GMotW: Truth and Justice and Story Hooks

Truth and Justice Cover

Truth and Justice Cover

“In conflict situation, whichever ability the player selects to take the first hit of damage generates a Story Hook.”

Truth and Justice, from Atomic Sock Monkey Press,

is one of my favorite RPGs, and certainly my go-to choice for thrilling superheroics. As it should be everyone’s. PDQ does two things extremely well: it creates unique and incredibly flexible characters, and it makes combat a battle of creative application of skills, rather than an exercise in optimization. That’s superheroes in a nutshell.

For those unfamiliar, a T&J hero is defines by his, her, or its Qualities and Powers, all of which are created by the players. If you want to play a cop, you might have a Quality like “Expert [+4] Cop”. What you don’t have is any sort of hit points or fatigue… instead, you take damage right to your Qualities and Powers. If our cop is grazed by a bullet, he may temporarily become a “Good [+2] Cop”. It’s simple, it’s effective, and it works in genre because it allows a hero in the middle of a fight to take damage to the Qualities which define his civilian life… if he is a “Master [+6] Laser-Eyes” hero, does it matter if he loses some points of “Master [+6] Violinist”? Not in a firefight, that’s for dang sure.

And yet… it does. In this one way, this one little detail. It’s easily ignored or overlooked (and I myself have played and run sessions without giving it the attention it deserves), but it’s really, really neat the more I think about it.

Mechanically, it means that there won’t be a stat that exists purely as a damage sink. No Batmanalogue who gives himself +6 in “Drywall installation” just so he can take some punches to the snout without hurting something he cares about, because this gives the GM leave to MAKE him care. Don’t worry, Batmanalogue… your drywall installation is going to be tested, just you wait and see!

(Cue evil laugh from the GM).

It’s a little reminder to the player that every Quality on the sheet is important to the character, and it give the GM leave to force those Qualities to come into play. Obviously, the GM is an omnipotent dictator who has ever-present leave to make these Qualities important, but conceptualizing them as Story Hooks…. giving them a name and suggesting that the GM make an allusion to their future important right then and there… that’s the sort of thing which provides great guidance to the GM and couches the entire event in a veneer of fairness. Batmanalogue isn’t suffering at the hands of The Black Mold because he’s being dicked around… every time he tags Drywall Installation because he doesn’t want to lose some of his “Master [+6] Punching dudes out” he’s encouraging the story to keep going in that direction.

And that brings me to narrative, and I love being brought to narrative directly from mechanics, because the two are so inextricably linked. And they are, right now. And that’s great! Every time you enter into a conflict, not only are you driving the short term story which is a fight scene, but you’re directing the long-term story as well! The GM gets a big well of potential plots to draw from, and a little guidance as to where the story should go. The players get to say, quietly, where they think the story should be going: they want to deal with their civilian life a little more, they tag the Qualities that relate to their job and family and secret identity.

When mechanics and narrative drive one another so well, I smile.

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