I’m primarily a Narrator for the Marvel Super Heroes game rather than Dragonlance: Fifth Age, so I am somewhat more familiar with the Marvel version of the SAGA system. I’ve got some various ideas based roughly on the differences between Marvel and Dragonlance. Feel free to use or experiment with them as you like.
To illustrate these suggestions, I’d like to take the example of a fight between a group of three heroes and two yeti, as it might be played out using the Dragonlance rules. The yeti are Co 7, Ph 16, In 5, Es 7, Dmg +6, Def -2. The heroes have various abilities which are mentioned below.
We assume that neither side surprises the other. Two of the heroes choose to close to melee range with the yeti, while the third (a sorcerer) remains at near missile range to toss spells. The two heroes who closed each attack a yeti while the sorcerer prepares a flame bolt spell.
The heroes in melee each have Strength 7 and broadswords (+6). The base difficulty to hit the yeti is average (8), plus their Physique (16), or 24. Not surprisingly, both heroes miss. The sorcerer’s flame bolt spell has a total difficulty of 11 (instant invocation, near missile range, instant duration, individual area, 9 damage points). Add to that the yeti’s Intellect of 5 for a difficulty of 16. The sorcerer has Reason 8, plays a couple good cards and succeeds, doing 9 damage points to one yeti. Fortunately he expended an extra 7 spell points to make sure he accounted for the yeti’s resistance. The sorcerer is down 18 spell points.
The heroes in melee must now avoid the yeti’s attacks. They have Endurance 7. Avoiding the attack is an average (8) action, plus the yeti’s Physique (16), a difficulty of 24 again. Not surprisingly, both heroes fail their actions. Each yeti does 22 damage points (16 +6). Each hero has Def -4 and takes 18 damage points, since they’re both adventurers, it brings one down to 1 card and the other down to 2 cards (he had a damage trump). The fight continues… now, let’s look at some options.
Agility to Avoid Attacks
As several folks have pointed out, Marvel uses Agility for all defensive actions in combat rather than Endurance for melee attacks, like Dragonlance. This certainly changes how combat works in Dragonlance, making high Physique monsters considerably easier to hit in melee. Take the yetis mentioned above. The difficulty to hit them normally is 24 (average action + Physique 16). Under this option, the difficulty is 15 (average action + Coordination 7). Still no cakewalk, but closer to daunting rather than impossible. The damage done remains the same, and their high Physique still makes yetis fairly tough to kill. A Strength 8 hero armed with a broad sword (+6) does 14 damage points. Minus the yeti Defense of 2 that’s 12 points. Two such blows will kill a yeti, which seems about right.
By the same token, heroes use Agility to dodge all attacks rather than just ranged attacks. This does tend to reduce the value of Endurance in combat, but I’m not certain that’s necessarily a bad thing. Assuming their Agility is comparable to their Endurance, the heroes in the example will have just as hard a time avoiding the yeti’s attacks as before.
Rather than just adding to Defense, a hero has the option of using a shield’s bonus as either Defense or a bonus to avoid attacks for that turn, representing the shield’s ability to turn away attacks. So a hero with a kite shield (-2) could gain either -2 Defense or a +2 bonus to defensive actions, depending on how the shield is used. This option works with either the Endurance or Agility systems for resisting attacks.
Action Total for Damage
In Dragonlance, an attack always does the same amount of damage. A Strength 8 hero armed with a broadsword (+6) always does 14 damage points when he hits, regardless of how well he hits. In Marvel, the damage of an attack is based on the hero’s Action Total for the attack action, plus any bonus damage for weapons. For example, a Strength 8 hero attacks a foe and generates an action total of 16. The hero’s base damage is then 16, plus any weapon bonuses. So the aforementioned warrior then does 22 damage points.
Note that this significantly increases the amount of damage heroes can do in combat (especially with trump bonuses for certain weapons). However, it also makes “critical hits” possible, where heroes who score significantly high results inflict more damage. Narrators may wish to consider combining this option with the next one.
Endurance for Defense
In Dragonlance, heroes have no Defense except for whatever armor they wear (along with protective magic and similar things). Some creatures have inherent Defense. In Marvel, heroes and characters have a base Defense based on their Strength (Endurance or Physique in SAGA terms). Implementing this option in Dragonlance increases the Defense of heroes and tough creatures, although it should only be used in combination with a system for allowing heroes to inflict more damage (such as described above).
