Wrath Tokens

COMPATIBILITY: This plug-in is compatible with most games that feature significant physical combat with potent adversaries.

CREDIT & CAUTION
This plug-in grew out of discussion with Ryan Macklin of Master Plan about his upcoming Mythender RPG. At the time of this writing, it has not yet been ‘torture tested’ in play.

WHAT IS IT?
The characters at engaged in a pitched battle with a gigantically powerful foe. The knightly hero has been carving it to ribbons, and the beast turns and… splatters the thief all over the wall. Wait. No, that’s not right; the knight has five wrath tokens in front of him, and the thief only has one. It goes for the knight, and hits; he tosses away a wrath token. Next round, with the knight wounded, his squire takes a desperate gamble; she scoops up a gem the size of an egg and starts sprinting, hoping to draw fire away from her mentor; the GM checks her current Wrath (four!), and agrees that her actions push her up one more token, making her the main target.

WHY TO USE IT
When there’s only a single foe, or the enemies facing the characters attack as a mob, wrath sorts out targeting and allows tracking of tactics for ‘drawing fire’ and the like.

A BASELINE
What follows is a mostly system-agnostic application of this idea; it’s one that you’ll likely want to hack a bit to fit your game, but it gives us a starting point.
  • The Basics: At the start of a battle where Wrath is used, each character on the scene that looks like a combatant gets one (characters that appear to be total non-combatants start with none). An enemy will always choose to act against a target with more wrath than one with less if it reasonably able to do so, and if it can only reasonably attack another character, it suffers a one-point (or die, or whatever) penalty for each rank of difference between it’s target’s rank and that of the character with the most Wrath. Five wrath is the limit.
  • Getting Wrath: A character gains three wrath each time they damage the foe (up to a maximum of five). They gain two wrath for harassing the foe or aiding others in attack (up to a maximum of four). And they gain one wrath for healing, hiding, or otherwise giving benefits to those that have more wrath than they do (up to a limit of three). The GM may add other actions to this list ad-hoc.
  • Losing Wrath: Each time the enemy damages a character, they discard a wrath.
  • Tactics: A character may gain two wrath, or discard one, as their turn, if the player describes a suitable action (normal minimum of one, maximum five).

HACKING TO FIT
So, generic version in hand, it’s time to hack this idea into shape for the system and the campaign you’re thinking of. Here are some of the important considerations:
  • The basic range: Ranking wrath from zero through five is simple, and generally easy to remember, as well as being ‘coarse-grained’ enough that an enemy will still be able to pick between aggressive targets fairly often.  Squeezing it down to an even smaller range, such as from one to three, creates more choice for the enemies while still keeping the basic functions. Enlarging the range is more ‘fine-grained’, but can also mean that enemies never get to make tactical decisions at all, and are basically ‘robotic’.
  • Monstrous quirks: It is possible to give different kinds of foes different (or simply longer) lists of ‘what enrages them’. Dragons might consider a theft as bad as an attack; gangsters would likely take note of anyone shouting “Hello, police?” into a cell phone, undead might be enraged by the energy of healing magic, and so on. Some units might be specially trained to go after certain behaviors first - to always take down the ritualist, or the medic. Others might be blinkered enough that only damage to them will really get their attention.
  • Existing Abilities & Skills: Some games have existing abilities, skills, or other such rules items that might be applied differently, or have new uses entirely, when these rules are used. A bodyguard’s ability to shield someone might become the capacity to automatically have one more wrath than their charge; the brute that spits in the face of his foes might find that their skill instead allows them to gain wrath at a remarkable rate. Defenses that provide sanctuary or calming effects might reduce wrath; the ability to bluff might allow an assassin to make it seem as if someone else was the source of their attack.

WITH MULTIPLE FOES
As written, wrath is meant for big applies to fights with a single foe (or mob). In cases of free-ranging melee, wrath might simply indicate who ‘unattached’ enemies gravitate towards, or might be compared with how many attackers are ‘on them’ - any player with more wrath than attackers is a valid target, and the one with the biggest gap between wrath and attackers is the most valid target.

DICE OVER TOKENS
Instead of tokens, it’s very possible to just give each player a big red six-sided die to put in front of them, and raise the maximums and minimums by one. Then, players just turn it to the right face as needed. If you do, though, make sure this die is easily spotted and read from across the playing area.