Leveragin’ the Black – Challengin’ Beliefs and Appealin’ to Ideals

So, we have our Values for our Serenity Plus game, but how do we use them to achieve our goals, not to mention, how do we use our opponent’s beliefs against them?  How about when our characters need to go against their own beliefs?  How do we model the internal conflict of a character challenging their nature or the core of their ideals?

Challengin’ Values

For mechanics to challenge our character’s Values, we look once more to Smallville (page 83): When you challenge one of your Values you roll three times the number of dice for the Value in the contest, immediately stepping down the size of the die afterwards.  If the die started at d4, then that Value is “locked out” for the rest of the session.

Unlike Smallville, we don’t have a Growth pool that the die gets added to (we will instead be going with a little more traditional experience progression in Serenity Plus) so for the time being, that’s all we need to concern ourselves with regarding game mechanics.  However, at the end of the game session, we will need to address any challenged Values in the same way that Smallville’s Tag Scenes (page 74) do so.  If we decide that the Value is still as important to the character as when we started and want to return it to our original die rating, we will need to rewrite the associated statement; if we don’t want to reassess our Value statement in this way, our only option is to raise one or more of our other Values an equal amount as we stepped down the challenged one.

The exception to this comes if we “locked out” any of our Values: in that case, we have to change the statement and at least raise it back to a d4.  If, for example, our Honesty had been a d8 at the start of the session and we had challenged it three times during the game, we could just rewrite the statement and only raise it back to a d4, raising one other Value two steps, or two Values one step each in place of the remaining Honesty steps.  Whatever the case, by the time we finish, all Values will need to once more have a die rating from a d4 to a d12.

Appealin’ to Values

Sometimes we want our characters to really get into their opponent and use their own high vaultin’ ideals to bend them to our way of thinking; this new mechanic is intended to do that.  This doesn’t mean that the character wanting to use their opposition’s Value necessarily has to hold that belief themselves; instead this covers situations such as Lex Luthor’s manipulating Superman by appealing to his resistance to using lethal force.

To use another character’s Value in a contested action, you must first present the situation or argument in which your opposition’s Value is going to come in to play.  This could be as simple as pointing out that their code of ethics or morality would compel them toward a certain line of behaviour; or it could be revealing a new fact about the situation, such as holding hostage the family of a character with the Loyalty statement: “I’d do anything for those I love.”

Having presented the situation in such a way, pay your opponent a Plot Point.  For this, you get to roll the die assigned to the opposing character’s Value statement as an extra die in your own roll.  On it’s own, this probably doesn’t seem like a very good deal, but appealing to your opponent’s Value in this way also comes with a further benefit: to respond to your roll, any Value they want to include in their own dice pool has to be of equal or larger die size than the Value you rolled against them.  In addition, if they want to use the same Value themselves, they must challenge their statement!  In some cases, this may mean that there are no Values with a high enough die rating and you are unwilling to challenge your belief: in which case, you will have to make your roll without including a Value.

Why the New Mechanic?

There are a couple of reasons for the decision to introduce this mechanic.  First is the fact that, well– it just wasn’t there before.  In a game focusing so heavily on character motivations as Smallville does, it occurs to me that there is no real mechanical way to try to swindle or manipulate others to your point of view or into certain situations.  It’s an idea that I think I’m going to introduce to my Smallville-based games in addition to my Serenity Plus hack.

Secondly, it’s less likely that you will plot out Serenity Plus adventures in the same fashion as you do Smallville plots, mostly because while we have Values, we don’t have the corresponding Relationships and associated statements to draw on for dramatic interconnections and wedges.  (Of course, you may definitely opt to draw up a character map: doing so is a great way to create a setting and NPCs for any game, regardless of system.)  Therefore, a GM planning for this mechanic can spotlight the occasional focus on a PCs Values, while not hanging all the plot by them. By way of example, this is how you can have an episode like War Stories testing Mal’s and Zoe’s loyalty to their fallen comrade Tracey.

Up Next

Up next, we get back to building character as we look at the remaining PC attributes.

About Craig Payne

Despite being born tone deaf in one ear, Craig has risen above his disadvantage to achieve the lofty position of spending most of his free time mucking around on the Internet, tinkering with RPG rules, and failing on at least seven occasions to finish writing a novel.