[Codename: Sardonyx] Teaser the Second

Open Development, Scion, Trinity Continuum

Greetings, true believers!

Last week, we showed you how one builds a dice pool in Sardonyx and how one generates and stores Momentum. This week’s update is courtesy of Lauren Roy and Danielle Harper: Attributes and Skills, the nuts and bolts of those dice pools. Again, go easy on us – it’s feature complete, but still pretty beta. We’ve run a few tests with stuff like Momentum expenditures, but it hasn’t met with serious playtesting yet. Soon.

A lot of you liked Momentum from last week, and a few were on the fence about it. Momentum rewards punctuation in performance, simulates rising tension, and requires skilled players to bide their time. As Malcolm is fond of saying, it’s a mechanical version of the gambler’s fallacy: certain results have to eventually stop happening, because they happened before. It’s less about failing forward (although Consolation is a form of that) and more about failing sideways. Momentum makes the fallacy true – your ship will come in – but how big the ship is depends on the risks you’re willing to take and how often you’re willing to fail. Gamble unwisely, and you might lose it all.

Such a mechanic might seem at odds with the diegetic focus of the game and the legacy systems, but we felt it important to create the atmosphere and style of play. Styles of play are deeply important to the system, as you’ll see up front in the teaser document: the three modes of play for Sardonyx we created during the alpha slice. I’ve trimmed out the specific subsystems for our little teaser, but you’ll see everything eventually.

One of the things that never sat precisely well with me in previous systems was dice pools and Attributes and Abilities never precisely lined up. At one point during the Sardonyx drafts, we had total dice pool as an indicator of professional capability, but over time it largely defaulted to the more conservative legacy model. Still, we tried to innovate a bit on the classics, which might take a little getting used to. Dice pools are generally more free-form than you might be used to, and abilities a bit more fluid. It helps if you think of Attributes and Arenas as how you’re trying to use the Skills – through Physical Force, or Mental Control.

Some of the Skills have Skill Tricks, something you might remember from a little nWoD book called Mirrors. For my money, Mirrors was the best system book for nWoD, and you’ll see a lot of that book’s DNA in Sardonyx proper. Skill Tricks are meant to be extensions of a Skill, a perk for the expert. If the Tricks here don’t whet your appetite, pull Mirrors off the shelf and check those out.

Most of the Skills referencing a social grouping also reference something called a Path, a system topic which we’ll detail more fully later. One of my mainline directives going into Sardonyx was to create hooks into specific settings (namely, the Trinity Continuum of Trinity and the World of Scion), even if the system itself was setting-agnostic. It was very important to the team to allow you to create characters who didn’t exist in a vacuum, but lived, breathed, and interacted with the setting even before you created them*. Even a character without explicit Contacts will know people in the gun trade if they’ve got a high Aim – you don’t hit up that many gun shops and firing ranges without seeing a few familiar faces. Dramatic Editing even allows you to define and redefine a bit of that past you might not have set in stone during character creation.

Ian’s got a little bit of Trinity to show you later this week, and I’ll be back next week to detail out those three areas of play a bit more.

Music: Evil Friends (Jake One Remix Feat. Danny Brown) by Portugal. The Man.

* except for a certain type of Scion…but that’s another blog post.

  51 comments for “[Codename: Sardonyx] Teaser the Second

  1. Tiresias
    June 10, 2015 at 12:20 am

    First impression:

    – I absolutely love how physical, mental and social areas are broadly define, but encompass very clear challenges. That makes it really easy to understand what the different areas are and what the related attributes do.

    – I’m surprised that Attributes cap at 7 instead of 5.

    – I like the concept of Practical and Potential Maximum, but I don’t understand how it works if rolls never get dice bonuses. Or is it that they’re not technically bonus dice, since they fall under the attribute?

    – I really like that dice pools top off at 10. That makes it a lot easier for characters with natural talents and characters who have undergone great training to compete on even terms. There’s far less pressure to max out both attributes and skills. It’s the kind of thing that makes it easier to create unique characters, which is always one of my priorities for tabletop RPG design.

    – I’d rather have the attributes grouped by Arena rather than Function.

    – Specialties seem very neat. Again, it’s not just about squeezing as many dice out of the rules as possible. I like that.

    – Again, skills provide lots of opportunities to create unique characters.

    – The list of actions is very rich and shows off how versatile the basic system is. Excellent work.

