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Luthor Harkon

Influence and Subtlety

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Dear all,

 

I have some issues with the Influence and Subtlety mechanics. The game I GM has always been defined heavily by these themes, especially the latter one, as our games are mainly undercover investigations. I sort of kept track of the group’s subtlety/overtness in my mind and reacted (through NPCs) accordingly.

The moment I saw the new rulebook had whole chapters together with game mechanics about these themes, I was really excited.

 

Though now, after a couple of games, the whole excitement is sort of gone. In my opinion the mechanics are burdensome and often too abstract. A bad combination if you ask me. I can understand the need for sometimes burdensome and at the same time realistic mechanics as well as a combination of easy to go and abstract rules.

 

The Subtlety mechanic alone is awkward and it is in my view absurd that a change of planet has such low consequences in changing the (especially low) subtlety. Honestly, in 40K the change of planet or even sub-sector is huge and many planets have problems in getting even any essential news from off-planet, let alone gossip of a bunch of people acting weird somewhere down-hive on a 20 billion citizen planet on the other side of the sector. Furthermore, there is more than a whole page dealing alone with the option of acolytes trying to assess their own Subtlety score. How important is that? Which group will ever do this? It dissolves into roll-play instead of role-play seeing how many dices (mostly hidden) I have to roll. My players would think I am nuts, when I am rolling dozens of dices behind my screen throughout the whole session. Let alone the bookkeeping for that…

 

While I like the Influence characteristic, I think it is difficult to handle in daily operations. Maybe I have to get used to it, but I still sometimes wonder whether the players really have to roll or whether it is too mundane to let them roll. I think it is weird for example to roll influence, when a player is trying to get hold of ammunition for his Autopistol within a huge hive world. That should be rather easy. I miss how it correlates with the time it takes to “search” for such an item as well as any effect the size (and type) of the world might have. Furthermore, I can understand that looking for Bolt ammunition can have an effect on the group’s subtlety; I cannot understand how a failure to acquire it can lower a characters influence. I know Influence is an abstract figure, but not being able to acquire Bolt ammunition in a certain hive district on a certain hive world should not lower a person’s influence score as such. It does not impair his reputation or his network sector-wide.

 

What mostly irks me is the whole dice rolling and thus the heavily random effect it often has.

 

Any opinions? Thanks in advance!

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In my opinion book rules such as these are just detailed guidelines for the GM.

If you don't like them or find them clunky then just don't use them or tweak them to suit your game.

 

I totally agree that subtlety will vary a great deal more between worlds or even between different levels in the same hive.

So play it that way.

Likewise if you feel that the influence mechanic is wrong for your game then use your executive power as GM.

 

Would the acolytes ALWAYS be able to find autopistol shells? Even in a teeming hive there may be supply chain glitches or shortages. This is the uber-kafkaesque grim darkness of the 41st M so nothing is ever certain.

Would they always lose influence in other situations?

Well that's your call too. Influence loss might represent that they called in a once off favour to find the bolt shells, or they extended and burned a line of credit.

 

Much of it can be abstracted, or you might wish to delve into role-playing out the rolls.

But at the end of the day you can just executive override the whole thing if you wish.

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As a quick reply, I think Influence is a step up from the dark days of everything costing Thrones and having monthly Income. You do bring up good points where RAW Influence acts strangely.

 

Subtlety is a nice touch, but I feel like there should be Individual Subtlety, Group Subtley, and maybe even Inquisitor Subtlety. Like, Adeptus Mechanicus characters are pretty much locked into low Subtlety values, but that shouldn't stop the group as a whole from being Subtle. There's the whole independent operation business where it would make sense for a low Subtlety character acts as a decoy while her fellow Acolytes do something sneaky. Also, having a group of people walking around doing everything together automatically doesn't make them tied to Inquisitors. They could be a mercenary group or something. If the Inquisitor doesn't share/display her status beforehand, or her Acolytes don't invoke her authority, there should be no reason for anyone to suspect that the player group is a warband.

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 Like, Adeptus Mechanicus characters are pretty much locked into low Subtlety values(...)

While they will stand out like a sore thumb on low-tech worlds, I'd argue they are pretty well covered on hive worlds and the likes, for two reasons:

 

1. While it's hard to miss a Tech-Priest in the crowd, it should be quite hard for most people to recognize a particular Tech-Priest, as they hide most of their features under those hooded robes and, well, augmentations covering their faces (which aren't uniform, but I'd venture your average Joe Hiver is better at recognizing chin lines than he is at recognizing differing lower face replacements. People may remember seeing a Tech-Priest, but will they remember seeing Electro-Priest Eisen?

 

2. The way I understand it, a Tech-Priest dabbling with some machinery in a public area is both a common sight and something nobody in their right mind wants to interfere with. This gives them an awesome option for hiding in plain sight.

