Extended Actions: Digging in Deeper

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Someone asked about extended actions and how they were revised. So here we are. 

I actually always liked the extended action rules, but I also think that you should only use them if it’s necessary to know how long something takes or (better yet) the characters are under the gun. I like these revisions because they clean up the exceptional success rules for extended actions, which were always a little hinky.

As always, comment if you love them, email Rich if you don’t. (I’m kidding.)

Extended actions represent efforts to complete complex tasks. There’s a process, a progression, then the task is complete. These rules replace the extended action rules in the World of Darkness Rulebook.

Each roll in an extended action reflects a step in the process. Something changes. Either your character progresses or she faces a setback.

Determine the Dice Pool

As with any action, first determine the dice pool as Attribute + Skill + Equipment. Situational modifiers apply and may change from roll to roll as the story unfolds. The unmodified Attribute + Skill + Specialty (if any) determines the maximum number of dice rolls allowed before the action fails. Players may roll the number of dice in their pool up to the number of dice rolls allowed as they attempt to succeed.

Example: Sammy’s car has broken down out on a lonely road, but Sammy manages to get it to limp to a service station before it dies completely. No one is around, but the place seems to be pretty well maintained. Figuring the local mechanic is just out, Sammy waits … but no one comes. As night begins to fall, Sammy figures he’d better just fix the damn thing himself so he can stay ahead of the things chasing him.

The Storyteller sets the repair roll as Wits + Crafts. Sammy has Wits 2, Crafts 4 and a Specialty in Auto Repair, which applies. Altogether, the player has seven dice in the unmodified pool, so she can roll seven times.

Determine Target Successes and Time

Next, the Storyteller determines the required successes and the time between rolls.

Most actions require between five and twenty successes for completion. Five successes reflects a reasonable action that most competent characters can complete given the right tools and knowledge (replacing the brakes on a car, for example). Ten represents a difficult action, but one realistic for a professional in the field (writing a robust and popular academic thesis). Twenty successes represents a very difficult action that requires a strong showing even for a very skilled character (preparing a violin solo worthy of a world-class performance). With creative endeavors, players may choose their own target successes, to reflect different degrees of effort and accomplishment.

When determining the time between rolls, a Storyteller should rely on common sense and logic. Would something take weeks? Consider one roll per week. Could a person realistically accomplish the task in a day? An hour per roll makes for a solid timeframe.

Characters must be dedicated to the task during this time. Unless there’s a good reason (brain surgery, for example), characters may take breaks or handle other minor tasks in the meantime. With most tasks, it’s possible to step aside and continue progress later. Any rolls requiring a day or more assume the character sleeps normally.

Example: The Storyteller decides that each roll requires a half hour; Sammy’s player needs to accumulate seven successes. Normally this wouldn’t be a big problem given Sammy’s dice pool, but sunset is in two hours and Sammy wants to be gone by then. The player really only has four rolls.

Roll Results

Success

Each successful roll adds to the running total, bringing the task closer to completion. Consider what changes, and what steps the character has made toward the accomplishment. Make each roll palpable.

Example: Sammy’s player makes the first roll and generates one success. That’s better than nothing, but it does make the player a little nervous. The Storyteller describes Sammy digging around under the hood to diagnose the problem and then turning around to the unfamiliar garage, looking for the right parts as the shadows lengthen.

Failed Rolls

When you fail a roll, the Storyteller presents a choice: either take a Condition (of her choice) or abandon the action. The player can offer up a different suggestion as to what the Condition should be or how it should affect the character (see Conditions, p. XX), but the choice after a failed roll in an extended action is always accept the Condition and continue, or refuse the Condition and lose all accumulated successes.

Example: Sammy’s player rolls again and this time fails. The Storyteller suggests that Sammy is Frustrated by this outcome. The player can either agree that Sammy is Frustrated (taking Frustrated as a Condition and working with the Storyteller to quickly determine what this Condition means in game terms), or refuse and start over. The player, wanting to get a Beat out of the Condition (see Beats, p. XX), agrees that Sammy is Frustrated and continues. The player has one success toward the required seven.

Exceptional Success

If you roll an exceptional success at any point during the process, you have three options: You can subtract the dots your character has in the relevant Skill from the total required (which might mean you accomplish the goal right then and there), you can reduce the time on each roll by one quarter, or you can apply the “exceptional success” result when your character does complete the goal (many of the “Roll Results” descriptions in various World of Darkness books describe an extra bonus for finishing an extended action with an exceptional success; this option allows the player to choose to apply it if appropriate).

