Subtlety: Why?

By susanbrindle, in General Discussion

It seems to me like subtlety is much harder for the acolytes to achieve and reduces the size of their rewards. The book works hard to present it as though both paths have their advantages, but it seems like the advantages to going "HEY! I'm ][! Do the things I want!" are massive compared to the advantages of not doing that.

What motivation do the acolytes have for going subtle?

Edited by susanbrindle

Well, narratively, the minute the players kick in the door screaming about the Inquisition they've outed themselves to anyone they might be interested in gathering dirt on or bringing to justice. I don't think subtlety is its own reward, but it is a means to an end. Being subtle might land them an impressive case well executed, while marching into the office of everyone they meet to lay down the law might drive their actual quarry to ground.

Yeah, revealing yourself is great for gearing up and getting the information you want fast (provided it's in Imperial hands), but it's going to make the guys you're hunting down either go to ground or plot how to take you down. The element of surprise is a huge advantage.

This is perhaps one of those GM-specific sort of things.

Some GMs like running 'beat the door in' games, others reward subtlety directly, and some favor a balanced 'simulation' trying to give the players what the 40k world may do in response.

You can hedge it any way you like, depending on what your players enjoy. I'd personally recommend having many different modular options open, and give the players intel on what's going on in response to their work, so they can choose something both enjoyable and flavorful.

I once had a game where my group was very unsubtle (shouting Inquisition on a market place and shooting around with rare weaponry).

It almost got them killed as their secret opponents (who acted more subtle) sent a group of mercenaries during the next night to kill them.

I'd say a good system should reward EITHER style of play, but in different ways. Playing a fire and brimstone Inquisitor who kicks down doors and points his inferno pistol in peoples' faces should totally be a viable playstyle, it's way too thematic not to. But at the same time it should be viable to play a subtle group of cloak and dagger agents. There's precedent for both in the setting.

The interaction between Influence and Subtlety is probably the best way to approach this. Bombastic, dramatic groups are much more likely to gain a reputation, which would drive their influence up. But your enemies knowing you're coming is often pretty **** unfortunate.

The entire mechanic is effectively extremely GM-dependent-- the GM has to make Subtlety do something in pretty much all regards.

It seems that FFG is trying to provide more explicit rules for GMs to avoid one of the principle plagues in Rogue Trader: Players being unable to fail.

Subtlety and Influence is a good attempt at having characteristics which can safely be depleted to add tension, without creating an unenjoyable or 'crippling' environment.

They may wish to include more clear guidelines on how to utilize Subtlety effects in running a campaign, though:

If both circumstances can always only be good, then the mechanic may as well not exist. Groups favoring one or the other probably already play it one way or the other.

Subtlety may wish to be ascribed more specifically to certain groups, rather than just generally. Perhaps an 'awareness' tracker of what the acolytes are doing per group .

Or at the very least, tips on crafting situations in which the mechanic provides suitable challenge to the players.

As a tool for portraying the world, such a mechanic can be great-- but it perhaps needs a more succinct way to be integrated into the narrative.

In essence, what's a GM to do if the group has zero subtlety? Do all the cultists hide? Campaign over. Do all the cultists attack? Campaign: Combat. If it has such global consequences, it just defines the type of campaign, and ceases to be a game mechanic.

Similarly, in the case of Influence, it is as well too impersonal. Its use for both finance and social interaction takes a lot of the tension out of making those critical inter-personal contacts and resource acquisitions, requiring only a single roll with little roleplaying.

I personally don't see the necessity of the mechanic. This is something the GM should decide. Players burst in every door they come across... of course that is going to generate some blowback or make their intentions obvious to those they are investigating. I don't need a number to tell me this.

My current group is hunting a paranoid drug-addicted tomb-robber.

After disturbing him on a job and getting shot at by them he is not exactly calm.

So far the Acolytes started a shoot-out in the bar where he tends to get his drugs.

Might not be that awkward in an underhive bar.

Shouting arrests and such? Surely sticking out.

Running away with his supplier cuffed and in a holding bag?

On the day after the botched job?

See that cloud of dust? That was were he was standing when he heard about it. By now he is on his way to another hive/planet.

In essence, what's a GM to do if the group has zero subtlety? Do all the cultists hide? Campaign over. Do all the cultists attack? Campaign: Combat. If it has such global consequences, it just defines the type of campaign, and ceases to be a game mechanic.

I would really like to see this question answered.

Not all cultists manage to hide. But witnesses disappear or change their statements, evidence degrades or gets destroyed, information and people get manipulated ... making it much harder for the Acolytes find something and/or someone that sticks or that will help them.

