Have I mentioned the Rumors of War Relaunch Project FUNDED?
See for yourself!

The new comic starts Monday, March 3rd!

I realized abruptly this morning that the same system I was developing for creating rumors could also be used to create PC subplots. I’m of a mind that a system used by the GM often can and should be usable by the players as well.

The main difference between a rumor and a subplot is how the former revolves around one or more NPCs while the latter revolves around one or more PCs. You could even mix and match to create some seriously complicated stories.

But the problem that struck me was how to establish consequences for any of what goes on — how do you prevent the players from abusing the system for fun and profit? Actually, you want them to have fun and profit, you just also want it to be manageable at the same time — so there have to be risks involved.

For example, the mechanic I came up with to balance rumors was Exposure — the combined effect of too much “bad reputation.” I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think reputation ought to be a “thing” for PCs, that character level should reflect reputation more than anything.

When the party fails to complete an adventure together, they suffer the deleterious effects of Exposure, which reduces the number of Action Points they receive from each Extended Rest. Action Points double as a recovery mechanic, which means PCs heal more slowly the more “exposed” they are.

Exposure, like Skill Training, is a party-wide mechanic — even a brand-new PC joining the party takes on whatever Exposure the party is currently suffering — reflecting the danger inherent with associating with anyone under scrutiny.

That’s fantastic but it doesn’t necessarily make sense for a PC’s personal problems (i.e. subplots) to have the same kind of impact — they could, but it’s less personal that way. I think it makes a lot more sense for a subplot to be a personal gamble.

So I think the main difference between rumors and subplots — aside from whom to give the starring roles — is rumors impact the party’s Exposure, while subplots impact a character’s Condition. Not sure if I’ve mentioned Condition lately.

Condition modifies d20 rolls like attacks and saves. It’s a death spiral mechanic, and when a PC’s Condition hits bottom, they’re rendered “unplayable” (effectively catatonic?), and quickly die without intervention.

Condition doesn’t modify skill checks (except gambits), which means that even the most drama-laden PC can still contribute to group activities that don’t involve violence — well, critical hits can still happen however unlikely.

So, to quickly summarize:
* Rumors are NPC-oriented and potentially increase a party’s Exposure — a party-wide mechanic that makes it more difficult for PCs to recover from adventures.
* Subplots are PC-oriented and potentially erode a character’s Condition — a personal mechanic that makes it more difficult to succeed on attacks and saves.

They should (hypothetically) have the combined effect of forcing the PCs into longer periods of downtime following multiple or catastrophic failures.

Also, drama!