BIG DAMN HEROES
The premise is simple: Player characters don’t die. The party is the centerpiece of the story, the persistent window through which players see and affect the GMs setting. They get top billing in the flashy opening and they pretty much always stick around until the credits roll.
They also get their asses kicked occasionally just to show why real victories are so sweet.
Here’s the Deal
The execution of this social contract is a bit more complex than ‘do whatever you want, because you’re safe from all harm’. The Game Master promises not to kill the player characters, but he won’t stop them from killing themselves. Situations prompted by the GM can lead to a character’s defeat, but never death. If a sudden wind or slap of a wyverns tail sends a player off the side of a dizzyingly high and narrow mountainside trail, that character always end up hanging from the ledge by their fingertips or snagged in the branches of a lonely tree part way down - perhaps defeated and out of play, but still alive. Players still have the power to commit suicide - if the player chooses to jump off into that chasm, he’s done. Whenever a player announces their intention to take an action that will categorically result in their death, the GM must spell out in no uncertain terms that’s a ‘fatal decision’. After that its on the player’s head. The GM has a fair bit of latitude in determining what constitutes a fatal decision - maybe more than players are used to. If he says “going into the dragon’s cave armed and skilled as you are now is certain death” he’s not kidding. If players choose to go anyway, that’s the end of them - no combat scene required, just a few gouts of flame, some screaming, and off to roll up new characters. There is a subtle but critical distinction between saying that and saying “going into the dragon’s cave armed and skilled as you are now is almost certain doom.” That’s the signpost that you can go, but don’t look shocked if you wind up getting pounded, and pounded badly. The safety net is to keep players from getting killed, not to prevent them from running headlong into the wrong end of a level-inappropriate encounter.
Not sure if your GM is telling you you're about to make a fatal decision? Ask them. Its not a trick question. It's the GMs responsiblity to make the the prospect of fatal decisions clear moreso than to entertain by couching them in flowery language.
Health and Morale
The distance between you and your defeat is measured in Health and Morale. Health is your actual physical condition - it is based on your Fitness score adjusted by your size category. It represents the last reserves you can fall back on as things go badly for you. It creates a small window were you gain the strength of desperation before either triumphing over adversity or falling into defeat. Once lost, points of Health are exceedingly difficult to recover. Morale is your primary damage buffer, allowing you to face all manner of both physical and emotional threats while pressing on in heroic fashion. Player characters gain morale from their class levels adjusted by their Determination modifier. Outside of immediate peril (combat or dangerous environments) morale recovers rapidly. However, many effects can temporarily reduce you maximum morale, making you progressively more vulnerable to sudden defeat.
Unlike traditional Mastercraft, standard NPCs have morale rather than making damage saves, receiving a number of points equal to their morale grade × times the threat level of the scene. Standard NPC are defeated by any critical hit (unless they are able to absorb some number of critical hits via grades of the Tough quality). While they have Health scores, in practice it’s unnecessary to track their Health if they do not have grades of Tough (see taking damage, below). Mooks are still defeated by a single successful attack.
All three types of damage – lethal, stress, and subdual – are subtracted from the target’s current morale. If this damage removes the character’s last point of morale, the attack gains the additional effects of a critical hit and any remaining damage is applied to the target’s Health. when a target’s Health is reduced to 0, they are defeated.
When a character scores a threat, roll the attack check again. If the second check is also a threat or the attacker spends an action die, the attack is confirmed as a critical hit with the following additional affects.
• Defeat (all damage types): If the target is a standard character, they are immediately defeated. The attacker may choose to kill the target as part of this defeat. The GM may spend 4 action dice to kill the defeated character regardless of the attacker’s intentions.
• Lethal Critical: The damage inflicted increases by your Fitness score on melee/unarmed attacks or Precision score on ranged attacks. If you substituted a different attribute modifier when making this attack check, you may use that attribute score instead. If the target has any action dice remaining they are also wounded.
• Stress Critical: The target is flat-footed and remains so until they take an action, even if they are attacked multiple times before then. If the target has any action dice remaining they are also shaken.
• Subdual Critical: The target is sprawled. If the target has any action dice remaining they are also fatigued.
Behind the Curtain: Wait a second, when I don't have action dice?
Many rules and character options in the New Pie focus on rewarding players for spending their action dice rather than hoarding them. In the case of critical hits in combat, rather than creating a situation where opponents trade dice to confirm crits/cancel crits, the defender simply escapes the stacking condition penalty by showing he's already playing as hard as he can, having spent through his entire pool of dice.
This does raise the question of 'when do NPCs have no dice?' NPCs under the players' control, such and Personal Lieutenants, have dice if their controling player has dice. NPCs who are the player's allies are always considered to be out of dice. Neutral NPCs have dice or not at the GMs discretion. Hostile NPCs including all adversaries have dice if the GM still has action dice remaining.
Special characters don’t like to give up. The first time a special character is reduced to 0 morale after the start of a scene or after rallying, he becomes desperate. When a charater becomes desperate they gain 1 bonus action die or 2 bonus dice if it is a dramatic scene. These dice are discarded at the end of the current scene. While desperate the character gains any bonuses he's entitled to as if this were a dramatic scene (i.e. the heroism Origin benefit) if it is not already a dramatic scene. Becoming desperate and being desperate may also act as triggers for other character options (i.e. the Too Pretty to Die feat, see below). The character ceases to be desperate as soon as he has regained his maxiumum morale points or morale points greater than his Determination score, whichever is lower.
Defeated, not Dead?
