Thursday, January 19, 2012

Speculative Engineering I

How do I know, at this point in my blogging experience, that I am a 'hit'?

Well, I now realize that it may have something to do with my lack of comments. Yes, my lack of comments. Apparently, considering the fairly large number of views my site gets, readers are so stunned by my brilliance they are unable to think and write back intelligible responses. Naysayers are rendered incapable of saying nay! I win the blogging!

So long as it doesn't go to my head.

I was thinking about games mechanics the other day and how,while I usually prefer they stay the heck outta my way
, I need them to be able to facilitate the kind of games I want to run and create.

Part of the reason for this particular musing is that I am once again working on my 'Project X' RPG that I've mentioned in the past. I intend on self-publishing at least one RPG this year. I have ideas for others but let's get this first one out and see how it goes.

To that end, I have been imagining all sorts of wacky rule mechanics and I've come across one that intrigues me for some reason and yet I am not sure I will be using it for anything. What do you guys think of this idea...

Players have a choice when it comes to taking an action. Any action. They can choose to roll the dice and see what happens or take an automatic Pass or Fail. If you take an automatic Pass you accomplish your goal, succeeding at a skill check or hitting an opponent but suffer some penalty as a result. Likewise, you can declare an automatic Failure and net a benefit toward some other action.

Now this isn't really a new idea as there are some Indie Games that utilize a similar mechanic. In fact, a game called Ghost/Echo is wholly focused on this dynamic with actions taking the form of Goals and Dangers or, in an excellent hack of this that I saw based on Men In Black, Goals/Risks and Benefits/Dangers. I am seeing it slightly differently in my head but reading the concepts from Ghost/Echo, S/Lay w/ Me or Men In Black/Project: Blackbook will give you some idea of my inspirations.

The idea is that by increasing or decreasing the risk or danger to your goal or action, you can gain some kind of benefit. The opposite is also true. You can take the easy way out and automatically succeed but you are going to have to pay back Lady Luck for the assist at some later point in time.

I actually think this would be awesome as a plug it for D&D (whose combat system I find especially boring). You can automatically hit the leader of the Orc tribe this round by next round you fight at -2 because...I know!...because you chipped your sword hitting his armor last round. You could let yourself take a hit on purpose from a strong opponent and gain a +2 to hit him or save versus his attacks the following round because...know that you watched him you can better predict his style. It was chancey but worth the risk.

I actually imagine a considerably more developed system for this idea. Or at least, I think it would benefit from a more developed array of options as to what you would lose or gain for opting to go this route. It would also have to be tested to make sure it doesn't steamroll over rolling randomly. I still would want players who prefer that option to be able to do so.

What do you think?

Barking Alien


  1. I apologize for the new 'look' of my site. Trying to fix it. Did I mention blogger sucks? 'Cause blogger sucks.

  2. Haven't caught up on your weekend activities yet but since this one was at the top I'm commenting here first.

    Interesting, but how do you track it with a group of players? Bob hit this round but has a -2 next round but Jim took a -2 this round for a +2 next round - with 5 or 6 or 10 players I'm not sure how you would keep track of all of these conditions.

    Also, D&D 3E & 4E have this kind of thing already with things like power attack - take a -3 to hit (for example) for a +3 to damage, but it's contained within a single round, not as a carryover. The Bravura Warlord in 4E is pretty much defined by this kind of risk/reward mechanic - take a -5 to AC for a +5 to hit, etc.

  3. In a perfect world, I would actually prefer the rewards and penalties to be something more than pluses and minuses. I loved the idea of Feats but the execution was really rather boring. I get a +1 in this specific instance. Wow. How game changing.

    I would really rather have it where you do something like remove an enemy's power or weapon from play or gain some knowledge/insight or acquire a phobia. Those are really just random examples but I prefer situations where stuff does stuff and not just numbers that chip away at other numbers.

    This is more of a proto-idea for an idea, lol.

