Nighthawks Exposed #9 - Second Death
Two weeks left in the campaign! And our penultimate design note before we head into the final push. Remember, every dollar counts. Tell your friends, spread the word, and if you've been thinking about checking out the higher tiers, this would be a great time!
Let's talk death. Specifically, how does Nighthawks deal with failure? The problem with a lot of RPGs is that failure tends to mean, to quote The Dark Room, "Ya die! Ya die! Ya die!" And make no mistake, that's a possibility here too. These are often dangerous streets.
But in general, death as the stock slap on the wrist isn't much fun. It discourages 'playing through the failures', which isn't just a euphemism for finishing Duke Nukem Forever, but not feeling the urge to reload every time you screw up on a skill check or a decision doesn't pay off the way you were hoping. Often, the most interesting drama can come from those moments, so for the most part we're trying to encourage players to roll with what happens and see how they go. However, while this is an easy thing for a designer to say, it's a two-way street. Much like just removing objective markers from an RPG doesn't work if the game offers no other realistic way to find where you need to be, making it 'okay to fail sometimes' has to be considered a key development pillar rather than just a hardcore playstyle.
To Live And Die In The City
That's why Nighthawks is designed to be less strict about failure than many RPGs. If you get mugged for instance, the mugger may kick your arse, but once you're down, they'll probably just want your wallet. For the most part, death is a long-term process - persistently ignoring problems and letting them build, versus doing something about them. Narratively, that also includes the Objectives of each act, such as keeping your nightclub profitable.
Minute by minute, it also goes into the health system. You have two basic health mechanics, Vitality and Wounds. Vitality is your stock hit-points system. You get hit, you lose Vitality, and provided that you're well-fed, Vitality restores itself at the start of each new day. Wounds represent more serious damage, such as being knocked out, injuries from silver or fire, or just a particularly hefty hitter deciding to rearrange your face. These have to be treated specially, which is expensive. Three wounds means it's time to rewind to a save.
Surviving On The Streets
The goal is to make sure that health and staying alive remains relevant, but outright death is saved for situations where you've either repeatedly let things slide, or you're facing someone who actually does want you dead. Don't expect a vampire hunter to be as forgiving as a random mugger, for instance. Fall to them and their ilk, and you're probably done.
As an aside, this ties into the roleplaying side, which doesn't assume that your character is automatically a fighting badass. You certainly can be! But if you want to role-play a character who was, say, a hairdresser who has never been in a fight in their lives, that's fine too. This is a modern city, not Thunderdome. Though that said, there are definitely places those characters should look to avoid, especially in the shadows under the city streets.
There's of course more to this, including the way that having a story that plays out over around three years of game time means scope for stories to develop in ways you might not be expecting, but it's the starting point. To go back to the credo that everyone deserves to be a badass vampire, 'badass' is what you make it. It just doesn't have to be perfect.