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M20: Character Traits and Dramatic Systems Changes - Howl - 10-24-2015

The following changes to the character traits and system rules were implemented in Mage 20th Anniversary Edition:

Character Traits
  • The Nature and Demeanors have gone through some rewrites. (See chapter six, part II.) If anyone would like to change the Nature and/or Demeanor on their character sheet, send a note to the Admin and it will be updated.
  • There are five new core abilities:
  • Art (replaces Performance and merges it with all other artistic skills)
  • Martial Arts (now a separate ability from Brawl)
  • Research
  • Esoterica (a catch-all for all manner of esoteric, occult and new age practices)
  • Politics
  • Awareness seems to have been given a broader range of usefulness. In addition to perceiving magick, resonance and the like, it can also be used to detect Night-Folk (Vampires, Werewolves, Changelings, etc.) and spirits/ephemera. At high levels it can even detect auras.
  • Linguistics is no longer an ability. Languages can now be bought as a Merit, as with the other 20th anniversary edition games. Dodge is also no longer in use, which of course is not new for us.
  • Certain Abilities now require characters to purchase them multiple times for each specialty. As an optional rule, “Well-Skilled Craftsman” can be used instead to allow players to purchase additional specialties for 4 points each – but only once they’ve reached the 4th level of their primary specialty.
  • Enochian and Body Control are no longer their own traits and have been absorbed into Esoterica. The rules for Body Control have been updated (See chapter six, part II.)
  • Akashics who learn Do are no longer allowed to train in any other form of martial art once they’ve begun their Do training. (Previously, they were required to do so.) The rules for Do have been tweaked/expanded. See Chapter 9, Part 4 for details.
  • High Ritual no longer provides the ability to bypass the success cap on an Effect – however, this is because there is no longer an explicit cap on successes (and thus the benefit is moot.) That will be explained in more detail in the updated casting rules.
  • There is a selection of new and old “Secondary Abilities” (not to be confused with the old WoD secondary ability traits, which were linked to the primary abilities) listed in chapter six, part II.
  • The following Backgrounds now go as high as level 10: Allies, Backup, Influence, Library, Node, Resources, Requisitions, and Spies.
  • There is now an option for cabals and amalgams to pool their Background traits (see Chapter Six, part II.) The backgrounds available for this are: Allies, Backup, Influence, Laboratory, Library (Library has specific rules for pooling that work the same as we’ve already been handling it,) Mentor, Node, Patron, Resources, Requisitions, Spies, Wonder and Chantry.
  • There are some new Backgrounds: Backup, Enhancement, Requisitions (Technocrats only,) Secret Weapons (Technocrats only) and Spies. The rules have changed for a handful others – Blessing, Node, Demesne, Destiny, Familiar, Influence, Resources, Sanctum, Totem and Wonder – and a few of them now cost double the freebies/xp (see Chapter Six, Part II.)
  • The cost for Wonders is variable based on the specific Wonder and does not precisely correlate with the level of the background. This is not explained very clearly in the book, but each background level has a cost range rather than following the usual freebie rules. Wonders themselves have new rules (yet again) and a new category called “Trinket.” See Chapter 6, Part 2 and Appendix II for details.
  • Adversarial Backgrounds are no longer in use.
  • Characters can now take as many Merits as they want, but are still limited to 7 points of Flaws.
  • There are a handful of new Merits and Flaws: Dark Triad, Ties, Too Tough to Die, Enemy, Construct, PTSD, as well as a new category of Genetic Flaws that correspond with the Enhancement Background. See Appendix II.
  • Many of the old Merits and Flaws are not featured in the M20 Core book. However, we will continue to allow Merits and Flaws from the Revised books in our game (as there is implication in the M20 book that they may reappear in a future supplement.) Those Merits and Flaws that were updated, however, will switch to using the M20 rules.
  • The following Merits and Flaws have been revised in M20: Berserker, Umbral Affinity (slightly,) Addiction, Echoes and Deranged. True Faith has a more detailed description of its capabilities and an optional rule for additional uses. Cursed (originally from 2nd Ed.) has been brought back and rewritten.

System Mechanics
  • When rolling specialties, 10s now count for two successes instead of being re-rolled. (Obviously, we’ve already implemented this.)
  • Characters can now lose permanent WP under extreme situations. Generally, for this to occur, the temporary pool needs to be empty during a moment of intense trauma or stress. If a mage’s Familiar dies, the mage automatically loses a point of permanent WP.
