ross payton
Ross Payton of Role Playing Public Radio

At Fear the Con last week, I had the good fortune to play in Ross Payton’s Age of Masks Wild Talents game.  Age of Masks is a setting not unlike that of Watchmen.  It is a grim  and gritty modern era world where those wearing the cape of the superhero are anything but heroic.  Remember Miller’s Dark Knight Returns?  Then you can imagine the world Payton painted for us.

The game employs the Wild Talents system. It’s a nifty, streamlined system that were it not for it’s dice mechanic, I’d like rather a lot.

Here’s an excerpt from a great review of the game over on

The heart of Wild Talents is the One Role Engine. It does what it says on the tin: it tells you everything you need about an action based on a single roll. It’s a die pool game, wherein you take your statistics (Body, Coordination, Command, etc.), add them to your skills (Swordplay, Chemistry, Brawling, etc.), and roll the resultig number as a pool of ten-sided dice. Unlike similar die pool games, you’re not looking to beat a target number–you’re looking for dice that show the same result. The number of matching numerals is the “width,” and the actual numeral is the “height.” For instance, if you roll a five-die pool and get 3, 8, 3, 3, and 2, then you’ve got a 3×3 result: three instances (width) of the number three (hight). You can never roll more than 10 dice, because you’re guaranteed success if you do, and that’s just not cool.

It’s a great review, go over and check it out.

Gotta tell you that height and width thing took me half the game to figure out.  Me am moron.

dice at wild talentsI really disliked the dice mechanic.  A lot.  The reason?  Too many dice.  Same reason I can’t stand World of Darkness.  Too many dice.  On most of my roles, I was throwing seven or eight dice at a time.  It made the rolls seem too uncontrolled.  In retrospect, I think I’d use backgammon cups for this game.

I’ll play it again and let you know.

Payton spun a fun tale of an elder god brought down from the stars in this dark supers game.  Our heroes were appropriately hardened for the environment. One of our adversaries was once a “hero” such as we were.  He warned that we could die or we would follow his path, becoming  a villain such as he.  There wasn’t any other way for the super powered in the world, according to the bad guy.

At game’s end we were faced with a several options… I wanted to stop the elder god’s arrival.  To do this I was willing to destroy the summon-elder-god-machine.  Clearly, doing so would kill us, but the world would be safe.

Understanding what our villain had told us, I agreed.  “We’ll die heroes!”

I role played my argument.  No one was biting.

So, I chose to use my persuasion skill against one of the other player characters to win him to my side.

“I’m not going to allow you to rob him of free will,” Payton said, shutting down my move.

Now, let me preface the rest of this by saying I enjoyed the game.  Payton did a great job weaving his world, crafting the adventure, and letting us do awesome things.

That said, I strongly disagree with his ruling.

My character had skills and abilities that he used to affect the world.  It’s what defined him.  If I’d wanted to shoot my fellow player with my depleted-uranium-shooting elephant gun, would that have been over-ruled as well?  How about if I’d wanted to run away from that same player?

I groused about this to my con-buddy James, who agreed with Payton.  After calling James a pinhead (he is) and enduring other, more abrasive insults, James argued thus:

In the hands of a responsible role player (such as yourself), it would never be a problem. Unfortunately, in the hands of lots of players, a character with a high Persuasion stat would just have a pack of puppets instead of an adventuring party. Anytime they wanted someone to do something they’d just roll a Persuasion check and then force them to do it whether they wanted to or not.

I know people argue about this kind of thing all the time, but it’s the first time it’s happened to me as a player.  Frankly, I was stunned by it and felt like my free will was trampled.  After all, my character had an ability which he was forbidden to use.

Ticked me off.

Still does.

I’m trying to think how I’d handle the same question as GM.