Friday, October 17, 2014

d20 Rifts - Spycraft overview

It occurs to me that I know all about Spycraft. I didn't actually include many explanations of its mechanics in my notes. But you guys reading this may not know about it. So let me give a bit of a primer of some of the ways it deviates from standard d20.

I'm pretty much just going to shoot through this, bullet-point style. If you want a more coherent explanation, I suggest Googling the game. There are some pretty good explanations out there.

Action Dice: This is the single biggest change to the system. It wasn't exactly a unique concept. After all, it was the direct descendant of 7th Sea's Drama Dice. They also work very similarly to Fate Dice. Characters get a bunch of AD at the beginning of the session. They can spend them to add bonuses to rolls, to activate errors and threats (making critical hits a function of dramatic necessity instead of just random), and to trigger various special actions in the system. Notably, though, they can also be used to just straight up declare things about the environment, like "I pick up the flower pot that happens to be on the ledge, and hit the guard with it." or "The ambassador is known to have a fatal allergy to shrimp." This is a departure from how AD are implemented in most d20 systems, but common in "indie" systems.

Vitality/Wounds: Rather than having one big pot of hit points, Spycraft (and Star Wars d20 before it) splits it into vitality and wounds. You have roughly as much vitality as you would hit points in D&D. This represents fatigue, minor wounds such as scratches and bruising, and similar incidental "damage". You have a number of wounds equal to your Con score. Taking wound damage represents real, serious injuries. You generally only take wound damage when you have run out of vitality. However, a successful critical hit, an "extremely dangerous situation" (like jumping on a grenade), or certain special effects can bypass vitality and go straight to wounds. Your vitality bounces back very quickly once you rest after a fight. Wounds, however, take a long time to heal.

Feats: Feats actually work just like they do in regular d20. But a big notable difference is the kind of feats. In addition to a bunch of combat feats, there are a LOT of non-combat feats. Some help you sneak better. Some give you more or better gear. Some make you a social monster. More than perhaps anything else, the breadth of feats is what really supports Spycraft as more than a "run and gun" game. I fully intended a similar breadth of feats for Rifts, but never did get around to writing them.

Psions: In the Shadowforce Archer setting for Spycraft, there are psions. I find the implementation of their abilities to be brilliant. Quick version: To be a psion, you must take levels in a psion class. Psion classes gain access to keyed psion feats (e.g., telepaths can pick Telepath feats). Certain psion feats unlock psion skills, which you have to buy up. So, to be a psion, you have to invest a pretty big chunk of your character right out of the gate. The various abilities (e.g., "speaking" telepathically to your teammates) are activated by spending vitality (so psions tire quickly, and are vulnerable in combat) and making a skill check. Given that I find the implementation of psi skills in Rifts to be essentially a retread of the magic system, I'd much rather use this system.

Framework: Maybe it's because I was a playtester, and got to see the sausage being made, but I find that Spycraft has a much stronger framework than many d20 variants. For instance, class abilities for all classes follow the same pattern. It ensures that every class gets something at every level, classes don't have "god" levels where they get a huge bump in power, and abilities with increasing effects (e.g., sneak attack) all go up at steady rates. It makes the system very intuitive once you grok the framework (I can often guess at an obscure rule, and be right almost down to the exact wording). It also made it very easy to use as a toolbox when switching systems in and out.

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