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I honestly just role play it. If they decide to screw up and do a shootout in the middle of a crowded area people are going to talk about it. Imagine today's news and how thats spread. If somebody does something they tweet about it or record a video and it gets spread if its interesting. If they are in a hive that is used to shootouts than nobody will care but if they do it at a noble party or dare to piss off a quarter master people when other people are next to your warband people will take notice and try and sell you the stuff that he didnt have. Thanks to the new rules and no more carrying around tones of thrones its now easy for my players to get what they want with role playing. If they want extra clips for guns or a brand new gun thanks to the new oath tags and other stuff like influence they can just do him a favor and it would be considered payed in full. If they decide to leave witnesses in a gang shootout maybe the other gang members will try and get back at you either in force or try and do some underground stuff and spread rumors about the warband. 

Edited by PhaKnight

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I think both Influence and Subtlety is supposed to be characteristic-like attributes, so characters could use them for tests and everything. For example, you should roll Stealth+Subtlety when you do covert surveillance or Commerce+Subtlety when you try to acquire illegal stuff from the black market. 

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Influence has some kinks that oddly weren't present in the system's previous incarnations - a case can be made that they went too far trying to streamline it. (For the record, I think the best variant of this "abstracted wealth" mechanic we've had so far from FFG was in Rogue Trader).

 

Still, the main purpose of this mechanic is sending a message: the financial situation of your inquisitorial posse is mostly a non-issue, and you shouldn't dwell on it too much in the game. Many people contest this point of view, and as usual, it's hard to argue with personal preferences. The opponents of the abstracted approach will point out that the logistics of covert ops can have an impact on the outcome and can be fun to incorporate in the game, which is certainly true. The proponents of the abstract method will often counter that these logistics can be tedious, and that they can devolve the game into the D&D-esque pattern of "kill people, take their stuff, get better stuff, repeat", which are also valid points to make. Personally, I'm a fan of the abstracted approach, and I don't think it necessarily obviates the funnier parts of being a secret agent on a budget - you just have to feel the moment when the system should take a step back and the more narrative approach becomes more appropriate. And before someone points it out, yes, it's essentially the "just wing it approach", which I feel is the best way to deal with RPG rules altogether, though feel free to disagree.

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My initial reaction to the Subtlety mechanics were that they needlessly codified work good GMs would be doing anyway. It seems completely unnecessary for the GM to track a secret number that has very few actual uses.

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My initial reaction to the Subtlety mechanics were that they needlessly codified work good GMs would be doing anyway. It seems completely unnecessary for the GM to track a secret number that has very few actual uses.

There are plenty of mechanics in plenty of RPGs that are irrelevant for a good GM. Thing is, a good GM doesn't need that much in the way of rules (though they may want them - that's a different matter). A lot of rules and advice is intended for inexperienced and bad GMs - the kind of people that need the help.

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My initial reaction to the Subtlety mechanics were that they needlessly codified work good GMs would be doing anyway. It seems completely unnecessary for the GM to track a secret number that has very few actual uses.

There are plenty of mechanics in plenty of RPGs that are irrelevant for a good GM. Thing is, a good GM doesn't need that much in the way of rules (though they may want them - that's a different matter). A lot of rules and advice is intended for inexperienced and bad GMs - the kind of people that need the help.

Th bigger issue is that it's having these bad or inexperienced GMs spend precious time and resources tracking a mechanically fiddly system with little to no mechanical impact. This was an issue since the first beta that FFG never bothered to address. The subtlety mechanic is poorly implemented, unfortunately. It has a bunch of rules on how to affect subtlety, but then no guidance on what subtlety does. It would be fine if te system was abstracted in implementation AND effect or mechanical in implementation AND effect, but subtlety is a bad combination of mechanical implementation as abstract effect. The worst example of the subtlety system is that big table listing example narratives of how players are acting at each subtlety level. This of course ignores that minor behaviors are what actually effect subtlety and rather than general behavior. The subtlety system is a mess, and I have nothing but criticism for FFG publishing it.

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In addition to what N0-1_H3r3 has said and to generalize it a bit: I think it's always easier to ignore rules to improve a game than it is to write new rules. So I think that "Just ignore that rule, it's broken/not flavorful/whatever." can be a perfectly reasonable response, even while I think "well, just make up rules that work better" is almost never useful. 

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Thank you all for your helpful anwers!

 

 

 

My initial reaction to the Subtlety mechanics were that they needlessly codified work good GMs would be doing anyway. It seems completely unnecessary for the GM to track a secret number that has very few actual uses.

There are plenty of mechanics in plenty of RPGs that are irrelevant for a good GM. Thing is, a good GM doesn't need that much in the way of rules (though they may want them - that's a different matter). A lot of rules and advice is intended for inexperienced and bad GMs - the kind of people that need the help.