  2. Neall Raemonn Price
    June 10, 2015 at 12:35 am

    “– I like the concept of Practical and Potential Maximum, but I don’t understand how it works if rolls never get dice bonuses. Or is it that they’re not technically bonus dice, since they fall under the attribute?”

    They fall under the Attribute. Technically, dice pools cap out at 12.

    “– I’d rather have the attributes grouped by Arena rather than Function.”

    You’re not the only person who’s expressed that sentiment. That’s why we do open development!

    • Cardul
      June 10, 2015 at 3:54 am

      Well, from when ran sme NWoD games, I would let people choose their priority as either Physical, Mental, and Social, or the Power, Finesse, Resistance grouping. I found that that lead to just as balanced characters, because they chose their weaknesses differently. Instead of being the physical brute who could get people to like him, but was dumb as a box of rocks, you could have a character who was: Strong, Smart, and a commanding Presence, but who was also easy to set off, easy to make question himself, and pretty having no endurance or staying power. I hope that will actually be considered as a rule, as in my experience, it allowed greater flexibility in chargen, without unbalancing the characters.

      • Neall
        June 10, 2015 at 9:40 am

        Way ahead of you on that one, boss.

  3. Will
    June 10, 2015 at 4:50 am

    I really like it, except that I find the name “Liberal Arts” to be a very clunky skill name as opposed to, say “Academics” or even “Humanities”

    • Chazz
      June 10, 2015 at 7:00 am

      I agree that Liberal Arts is a weird skill name here. Academics is also covered by Science and Culture. Humanities is ok, but also not quite right.

      • Neall
        June 10, 2015 at 9:39 am

        Duly noted!

  4. Proteus
    June 10, 2015 at 6:02 am

    Of course we don’t know how “Mega-” or “Legendary” attributes will be modelled in Sardonyx yet, but I’m worried about the fact that abilities are not located under an Attribute.

    I’m concerned that a nova with “Mega-Discipline” (i.e. any special rule that gives them more successes on rolls with Discipline) will be transcendently good at the following, regardless of their actual Ability scores:

    Moving Quietly
    Shooting on the Run
    Detailed Analysis
    Body Sense (know how far you can push your body without stress or injury)
    Resist Emotional Sway
    Pick Pockets
    Stunt Driving
    Understanding (translate scientific concepts into communicable terms)
    Poison Resistance

    That’s a weird list to build a character around. Like, I could be a super-competent marksman as long as I’m running, yet incompetent if I’m not running.

    • Alan H
      June 10, 2015 at 9:17 am

      It’s a bit early to worry too much about that, but I do agree. I would expect that this would already have been realized and planned for, but only time will tell.

      Plus, Open Development helps find weird little things like this that could otherwise be missed, so again, props for deciding to go that route with the system!

    • Neall
      June 10, 2015 at 9:39 am

      I dunno, all of those things seem like they’re related to having an absolute mastery and control of self with a superhuman focus. Which is my point – if you’re manipulating your quantum superstructure to be regimented and orderly, you’re going to be way better at things that require order, focus, and mental precision.

      I’ll also note that Skills weren’t located under explicit Attributes in any game but Adventure! – while I’ll grant you didn’t see many Strength + Linguistics rolls, we’ve cranked the freeform dial up.

      • Proteus
        June 10, 2015 at 11:01 am

        (reposted because I accidentally posted it in completely the wrong place in the discussion)

        Point of order: Abilities were grouped under Attributes in both Trinity and Aberrant.
        Second, I’m not arguing that the link to Discipline is unclear on those rolls. (Although some are weird, I don’t know why you pick pockets or resist poison with mental fortitude?)

        The crucial issue is the narrative disconnect if I have a nova PC who can out-shoot Scalper Dutch the cowboy when the PC is running fast, but can’t hit a tin can at ten feet when stood still.

    • Karpomatic
      June 10, 2015 at 10:47 am

      If I remember correctly, either Ian or Neall have already stated that Mega attributes are not present in the new system.

      • Dataweaver
        June 10, 2015 at 7:55 pm

        Not as such, no; but these rules have mentioned Scale (a not-yet-revealed mechanic) as something that lets, say, Might toss cars around. So no “Mega-Attributes”; but there might still be “high-Scale” Attributes, with your Tier (rather than your dots in the Attribute) limiting how high Scale can go.

