Rule Rethink: Willpower

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TheGrue TheGrue's picture
Rule Rethink: Willpower

Cross-posting this from my blog, because I'm sure you guys will have some wonderful insights.

TL;DR - I think Willpower affecting both Lucidity and Composure is a problem. I explain why and propose alternatives.

Willpower is kind of Constitution of the Mind, to borrow a D&D metaphor. Unlike the other aptitudes there's very few skills it affects (none in fact except for the Psi skills, which we'll look at in a later edition), instead it serves three purposes:

1 - It defines a character's Lucidity, their ability to absorb mental stress and how much shit they can take before they lose it
2 - It defines a character's Composure(WILx3), how likely a character is to take stress damage from existential crises and extraterrestrial horrors
3 - It defines a character's Trauma Threshold, how much mental stress they can absorb before developing derangements

Ability to resist trauma grows linearly with Willpower; a character with 5 WIL a 15% chance to resist trauma, a character with 10 WIL has a 30% chance, a character with 15 WIL has a 45% chance and so on up to 90% at 30 WIL. This is all well and good.

Lucidity is defined as twice a character's Willpower, and thus also scales linearly - as does Trauma Threshold at one-fifth LUC. Witnessing a gruesome murder scene clocks in at 1d10 stress, or 5.5 on average. A character with 5 WIL and 10 LUC can't do that more than twice on average without going batty, and even once is likely to earn a Trauma. A character with the full 30 WIL, however, has 60 LUC and a TT of 12.

This is intuitive: if Willpower represents an ego's ability to keep hold of reality, then it follows that someone with high Willpower would be better able to deal with disturbing situations. The problem is that Willpower double-dips: A character with low Willpower has a small chance to shrug off mental stress, and will statistically fail their WIL x3 test and take stress damage more often. That same character has a lower Lucidity, and thus is able to absorb less mental stress before going insane.

At the other end of the spectrum, a character with high Willpower has a better chance of passing their test and not taking any stress. If they do fail a test, they can absorb more stress than other characters before insanity takes hold.

In essence Willpower has an exponential effect on a character's ability to keep hold of their sanity, as it affects both one's chance of taking mental stress and how much mental stress they can take. This is particularly egregious in the context of asyncs; in the setting lore asyncs, in particular the Lost Generation, vary from mildly disturbed to spree-killing insane. However, since Psi skills and sleight durations are based on Willpower a character with the Psi trait is encouraged to emphasise their WIL in order to optimize their psi abilities - the result is that characters who should have the most tenuous grasp on sanity are, mechanically, significantly more mentally stable than non-asyncs.

I've thought about this for a while, and I can think of four ways to address this dissonance between fluff and mechanics.

1 - Divorce Lucidity from Willpower and base it on some other aptitude - This would result in high-WIL characters who could shrug off stress most of the time, but whose minds would start to fracture if they let their guard down.

2 - Remove Composure, at least as a test to avoid taking stress damage. Stress damage is already a die-based variable, and Lucidity a measure of how much a character can take. Rolling extra dice is unnecessary complication.

3 - Divorce Composure/Resolve from Willpower and base it on another aptitude or aptitude spread - High-WIL characters would be better able to absorb and internalize trauma, though not necessarily brush it aside. I would suggest COG+INT+WIL as the alternative to WILx3.

4 - Make Composure/Resolve a skill rather than an Aptitude test. This is sort of an alternative to option 2, but divorces Composure from aptitudes entirely. It becomes a defensive skill analogous to Fray. Of course this also means it's easier to raise and easier to minmax so I'm not sure it's strictly better than option 2.

I'm not sure if any of these are strictly "better", but I'm sure there are alternatives I'm overlooking. What are your thoughts? Is it even a problem that Lucidity and Composure are derived from the same aptitude?

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ShadowDragon8685 ShadowDragon8685's picture
TheGrue wrote:I'm not sure if

TheGrue wrote:
I'm not sure if any of these are strictly "better", but I'm sure there are alternatives I'm overlooking. What are your thoughts? Is it even a problem that Lucidity and Composure are derived from the same aptitude?

In my opinion, no.

It means that if you want to say "I really don't like sanity/stress mechanics and just want to get on with it," you can advance WIL to silly levels and nearly never have to deal with it. This kind of character has an "armor of contempt" thing going on, where they just don't give a fuck, and can walk onto a gruesome crime scene or even find evidence of TITAN shenanigans without blinking.

You can further this effect by also bumping MOX to silly levels as well, especially since most of the effects that make you roll MOX to not get fucked over make you roll MOX × 10, and the really egregious ones (lol you opened a door you shouldn't have, roll to see if the exsurgent virus fucks you and if so, how hard,) make you roll maxMox × 10.

So in an age where people are apparently losing their shit every day, getting your WIL and MOX up to silly levels means you just don't give a fuck, are luckier than an Irishman successfully putting a Leprechaun into a submission hold atop a pot of gold in a field of four-leafed clover, and basically, you Get Shit Done.

Whereas on the other hand, if MOX or WIL are at default levels, you're going to be losing your shit quite often, basically needing psychosurgery every other week to continue to operate as a a functional transhuman, and will in all probability get superfucked the moment you step into any TITANbullshit scene, at which point your only utility to Firewall is as a canary in the coal mine - your horrible fate is their indication to drop the nukes.

And if you stat dump them to Scarytown levels, well... In that case, you're going to have the best survivability of all the characters in your group, because, just like the Call of Cthulhu example of an already mentally-unstable war veteran with a love of fire and explosives and a hatred of anything that smacks remotely of book learning, your fellow PCs will see to it that you get "mistakenly" egocast to Titan or somewhere else nice and safe, rather than to the mission area full of shit that's going to drive you insane and/or turn you into an gibbering monster or an instant Manchurian Candidate.

TL;DR: If you wanna really be an Eclipse Phase character who can get shit done, 25 WIL/7 MOX is the very least I'd recommend, preferably 30+ WIL and 10 MOX. They are, together, just That Important for ignoring or resisting the bullshit that will turn your character from a badass combat monkey into a gibbering wreck, a festering pile of tentacles, or a traitor.

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ThatWhichNeverWas ThatWhichNeverWas's picture
The problem isn't the attribute.

TheGrue wrote:
However, since Psi skills and sleight durations are based on Willpower a character with the Psi trait is encouraged to emphasise their WIL in order to optimize their psi abilities - the result is that characters who should have the most tenuous grasp on sanity are, mechanically, significantly more mentally stable than non-asyncs.

IMO, working as intended.
That is, I don't think Async minds are more fragile than other people's, I think they're too flexible. They're not as subject to mental disruption from "mundane" sources because the way they think is subtly yet fundamentally different to the transhuman standard. They're simply wired differently, allowing them to parse and accept information normal minds reject.
They're the ones who can look at Cthulhu and comprehend him.
Yes, they're friggin' nuts, but as a side effect of their altered mentality, not because of any "weakness".
If you really want Asyncs to be mentally unstable, you're better off linking Psi skills to INT instead of messing with WILL.

That saidI agree completely that Will, along with Moxie as ShadowDragon8685 so ably pointed out, is overpowered as is, but this only really manifests as a product of the WILLx3 system.
If you really want to change things, consider replacing WILLx3 rolls with WILLx2+30 or WILL+40 instead fiddling about with other mechanics.

In the past we've had to compensate for weaknesses, finding quick solutions that only benefit a few.
But what if we never need to feel weak or morally conflicted again?