Getting stonewalled from official institutions because you have no evidence against respected members of their community ('How dare you to accuse Sir Pentalan?! He and his family have done more for the Empire than you upstarts!'),

finding only dead informants or none (Dead people tell no tales),

those that cannot be killed to avoid attention get blackmailed or intimidated,

accidents get arranged,

security systems get an update or rearrangement,

traps get layed to embarass the Acolytes,

fake trails to accuse innocents are layed out,

red herrings are set up to further delay the investigations,


and it took me 2 minutes to come up with just that.

No combat but no campaign over either.

Edited by segara82

Don't forget ambushes if they are getting too close, or sending a kill team to take them out at night (Which in DH1 was time to see who bought Light Sleeper, one of the sadly under roleplayed talents, if I had it, they needed some good recaff in the morning to get going), bonus points if the kill team took poison caplets before leaving, so they can't be interrogated if they fail.

One more point, lots of folks may start "selling" you information, if they heard you are chumps and paying good money for any rumor.

As an evil Overlord i would use ambushes as the last resort when everything else fails. If i need to send my own men/women it is clear that something is going on.

Why not set them up to storm the chapter of one of the biggest underhive gangs, one with about 10.000 members, drug connections and tons of guns? The following battle(s) cost me none of my own men and my hands stay clean. No reason to suspect me.

Oh yeah, Cymbel, selling them all kinds of infos can be used for a lot of funny things.

The best ones are used to embarass them publically, so that even their Inquisitor doubts their usefulness.

Edited by segara82

True with the ambushes....but, if there is one thing cultists are not known for, it is being rational. Trying to summon a daemonhost while knowing only the barest rumors of how it may work? GREAT IDEA, BIG SUCCESS, WHAT COULD GO WRONG? Not to mention khornate cultists charging to melee. Not all cults are alike (genestealers are a lot more secretive, but still do tend to use force, though preferably to set up bigger foes to grind each other down or to attack a foe from within), the thing is how they are not always rational.

That's why i wrote 'As an evil Overlord i would ...'.

I do not assume that everybody read the list(s).

But even a maniac who summons demons and binds daemonhosts has an agenda and a twisted logic behind it. Even the Pilgrims of Hayte who are the most generic doomsday cultists have a reason why they do it and make plans to achieve their goals. They are of course not subtle and rarely avoid a fight.

Now let's look at the Slaught. They do not want to get caught, and use middlemen, puppets and other tactics and tools to remain hidden. They have no problem in getting their hands dirty when it is necessary, but they are clever enough not to do that openly. All that attention and such.

The Brotherhood of Baphomael is similar to the Slaught, using agents and middlemen to avoid detection. Since they are often enough still real humans they leave the fighting to other ... things.

So i usually try to figure out who the opposition is, how they usually react, what equipment they can get their hands on, ...

The only one time when things got really really messy was when the Brotherhood snapped after several subtle attempts to stop the Acolytes failed (and 2 lost sites of power) and shut a whole Hive down by cutting power, murdering officials and such things. The Acolytes were hard pressed and needed the PDF to make headway in all the chaos.

Hive warfare at it's finest, with a few daemon-using baddies wholed up in their last stronghold.

Edited by segara82

Thanks for the examples! I hope folks reading this get a better appreciation of how it can work, though I do wish the core book gave more details on it.

There's a great many ways that Subtlety can impact the narrative. But there's not a lot you can make rules out of, which makes me wonder why the hell it's a rule.

Well, any examples help make it a rule that is useful and not seen as "Just another stat to take care of"

I aim to please.

Of course being a fan of a show like NCIS throws such ideas at you in every episode.

Come to thin of it, it is a very good example. A federal agency with mostly civilian members set to watch about a military organisation ('They either kiss ass or stonewall us.'), political influences on all sides, long and short-term undercover work, ...

Of course in 40k things are much darker and often more violent, but it still good for a few ideas.

Ooooh, idea!

New mechanic: Budget !

Roll at the start of the session to decide the amount of purchases the Acolytes can do.

Well, any examples help make it a rule that is useful and not seen as "Just another stat to take care of"

I'd give bonuses to enemy awareness checks to represent their heightened security/nervousness.

Improved weaponry/gear - they've made an effort to acquire better stuff because they've heard the Inquisition is snooping around.

Greater numbers - add X number of cultists (they've called up reinforcements, called in some of their members etc).

Some of these mechanics might be scenario dependent, but others could be pretty universal (such as the bonus to perception checks).