Infinite Earths Overview: Stealth and Observation

By | December 1, 2012


As we here at Room 209 Gaming are recovering from the holidays and various illnesses we enjoyed over them, we began considering in greater detail some of the feedback we got from our Alpha Testing earlier this year.  In particular, we were thinking about the Stealth mechanic and the Perception mechanic.  More on how we’ve designed our version of these rules after the break:

Typically in OGL games, if you want to hide you roll whatever the “Hide” skill is against whatever the “I Can Still See You” skill of anyone potentially observing.  This makes nearly every stealth check some form of opposed roll.  And while opposed rolls are nice in some contexts, one of our aims with the development of Infinite Earths was to remove opposed rolling.

We’re instead trying to get every roll to be against a pre-set Difficulty Class.  Be that DC Armor Class or Skill Check DC or Social DC, we want Adventure Guides to be able to identify for the Players what they will be rolling against, to give Players some ability to judge whether a check is too hard for them to even attempt.  This goes hand-in-hand with these DCs being announced before rolls are made.

While, yes, this does severely curtail the Adventure Guide’s ability to “fudge” whether or not the Players will be successful, Infinite Earths adventure design is not such that the Players should find themselves in a situation where “X roll must be made successfully or the plot cannot continue.”  By not forcing such situations into the game, fudging becomes much less critically necessary.

Now, by transforming the stealth mechanic away from an opposed roll system, we needed to come up with a fast and simple structure wherein the stealth DC can be created, and we needed to come up with a logical and consistent methodology on how characters can hide, and how others can try to search for them, without introducing opposed rolls.

The first thing we did was identify the Stealth skill as being the skill that characters will use to determine if they are hidden.  Then we needed to come up with a quick method to see if the Stealth skill is successful.  We did this by identifying a base DC for the check (20), and  seven core modifiers:  Lighting, Cover / Line of Sight, Noise Level, Distraction Level, Observers, Distance, and Portals.  These are arranged in a chart, and each of the modifiers has three columns:  Advantageous, Neutral, and Disadvantageous.  Only one item (if any), the most appropriate, is selected from each of the core modifiers, and this results in the final Stealth skill check DC.

For example, trying to Sneak (DC 20) by Candlelight (-3) past a single careless (-2) guard (+2) ten feet away (-2) on the other side of a wall (-5) on a quiet night in the city (0) results in a Stealth DC of 10.  Overall, a fairly easy job to sneak past in such a situation.

On the other hand, trying to Sneak (DC 20) in Broad Daylight (+5) past two (+4) Actively Searching (+3) guards that you’ll have to pass adjacent to (+5) through a crowd (-3) in order to open a locked window (+5) and escape would be a final Stealth DC of 39.  This would be doable, but it would be an epic achievement to do so–and is therefore solidly in the realm of higher-level play.

You’ll also notice that the overall size of the skill check DCs has been reduced.  We’re not fans of number inflation, and have been working to balance the numbers in Infinite Earths around lower stats in order to reduce number inflation as much as possible.

Now, with all that–how do you find someone who’s hidden?  Well. . .you don’t.

You see, whether or not someone is hidden is dependent entirely upon their Stealth check.  If they succeed, they’re hidden from all observation–they have been successful.  However, if the conditions change–for instance, if they hid in a dark room and someone comes in with a torch–the hidden character must roll Stealth again in order to account for the changed circumstances.  If the character is successful again, he remains hidden.  If he is unsuccessful, the situation changes faster than the character can adapt and he is spotted.

The advantage to this is that success is entirely dependent upon the character who would be affected by it.  The character’s own skill cannot be usurped by someone else’s skill negating it.

But what about the old adage that “no matter how good you are, there’s always somebody better?”  That would apply for competitive abilities, such as fighting, or discussion. . .but not for “making it such that I cannot be seen.”  The skill theory behind Infinite Earths is that skills (as opposed to Strike rolls or Speech rolls) are inherently non-competitive.  They are, instead of incremental measures of competitive success, singular measures of non-competitive success.

Or, put another way, if I forge a sword of Average Quality, and Bob forges a sword of Exceptional Quality, I have still forged a sword of Average Quality.  I have still, by that measure, succeeded.

This leaves the classic Search/Spot/Perception skill in a bit of a bind.  If it’s not the deterrent counterpart to Stealth, what function does it serve?  We wrestled with this notion, too, until we started thinking in terms of Sherlock Holmes and Gregory House.

Observation, as our version of that skill is known, cannot be used to remove Stealth successes.  Instead, it allows a character to observe the minutia of a situation and make logical inferences based on them.  Let’s take an example:

A character walks into a room which is in disarray.  Drawers are pulled out of desks, papers are strewn about, cabinets have been knocked over, etc.  A character can make an Observation check to get hints or be provided inferences from the Adventure Guide.  A character who makes a check of DC 10 can be given the hint that whoever tossed the room was in a hurry–otherwise they would have been more careful.  A character who makes a check of DC 15 can learn the former and also make the inference that the tosser was looking for something small–because otherwise why bother throwing the papers about, if it was not something that could be hidden by them?

This makes the Observation skill either very valuable or very weak.  Some players may be able to pick up on this kind of information without it needing to be explicitly given or confirmed by the Adventure Guide.  On the other hand, some players who might not be able to pick up on such things might be interested in playing a character who is that kind of smart.  And, in keeping with our constant thought, a Player doesn’t need to be strong to play a strong character, so why should a Player need to be observant to play an observant character?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little preview of the Infinite Earths ruleset.  Have a great week, and we’ll see you next Saturday!