Posted by higgins

Most games have some kind of mechanic that allows for customizing characters beyond their core characteristics. You’ll have a great big list of different quirks to choose from, and the vast majority of them will either have a mechanical benefit to your character’s rolls, or impact the rolls in a negative way. Song of Steel calls these kind of traits Edges & Flaws.

In our original write-up, we had Flaws impose mechanical penalties just like any other game, but such solution turned out to be problematic during testing. First off, just dishing out one type of penalty for every ailment felt wrong, so, we had different ailments impose different penalties depending on their severity, but that made the effects hard to remember. Secondly, the dice pool penalties were pretty easy to overcome with the Story Aspect bonus dice. On top of that, combining those two issues made up a really awkward mechanic — first you needed to subtract some dice, then you needed to add some. So, our solution was to do away with the mechanical modifiers completely. Now Flaws are simply “the art of making the characters soil themselves”.

Let’s take a sample Flaw.

Phobia (Major or Minor)

Your character has a powerful fear and aversion to some common thing and has trouble functioning in its presence.

Pick something simple and relatively common (spiders, snakes, open water, heights) for your character’s phobia. They may attempt to justify it any way they please, but the object of their fear unmans them.

The minor version of this flaw indicates a general discomfort and unease in the presence of the phobia, while the major version represents a fear that borders on blind, crippling terror.

The minor version means that when your character acts in a way that the irrational fear incurs a personal or financial cost, the player will receive an Story Aspect point that can be freely distributed.

The major version means that in addition to the minor effect, the Narrator may suggest that in exchange for an Story Aspect point, your character would act in a certain fearful manner. If you do so, you can allocate the point as you wish. However, if you want to refuse such a temptation without your character’s Story Aspect supporting a compromise, you must burn an SA point to do so. Burning a point in such manner still counts towards Karma.

So, let’s explore one of our playtesting scenes to show you how Flaws work in Song of Steel.


image by decade_null

The player characters have been captured and put into a damp dungeon cell. It’s dark in there and they are monitored by a single guard. One of the PCs, Drake, forms a brilliant plan — he’s going to pick a fight with a fellow prisoner, Ray, in an attempt to get the guard’s attention. He’s hoping for the guard to come closer, as such a situation might create a window for an escape. The plan has two major pitfalls:

  1. Drake chooses not to share it with anyone
  2. Ray has (minor) Claustrophobia

So, Drake starts browbeating his mark. He blames Ray for everything from not spotting the ambush, to being a pussy in a fight. Ray thinks Drake is being unfair and tries to calm his companion down. Everyone else is just watching the conflict dumbfounded, trying to figure out what’s going on.

Drake isn’t getting the fight he is looking for, so, he decides to get physical. He drags Ray up and slams him against the bars, not really to hurt him, but hard enough to make it look real.

At this point, I interfere:

“Okay, Drake has pushed Ray into the grates face first. But Ray has claustrophobia, right?”

“Right,” says Ray’s player.

“So, this is a pretty scary situation here. Drake is a mean guy. You’ve seen how ruthless he is and he’s a former raider, too. Having been slammed against the bars, the cell seems much tighter and more confining now. So… I’ll award you an Story Aspect point if Ray collapses on the floor, starts sobbing uncontrollably and soils himself.”

The player is taken aback at first, but then tilts his head and stares off into the distance. He’s clearly tempted.

“But which Story Aspect?” he says.

“Any one you choose.”

The player glances at his sheet, then smiles. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

Drake feels Ray go limp in his hands and sees him gliding down the grate. Ray sobs something about things not being his fault and a dark, warm stain appears on the cement floor. Drake wrinkles his nose and walks away in disgust.

* * *

There are probably several ways this scene could have gone down, but frankly, I’d have never thought that I’d see a player willingly soil his character. Sure, the claustrophobia was “minor” and the player could have easily refused the offer with no ill effects, but the temptation of an Story Aspect point will always be there. Now, if it had been a “major” flaw, such refusal would have cost him an Story Aspect point, instead of gaining one.

With this setup, it is not only possible to play imperfect characters but it is actually encouraged. Rather than having Flaws represent mechanical penalties to be ignored or avoided whenever possible, they now create opportunities for characterization and role play that benefit both the player and the story itself. Once temptation enters the equation, the focus of Flaws shifts from “What’s going to bother me the least?” to “What can I play with the most?” and we think that is a fantastic step in the right direction.

This is how Flaws work in Song of Steel.