Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Pyramid Power!


I was thinking about pyramid tests in ICONS. I don't think they're a solution without a problem, but I think there isn't enough guidance about what they can be used for. Let me make my suggestions, and other things will naturally occur to you.

A pyramid test is a set of tests where you want to accumulate a massive success. Lesser successes add to larger successes. So you could roll once, or eight times barely successfully. That's the concept. How can you use it?

In combat, it could represent firing the photon torpedo down the narrow access shaft to destroy the Death Star, or managing to get sufficient damper rod material into the atomic monster's tiny mouth opening. (There might even be a way to replace actual combat with Stamina and such with pyramid tests, but I don't want to go there.) It's an interesting way to handle a crowd of minions or a swarm of bees: rather than treating the swarm as a single opponent, the PCs have to win a pyramid test where they can use any technique, from swatting with the wall of a shed to the quantities of honey they put out to attract the insects.

In tests, it's good for something that the skillmeister does while the combat bunnies fight. For instance, perhaps the combat bunnies keep the Killdroids busy while your tech-savvy character is defeating the firewall(s) around the computer that controls the Killdroids, or that supplies them power in a mad Nikola Tesla air-power scheme. The tech-savvy character may take three panels to break into the computer while the fighting goes on, but the combat bunnies would never be able to destroy the Killdroids unless TechGuy got through the firewall.

One place that I've had good luck is to use the pyramid test instead of detective work. In a scenario I had written, there was a certain amount of detective work, which was the jam for my first playtest group but tedious to the second. The first group just roleplayed it. (In game terms, I was mostly concerned with how fast they'd find the information, not that they'd find the information.) I replaced the roleplaying with a pyramid test, because the second group of players preferred--they were able to say, "Oh, I'll do this to test," roll to see if/how well they did it, and add that to the pyramid test. So long as players had reasonable ideas of how to approach the problem, I allowed it. The fact that you can spend an Advantage to get +2 to effort helped, too, because they were able to minimize the boring detective stuff and get on to what they wanted, which was to fight bad guys.

Your opponent can negate your character's successes, or you can run with a second pyramid test. They represent opposed and unopposed tasks: if what your opponent does subtracts from what you do, then you subtract their degree of success from the total you've achieved.

Uberfraulein (the cousin to Ubermensch) is having a tug of war with Wonderful Chick. Obviously they're working against each other. You have a single pyramid test.

Ubermensch and Flicker are running for charity. Unless they're actively working against each other, I'd run it as two separate pyramid tests, each rolling against the same target number. Ubermensch will probably lose to Flicker because he has flight 8 and Flicker has Superspeed 9, but maybe not. Maybe an earlier mistake by Flicker (that is, a bad roll) will allow Ubermensch to get to the finish line first. (You can even make it a sub-game by giving each player the choice of whether they want to make a roll to add to their own pyramid or subtract from the other's.)

You could certainly run a pyramid test when trying to convince someone that they are wrong about something--say, your character's secret identity. Your character needs to provide a certain number of points of proof, because the other person knows that shape changers exist, so just seeing the two of you in a room isn't going to convince them.

Basically, if one person has to succeed at a number of tasks in a row, a pyramid test might work.