Example: On the third roll, Sammy’s player rolls five successes. This is an exceptional success, so the player has three choices: She can subtract Sammy’s Crafts rating from the required total, she can reduce the time for each roll by 25%, or she can apply a special bonus to the action if she completes it in time.

The player considers her options. The time reduction isn’t really that helpful in this situation. It would reduce each roll from 30 minutes to 22.5 minutes, not really saving a great deal of time. If she chooses to reduce the total number of successes, it falls from 7 to 3 (7 – Crafts rating (4) = 3), which would mean that the work is done and Sammy can leave (as the player has accumulated six successes with the five successes from this turn). The Storyteller suggests that a bonus might be to apply the Souped Up Condition to the car, giving it a bonus on Speed that Sammy can activate when necessary. Given how the chronicle has gone so far, and that the player still has one more roll to make before the sun sets, she takes that option. Sammy still has a little more work to do (one more success).

Dramatic Failures

Dramatic failures go a step further than normal failures; your character fails the action and receives a Condition. As well, the first roll on a further attempt suffers a –2 penalty.

Example: Sammy’s player has one more roll until sunset (note: the player could actually make four more rolls, for a total of seven, equal to the dice pool, but this situation has extenuating circumstances). The player rolls…and fails. Since Sammy will be stuck here past sunset no matter what the player does, she opts to have this failure count as a dramatic failure (see p. XX), gain a Beat for her trouble, and hope that the other characters arrive before whatever is chasing Sammy does. If Sammy tries to fix this car again, the player will suffer a –2 on the first roll.

Near Misses

So what happens if a character accumulates most of the successes required for the extended action but has to stop due to running out of time or reaching the maximum number of rolls? All of the work the character did doesn’t just vanish, after all.

That’s true, insofar as it goes. Once the character has reached the maximum allowable rolls for a given extended action, however, he has exhausted the limits of his talent in the area. He can come back to it once his dice pool changes — if the player buys up the relevant Skill or Attribute or buys a new Specialty, the character can pick up where he left off (but he only gets one more roll unless the player changes the dice pool by more than one die).

If the character had to abandon the project before the maximum number of rolls was reached, however, he can come back to it and continue making the rolls until he reaches that limit, provided that it’s the kind of project that will “keep.” A character could continue working on a novel for years, but making a soufflé is probably a one-attempt project.

If the player has accumulated less than 25% of the total required successes (round down), the successes are lost. The character just didn’t get a good enough start on the project.

If the player accumulated at least 50% of the total required successes (round down), the player can add a +2 bonus to the first roll of the extended action if the character attempts it again within the same chapter.

If the player accumulated 75% or more of the total required successes (round down), the player can add a +4 bonus to the first roll of the extended action, if the character attempts it again within the same story.

If the player rolled an exceptional success during the process and opted for the “end bonus” option, that option remains even if the character comes back to the action later.

Example: Sammy ultimately failed the action, but he did so with six out of seven successes. If he tries to fix that car again any time during this story, he’ll receive a net bonus of +2 on the first roll (+4 for the progress he made, –2 for the dramatic failure at the end). Also, if he completes it, he’ll keep the Souped Up Condition on the car. Since he only made four rolls on the initial project, he can make three more to finish this project. He only needs one more success — that should be plenty.

  14 comments for “Extended Actions: Digging in Deeper

  1. Nick
    January 26, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Maybe drop the “reduce time by 25%” option? It seems to add unnecessary complication and marginal benefit. Reducing the successes required already shortens the length of the task, and “You can get it done faster or get it done better” is a short-and-sweet way to explain the options a player has in game.

    The Near Miss rules, likewise, seem unnecessarily fiddly. Why grant a bonus specifically to resuming a task that was almost- but not quite- complete? A task in progress can be finished more quickly, that already creates an incentive to resume them. Leave whether or not the task can be resumed to player/storyteller discretion.

    • January 26, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      I see your point; I like the Near Miss rules. Fortunately they’re nicely modular, so if they don’t work for your chronicles, you don’t lose anything by dropping them (and I admit, they’ll work better for some tasks than others).

  2. Tony
    January 26, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Really like the additional consequences for Failure. Makes failures on extended action have a little more punch, though in a not-all-bad way, with the possibility for a Beat from conditions. Also a fan of the near miss rules, in situations where they apply.