  • The rules for splitting actions have been revised. Split actions are now made by taking the lowest associated dice pool and splitting it between the actions in whatever way the player desires. So, for example, a character could declare a split action of 1: Parry and 2: Evade. This character has Dex 3, Athletics 3 and Melee 2. Since Dex+Melee is the lowest pool, they would take that (5 dice) and divide it between both splits.
  • There is a new Dramatic Feats chart (see Chapter nine, part II.)
  • Psychic trauma from Mind magic is now soakable with WP, not Stamina. At ST discretion, certain heavy-duty shocks (such as “Things Man Was Not Meant to Know”) can also inflict psychic damage.
  • Bashing damage now requires medical attention beginning at the Wounded health level. (Previously it was at Mauled.) For all types of damage, where it states that medical attention is required for healing, the attending character must have at least Medicine 2.
  • Different types of Dodges now have different difficulties (Chapter 9, part 4.) The difficulty to dodge a hand-to-hand strike is 5.
  • Parrying against a Brawl strike can allow for something called a Rebound Attack. If the defender achieves more successes on the parry than the attacker does for the strike, the defender may roll Dex+Melee (at full dice, this is not a split) + the amount of extra successes scored by the parry in order to inflict damage onto the attacker.
  • The rules for Desperate Defense have changed. To make a Desperate Defense, roll Dex+Athletics. Desperate Defense actions can be made multiple times in the same turn without applying the typical split action rules. Instead, the character rolls their full dice pool on the first split and each subsequent defense loses 1 die. However, Desperate Defense cannot be combined with any other types of actions (hence the term “desperate.”)
  • When doing a sneak-attack, if the attacker successfully out-scores the defender’s alertness roll, they add any additional successes from their stealth roll to their attack roll. On a tie, the attacker still goes first, but the defender may take a defensive action.
  • Shields are a thing now (Chapter 9, part 4.)
  • Blinded characters cannot dodge, parry or block incoming attacks, and all vision-based actions are (still) made at +2 difficulty. Revised added other complications, but these appear to no longer be in use.
  • Knockdowns require the character to spend 1 action getting back to their feet. Otherwise they are considered immobilized. Again, the other previous complications are no longer in use.
  • Attacks made against Immobilized targets are at -2 difficulty (this used to be +2 attack dice instead) if the target still has some range of movement. If the target is totally prone, it’s still considered an auto-hit.
  • Attacks made against Stunned characters (those who take damage equal to or greater than their Stamina – after soaking – in a single round) are now made at -2 difficulty.
  • Targeted attacks now do slightly more damage, at +1, +2 and +3 respectively. (The damage modifier now matches the difficulty modifier.)
  • Having a scope on a gun can add +2 to the attack roll if the character takes the time to aim. (This is on top of the usual aiming bonus.)
  • When using a strafing attack, if the attacker rolls fewer successes than they have targets, the ST decides who gets hit and who doesn’t.
  • Archery now has a number of very specific rulings attached to it. See Chapter 9, Part 4.
  • The rules for taking cover during combat have been adjusted slightly. There is now a “Moving” category (+1 difficulty to hit a moving target and +1 difficulty for the character to shoot while moving,) and the difficulty to shoot from a good cover position (only head exposed) is now +2 instead of +3.
  • Reloading an ammo clip takes an action. This can be split with an attack, in which case the attack roll is made with -2 dice. Revolvers must be loaded manually bullet by bullet, so they will always take a full turn to reload (no splits) unless the character has a speed-loader to assist.
  • 3-round bursts now give +3 to the attack roll, but are still made at +1 difficulty.
  • Attacks with thrown weapons are typically made at difficulty 6, but close targets might be difficulty 5 and distant targets or clumsy objects might raise the difficulty by +1 or +2.
  • A number of changes have been made to the old close combat maneuvers:
  • Disarm is a bit different. The attacker must gain more successes on the ATTACK roll (not damage) than their opponent’s Strength to disarm. Otherwise the attack just does damage as normal. Disarming bare-handed is done at difficulty 8 and with -1 attack die. Characters with at least 3 dots in Martial Arts can do this at difficulty 7 instead.
  • Flank and Rear attacks now reduce the difficulty of attacks by -1 and -2 respectively, rather than adding to the attack pool.
  • Clinch and Hold are now merged into general “Grappling.” They seem to work basically the same, except that now the defender can attempt to reverse the grapple by gaining two more successes than the attacker. Also, at ST discretion, agile characters may use Dexterity to escape a grapple instead of Strength. Also, clinch damage now begins on the following turn, not the same turn as the initial grapple.
