How to Do a Challenge
This post originally appeared on Facebook on January 1, 2016. It has been edited and updated to match the current rules of Riverside Opera.
A lot of people have some questions about what challenges are for and how they work. This article is intended to explain what they are and how to do them from start to finish.
First off, what is a challenge? A challenge is like a dice roll or skill check in D&D or any other RPG. Since dice can be unwieldy and immersion-breaking, Laws of the Night uses rock-paper-scissors (RPS) as a randomness generator. The only problem with RPS in general is that after you’ve been playing with someone for a while, it’s more of a game of predicting what they will throw rather than randomness, so we use cards instead. You use a challenge any time you’d normally make a dice roll in another RPG, whether it’s to hit someone, to convince someone of something, or to use most supernatural powers. The actual act of throwing cards is, perhaps confusingly, called a Test. A challenge is all the tests thrown that determine who succeeds and who fails at a single action.
Challenges come in three basic types:
- Standard challenges (usually called challenges) are made against other players. Think of these like opposed attack rolls in other RPGs.
- Static challenges are made against the ST or a Narrator and reflect trying to do something against the environment. Think of these like skill checks to try to pick a lock in other RPGs.
- Finally, simple tests aren’t full-sized challenges, but are often referred to as such. Simple Tests are used to see if a random event happens. Think of them like the GM rolling a die to see who a monster attacks in other RPGs.
Challenges, at a bare minimum, use your Attribute Traits (just called your Traits, usually) and your Abilities. Think of your Traits as your Ability Scores from D&D (Strength, Perception, and so on) and your Abilities as your specific skills.
So, how does a Challenge work? Follow these easy steps!
- The aggressor (the person wanting to take the action ) declares a Challenge. During their declaration, they must indicate whether their action is Physical, Social, or Mental.
- The aggressor bids a Trait and declares a Victory Condition. They use the Trait in a sentence that explains what they want to do and how their Trait helps them accomplish it.
- This declaration is often referred to as a Bid.
- Generally, these statements follow this construction: “<Character Name> is <Trait> enough to <Victory Condition>.”
- Victory Conditions cannot be sweeping or devastating (i.e., you can’t declare that you chop of someone’s head or Dominate an entire room in a single action). The Narrator running the Challenge will have the final say in whether a given Victory Condition is acceptable.
- The defender either relents, accepting whatever the aggressor is doing, or declares a Bid of their own.
- Defenders may declare that they are defending themselves or, if they were aware of the incoming Challenge and were not caught by surprise, that they are taking another aggressive action in return.
- The aggressor and defender each shuffle their RPS decks and flip over their top card (a Test). (Rock defeats Scissors, which defeats Paper, which defeats Rock.)
- If the aggressor wins the Test, they achieve their Victory Condition unless the defender uses a Retest.
- If the defender wins the Test, they achieve their Victory Condition unless the aggressor uses a Retest.
- If the aggressor and defender tie, they compare Traits in the category of the Bid (unless some other effect comes into play). The aggressor declares his total first and can only count Traits they have not lost for the night, then the defender declares their total. Either player can declare up to their total, but they may also declare fewer than their total if they would like. Whoever declares more Traits wins the Test.
- Whoever lost the initial Test may call for a Retest (more on those in a minute). A Retest returns us to Step 4, and it’s as if the original Step 4 never happened.
- After all Retests have been resolved, whoever won the final Test achieves their Victory Condition. The loser then marks the Trait from their Bid off their sheet, and that Trait is gone for the rest of the night. It cannot be used in any other Bids, and it does not count toward that character’s total when comparing Traits.
Retests are super powerful parts of the mechanics of Laws of the Night. They let you take another shot at succeeding where you once failed, thus increasing your odds of success. There are a five different type of Retests:
- Ability Retests, such as Firearms or Brawl;
- Discipline-based Retests, such as Might;
- Merit-based Retests, such as Lucky or, in rare cases, environmental penalties;
- Willpower, if you are the defender against a Social or Mental Challenge; and
- Overbids, which we will go over later.
The trick to retests is that, for speed of game play, they have three rules:
- They must relevant to what you’re trying to do. You can’t use the Computer ability to retest hitting someone with a computer.
- Your opponent can recall your Retest by using a Retest of the same type. If your Retest is recalled, the results of the initial Test stand.
- During a Challenge, each type of Retest may only force a new Test once. Once a Test is thrown for a type of Retest, that type may not be used again. If my opponent uses Brawl to Retest, and I don’t recall with my own, then I may not then Retest with Brawl later in the Challenge.
So, at most, a given Challenge can involve six different Tests: the initial Test and one Test per Retest type. Just remember that all Retests do is throw away the results of the last Test. They’re very powerful for that reason, but that’s why they’re limited!
Overbids are a special type of Retest. They reflect the ability of powerful Kindred to use brute force to overcome opponents and obstacles. Anyone may attempt an Overbid, but they are not easy to land.
To attempt an Overbid, the loser of a Challenge counts their number of Traits the have in the category of the Test, then spends a Trait of that category. The Narrator adjudicating the Challenge then secretly looks at the other player’s character sheet and compares the number of Traits declared to the number of Traits in that same category. If the person attempting the Overbid has at least twice the number of Traits, the Overbid is successful. The previous Test is ignored, and the players Test again.
Naturally, Overbids cannot be recalled; it would be difficult to have twice the number of Traits than your opponent when they already have twice as many Traits as you, after all.
Here’s an example of a basic Challenge in which Alice wants to punch Bob in the face, and Bob wants to talk her out of it
Alice says, “Physical Challenge. I’m so Brawny that I break Bob’s nose.”
Bob replies, “Because I’m so Charming, you stop at the last minute.
Alice and Bob play paper-rock-scissors. Alice throws rock, and Bob throws rock. Because they tied, they compare Traits. Alice goes first, saying, “I have 10 traits.”
Bob can’t match that total, so he decides to lie to cover up his strength, replying, “I have 3 Traits.” Alice has more Traits, so she wins.
Still, Bob doesn’t want to get hit. “Retest: Subterfuge,” he declares, and marks a Subterfuge off of his character sheet.
Alice recalls, saying, “I will Recall: Brawl,” and she marks a Brawl off of her sheet.
Bob tries again, “Retest: Subterfuge.” Again, he marks off a Subterfuge.
Alice either can’t or won’t spend another Brawl, so they throw another Test. Alice throws scissors, Bob throws rock. Bob wins the Test. While Alice could Retest with Willpower (since Bob is using a Social Challenge), she decides that her Willpower is too valuable to waste.
Neither Alice nor Bob decide to retest further.
Because Bob won the Challenge, Alice thinks again before punching him, stopping her fist right before it connects. Alice marks “Brawny” off her sheet for the night.
I hope this write-up is a little clearer than the explanation in the book. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask us in Discord or by email!