Th bigger issue is that it's having these bad or inexperienced GMs spend precious time and resources tracking a mechanically fiddly system with little to no mechanical impact. This was an issue since the first beta that FFG never bothered to address. The subtlety mechanic is poorly implemented, unfortunately. It has a bunch of rules on how to affect subtlety, but then no guidance on what subtlety does. It would be fine if te system was abstracted in implementation AND effect or mechanical in implementation AND effect, but subtlety is a bad combination of mechanical implementation as abstract effect. The worst example of the subtlety system is that big table listing example narratives of how players are acting at each subtlety level. This of course ignores that minor behaviors are what actually effect subtlety and rather than general behavior. The subtlety system is a mess, and I have nothing but criticism for FFG publishing it.

 

 

@cpm: That was my impression as well. It is good to see that I am not alone with this stand.

 

@N0-1: Yes, of course, but this argument sort of always applies. It still irks me after more than 20 years of GMing, that brand new RPG systems have such useless stuff in them. It is as if the authors have no idea how their rules should work in a de facto roleplaying session. It is so theoretical it hurts, especially as it seems to have taken some time and creativity to write up this...nonesense...

 

@Nimsim: Absolutely! Even moreso as these inexperienced will surely still struggle with the basic rules and the basic jobs of a GM, which will burden them even more...

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@N0-1: Yes, of course, but this argument sort of always applies. It still irks me after more than 20 years of GMing, that brand new RPG systems have such useless stuff in them. It is as if the authors have no idea how their rules should work in a de facto roleplaying session. It is so theoretical it hurts, especially as it seems to have taken some time and creativity to write up this...nonesense...

 

Nimsim, my god, we may have found The One. Behold, an old RPGer who, rather than looking back on the mechanics of yore through the rosy tint of nostalgia, recognizes that game systems have progressed, that mechanics can be made better and that the cruft of the past is best left... in the past.  Mirabile visu.

 

I want to quote this for infinity.

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Uhh this thread is so wierd. The Subtlety basically boils down to rolling against a number the GM determines based on the characters actions during gameplay and, depending on situations gives a +20/-20 modifier to an important skilled-based action. 

 

Having used it a few times already, it's hasn't 'rocked my world' in a significant way, but has certainly been useful to add in as a cool way to reinforce the player's consequences. ^^. I like it, and hope to see it get expanded in a future splat book

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@N0-1: Yes, of course, but this argument sort of always applies. It still irks me after more than 20 years of GMing, that brand new RPG systems have such useless stuff in them. It is as if the authors have no idea how their rules should work in a de facto roleplaying session. It is so theoretical it hurts, especially as it seems to have taken some time and creativity to write up this...nonesense...

 

Nimsim, my god, we may have found The One. Behold, an old RPGer who, rather than looking back on the mechanics of yore through the rosy tint of nostalgia, recognizes that game systems have progressed, that mechanics can be made better and that the cruft of the past is best left... in the past.  Mirabile visu.

 

I want to quote this for infinity.

 

Well, I am not a native speaker so I most probably do not grasp the full amount of your cynism, but it is because I am such an old fart and RPGer that I wonder that new RPGs are full of such nonsense. Back when I started GMing, RPGs just had the most basic of rules. Look at WFRP 1st ed., you won't find such overburdened mechanics and rules in that book. I think it is great that mechanics in RPGs progressed over the years, but that sort of progression is more like the progression of a proliferating tumor. The chapter just after subtlety (disposition?) is even worse. It is as if written by a 14 year old fantasy card game playing über-nerd on crack...

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@N0-1: Yes, of course, but this argument sort of always applies. It still irks me after more than 20 years of GMing, that brand new RPG systems have such useless stuff in them. It is as if the authors have no idea how their rules should work in a de facto roleplaying session. It is so theoretical it hurts, especially as it seems to have taken some time and creativity to write up this...nonesense...

 

Nimsim, my god, we may have found The One. Behold, an old RPGer who, rather than looking back on the mechanics of yore through the rosy tint of nostalgia, recognizes that game systems have progressed, that mechanics can be made better and that the cruft of the past is best left... in the past.  Mirabile visu.

 

I want to quote this for infinity.

Well, I am not a native speaker so I most probably do not grasp the full amount of your cynism, but it is because I am such an old fart and RPGer that I wonder that new RPGs are full of such nonsense. Back when I started GMing, RPGs just had the most basic of rules. Look at WFRP 1st ed., you won't find such overburdened mechanics and rules in that book. I think it is great that mechanics in RPGs progressed over the years, but that sort of progression is more like the progression of a proliferating tumor. The chapter just after subtlety (disposition?) is even worse. It is as if written by a 14 year old fantasy card game playing über-nerd on crack...

CPS and I weren't being cynical or sarcastic. I have a lot of respect for an old school RPGer who sees the value in rules progression and simplicity. I'm tempted to ask what you think of something like Fate or Dungeon World, but that's getting a bit off-topic.

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