  • Sweeps now automatically succeed if the attack roll is successful. There is no Athletics roll for the defender to remain on their feet (though of course they can still try to dodge.) Also, the attack does no damage – the opponent just falls.
  • Tackles now require at least 2 yards of distance for proper momentum. The Athletics roll is now made at difficulty 6 for the attacker and 6 + attacker’s successes for the defender. (The Tackle itself is still Dex+Brawl at difficulty 7.) There are lots of fun rules for botching a tackle.
  • For more info on any of the above, see Chapter 9, Part 4.
  • New Close Combat Maneuver: “Reading an Opponent.” Characters may take an action to try to get a read on their opponent with a resisted Per+[Combat Trait] roll against the opponent’s Wits+[Combat Trait.] If successful, the observer adds 1 die per success to her next attack pool. This takes one action, and can be done up to a max of the character’s Wits score per scene. Without the benefit of magic, this usually won’t work beyond 20 feet.
  • New Magickal Combat Maneuver: “The Thunder Punch.” A Strike using magickal enhancement (can work a number of different ways – see Chapter 9, Part 4.) Doing this lowers the difficulty of the attack, and depending on Spheres may also inflict lethal or aggravated damage.
  • There is now a category of combat maneuvers dedicated to Dirty Fighting. These require a minimum Brawl 3 plus an appropriate background, such as growing up in a slum or taking self-defense courses. See Chapter 9, part 4 to check them out. Jab Pistol is now a Dirty Fighting move, and it uses Brawl instead of Melee.
  • There is another new category for Martial Arts combat maneuvers. These of course make use of the new Martial Arts trait. Characters gain access to two Martial Arts maneuvers for each dot they have in the skill. Some of them have a minimum ability level. See Chapter 9, part 4.
  • There are now rules for Magickal Duels. See Chapter 9, Part 4.
  • There are now rules for taking damage from Environmental Hazards as well as Starvation/Dehydration. See Chapter 9, Part 4: Environmental Hazards.
  • Characters wearing flame-resistant armor suffer half-damage from fire exposure. Otherwise, the rules for Fire damage are the same.
  • There are now Explosion rules. See Chapter 9, Part 4: Environmental Hazards for details.
  • Electrical damage may be bashing from small sources, such as tasers, but is otherwise usually lethal. (Formerly it was just always lethal.) It also stuns the character for 1 turn per health level of damage taken. The other rules remain the same. (I should note that magickal electricity attacks using the Forces Sphere are noted elsewhere to cause aggravated damage – this may be a subjective thing based on the amount of force being channeled.)
  • Rules for impact damage are listed in Chapter 9, Part 4: Environmental Hazards. A lot of this is new.
  • There is now an optional system for calculating damage to structures and objects (and an associated chart.) See Chapter 9, Part 4: Environmental Hazards.
  • The Suffocation chart now goes up to ten. 9 = 45 minutes, 10 = 1 hour. Resuscitation can now be done within fewer than 10 minutes (instead of 5) with a Wits+Medicine roll. Unusually cold water extends this for up to half an hour. The difficulty to resuscitate starts at 6 and goes up +1 for each five minutes after the first. Once it hits difficulty 9, it starts racking up thresholds as well.
  • There are new rules for Drugs, Poisons and Diseases (and a new Toxin/Disease chart to go along with them.) See Chapter 9, Part 4: Environmental Hazards.
  • The declare round has evidently been removed from combat. However, it is unclear whether or not this was an oversight on the part of the writers. Regardless, we are still going to include declares in combat here.
  • There are updated charts for weapons and armor with more options than were previously listed. See Chapter 9, part 4: Combat System Charts.
  • Katanas can now do an additional +1 damage if used two-handed.
  • Knives can now be concealed in pockets.
  • There is now a section of rules for Vehicles and Aircraft. See Chapter 9, part 5. An ST can choose to require a minimum level of Drive skill for certain vehicles.
  • There are new rules for mechanical repair and invention (as well as a chart.) See Chapter 9, part 5.
  • There are new rules for accessing the Digital Web. Umbral navigation rules have also changed. In general, there is much more information about the Umbra, its denizens and various realms in this core book than in the last one. See Chapter 9, parts 6 and 7 and 8.

