Threat-Points are too powerful

Hello 2D20-GM’s,
after a few sessions STA I think there is a fatal error in the system. It is my personal idea. The GM earns a lot of Threat from the players without limit, the players are limited to 6 points momentum. This is very dangerous, because the Game-master allways is in this danger to railroad to “fulfill” his story. In our last game the GM change in one scene three things to keep us in the way of the story. The hole game fall in railroading. I must be fair, because my character behave very wrong. But such a big godlike influence is not good roleplay. What do you thing of the different amount of Threat and momentum?? (Sorry, I am not a english speaking person, but I hope it is understandable).

A few questions
1 - How did the GM earn threat? Did the players roll lots of Complications or did they give the GM threat for extra dice?

2 - How did the GM change the scene?

Threat is there to make things interesting/exciting when needed. If the GM is using it to railroad the players that’s not an issue with the Threat system but an issue with the GM.


Fully agree with one minor annotation: with the “Reversal” Threat spend (cf. p. 281 of the english Core Rules), there is a mechanic inteded for a radical change of circumstances that could be interpreted as “railroading”. With 2 Threat per Player it’s rather expensive.

To be honest, the occasions I, as a GM, had the possibility to do this, were sparse. As @Grendel pointed out, Players can control the Threat flow to an extent. So I would like to add another question:

3 - How does the GM spend Threat?

It was a scene in the “Signals”-Scenario. We discovered the camp and were secretly watching it. The securty lady discovered us and we attacked her to flee. Our security officer throw an excellent roll with an hit her with high result. So the GM got this away with his threat and then called five guards with threat. When we attacked he decided to raise the difficult level to 3 or 4. After the scene we talked about it and I said, that raising the scene also cost threat and there should be an basic difficulty to give threat a sense (because one option is raising difficulty with threat). And this is the reason for my question.
The GM earned thread by both (complications and buying dices - she saved her threat since the beginning).

Sounds more like a problem with the GM, to be honest.

But there is. For ranged attacks, for example, the basic difficulty is 2. For melee attacks the basic difficulty is 1. Raising this to 3 or 4 costs Threat. Your GM might have ruled that the arriving reinforcements had a disrupting effect (cf. p. 90 CRB). I’d argue, though, that this is more than a general rule that is not applicable in a combat situation with its specific set of rules designed for combat.

  1. There is always a base difficulty, even if it’s 0.
  2. Adjusting the difficulty is done before dice are rolled.

If they raised the difficulty for a ranged attack to 4, that’s 4 threat (2 per difficulty bump as per Creating Problems page 85). Bringing in 5 NPC is 5 more threat assuming they are minor NPCs. So that’s 9 threat right there. That’s a lot of Threat to spend at once and seems more to screw with the players than enhance the game. It’s very much a GM issue as opposed to a mechanics issue.

Threat is an objective way for the GM (and players to some extent) to control the pacing and excitement of the game. If the GM is sitting on a pile of Threat then the players know things can get worse for them quickly if it’s warranted. Spending all that Threat at once just to force an outcome sounds a lot like an adversarial GM who doesn’t get the concept of communal storytelling or what the Momentum/Threat mechanics are meant for.

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First thanks for your advice. I will check the rules on Page 90 and your hints. And after this our group has to talk about it.

Thread allows you to bend reality in the GM favor.
My players prefer Cautious to Bold Talent because they are worried of the threat pile going too far.
As a GM if my baddies rolled too high and could TPK the whole group I tend to make them just succeed and stockpile the threat for later (assuring a reversal for example).
Using threat to increase complication range is a good way to stockpile threat (and make player more cautious on extra dices purchase)
When I’m very low on threat my NPC chief can also do a rally test (especially in space combat)
A good use of threat is also rerolling all 0 on damage rolls for 1 threat, assuring a wound.
I seldom use obstacles (too threat costly), but reinforcement is neat to add an extra sentry to ring alarm that the players haven’t noticed before.
Never forget that new scenes reduce momentum by one,
Bait players with advantages instead of putting 2 momentum in the pool, or bait them with extra useful info with extra momentum spending on Find Information. These are useful momentum use for players but also for you because a 3 Momentum pool fight is more exiting than a 6 momentum one.
Threat is powerful but not omnipotent, of course if the players add Threat every round to buy extra dices, they prepare for failure because you can buy reversal of fortune.
And there’s also unlucky players, one always says “I roll 3 dices and re-roll the twenty” before even rolling because he knows that he will make at least a 20 on the roll (hopefully he’s Cautious, so 80% of the time he does not roll a 20 on the re-roll)
I try to buy Complications for the scene with these extra points instead of stockpilling them because I find much fun to see how a fail roll could make things worse. If I have no idea, increasing the complication range is still a solid choice.
I really like Threat because it’s the way for players to accept that the GM is cheating to make things more interesting, but also they know that this power isn’t infinite and has boundaries (unless they add endless threat to the pool)

That’s part of the balancing act. If the players give you Threat I think there’s almost an obligation to use it in some fashion, otherwise it’s free dice for them which isn’t good. However it should be used to make a scene more dramatic or interesting not just to screw the players.

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Re: limits.

The reason why Momentum is limited is to force players to use it. We humans are a conservative lot and tend to hoard resources - by placing a limit, it forces us to use it and interact with the system rather than painfully debating each use.

The reason why Threat isn’t limited is to always make improving the odds an option. If the GM is limited to 6 Threat, has 6 Threat and the players have 0 Momentum…how can they buy extra dice? Ignoring overflow makes the buys free and without consequence…but they need to always have the option to get more dice.

Honestly though, Threat should never normally be allowed to build too high. Once it starts building, spend it different things. If the game is too hard, spend it on things like Keep the Initiative or buying extra dice for attacks - things that still provide consequences to buying dice with Threat, but aren’t killers like upgrading weapons.

Of course, sometimes it’s good to have Threat build up. Perhaps as the campaign is ending season 1’s arc, you want the Borg to show up as a cliff hanger. Threat can be good for that. However, normally, Threat should be used as you play to stop the players getting hammered as it gets spent all at once, or being wasted and giving the players effectively free Momentum.

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Then again, if Threat piles up, Players are probably having a walk in the park. STA is designed so that the GM needs to spend the occasional Threat once in a while to keep things interesting.

I really think the mechanic is quite balanced, as long as all parties (especially the GM) remember that STA is a cooperative game and the playstyle of an antagonistic GM is not what the system is designed for.


I actually find that my players are more cautious as the Threat builds. The look on their faces when I finally spend it is worth letting them have an easy time of it earlier…

Yeah, I really like the system. It allows for escalation without giving the impression that the GM is being a jerk. In 5e (say) if the party gets lucky and the encounter gets aced due to crits and so forth, the DM has to choose between a boringly easy fight or making it count for nothing. With Threat, you can call for reinforcements etc, but the lucky rolls still mean something because they’ve forced the GM to burn through some of their Threat - which makes things easier later.

I love that in STA, the mechanics makes it almost as though the GM is playing their own game. In other games, the GM is often just making the game work for the players, but Threat makes it like the GM is a playing too, and the story is the interaction between the two games.

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