So what is defeat (the game term), and why is it maybe worse than death? Defeated is a condition that takes the place of death for most negative outcomes - when you reach 0 Health you are defeated. For standard NPCs its a catch all for beaten into submission or possibly dead, depending on the attacker’s mood. For Special NPCs its beaten badly enough they can no longer press the fight. For Player characters its the point were you are out of the story... for a while. The reason it may be worse than death is NPCs, particularly friendly NPCs, don’t share in this protection. If the entire party is defeated its a wipe and bad things happen - villains advance their schemes unopposed, critical allies get killed, current party goals may be come unachievable, and best (or worst) of all the players have to live with the consequences. Them’s the breaks of immortality.
After being defeated, players can return to active play three ways.
• Battlefield Rally: Spells or character abilities may offer a battlefield rally. This returns the character to play immediately. The amount of health and morale restored is described with each option. Batlefield rallies frequently reduce the rallied character’s maximum morale until the end of the scene.
• Regroup: Once all non-defeated members of the player party are out of combat and any dangerous environments they may rally the other players and any surviving NPCs. Characters rally with their maximum morale reduced to one-half until the end of the current scene (rounded up). They recover 1d6 health and their maximum (adjusted) morale. If the party wipes, the GM may choose to allow the players to regroup in place, where they can directly experience the consequences of their defeat with play typically resuming 1 hour after any surviving hostile characters have withdrawn.
• Fall Back!: When all of the Player characters and their allies have been defeated the party is forced to fall back. One way players can prepare for setbacks is to select a rally point by unanimous decision. Rally points fall into 3 categories: secure locations (such as a friendly town or pre-prepared safehouse), their present location if they are not directly under threat (such as the party’s current campsite), or a proposed location within 1 day’s travel for the slowest player character that is unlikely to be under direct threat. These three categories primarily affect the number of action dice the GM must spend to torment the players should they suffer a wipe and be forced to fall back. Undefeated Players may (by unanimous decision) choose to conceed a combat to the enemy, retreating to the rally point prior to a party wipe. Play resumes after a reasonable amount of time has passed to allow characters to singly or in small groups groups slink off back to the rally point. If the Players have not agreed upon a rally point prior to wiping the GM chooses one for them, with the modifiers for meddling with their rally as for proposed locations.
Defeated: Standard characters may take no actions. Special character may take no actions except a 5 foot step each round if there are no opponents adjacent to them. They may speak to other characters only with the GMs aproval. This condition only ends when the character rallies. Defeated characters do not block movement through or around their space and cannot contribute to flanking. Other characters within 1 size category of the defeated character may not end their movement in the defeated character's space.
Fatigued (I–IV + defeat): The character may not Run. Further, his Speed drops by 5 ft. and his Fitness and Precision scores each drop by 2 per grade he suffers. If a character with fatigued IV is fatigued again he is defeated. Characters lose half their fatigue grades at the end of each scene (round up). Characters also lose 1 grade of fatigue per full night’s sleep (minimum 6 uninterrupted hours).
Shaken (I–IV + defeat): The character may not take 10 or 20. Further, he suffers a –2 penalty with all attack checks and his Awareness and Guile scores each drop by 2 per grade he suffers. If a character with shaken IV is shaken again he is defeated. Characters lose half their shaken grades at the end of each scene (round up). Characters also lose 1 grade of shaken per full night’s sleep (minimum 6 uninterrupted hours).
Wounded (I–IV + defeat): The character may not Refresh. Further, he suffers a –1 penalty with all saves and his Determination and Grace scores each drop by 2 per grade he suffers. If a character with wounded IV is wounded again he is defeated. Characters lose half their wounded grades at the end of each scene (round up). Characters also lose 1 grade of wounded per full night’s sleep (minimum 6 uninterrupted hours).
Refresh (Full Initiative Action): You recover morale equal to your base Fortitude Save bonus + half your Determination score (round up). You may spend and roll exactly 1 action die and add the results to the number of morale points recovered.
Go to Ground (Refresh trick): You may also make a standard move as part of this refresh action if that move ends with you in a location that grants at least 1/2 cover towards 1 or more adversaries.
Take Stock, then Rock (Refresh trick): You may also take a use item action to ready, stow, or reload a weapon on you person during this refresh action.
New Species Feats
Cling to Life
The will to survive is strong in this one.
Benefit: Your maximum health increase by 5. When you become desperate you immediately lose the baffled, enraged, fixated, frightened, and/or stunned conditions.
New Style Feats
Too Pretty to Die
Hey now, he's the one with the great hulking bloodsoaked axe... Shouldn't you be looking at him?
Prerequisites: Grace or Guile 17+
Benefit: You may add your Grace or Guile modifier to your melee/unarmed defense as a second attribute bonus while you are within 15 ft. of a teammate with a higher Base Attack Bonus than your own. When you become desperate, each of your teammates able to see and hear you immediately recovers morale as if they had taken a refresh action.
GM Action Dice
Interfering with Rallying.
1 die: party-wide brief delays
1 die: party-wide harrowing trek (increased morale cap penalty)
1 die: party-wide minor losses (reduced prudence)
2 dice: long delays
2 dice: major losses (3 low value gear destroyed)
4 dice: crushing losses (1 high value gear destroyed)
1 die per character: injury (table of ouch)
1 die per character: the character is captured by their opponents.
If the players have selected a secure location to rally at the total number of dice required is increased by 1. If they have selected a proposed location to rally at it is reduced by 2 (to a minimum of 1).