Cinematic Unisystem - Dexterity Issue(?)



  • So I've been talking to some folk about putting together an urban horror game using the Cinematic Unisystem. One of the issues generally brought up when we speak about this system is Dexterity and how it potentially breaks the balance of the game at higher levels. I'll explain below.

    At higher levels of Dexterity players start getting extra actions every turn. At Dexterity 5 and 6 you get +1 action, at 7-8 you get +2, at 9-10 you get +3, at 11-12 you get +4, etc. These extra actions may be taken as extra attacks or defenses. Each action beyond the first suffers a cumulative -2 penalty.

    Example: A character with Dexterity 7 can declare up to 3 actions in a turn. Say he's fighting 3 vampires and wants to attack each of them one time so he declares he's taking 3 actions, all of them attacks. He makes a single combat roll, getting a 20. He compares the roll against the first vampires Combat skill (a 19) and notes a hit. He does damage and moves on to the second vampire. He takes his initial roll of 20 and subtracts 2 adjusting it to 18. The second vampire also has a Combat skill of 19, however, meaning the attack misses. Because this attack misses he does not get his third attack.

    While a Dexterity of 7 is very high for a character it is certainly possible, especially for a vampire or other supernatural creature.

    Thankfully the designers of the game actually address this potential issue and give some alternative ideas. This is the rule we use in my TT group and one I'm thinking about using for the game I'm working on.

    Alternate Rule: Any character can attempt any number of actions they want in a round. Before they act they declare how many total actions they want to take. Each action beyond the first adds -2 to all actions that turn. So in the above example the player declares 3 actions incurring a -4 penalty to all his actions that turn.

    We've found this to be pretty balanced and generally keeps players from just pumping points into Dexterity to get those extra actions.

    For those familiar with the Unisystem what are your thoughts? Do you house rule Dexterity? If so what rule do you use?


  • Politics

    One rule I like is based on the ticks system from Scion.

    Basically, it determines Extra Actions based on your Initiative, not your Dexterity. Sure, Initiative is based partially on Dexterity, but it's a lot more fluctuating because it also involves a die roll.

    Basically, you get 1 action every 5 points of Initiative, until you hit 0. Once everyone hits 0, you roll Initiative again (and since this is a system that uses Initiative every round, that should be fine).

    So let's say everyone rolls for Initiative and X gets 17, Y gets 8, and Z gets 9.

    X acts first, at 17. then she acts again, at 12 (because it's still higher than the next highest Init).

    Then Z acts, at 9.

    Then Y at 8.

    Then X again at 7 (12 - 5).

    Then Z at 4.

    Then Y at 3.

    Then X at 2.

    At this point, if you subtract 5 from anyone, they hit 0 (or negative numbers) and can't act. X's last action was the last action of the round. Roll Initiative again.

    Etc, etc.

    I also typically allow people to defend reflexively, but if you want them to have to spend actions defending, just allow them to do it sacrificing their next one (if they have one).

    Keep in mind all this still comes with the cumulative -2 penalty per action until the round refreshes.


    Another good alternative rule is that you take a penalty equal to the amount of actions you take, which is fixed.

    X wants to take 3 actions this turn. Her player states as much, and now every action is penalized by -3, including the first. Spreading thin affects everything you're doing--you need to keep a little in reserve at the beginning of your assault for the rest of the actions.

    This makes it so that people who do less during a round are more effective, while people who try to do a lot might just get sucky results across the board.

    This last one really necessitates reflexive defense.


  • Coder

    I like this idea and am going to steal it from @Coin without Coin knowing.


  • Politics

    @Rook said in Cinematic Unisystem - Dexterity Issue(?):

    I like this idea and am going to steal it from @Coin without Coin knowing.

    Which? I gave you two.

    P.S. I know. I always know.


  • Coder

    That 'ticks' system of actions is very similar to how several editions of ShadowRun handled high init rolls.


  • Coder

    The problem with defense rolls taking up actions is that - what happens when you run out of actions and are attacked? Are you able to defend? Do you do so at a disadvantage?

    I prefer to imagine a system where every attack is innately defended against automatically. Martial artists defend as part of the the normal flow of the round. Weapons have armor that innately defends. The mind innately resists effects against it. The brain is wired to dodge things, move out of the way, or just brace for impact.

    I don't think defenses should take up action UNLESS you are DEDICATING your actions at the beginning of the rounds to defend yourself physically, therefore you get a bonus to your Armor/Dodge/Whatever because you're foregoing offensive attacks. You're waiting for it.


  • Politics

    @Rook said in Cinematic Unisystem - Dexterity Issue(?):

    The problem with defense rolls taking up actions is that - what happens when you run out of actions and are attacked? Are you able to defend? Do you do so at a disadvantage?

    I prefer to imagine a system where every attack is innately defended against automatically. Martial artists defend as part of the the normal flow of the round. Weapons have armor that innately defends. The mind innately resists effects against it. The brain is wired to dodge things, move out of the way, or just brace for impact.

    I don't think defenses should take up action UNLESS you are DEDICATING your actions at the beginning of the rounds to defend yourself physically, therefore you get a bonus to your Armor/Dodge/Whatever because you're foregoing offensive attacks. You're waiting for it.

