One hang-up that I have run into while teaching people how to play Conan and 2d20 is the Momentum/Threat (Doom) mechanic. I often tell new game masters and new players that embracing the mechanic is key to truly unlocking the fun-factor with the 2d20 system. Below is a write up I have done for new Conan and 2d20 game masters to give to players to help them understand the Momentum/Threat mechanic through example.
I understand this is not for veteran players or game masters. I am posting it here with all permissions given to copy/paste or print out for new players and game masters to read and share.
Modiphius’ house system is 2d20. This post is for Gamemasters to help explain HOW Momentum/Threat works in 2d20 through example. This post assumes that the Gamemaster has a basic working knowledge of Momentum/Thread, the specific mechanics of the 2d20 game they are playing, but needs an example to explain to new Players when they look dumbfounded at the Gamemaster. One of my favorite examples of how the Momentum/Threat mechanic works is the chase seen in the middle of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But first, a basic 2d20 primer. It is a skill base, roll under target number (TN), dice pool system.
Players and Gamemasters roll 2d20 and if the roll on ANY die is under a skills TN, it is considered a success. For most skill tests, a single success is needed. Any additional successes generated from skill tests is at the heart of the Momentum/Threat mechanic. Momentum is Player pool of meta currency that Players build and share with each other from bonus successes. Players can spend this meta currency to make skill tests easier, add extra damage, take another turn, etc. Gamemasters have a similar pool of meta currency called Threat (or Heat, or Doom, etc depending on the 2d20 game being played). GMs build the Threat pool the in the same way as the Momentum Pool, through NPC excess skill test successes, etc. GMs can use Threat for the same meta currency spends as Players, to make NPC skill tests easier, add extra NPC damage, interrupt a Players turn, etc. The Players Momentum pool is limited to 6. If Players do not have enough Momentum, or they need more Momentum than what is in the Player pool, the Players can elect to purchase Threat from the Gamemaster at a 1:1 cost. The Gamemasters Threat pool is unlimited.
The 2d20 system allows for a very puply cinematic style of play, with PCs and NPCs doing wild pulp-fiction and action-film exploits as seen in the example below, Raiders of the Lost Ark. This will not be a roll to roll breakdown of the scene, but an example of how Momentum/Threat can swing in an action scene. ON TO THE ACTION!
– Scene starts with Indiana having just escaped the Well of Souls and rescuing Marion from the plane on the German airfield. The Ark has been loaded on to a truck and is on its way out of camp.
– Indiana makes an Observation roll to spot the truck. A simple roll, but nets him a bonus success and thus starts building his Momentum. “I’m making this up as a go,” Indy exclaims as he jumps on a horse and uses the bonus Momentum to make a successful Animal Handling check to navigate the horse down a small cliff and catch up to the fleeing German transport.
– He carries that Momentum as he dodges fire from a vehicle mounted machine gun and successfully jumps onto the transport and pulls the passenger out. Indy is now at FULL Momentum as he begins struggling with the driver. Trading Melee checks and Driving checks and he knocks the driver out the door, and then Indie rams the lead car. The GM rolls a Drive check to regain control of the car and rolling more successes than he needs. The GM uses that gained Threat to regain the lead position in the chase.
– Indiana, with a full pool of Momentum, starts getting cocky and burns Momentum with his Drive checks to run one of the chase cars and chasing motorcycle off the road. Indy’s Player burns final Momentum to drive the last car off the cliff to finish off the trailing cars.
– GM introduces a new wrinkle to the scene to deal with the cocky Indiana, and uses Threat to have several soldiers start climbing out of the back of the truck and on to the side of the canvas cover. Indiana is successful in his Drive roll vs the soldiers Athletics checks to hold on, but it was not without a Complication. A Complication happens when the Player or the GM rolls a natual 20 on any dice during a skill test. This means a skill test CAN be successful, but with a complication.
– One of the soldiers manages to shoot Indiana in the arm before being peeled off the side of truck. So, while Indiana succeeded in his Drive check, it was not without a cost. Indiana is injured and now each roll Indiana makes is going to be one step more difficult.
– The GM uses his Threat Pool to call up a more powerful enemy to the field, a Nemesis. Up until now, Indiana has been mowing down Minion level soldiers. Nemesis NPCs, on the other hand, are equal to the PC and reserved to really challenge a PC. In this scene, the GM spends some Threat and declares a Captain is left in the back of the truck and is a Nemesis. The Captain crawls across the top of the truck, out of sight of Indiana and gets the drop on the PC, a few good hits in, and finally throws Indiana out of the front of the truck.
– Indiana has used up all his Momentum and beings failing check after check as Indiana tries to climb up the front of the truck. As the Captain speeds up to ram Indiana into the lead car. Indiana’s Player, rather than the potential of rolling another Complication, declares that he will purposely fail his next roll and falls to the dirt. Indiana is out of Mometum and needs to succeed at this final roll. Indiana BUYS more Momentum for an equal cost of Threat from the GM while under the truck. Using the bought Momentum, Indiana succeeds spectacularly in his next roll and uses his whip as a rope to climb back on to the truck.
– Indiana is now building Momentum again. Success after success, Indian’s Momentum pool grows as he climbs along the side of the truck. In a turn of Fortune, Indiana gets his revenge on the Captain by surprising him, using Momentum, and throws him from the truck after a few successful blows. The GM fails his check to keep the Captain on the truck and Indiana burns Momentum to enhance the trucks damage and Indiana runs the Captain over, killing him.
– Indiana senses the Scene is coming to an end, and knows that none of his stored Momentum will carry over into the next Scene. Indiana uses all his remaining Momentum to run the lead car off the road, tend to his wounds, and hide the truck and the Ark just as the lead car pulls up. The Scene ends.
– Unlike Indiana’s Momentum pool, the GM’s Threat Pool does not drain after the end of the scene. Later the GM will use the Threat that Indiana bought to introduce other scenarios like a German U-Boat surprising Indiana on the high sees and Indiana getting captured and brought before the Belloq, a Nemesis Rival, who wishes to use the Ark to speak with God and cement Belloq as a powerful Sorcerer.
This is very crude example of how 2d20 plays out with Momentum/Threat and why it is perfect for pulpy games like Conan, John Carter, Achtung! Cthulhu and the like. As Gamemasters, the most important thing to remember and explain to new Players is “throw caution to the wind.” Use that Momentum. Buy that Threat from the Gamemaster. “Who dares wins.” Just like Indiana, even if you make it up as you go, Players who use ALL of what 2d20’s mechanics have to offer will usually come out on top when all is said and done.
For more information on MY favorite 2d20 game, Conan, AND why it is SO important that Players and Gamemasters buy-in to the Momentum/Threat mechanic, please see these excellent articles below.