Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 5: Skills and Hooks

The first thing I notice with these rules is that I’m already playing by a lot of them. In my GURPS game, for instance, if you missed getting a critical success by one, it will have a different effect than if someone that made their roll exactly. As a result, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the “degrees of success” concept in the earlier chapters. I was also a bit suspicious of the fickleness of 2d12 as compared to 3d6. Now that I see the rules for extended tests and assisted tests, I believe that these design choices are leveraged to good effect. I don’t recall seeing anything quite like the extended test in GURPS; it looks like a pretty fun mechanic, though. The assisted test rules are maybe similar to the gestalt rules in GURPS Psionic Powers, but here they only take up one paragraph and I feel comfortable running with the Thousand Suns rule even without having played it before. Probably the hardest thing to pick up here rules-wise is the difference between untrained skills, skill-0, and so on. The fact that all of these things are marked on the character sheet plainly is one of the great benefits of having such a concise skill list, so the game design is compensating for some of the crunchy nuance here. The complementary skills rule is another example of solid, intuitive design that leverages the wildness of the 2d12 die rolls and the concept of degrees of success and failure. This is good, fun stuff for the most part.

We’ve gotten hints about how specializations and hooks come into play so far, but the previous information isn’t repeated here. The information on action points on page 79 does not mention the requirement that a hook be in play for them to operate… and that omission has me flipping around trying to make sure I didn’t imagine things. The text actually contradicts how I thought they’d work: it has a player paying a point to raise a roll target by one after he’d already failed by one. I thought you had to choose between +2 to your target before you roll or else just getting a plain vanilla reroll after a failure. Looking back at page 28 where action points were first mentioned… it looks like the “simplest use of an action point is to grant a +1 bonus to the target of any  dice roll.” Letting people do that after the roll is made sure seems to me to undermine the coolness of the hook bonus. Anyway, if that +1 bonus can be applied before or after the roll, that should be clearly stated on page 28. Wait… if the rule is applied that way, I guess the +2 for the hook bonus can also be applied before or after the roll is made? Ah… I think I’m starting to get it…. Action points can be spent on anything, but hooks get an extra edge beyond that.

I do think I like the hook system and agree with the motives behind it. For instance, when I plan a GURPS session, I don’t go through the characters’ allies, enemies, dependents, and contacts and roll to see if they will show up or not. That’s just not how I play. I do get ideas for how to use some of that stuff during sessions based on what the players are doing… and the whole idea of making the game master pay to dredge some of this stuff up… that seems like an intriguing premise for how to handle a whole world of things that just don’t have to be quantified precisely on the character sheets. Back when I read the chapter on the species, I was really looking forward to some sort of explanation of their suggested hooks that were listed there. That is simply not to be found– fleshing that out is explicitly left as an exercise for the reader. I admit, that had me gnashing my teeth a bit. There is a point to the omission, I suppose, but I don’t like it. If there is anywhere in these rules that I wish for more information, it is here. I would actually like some sample dialogue from real game sessions to illustrate the nuances of this chapter… especially the action point economy as a game’s story unfolds.

The Thousand Suns Readalong is taking its usual break for the weekend, so we’ll pick things up again here next Tuesday with Chapter 6’s combat and social interaction rules. See you then!

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2 responses to “Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 5: Skills and Hooks

  1. RogerBW January 12, 2012 at 10:43 am

    There’s a GURPS suggestion I came across a little while ago which I can’t now locate – in a suitably cinematic campaign, a character can deliberately invoke a disadvantage in order to guarantee himself immunity to it for the rest of the session. It’s a sort of Aspect Lite. (And yes, clearly these Hooks are very much the same sort of thing as Aspects – macro packages of undefined advantages and disadvantages based on a single theme.)

    Personally I think that if I were going to have a mechanic like this I’d either go with the full-blown Aspect approach or break it down into the actual advantage/disadvantage package. I don’t mind doing a bunch of work as the GM if it lets me say to the player “OK, you can take ‘On the Run from the Space Pirates’ for -10 points, and that covers a bunch of good and bad stuff that I’ll only tell you the details of if you ask”.

  2. John E. Boyle October 27, 2016 at 1:15 am

    Interesting system. It seems like the designer is really trying to encourage players to throw themselves into the action when the time comes. That “+2 or reroll of ANY test” along with the rule that the margin of success is the multiplier of damage for combat will really appeal to a number of my potential players.

    Also, I like that there is no point to hoarding action points from one session to another; you always start with 5 no matter what. That will push some of my players into throwing action points into play as the session climaxes, so player actions will have more effect, more “oomph”, at the end of the session.

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