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Today I wanted to talk about unique calls.

As a reply to the post I made about Brainload, Vicky had the following to say:

“I think one of the things I have biggest issue remembering is what some of the rarer MM calls actually do… The one that comes to mind is “Your arms betray you”, which even if it was briefed at the start I'd have forgotten what it does. Cutting down to fewer calls therefore is a big help.”

I think this is a really useful springboard to talk about unique calls, the design challenges they pose, and why we have them in Animus.

Standard, Nonstandard, and Unique Calls

In Animus, as in MM, there are a number of Standard calls. These are the bread and butter of the call system, are expected to appear at least once on every adventure and are granted by a wide variety of abilities. By having these calls appear often (and including them in the standard brief for new players), these calls should be easier to remember.

During the 'simplification' update, we added a self-imposed rule to never exceed 15 standard calls. From a design perspective, I think this was a good restriction, because it forced us to only include those calls that had a real 'bang for your buck', that were interesting, and fun, to play with. I think it's also important to set the expectation for new players that they only really need to worry about these calls to begin with.

We also have a number of Nonstandard calls. These calls justified their place in the system by bringing an interesting or flavourful or important effect, but with a more niche focus. These are calls that we would not want to appear every adventure, or which shouldn't be widely used, or which should only be available to monsters (e.g. SLAY). GM advice is to never use these in a lv.1 adventure, and use at most one at lv.2.

Part of me worries that the Nonstandard calls section has become a way of us getting around the 15-standard-call cap, but I can see the utility in having this list. We were careful about ever giving player classes any of these calls at lv1, and only two do (Perfection Weaver, Ichor Savant), and two more have those calls at lv.2 (Throne Paladin, Shroud Paladin). We have 10 nonstandard calls.

There is a further subset of Nonstandard calls, known as Unique calls. The idea behind these calls is that they are unique to one class and they define that class in some way. Like nonstandard calls, they require an extra brief before an adventure starts, and we were careful about giving these to any low level players (only Throne Paladins and Ichor Savants can get them at lv.1). We have 15 unique calls.

However, I've gone on record saying that having to actively remember what stuff does contributes to brainload, and that this should be minimised wherever possible. So, why have unique calls at all?

Before I answer that question, I want to have a look at the original call that Vicky mentioned, and explain some of the problems that I think it has.

Problems With Unique Calls

From the Level 4 Builder Priest skill, A Poor Workman:

10 seconds: For the next ten seconds, the target's armour (including natural armour) and weapons cease to function on their behalf. All damage to the target is dealt as THROUGH damage. If the target is fighting with crafted weapons, they can only call SINGLE and may make no effect calls. You can only use this on a target ONCE per encounter.

Call YOUR ARMS BETRAY YOU. You must explain these additional rules at the beginning of any adventure in which you play.

Firstly, I want to point out what I really like about this skill.

  • It is suitably high level for a unique call (level 4)
  • It has a flavourful effect that ties into the what the class is about (builder priests having domain over arms and armour)
  • It has a big impact on the game state when it lands (a huge debuff on one enemy, which probably feels really sweet to land, especially if it lets you drop a boss-type monster).

However, I think there are some issues with the design which mean it is pretty hard to brain.

  • The call has three separate effects to remember.
  • It's durational (10s) in a system where durations are variable.
  • The name does not clue strongly enough what the call does. “Your arms betray you”, is a really badass phrase, but I don't think it follows quite neatly enough what that means. For me, I think it's because I think of arms (as in body parts) before I think of weapons.
  • Taking all damage as 'THROUGH', means doing extra maths for each call, which is hard.
  • The weapon damage effect is conditional on if you're using crafted weapons (which might take you a moment to think about as a monster (are these natural weapons?).

The Unique Calls of Animus

Next, I'd like to talk through each of the Unique Calls in Animus, and explain what it does, and hopefully why I think these are straightforward yet distinctive enough to merit inclusion.

Social Calls


The named Muse is now watching what happens during the encounter.


The target takes this as though they just heard you say the most insulting thing possible.

Support Calls


The party take an AGILITY and move to within 1m of you. This works on the unconscious, bleeding or dead.


This ends all ongoing durational effects on the target. (Cribbed from MM.)


No matter what call(s) you are under, you now have free control over your movement.

Offensive Calls


Any target within 5m with 4 or fewer hits takes a SLAY, otherwise they call RESIST.


The next time the target drops to 0 hits, they call MASS QUINT REPEL.


Used on forest creatures only. Mechanically moves their body by giving short orders 'e.g. attack the evil tree'. (Cribbed from MM.)