If this system is used, Narrators should considerably reduce the Defense of most creatures, letting them use only their Physique as Defense and giving additional Defense only to creatures with strong natural armor. For example, a gargoyle and a unicorn are both Physique 16. However, a gargoyle has a tough stone hide, so the Narrator lets it retain its -3 Def bonus, but drops the unicorn’s -4 Def, it’s Physique makes it tough enough under this system.
In Dragonlance, characters have health (“hit points”) equal to their Physique score. In Marvel, characters have a variable Health score unrelated to their Strength (Physique), which is used as defense. The Health score is generally based on how important the character is (thugs have low Health, while master villains like Dr. Doom have very high Health). This option can make certain characters and creatures in Dragonlance tougher or weaker as the Narrator requires, but setting the character’s damage points at a level higher or lower than his or her Physique. One such option I’ve seen is to give important characters a bonus to health equal to their number of Quests, so legendary heroes are tougher than mere novices with the same Endurance.
I have a number of variant magic systems posted on my web page for people to look at. What I’d like to suggest here is a separation of the difficulty of a spell from its cost in spell points.
In this option, spellcasting works like a normal attack action, using Reason or Spirit in place of Strength or Dexterity. The spellcaster makes an average Reason (Perception) or Spirit (Presence) action to cast the spell, paying the spell’s cost in spell points. The Narrator can decide whether or not the caster needs to pay spell points to account for the target’s resistance or not. Some spells affecting objects may be resisted, such as a spell intended to knock down a stone wall being resisted by the wall’s Strength. Narrators may have some spells resisted by different abilities, like resisting some physical missile spells using Agility, or a resisting a spell that inflicts pain with Endurance or Spirit.
Generally, this makes spells easier to cast, but doesn’t allow spellcasters to cast more spells, since they cost about the same number of spell points.
In Marvel, Dragon Cards (there called Doom Cards) do not cause mishaps. Instead they are played normally, with the limit that Doom Cards are never considered trump. Any Doom Cards played go into a “Doom Pool.” At any time, the Narrator may draw cards from the Doom Pool to increase the difficulty of any action performed by a hero. The Narrator MUST use all the Doom Cards by the end of the adventure.
Now, I’ve been told by Marvel Creative Director Mike Selinker that the Doom Pool system wouldn’t work as well with Dragonlance because the distribution of cards is different between the DL and Marvel Fate Decks. However, I haven’t really tried using it, so I can’t say if that’ true or not. If anyone out there has tried using a Doom Pool mechanic with Dragonlance, I’d be most interested in hearing how it worked out.
So, to close let’s look at our sample combat again, using the options I’ve mentioned:
Once again, the heroes choose to close with the yeti while the sorcerer prepares a spell. The base difficulty to hit the yeti is 8, plus their Coordination of 7, or 15. The heroes are both Strength 7. One plays an 8 of Orbs for a 15, the other plays a 4 of Swords (a trump) and draws a 6 of Helms for a total of 17. The first hero inflicts a base 15 damage points (his action total), plus 6 for his broadsword, for a total of 21. The yeti subtracts its Physique of 16 for this damage and takes (21-16) = 5 damage points (The Narrator decided that yeti did not merit any additional Def apart from their high Physique). The second hero does a base 17 damage points, plus his sword bonus, for 23 damage. The yeti takes 7 damage points.
The sorcerer casts his flame bolt spell. He marks off the 11 spell points the spell costs, then makes an average Reason action. The Narrator decides that the spell is opposed by the yeti’s Coordination (it can try and dodge it). The difficulty is (8 + 7) or 15. The sorcerer is successful, and the first yeti takes another 9 damage points (for a total of 14).
Now the yeti attack. Avoiding their attacks has a difficulty of (8 + 16) = 24. Both heroes make Agility actions to evade the yeti’s claws and fangs. One hero has a target shield (-3) and elects to use it to evade rather than for defense. He gains +3 to his action to avoid the attack. He plays a 4 of Shields on his Agility 6, then draws a 7 of Arrows for a total of (6 + 4 + 7 + 3) = 20, not quite enough! The other hero has no shield, so he simply plays a 7 of Shields on his Agility 7 and draws an 8 of Orbs for a total of 22, still not quite enough. Both heroes are hit. The first loses the benefit of his shield, so his Def is only -1 and he takes (22 – 1) = 21 damage points. His companion has Def -4 and takes only 18 damage points. One yeti is very badly wounded and the other is hurt, but so are the heroes. Can they win…?
I welcome any thoughts or feedback. If you actually try out any of these options, let me know how they work out.