Assistance & Failure

A question was posed on Reddit about tests:

In a Vigilant test for searching tracks or Cunning to remember something, if an ally wants to help the character is there a bonus that I can give to them? Is there a test for the character who’s helping?

Basic Assistance

I would be inclined to treat assistance like the bonus for a Boon. Why? Because if you gave more of a modifier than a Boon, why would people consider spending any Experience on them? If you offer a +2 assist bonus for the help of another character, the players will find other ways to spend their Experience!

(And I find it valuable to encourage the purchase of a varied range of minor characteristics like Boons and non-combat Abilities because therein lies the colour of the setting.)

So, I would suggest that an Assist amounts to a +1 on the roll.

If the person assisting has a relevant Boon or Ability (i.e. they have spent Experience on something that has value in this situation), my first question would be—why isn’t that character making the roll and the other character offering the +1 assist modifier?!

As Game Master, you have reasonable cause for discussion on the matter—it makes more sense that the less capable character assist the more capable; the apprentice assisting the master.

If you’re happy that the assistance makes sense, then offer an Expert Assist provides a +2 on the Test instead.

I would suggest the maximum bonus be +3—i.e. three helpers offer +1 each or one expert gives +2 and a basic helper the +1.

Sensible Assistance

Of course, you should judge if help makes sense.

I can see searching for tracks as something you can help with, but I would want to hear a solid explanation from the players as to how they think assistance can be offered to remember something.

If a PC wants to remember an event from the Great War and another character is old enough to have served in the War, fine they can assist the effort; but assistance from a barbarian or a young Ambrian, hardly old enough to even recall the last days of the conflict, wouldn’t make sense.

Need for a Roll

In the wider scheme of things, only roll if a test is vital, exciting or the key challenge for a scene.

If the character is of a Hunter archetype and the challenge wasn’t central to the scene, I would allow them to track without rolling.

If the information someone can’t quite recall isn’t urgent—offering time to go for a walk, ponder, and generally wrack their brains—allow them to expend a specific period of (wasted) time in return for the information.

As the business of a Challenge represents the guide to closing a Scene and calculating Experience, rolling Tests shouldn’t be something done lightly or simply for the entertainment of a dice roll. There should be a solid driver and something to lose—even if it is only time—when you throw for a Test.

In this way, Assistance also has both value and pain—someone helping another cannot be focused on a task of their own. In the city, that might not be a big deal, but in the wilds of Davokar that could be someone not out scouting for enemies or foraging for supplies.

Is It Going to Hurt?

As mentioned, don’t make every activity into a Test, but equally, don’t allow a common Test to be unimportant. Failing should not just mean that nothing happens, as suggested above. If you go searching out lore on a subject in some ancient library, the character rolling the Test (and any character offering assistance) should lose time, whether they succeed or fail.

Time is a cost. Another cost could be money, standing/reputation, favours, or possessions.

Failure might impact on people or the location around you—most notably in a dangerous situation with the potential for collateral damage.

You could also end up discovering the wrong bit of information (“The tribe will allow travelers to pass only after you have spat in their face.“), get lost diving down the wrong rabbit hole (“This place doesn’t quite match the layout on the map… Did we go left or right at the end of the trail?“) or end up revealing something that benefits someone else altogether (“Nothing at all? I don’t understand how the place could have been pillaged already when I only just found the map yesterday…“).

No Right or Wrong

There are no hard and fast rules about the frequency and necessity of Tests. Some groups will prefer to roll, others will want to maintain immersion and skip rolls until they really matter.

In the same light, assistance can be as crunchy as a modifier or as easy as a bit of narration—the help means you find the information after searching for an hour, certain that alone it might have taken much longer.

Do what works best for you and your group.

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