  5. samcwic
    June 10, 2015 at 6:03 am

    I’m assuming that the Obscure Knowledge roll as “Might + Liberal Arts” is a typo.

    Intriguingly, “God/Terat” is the label for the uppermost tier. I speculate that “terat” is now a generic term for any nova who sheds his remaining humanity.

    • Neall
      June 10, 2015 at 9:30 am

      I mostly needed a term for novas at the height of the power and monstrosity…and “terat” fits the bill from a classical perspective.

      …what? It’s a setting term? Huh.

      • Ian A. A. Watson
        June 10, 2015 at 1:14 pm

        Yeah, a Terat is a member of the Teragen.

        This preview is not intended to imply that joining the Teragen automatically gives you phenomenal cosmic power. 😉

        • samcwic
          June 10, 2015 at 8:21 pm

          Actually, you first gain cosmic power, and then the Teragen join YOU.

        • Chris Shaffer
          June 10, 2015 at 9:20 pm

          I was sort of wondering about that, myself. Interesting coincidence.

  6. Michael Stein
    June 10, 2015 at 8:06 am

    Looks good. The attributes roll of the tongue nicely. Performance might be a little more intuitive if it were classed as more general ‘Arts’. Seconding ‘Humanities’ too.

    • Neall
      June 10, 2015 at 9:29 am

      Duly noted! One of the big benefits to open development is being able to tweak language like this.

  7. CHILL
    June 10, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Quick question – I noticed on Attributes Tier Table I noticed that Psion and Proxy while on two different rows had the same 5/6 values. Is that correct?

    • Neall
      June 10, 2015 at 9:28 am

      Yes. Those are Tier distinctions that differ in other areas, but just happen to have the same levels right there.

  8. CHILL
    June 10, 2015 at 9:46 am

    Figured that was the case, understood – thx for the quick reply Neall 🙂

  9. Detective Rick
    June 10, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Instead of Liberal Arts, maybe change it to “Social Sciences” (History, Psychology, Philosophy, Anthropology, Sociology…) and switch Science to “Natural Sciences” (Biology, Chemistry, Geology, Astronomy…)?

    • Neall
      June 10, 2015 at 2:48 pm

      That’s a good fix! I like it.

    • Dataweaver
      June 10, 2015 at 7:59 pm

      Would you put “Formal Sciences” (Mathematics, Logic, Information Science, etc.) under “Natural Sciences”, or would you make it its own thing?

    • samcwic
      June 10, 2015 at 8:20 pm

      Except disciplines like history and philosophy aren’t sciences. I like “humanities” better for the skill name.

  10. Gilbo
    June 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    I’m wary of the autosucceed Skill Tricks. Things related to combat, movement or environment sure, those can work with autosucceed, but always seeing through lies or traps etc. then not having a Skill Trick that does the reverse of always beating attempts to see through lies or traps can unbalance attempts to present antagonists who are master liars or deceivers or doom trap fortresses.

    Now maybe this is covered in rules related to Contested actions I’ve missed, if so, disregard this, but if Contested actions just involve setting Difficulties, autosucceed Skill Tricks or mechanics should be very careful in how they play out.

  11. CHILL
    June 10, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Something I noticed that doesn’t feel right:

    “If the Specialty applies to a task, it awards a free Enhancement success to the action’s dice pool. This Enhancement applies even if the normal dice roll fails to net any successes.”

    The last part breaks the convention set out in the first teaser – and feels a little clunky.

    Why not simply stick to the convention of Enhancement successes only applying if there’s a success, its certainly easier to remember….

    • Charlie
      June 10, 2015 at 5:53 pm

      Maybe have Specialties lower the Difficulty instead? I suppose that does mean you could end up with a Difficulty of -1, though I’d have no problem with figuring Failure Is Not An Option in that circumstance (or I suppose if you wanted to keep the chance regardless, making a Botch into a Fail).

      • CHILL
        June 10, 2015 at 6:16 pm

        Hrm, possibly. Yeah. However I suspect messing with the difficulties too much may cause other issues.

        I’d probably house rule around this as its easy enough to apply a uniform method for Enhancements i.e. “only if you succeed”.

