Shooting at Volley

high-shotSomething was bugging me about Volley. I couldn’t really put my finger on it, partly because we don’t have many archers in our game, but it niggled at me until we finally had one arrow-heavy session. I realized what it was. the 7–9 outcome (Do less damage, place yourself in danger or expend ammo) always felt clunky, which is odd, because it’s an seemed like a by the book hard choice.

At first, I suspected my concern was structural, as the choice was made by the player not the character.

Now, yes, the character is a proxy for the player, we all get that, but I hope the distinction is clear. The choice in volley is presented outside of the fiction, made outside the fiction then brought back into the fiction. Consider, in contrast, a defy danger result where, say, you can save an orphan, but you have to go through fire (and take damage) to do it. That choice is presented in the fiction, made inside the fiction (albeit by the player) and resolved inside the fiction.

So I break Volley down a bit. The problem I’m seeing is that there’s no continuity to the fiction of it – I describe my action (I pop up over the edge of the balcony and fire an arrow at the goblin leader!”) and if I get a 10+, the fiction proceeds naturally, with my arrow hitting the dude. If I blow the roll, the fiction proceeds naturally too. But on a 7–9, what’s the fiction?

I can answer that in terms of effect. Either

  • I land a crappy shot (reduced damage).
  • I take a bunch of shots to hit (spend ammo).
  • I need to move to someplace dangerous to get the shot (move).

Now here’s the challenge: pose that choice to a player without citing the rules. Specifically, be aware of who knows what, when.[1] The likeliest result is to effectively make the 7–9 result its own action beat, which is functional, but a bit of a problem if action beats are something you’re keeping an eye on.

So that was definitely a disconnect for my style, but it didn’t feel like I really captured the heart of it. But thinking about the fiction of it made me look at the way the choices are structured, and I saw another thing that bugged me a little. Look at the third option: “You have to move to get the shot placing you in danger of the GM’s choice”.

I’m not 100% comfortable with the way the GM choice is framed here. There are two ways to read this. The first is “A danger to be determined after you’ve decided”, which is a fiddly proposition. The second is that the GM communicates the details of the danger in the fiction so that the player can make a real choice.

And that’s where it crystalized.

That second interpretation doesn’t seem like it would be a problem. Hard choices are awesome, after all. But it reveals that this is really a soft choice. because the player can always opt not to make it (by just choosing to do less damage). The move has a built in escape valve for tension.

And there it was. The half-assed hits really mess with things. They are the hardest thing to account for in the fiction and they soften the choice. That’s a double problem.

Consider if the Volley 7–9 was “You do damage, but you either use one ammo, or expose yourself to danger[2]” That feels more like the right kind of tradeoff. I could see going to “You don’t have the shot. To do damage, you either need to use one ammo or expose yourself to danger” which at least puts a little bit more cost on taking the wimp out choice, but it softens the tradeoff.

It still doesn’t move the choice entirely into the fiction, but it simplifies the intrusion, and that’s not nothing. I’ll probably have to come back to it when I really start thinking about all fiction, all the time[3] but for now I think I’m going to have to try the hard choice version of Volley at my table. There will almost certainly be some mechanical repercussions. I’ll have to keep an eye on ammo scores, but since that hasn’t even come close to being an issue yet, I am not going to tweak ammo values yet.

Now, to deal with all these damn rapiers…


  1. If this seems super-obvious-easy to you, then perhaps you are right. But it is also possible that you are taking something for granted.  ↩
  2. yes, there are still some complexities in communicating that, but it’s workable.  ↩
  3. I’ve got you in my sights, Discern Reality.  ↩

9 thoughts on “Shooting at Volley

  1. Rob Donoghue Post author

    One addendum that came up in conversation – some part of me wants to rethink the explicit moves in general and instead have a list of possible cool outcomes (for 10+), possible choices for 7-9, and possible crap things for 6-, and then just mad lib together the moves on the fly.

    (and that is, ultimately, just a mechanized expression of what i mean when I say you could go full World of Dungeons and do all Defy Danger, all the time)

    Reply
  2. Fred Hicks

    I like the edited version of Volley, so however you’re getting there, it feels like the right thing. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Jesse

    In response to the question in footnote one, I see two “obvious to me” approaches.

    1) You’ve got the shot lined up, but it isn’t a great one. You can make it better by stepping out onto that precarious ledge or taking a few extra shots to make sure, or you can accept you’re just going to wing him.

    2) You’ve got the shot lined up, and can do basic volley damage (aka lessened damage) Or you can make the shot better and do more by ignoring that hanging python while you focus on aiming, or take some extra shots to get your point across.

    The first exposes the weakness of the “less damage” choice — I’d really rather see something like “but you’re likely to hit something near him, too, which you’d rather you hadn’t — a neutral or allied person, something valuable you’d like to retrieve, etc.”

    The second makes volley damage weaker in universe, and gives you a “critical hit” option to make you match normal damage. Which says some things about the efficacy of bows in universe — shots are reliable but piddly, and what you really want are crits.

    Heck, you could reprase the diminished damage move as

    On hit, choose 2. On 7-9 choose one.

    @ you get it on the first hit! Don’t spend an ammo.
    @ you do full damage, instead of half damage.
    @ you don’t expose yourself to danger when taking the shot.

    Reply
    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      #1 illustrates the issue well – if all those things are true in the fiction, when do you communicate that? For me, that is the sort of thing you communicate before the roll, but if so, then I’m now obliged to pre-complicate every roll to seed it with 7-9 possibilities.

      That said, your fix is very similar to one I toyed with – if you assume that reduced damage is the *default* outcome, then it becomes easier to beat the move into shape.

      Reply
      1. Jesse

        Ah, yes — a problem that comes up in many dice-the choice mechanics. You’re right, I am making an unstated assumption: when a player says they’re going to let off a volley, I imagine that the roll is them lining up the shot. A miss means they didn’t judge the shot accurately and won’t hit. The rest are options they get.

        In the same way that all locks are the same difficulty to pick, all terrain situations are equally difficult to line up the shot in. The 2d6 tells you if you misjudged and what compromises you make aiming — the damage roll tells you how well you hit. And you have to refill each time because targets move and terrain shifts, but we don’t track those details.

        Reply
    2. Josh W

      I think the difference with this one is that it ties the move to the moment of lining up the shot, not of the arrow speeding through the air. The fiction is clearer because it creates a moment of decision where the character is still in control, when they have a chance to back out.

      It’s quite a contrast to hack and slash, which already assumes you are getting into danger intentionally.

      Reply
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  5. John Harper

    Yep, Volley bugs me now, too. I wrote a bunch of versions of it during playtesting… I can’t even remember now if the final one is mine or Sage’s, but I’ll take responsibility for it. 🙂 It does sometimes have trouble seamlessly interacting with the fiction, as you say.

    I think your tweaks are a definite improvement.

    Reply
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