Utility Calls


Makes the target IMMUNE to HEAL and FIGHT ON for the rest of the encounter.


Followed by '<Specific target> may not <specific action>'. You may call DEC against them once if they break the ABJURATION.


Delivered like a BACKSTAB. If the target sees the attack coming, they can call RESIST. Otherwise, both the caller and the target DISAPPEAR for 30s. They enter a space where only they can see, hear, and interact with each other, until the DISAPPEAR ends.

The Connection specialty. Links connect the Weaver to one willing target, and last until opted our of or re-cast. Typically, they will rarely be cast once combat has begun, but we wanted to give Connection the choice of doing this, which is why they have these unique calls.


If either target is ever more than 5m apart, they can concentrate 3s to DISAPPEAR and REAPPEAR within 5m of each other.


So long as you remain within weapon reach of your bondmate, you call HEAL 2 on yourself and on your bondmate every 10s.


Anytime you take a HEAL, you must make the same HEAL against you bondmate.


When either you or your bondmate drops to 0 hits, you must call HEAL 10 on the other.

Designing Unique Calls

As you'll hopefully see from the above list of calls, we've tried to stick to the following principles when designing unique calls in Animus.

  • The clue is in the name. I'm pretty happy with how each of the names here reflect what the call does, and hopefully makes them easier to remember.
  • The effect is straightforward. We've tried to make it so that there is one effect from the call, and that it is simple in application.
  • The effect is either instant or persistent. Rather than have these be durational calls, what we've tried to do is make it so that a call either takes effect immediately, or lasts indefinitely, so as not to burden anyone with extra counting.
  • The effect is based on regular calls. Where mechanical effects are involved, we've tried to base these on concepts that already exist in the system, rather than creating something from scratch. A lot of these calls are 'a special type of (X call)'. SICKNESS is a special type of IMMUNE. GROUP ON ME is a special type of AGILITY. DOMAIN OF SHADOWS is a special type of BACKSTAB, etc.
  • The bulk of remembering the call's effects is on the person who called it. Though this isn't always possible, we've tried to make it so that where there is a complicated effect, the person who cast it can be responsible for remembering the nuances of how it works (LIFELINK, NEARLINK, ABJURATION, PUPPETEER), and making any follow-up calls / effects.

My hope is that, by following these, we've made the brainload impact of these calls as low as possible. But, admittedly, I still haven't explicitly answered the main question.

Why Have Unique Calls?

Here are the reasons I think it's worth having unique calls in the system, even though they make things more complicated.

  • They're cool to use. In LARP, calls are like magic words - you say them, and the world changes around you. I think it feels really badass to be able to say something like CULL THE WEAK or PERFECT INSULT or LIVING BOMB. Unique calls are showy and dramatic, and their rarity underscores this.
  • They characterise a class. One of the things we're really keen on is making a class' skills and abilities speak to what it is that they are about. Unique calls are a big part of that. GROUP ON ME speaks to the Throne Paladin's role as battlefield strategist, whereas the difference between MOVE FREELY and SNAP OUT OF IT speaks to the different philosophies of the followers of the Torch and the Rod.
  • They are simpler than the alternative. Weirdly, unique calls are often the simplest way of rendering complicated effects. Rather than calling a TIME FREEZE, or delivering a complicated brief mid-combat, unique calls are an quick and elegant way of communicating what happens. Though I know Moonrise has good reasons for their 'EFFECT' call, if you compare even something simple like CULL THE WEAK in Animus to how it would be rendered in Moonrise (MASS EFFECT: “If you are on 4 or fewer hits, take a SLAY.”) I think the utility of the unique call becomes apparent.
  • They are something other people can't do. In LARP, it's nice to feel that there's something unique that you bring to the table that another player can't. Unique calls help to facilitate that.
  • Variety keeps combat fun. The payoff for complexity should be to make play more interesting. Unique calls open up a lot of possibilities, especially when two classes are collaborating together. And, because unique calls only come out with certain classes, it means that a different party combinations may be able to approach fights in markedly different ways, meaning that combat doesn't feel too 'same-y' (even discounting the variety brought by each GM). This is vital in a linear system.

For these reasons, we've decided to try and keep unique calls as a feature of Animus, although they're something we're keen doesn't dominate the system (and something that we'll be very measured with introducing any more of). Hopefully, our design approach has meant that we can have the best of both worlds, but it's one of the things we'll be looking for in the high level playtest.

Until next time.

design/unique_calls.txt · Last modified: 2017/12/17 19:33 by gm_seb