      • Dataweaver
        June 10, 2015 at 8:07 pm

        Let’s see: adding an Enhancement negates one level of Difficulty and gives you an extra level of Effect if you’ve already negated all of the Difficulty; but it only applies if you get at least one success. Conversely, lowering the Difficulty [i]always[/i] negates a level of Difficulty, even if you don’t roll any successes; but it doesn’t give you any extra Effect. Then again, if you don’t roll any successes, lowering the Difficulty isn’t going to help matters any. So no; that’s an inherently inferior option.

    • Wolfgar
      June 10, 2015 at 8:04 pm

      I favor as few exceptions as possible. The game will run more smoothly that way.

    • Rio
      June 11, 2015 at 12:32 am

      If its not just a typo, will need more info because it sounds like enhancements are not always just free successes. maybe something like you might not be able to beat the difficulty but you can by of the extra complications or trigger something.
      Fail to bypass the lock but don’t trigger the alarm. Fail to hit with the energy blast but trigger a blinding effect.
      Or simply you can now reliably do difficulty 0 and 1 actions. Potentially a lot of fun depending on how the rest of the pieces fit. I’m sure the auto success mistakes of the past will not be duplicated.

  12. Wolfgar
    June 10, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    The main thing that concerns me right now is that some of the dice pool combinations seem a wee bit random, and what Attributes are being used for in the current examples don’t appear consistent or intuitive.

    Specific weird ones:
    Covering Fire (Vitality + Aim) What does your health and stamina have to do with it?

    Focused Shot (Poise + Aim) It’s not inappropriate, but why Poise and not Discipline?

    Shooting on the Run (Discipline + Aim) If this works as a substitute for a “normal” attack roll, than you would have people with high Discipline and low Finesse being better shots when running, which seems weird. Conversely, if it’s an extra roll to make, that could slow things down.

    As an aside, I would maybe make Bow require a specialty to use. Guns are mostly point and click, and anyone can try to huck something, but I’m not sure I could even fire a bow if I just picked one up.

    Subduing (Grace + Animal Ken) I might suggest using Poise for this instead, honestly. Animals and pre-verbal children react best to people who stay calm and confident.

    Jumping (Finesse + Athletics) It might be worth stating that trying to jump accurately is Finesse, while trying to just jump far might be a function of Might.

    Throws (Finesse + Brawl) Throwing a man does take some oomph now. Redirecting might be a simple matter of Finesse, and maybe not getting thrown yourself, but I expect to be able to chuck someone with enough Might.

    Blocking (Cunning + Brawl) I only bring this up because currently it is inconsistent with a similar roll for Weaponry.

    Resistance (Discipline + Integrity) Why is this not Poise, if Poise is specifically about how you react to emotion?

    Getting the difference between Discipline and Poise clear and hammered home needs to be a goal at some point of the process.

    Likewise, It would be good to be clear if Integrity or Larceny are what is used for telling lies. The Lie Your Ass Off skill in any game is one of the more frequently rolled across the board, so I’d like that to be clear.

    I favor “Social Sciences” to “Liberal Arts”.

    Obscure Knowledge (Might + Liberal Arts) What. Just, man, what. I don’t think I could ask a player to roll that with a straight face. That is going to need some explainifying right there.

    How is First Aid different from Emergency Care? First aid tends to be the first thing for an emergency.

    Healing Wounds (Finesse + Medicine) I could see Finesse + Medicine for surgery, but the roll and the description leaves me thinking of someone healing a patient with ninja hand gestures.

    “Performance” should probably be renamed “Arts”, because that more intuitively covers non-performing arts which seem to be part of the skill’s umbrella.

    Applied Sciences (Finesse + Science)
    “…quickly designing basic software code…” Hacking really is just typing fast, kids! I get this is more for Macguyverry stuff, though, so it’s fine, but I might drop that line.

    Poison Resistance (Discipline + Survival) This one is just kinda weird. I think it’s been mentioned up thread already.

    Armed Defense (Vitality + Weaponry) I bring this up because it doesn’t work like Brawl, and we should see more parallels between Attributes. I can see either set working, but I need to know why one gets picked over a different one.

    Strategic Strike (Grace + Weaponry) Seems to me the description more fits maybe Cunning. A Grace maneuver seems more like a feint if you ask me, luring your opponent into thinking you are going to strike and faking them out.

    • Greem
      June 12, 2015 at 1:12 am

      Actually, given that a feint is all about tricking your opponent into going into your weapon instead of away from it, I’d probably put feinting under Cunning over Grace.