Allies and Antagonists
  • M20 provides more detailed rules for dealing with spirits. Spirits (who have not materialized into physical form) use WP for attack and soak rolls and Rage for damage rolls. Rage damage is either lethal or aggravated. However, mages can soak Rage damage from spirit attacks if they have the spirit sphere at any level by using countermagick, or they can roll their Avatar trait at difficulty 8. Spirits are normally invisible without Spirit 1, unless they materialize or use the Appear charm to become visible. Anyone with the Awareness talent can perceive them, though, even if they can’t be seen. Spirit 2 is required to attack a spirit in any way, unless the spirit has materialized (in which case, Life and Matter magick will affect it as normal) or the character is using a Prime attack (or Prime-enchanted weapon.) Spirit 2 / Prime 2 works like Life magick on spirits (except for ghosts.) See the combat systems chart in Chapter 9 for Spirit Combat rules.
  • Entropy does bad things to ghosts. Attacking them with Entropy 3 / Prime 2 works like Life magick for them. However, it also brings out the ghost’s worst qualities, turning them into a spectre.

Optional Rules
  • Optional Rule: “Things Man Was Not Meant to Know.” Confronting horrors can result in the mage needing to make a WP roll in order to maintain their sanity.
  • Optional Rule: “Patch ‘Em Up.” Characters with Medicine 3 or higher, plus appropriate gear, can heal others long enough for them to get back into a fight. Roll Wits+Medicine, diff 8, to patch up 1 level of lethal damage per success. At the end of the adventure, the character will need at least 2 months to recover from their injuries. Double that for each time they get patched up within a story (month.) Patched Up characters still operate with a minimum -1 wound penalty to rolls. Characters must be at least Stamina 3 in order to get patched up this way. Characters at Crippled or Incap cannot be patched up. Patch up attempts can be made once per dot of Stamina the injured character has. Botched patch up rolls drop the injured character’s health by one level. At ST discretion, the injured character may need to make a Stamina roll at diff 8 in order to avoid incurring a permanent Flaw whenever they get patched up.
  • Optional Rule: “Cinematic Damage.” An ST may decide that humans (including mages) can soak lethal damage at difficulty 8. Optionally, this might only apply to characters with Stamina 3+.
  • Optional Rule: “General Action Rolls.” When a PC fights a group of low-level nameless NPCs, you can speed things up by having the PC and the NPCs (as a group) make one General Action Roll each. Whoever wins is assumed to win the fight. This only applies to non-lethal situations. The losers get beat up or captured, not killed. The difficulty of this roll is 7-10 for the PC, depending on specifics. Mook-a-Palooza option: as an alternative, NPCs could instead be given 4 health levels so as to make them easy to churn through.
  • Optional Rule: “Weapon Length.” In hand-to-hand melee fights, subtract 1 die from the attack pool of the character who’s got the shorter weapon.
  • Optional Rule: “Drunken Style.” When a practitioner of a drunken style of martial arts wins initiative in combat, they add +2 difficulty to their attack rolls – but their enemies also add +3 difficulty to dodge/evade/parry those attacks. This does not apply unless the martial artist wins initiative, and they must have at least 3 dots in Martial Arts and a specialty in a drunken style. Mages can counter this ability with Time magick.
  • Optional Rule: “Verbenae and the Old Roads.” As an option, characters trained in the Verbena Tradition who are accomplished and respected and trusted enough to have learned the secrets of the Wyck may use a Corr 1 effect near a Node to locate an entrance to the Old Roads (if one exists in the area.) The difficulty in this case is the Gauntlet rating.
  • Optional Rule: “Acclimation.” Previously, mages (excluding those with Umbral Affinity and Shapechanger blood) had to readjust to being earthbound after a long period in the Umbra. This rule has been removed in M20, but as an option it can still be employed. See Chapter 9, part 7.
  • Optional Rule: “Umbrood Magick.” Spirits don’t technically cast Awakened magick, but powerful umbrood can be assigned Arete and Sphere ratings as a way of representing their godlike abilities. They don’t use a focus and are immune to Paradox, but if they botch a vulgar ability they are immediately banished to the other side of the gauntlet.
  • Optional Rule: “Social Conditioning and Reprogramming.” There are optional rules for social conditioning and reprogramming in Chapter 10, part 8.
  • Optional Rule: “Advantages.” Characters with the Enhancement background can purchase certain “innate yet unusual features” such as wings, claws, horns, night vision, rapid healing, etc. Advantage Traits have variable point costs (see sidebar in Appendix II.)