    I agree, personally.


  • Coder

    But that 'countdown' way of doing multiple initiative/actions... I like that. I'm thiefing it.


  • Pitcrew

    @Coin said in Cinematic Unisystem - Dexterity Issue(?):

    One rule I like is based on the ticks system from Scion.

    This is essentially how Feng Shui works as well. Init get rolled and each action has a cost, though for example most attacks cost 3 while active defenses cost 1. Though no actions are penalized.



  • It would be excellent to automate that, and have players submit their actions with +action commands that automatically deduct their Speed ratings from the initiative (or +speed/spend 4 for novel actions), with a countdown that does automatic rerolls. It would be very painful to code that in MUSHCode, but very easy to write it in Python.



  • @Rook said in Cinematic Unisystem - Dexterity Issue(?):

    The problem with defense rolls taking up actions is that - what happens when you run out of actions and are attacked? Are you able to defend? Do you do so at a disadvantage?

    One way that HERO system dealt with the issue of 'Active Defense when you're out of actions for the turn' was to penalize you for your next turn. So, with a ticks system, I would say that if you're out of actions and someone targets you with a big attack, you can use an active defense to dodge/parry/block, but, you're spending an action from your next round, with an additional penalty. So, if each action costs you 5 ticks, pre-using an initiative action to actively defend could cost 6 or 7 ticks off your next initiative roll.



  • For simplicity my TT groups uses an "active defense" system where everyone has a defense score equal to their Dexterity + Acrobatics or relevant combat skill + 10. It remains active for the entire round suffering cumulative -2 penalties every time the player is attacked that round. A player can use a "full offense" move and forfeit their active defense to gain an extra action at the standard penalty (it incurs no additional penalties).

    It seems to work well for us.



  • @Rook
    The tick system is really nice; I played a long term Scion game and it became very intuitive. I don't think it'd be that difficult to integrate into an automated combat system either.


  • Coder

    That was exactly my thoughts. Notes taken already on the beginning ideas of the combat system.



  • If you are planning on a cumulative cost to defenses, do note the typical have a bunch of less powerful attack use up defensive actions or inflict a cumulative penalty to defense of next rounds actions as a set up a big sucker punch.

    Sounds okay until the day you realize your group of supposed to be mostly harmless kobolds or slow zombies just destroyed the defenses of the PC right before the big charged baddie attack arrives and vaporizes them.

    My "best" answer to that so far works in some games but not others. I say that if your average defense would counter an attack, then it is reflexive. If you need more than that, then you can start using up actions or gaining a cumulative penalty while making a roll.

    This was the issue in Buffy games. Buffy couldn't begin to stand up to the kinds of numbers she did in the show, and everyone else was in worse shape.



  • @ZombieGenesis
    I have to ask, is there a reason you're keeping multiple actions other than 'the system supports it'? Aren't multiple actions per turn historically kinda bad/crazy in a MUSH environment?



  • Additional maybe approach: Sort of in the vein of the one attack roll is then applied at -0, -2, -4 etc until it misses, just make a defense roll, and say it applies with penalties until it fails, then ask the person to use up another defense. You can also make feats/advantages/fighting styles/powers that reduce the penalties to multiples defenses (and multiple attacks, though I think multiple attacks should always be harder than a single one).


  • Politics

    @Misadventure said in Cinematic Unisystem - Dexterity Issue(?):

    Additional maybe approach: Sort of in the vein of the one attack roll is then applied at -0, -2, -4 etc until it misses, just make a defense roll, and say it applies with penalties until it fails, then ask the person to use up another defense. You can also make feats/advantages/fighting styles/powers that reduce the penalties to multiples defenses (and multiple attacks, though I think multiple attacks should always be harder than a single one).

    This isn't a bad idea, because the Unisystem uses Combat Scores. You would essentially be resetting your own Combat Score each round (while NPCs would have a consistently static one). You can also then use Drama Points for variations. Basically, you could have everyone roll twice for an Attack Score and a Defense Score and then just apply the modifiers as needed. It's not terribly exciting, but it would probably work great when it comes to keeping things moving.


  • Pitcrew

    That is the great balancing act of RPG design, making combat interesting but not having it bog down. While my opinion is different for table top situations, I have always thought for MU*s speed was the more important factor mechanically because there will be a ton of human factors already slowing things down.


  • Coder

    @ThatGuyThere said in Cinematic Unisystem - Dexterity Issue(?):

    That is the great balancing act of RPG design, making combat interesting but not having it bog down. While my opinion is different for table top situations, I have always thought for MU*s speed was the more important factor mechanically because there will be a ton of human factors already slowing things down.

    I completely agree. So in the system that I am building, scene speed is a top goal. I am simplifying the system to remove unneeded-for-MU-use mechanics, which will need to be beta-tested with a few run-throughs, to look for gaps.

    I personally feel that most players, in a PVE game (not PVP situations), are interested in pace versus hyper-detail and dice rolls. It matters 10x more when it is PvP, because of players holding each other accountable to a tight limitation of powers. In my experience, it lessens when it is players against monsters, etc.


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