      • Wolfgar
        June 12, 2015 at 7:01 am

        Cunning doesn’t seem to have anything to do with trickery as described though; it’s more about recognizing opportunities and dangers, and reacting quickly.

  13. Austin Loomis
    June 10, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Ian’s got a little bit of Trinity to show you later this week

    Is it later this week yet?

    How about now?

    How about now?

    • richt
      June 10, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      Ian? I swear I will turn this car around…

    • Ian A. A. Watson
      June 11, 2015 at 1:37 pm

      Oh, right, that’s a thing I’m supposed to be doing.

  14. Dataweaver
    June 10, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    An idea to consider, especially for the Trinity Continuum and its wide variety of settings: Fields.

    The concept of “fields” that I’m thinking of is a bit like the Required Specialties; but (taking Aim as an example) pistols, longarms, and bows would all be Fields (as opposed to Specialties), and players would get to choose one Field for free when they first pick up the Skill. Basically, take the idea that was ingrained into certain Storyteller Abilities such as Crafts, Academics, and Science, and generalize it to as many Skills as possible.

    But also customize it: In Adventure, Aim’s Fields might include bows, pistols, and rifles; in Æon, Aim’s Fields probably wouldn’t include bows, but might include some weapon systems at hadn’t even been conceived of in the Adventure era. Listing what Fields exist in any given era helps define the era.

  15. Dataweaver
    June 10, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    Could we rephrase “tell a lie” with “convey honesty”, or something to that effect? The idea of using Integrity to lie feels blatantly counter-intuitive; but the notion of convincing someone that you’re telling the truth very much feels like an Integrity thing — and doesn’t necessarily mean that you are telling the truth; though if you are telling the truth, that should grant you an Enhancement or something. (Note: this would come in handy whenever someone has reason to doubt you, which can happen even when you’re not trying to deceive them.)

    Basically, I would consider this to be part of Sardonyx’s less cynical tone compared to Storyteller/ing: the latter features Manipulation and deception; the former features Grace, Integrity, and persuading people to trust you.

    • Neall
      June 11, 2015 at 11:42 am

      Excellent suggestion!

  16. Eggs Maledict
    June 10, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Quite a few of the suggested skill+attribute combinations seem odd to me, as others have mentioned above, but I’m happy to just alter that at the table – different people/groups will see these differently. Also obviously different versions of these action will see different pools used.

    I really don’t like the idea of the ‘Liberal Arts’ skill being ‘Social Sciences’, because it’s straight-up inaccurate for the many of the areas it covers. Philosophy, art and law, for example, can’t be called sciences by any stretch, and I’m generally averse to calling things ‘sciences’ just because they deal with the empirical realm.

  17. Dataweaver
    June 11, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    “Cunning” has been bugging me for a while; but I wasn’t able to put my finger on why until recently. Basically, Cunning is defined as Mental Control, which means that it has to do with being able to pick out significant details and to make snap decisions. But that’s not what Cunning is about, according to the dictionary: there, it’s about the “skill of achieving one’s ends through deceit”.

    Really, Wits is a near-perfect name for Mental Control. But if you don’t want to reuse any of the Storyteller/ing Attribute names, I’d rather you use something like Intuition or Awareness instead.

    • Dataweaver
      June 11, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      Or Acumen.

      • Charlie
        June 11, 2015 at 11:28 pm


  18. Bill
    June 15, 2015 at 10:00 am

    With such drastic changes to the system, is there going to be a conversion so players who have been playing and building since Hero’s release won’t lose years of time and dedication to the game? Sorry if this sounds catty or aggressive but 20+ years doing White Wolf in general and seeing some crazy changes is slightly jarring. Lol.

    • richt
      June 15, 2015 at 11:00 am

      What changes are you finding crazy?

  19. Nick
    June 15, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    Let me just opine that I dislike the name ‘Sardonyx’ – while I get the wordplay, ‘sardonic’ means scornfully or cynically mocking.

    But who are you mocking? The player? The rest of the gaming world? The pun is not enough. It certainly doesn’t sell me on the idea that you’re breaking new ground with a system that I would want to play.

    • richt
      June 15, 2015 at 11:34 pm

      Thanks! The intention of the name wasn’t ever to talk about the system as new ground, but your overall point is taken. And since we felt some concern in those areas as well, “Sardonyx” remains in quotes.

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