(re)Designing Threats

Elsethread, Bill wrote:

Yes. This hits the problem on the head, because the wording of the Honor-bound threat in the Organization is not written very thoughtfully in terms of how it interacts with the available moves in the system [^1]

Now, I’m not going to try to rewrite basic moves. No thanks. Also, as Dave pointed out, filddly close-readings of the basic moves is likely to lead to a lot of over-thinking and frustration in the long run.

But I can rewrite poorly written threats all I like.

So let’s review:


In general, this isn’t so much bad as just… lazy. The author knew what they meant so they didn’t bother with making better word choices. That’s mostly a problem with For My Honor and Mercy, from my take. Unrelenting is clear enough, but still doesn’t show enough thinking about stat-miscibility on the part of the designer.

  • For my Honor: I don’t like how the invulnerability is expressed. Taken at face face value, it removes some interesting story options. Also, I get why they don’t spell out their code, but… yeah. It makes the whole thing a bit of a landmine.
  • Mercy: In broad terms, the stat is clear enough, except it doesn’t say what “show mercy” means specifically as it applies to the threat’s own moves. I mean, you can’t spell out ‘mercy’s’ effect for everything, but you could at least say what that means for Unrelenting.
  • Unrelenting. Umm… Okay, so this is, depending on how you read Mercy, the only stat you can outright damage by doing damage to the honor bound. So mechanically it’s the first stat to go, and tactically it’s a good stat to damage right away… and it’s maybe the only one you easily can damage… and the stat reads “the honor bound does damage twice to anyone who damages them”… and it’s on the stat that is going to be removed BY that damage… eh. Say more to address that.

Also the basic-concept-as-presented - unassailable person who can’t be meaningfully affected… until you find the auto-win button hidden behind For My Honor or piss them off with a three-card-monty scam - is less interesting to me than what I want.

So I’m going to take a shot at remaking the Threat into something I like better for the game.

Siflae the Honor-Bound: The most noble of the overlord’s servants, they have a strict moral code they will not break. This code grants them unbelievable strength (as does a thousand years of combat).

For My Honor: The Honor-Bound cannot be defeated in combat, by spell or arrow or blade.

  • This stat cannot be damaged unless the Honor-Bound breaks their personal code. If they do, they are immediately Taken Out and will not fight for the rest of the scene.
  • The first time a member of the fellowship honors their code, the Honor-Bound will honor a request they make.
  • Some moves (certain options in Sting Like a Bee, for example) can remove the honor-bound from a scene (no ‘defeat’ implied), though prerequisites for a move must still be met. (For example: Courage or Wisdom-based Finish Them moves might work against the Honor-bound, at least for a time, but still require appropriate Advantage being established - simply surrounding them with troops or having a dwarf Keep them Busy with an axe and a big shield will not create the kind of Advantage you need to attempt to establish a bond, for example…)

Mercy: The Honor-Bound will always show mercy and compassion, even to their enemies.

  • If Mercy is undamaged and Unrelenting is triggered, the Honor-bound will generally choose Damage options that target gear, resources, or companions, as appropriate (probably while admonishing their target and discouraging further attempts to cross them).
  • When the Honor-Bound is tricked, deceived, or betrayed by someone in the fellowship, damage this stat. This stat can also be damaged by straightforward damage - the honor-bound is merciful and patient, but not infinitely so.

Unrelenting: The Honor-Bound deals damage to anyone Keeping Them Busy. The Honor-Bound deals damage twice to anyone who damages them. If damage taken by the honor-bound will result in damaging this stat, apply the effects of Unrelenting first, then damage the stat.

[^1]: I have other thoughts on the basic moves available in the system (and the stuff that isn’t), which I’ll probably get into in some other post.

And hey, if anyone else wants to take a shot at a rewritten version, have at it. Designing threats is actually kind of fun.

My version is probably kind of hand-hold-y and spells out various options with a lot of specificity but… well, I’ve tried to introduce four different as-written threats from the book so far, and none of them have gone at-all smoothly, so… yeah. I feel it’s needed.

When I first saw the Honor-Bound, I felt the problem was that it diminished the villain. It felt like a better version might look like this:

You cannot be defeated or Taken Out until your commitment to your code is challenged.

What’s the difference? If someone violates their code, this triggers. But it also triggers if they don’t work sufficiently hard to uphold it - or crucially, if someone else demonstrates a stronger commitment to their own code, for example. Examples on the way when I have more time.

This sounds cool and I’m definitely interested in it.

I have my own thoughts on this, but I don’t want to derail this thread. Expect me the write something on this later.

As for what’s presented in the book, I think For My Honor works… depending on what the code is. I will present the oddest example of the Honor-bound I can think of…

The bridgekeeper from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Let’s break this down for a second… they have a code to let no one pass the bridge unless they can answer their questions. They cannot be defeated by force of arms. Only when they are tricked do they become vulnerable and one cannot say that they were defeated, only removed from the scene.

The perfect example? Probably not, but it works for this example.


Okay. To illustrate how a hero, a villain, and a code of honor can interact in different ways, here’s some touchstones I personally have.

“You have to shoot”. With these words, Spock broke Valeris, establishing that she’d have to overcome her Bond with him as her mentor to uphold her code. This feels like a straightforward compromise of a code - but it had a lot of lead-up, permitting that moment to have the power it has.

“I’ll do it”. Sometimes the code is what defeats the villain, not the hero’s brawn or brains.

More from FFXIV - Thancred vs. Ran’jit. Both men are focused on Ryne, the young girl who’s the latest reincarnation of the Oracle of Light. Both have sworn to protect her. Where they differ is in what “protect” means. Ran’jit, the villain here, wants to lock her away and keep her “safe”, no matter what she wants. Thancred wants to atone for his past actions toward her (he was emotionally distant, due to his love for the woman who was the first incarnation of the Oracle). Both are following some kind of Code - but it’s Thancred who shows more dedication to his cause, who knows his version of that code is the right one, and that buys him victory.

More in the next post.

These examples all have a few things in common.

  • There’s build-up. We meet the threat well before the climax with them. We get to know them. In the case of Valeris, she’s nominally on the side of the good guys! This creates room to place some emotional stakes, and not just see the villain as an obstacle to overcome.
  • Their code isn’t a secret. In many cases, a villain with a code will tell the heroes about it, sometimes by claiming the heroes are morally in the wrong, and explaining why they think that. Well written villains will have codes that make the audience nod along and go “yeah I mean you’re evil, but yeah, kind of…”
  • The code acts as a moral gatekeeper to the protagonists. Valeris forces Kirk to confront his own prejudice toward the Klingons. Thancred has been a bad father, but confronted with Ran’jit, who’s a terrible one, he realizes what he must change about himself.

If Doyce believes there’s meaningful things we can do against our current opponents without change, I’m happy to see where that goes, and not muck around with the stats as written. But if presented with the challenge of “design an adversary with a code of honor”, I’d keep these things in mind.

I think a lot of the heavy lifting boils down to making sure the code is good

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