  3. Eolirin
    January 27, 2013 at 2:43 am

    The reduce time by 25% *can* be superior, under extreme conditions – if the extended action takes a week or more per roll, you roll the exceptional success early, you have relatively few dots in the skill you’re rolling and/or you need a lot of successes. It’s incredibly situational though, and generally a very bad choice, especially because it risks failure in a way that reducing the target number doesn’t. If it were 50% it might be a more viable trade off if there’s a real time crunch, but at 25%, it feels a little weak; especially given the limits on the number of times you can roll and the rough max target number of 20 (an exceptional success is already 1/4th your total, if it doesn’t happen early on, you’re probably going to be able to finish the task right then).

    Something that’s unclear to me, though, is whether or not the bonuses from exceptional successes stack; if I roll two exceptional successes in a row, can I reduce the target number by my skill score twice?

    I’m also a bit concerned that there’s a loophole with the near miss rules that basically let you say you’re stopping an extended action and then restarting it within a very short period of time to get a pretty big bonus; would it make sense to restrict that bonus so that you only get it if you attempt again after having increased your skill score? It’d definitely be very beneficial in that situation, especially since you won’t get many more rolls.

  4. Dan
    January 27, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    “Players may roll the number of dice in their pool up to the number of dice rolls allowed as they attempt to succeed.”

    That sentence is really awkward. Until I read the example below the sentence, I didn’t understand that it meant that a player could only make a number of rolls equal to the amount of dice in the dice pool.

    I really like this mechanic. Having a hard limit on how many roles you can possibly make is really good. This is probably the best way I have ever seen to simulate the idea that some tasks are just beyond the skills of some characters in system like WOD.

    • QAlchemist
      January 28, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      This was actually a listed optional rule in the original nWoD core book (p128, Roll Limitations) but it’s great to see it spelled out here in more concrete terms as it was an easy option to miss. My group’s always used this as the base rule, but there’s so many ‘Storyteller Options’ listed in the extended rolls section that it’s a PITA to figure out which to use.

  5. Jason
    January 29, 2013 at 10:15 am

    I like it!
    The whole thing with the “conditions on failures” reminds me of Mouseguard and I like that.

  6. Oliver
    January 30, 2013 at 8:22 am

    Near Miss rules seems strange to me in that, as soon as he reaches 50% success, a character is better off “abandoning” his project between every roll to get the bonus. I don’t really understand the rationale.

    • January 30, 2013 at 8:29 am

      The first line of that section: So what happens if a character accumulates most of the successes required for the extended action but has to stop due to running out of time or reaching the maximum number of rolls? The intent is for these rules to apply to extended actions in which the character didn’t necessarily want to stop, but was forced to due to time or maximum roll constraints.

      It’s one of those areas where the Storyteller needs to take context and rules intent into consideration and, perhaps, tell a player that he can’t game the system. Or, y’know, go ahead and abandon the project every time and take the +2. Some players get absolutely joyful from finding loopholes like that, and who am I to deny joy?

      • Oliver
        January 31, 2013 at 12:50 am

        I’m not saying I actually intend to do that. My point is that it’s less “hidden loophole” and more “obviously the most efficient way of doing it”, and I don’t really understand why it’s made the way it is. Obviously I can house rule it away or just say NO to players, but before that I’d like to know what made you decide to put in those first roll bonuses.

  7. January 30, 2013 at 11:43 am

    I really like these rules. I like the addition of Conditions to the system as well. It makes things more orderly. I think it will help my players roleplay then they have simple, clear aids like that.

  8. Nick
    February 2, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    You could always say that the bonus is a result of taking a break and refreshing your mental energies in the midst of a lengthy, difficult task.

  9. Matt
    February 22, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    What happens if the player achieves between 25 and 50%? =50% = +2, what if it’s 35%?

  10. Adam
    April 18, 2013 at 9:02 am

    I think the wording on maximum number of rolls is a little problematic, unless there are some real reworkings going on, not all rolls are attribute and ability to begin with: mages can’t cast spontaneous effects ritually because gnosis and arcana are neither attribute nor ability, and there are attribute plus attribute extended rolls in the blue book.

    And what about supernatural extended actions? If the roll is attribute plus ability plus arcana/discipline/whatever why is the number of rolls limited to the first two?

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