

The guard groans from the slashes, blood and entrails spilling rapidly from his opened guts and opened arteries.

[+2 Chaos, +3 Momentum]

Jaime jerks the sword, spraying the blood from it and turns back to Urza.

“You spent my money, didn’t you?”

“I did. How about I clean up this mess and move somewhere warmer and we call it even.”

“Not even, but better.”

Jaime slides his sword into its scabbard and starts stripping the gang members for their boots, clothing and purses. Three members of his gang, that was a good start, but only a start.

Why are RPGs Crap at Modelling Stealth?

It occurred to me, whilst dumping my sixth unconscious guard into a bin whilst playing Dishonoured (I’m British damn you, it includes a ‘u’) that stealth is something that isn’t handled especially well in tabletop games. There’s an issue with the interaction between stealth and perception and simply rolling one against the other doesn’t model the subtlety of it. In many ways it’s a similar problem to the dissatisfaction with having to resort to social mechanics rather than pure RP.

There is a difference though, I think. While some of us find it damn near impossible to play ‘smooth’ or ‘intimidating’ or to come out with a pick-up line for an NPC that has ‘game’, just about everyone can understand the principle of ‘How not to be seen’ (or heard or whatever).

What we need, then, is a way to represent a state of alertness and the fact that, really, it’s only when the sneaking person a) fucks up or b) gets caught unawares themselves that they’re likely to be detected.

Genuine stealth isn’t just ‘being quiet’, it’s staying in the shadows. Using distraction, opportunity, speed, acrobatics and athletics to move unseen.

I think a way to represent this is stealth being the knowledge of how best to go about it and how best to recover from ‘fucking up’. To get away with fucking up.

This would take a bit more preparation and you’d have to start with a guard ‘alertness’ level based on an average or less than average roll. As more incidents happened you would ramp up that alertness level and it would get more and more difficult to get away with screwing up.

Using 3.5/Pathfinder purely as an example (in 4th Ed this would be a skill challenge). Say you had a temple on a cliff, protected by an elite temple guard. A long avenue runs up to the temple with trees every ten yards or so.

How could you approach?

In disguise, climb the cliff, flit from tree to tree, engineer a distraction. Their alertness level would ‘take ten’ so, perhaps DC 15, at night you might drop that to 13 and they wouldn’t expect anyone to climb the cliff so that might be 13 as well.

It would take several rolls to climb the cliff, which would be steep and dangerous, screwing up doesn’t mean you fall (unless you mess up really bad), but for the dramatism of the stealth ‘minigame’ each failure would knock some rocks loose, make a noise, raise the alert level and require you to make a stealth roll against the DC (which would rise with each incident).

Running from tree to tree without being seen? That’s a matter of speed, stealth is really a matter of timing and if you screw up the speed (athletics roll probably) you’ll have to make a stealth roll to ‘get away with it’ and the alertness level will go up.

It makes stealth a bit more involved, adds a little bit more back and forth and, in a way, will make it a bit more like combat.

The other problem we have is that knock-out mechanics also suck. The problem with knock-out mechanics in a lot of games is that if you make the NPCs easy to knock out, that also makes the PCs easy to knock out, and that’s massively disempowering. It also leads to important NPCs being dropped and having their throats slit.

If you’re trying to simulate reality, drugs don’t knock people out that quickly or reliably and knock-out blows are also hard to gauge and its a lot harder to knock people out than it seems in the movies. You can’t expect to render a dame unconcious with a tap to the chin or  to press-gang someone with a single blow of a cosh. At best you’re probably going to stun and concuss them.

In cinematic games you can differentiate between cannon fodder and major baddies in a way that lets you be cinematic while also preserving the ‘hardcore’ nature of the bosses, but that’s not an easy option in every game.

What do you think? Any ideas? Any games that handle stealth really well?