  4. The mechanical bonuses were just an easy example. The Bravura Warlord is one of my favorites and it's a good example of giving players the option to take risks completely under their control, which also lets them hang themselves occasionally.

    I think you could expand the concept if you look at conditions ala D&D4/M&M3 - keeping it to fantasy, if my halfling jumped on an ogres back and put his hands over the ogre's eyes you could say that by inflicting the "Grappled" condition on myself I can inflict the "Blinded" condition on the ogre. I think there's room to explore there. Expanding, maybe you use your attribute of "Agility" to inflict those conditions, and then the ogre could respond on his next turn with using his "Strength" attribute to inflict the "Splattered" condition on the halfling : )

    I'm sure I've just re-invented some indie game that I've never read, but that's a risk you run sometimes.

    There could be some kind of opposed numbers or die rolls there if desired but I think it could work with just the basic concept, especialy with younger kids as a free form game with some structure.

    You could also expand the timeframe - I spend a day using my "Intelligence" to do research on a political opponent givig me the "Busy" condition for that day, but in return I inflict the "Slandered" condition on that opponenet for 1d6 days -1 for each day he spends in the "Media Damage Control" condition.

    (It was a slow drive home from work, but it was really nice out, so I had time to think...)

  5. It's a tough call my brother.

    See, I don't necessary want conditions. That's too much. I want...

    GM: "The titanic wyrm begins to falter and lose altitude. As it shudders in pain, knowing its death knell is imminent, it tries to shrug you off into the canyon many hundreds of feet below."

    Player 1: "How close is the 'Pride of Elysium'?"

    GM: "Your friends and the flying ship they man draws near. Not near enough I'm afraid."

    Player 1: "I jump now, hurling my grappling hook and rope toward the 'Elysium' as I leap. Since I took a RISK early, letting the dragon take the first shot even though I was hidden. My GOAL is to reach the ship or one of my friends."

    GM: "Ah! So you want to have your earlier RISK give you a BENEFIT now?"

    Player 1: "Yes."

    GM: "Very well. Roll the dice."

    Clackity-clatter-clack (Roll appears to fail).

    GM: "Interesting. You might have failed if it were not for the BENEFIT of your luck (wink). As it stands, the grappling hook caught the edge of a porthole window and you are now swung down to dangle below the vessel's ventral side. You are in DANGER of slipping but you live."

    Basically, there would only be a few conditions related to this mechanic.

    Guaranteed to Succeed - Add Some Danger
    Guaranteed to Fail - Take Away Some Danger

    At least that's more of what I had in mind.

    I love Combat Conditions over Hit Points but the ones in 4E and even M&M to some extent are...too much. I can never remember them all or which ones happen when or the difference between stunned and dazed. It's all just clutter for me.

    I am trying, at least as a long term goal, to get to what makes a game coolest with minimal moving parts. A happy medium between crunch and fluff. Like peanut butter. It's sweet but it ain't fluff. It might have nuts but it isn't really crunchy. That's what games need IMO.

    Peanut Butter.

  6. Oh don't go getting all indie/diceless/storyteller on me Mr. "I Love Champions" ...

    Conditions are easy - they're right there on the DM Screen -OR- you can pull down some of the nifty free condition cards from the intertubes and hand them out as neccessary. Make your players hold them up on their foreheads like Indian Poker and you'll never have trouble again.

    I see some of what you're wanting to do. The means of keeping track of it over time is still tricky. I can see a generic "here's a token" approach when a player takes a disadvantage which they could then turn in later for a reward or benefit - glass beads or poker chips (oops my Deadlands is showing!)or something similar. Alternatively you could make up some nifty custom cards in advance with some kind of random rewards on them like "free action" or "special movement that you define" and hand them out as you go,

    Maybe make them up _as_ you go (stack of index cards + crayon = win), and hand them out as these interactions happen. Adding a bit of a card game element to it could be fun. Everybody likes cards - it gives them something to fidget with.

  7. "Conditions are easy - they're right there on the DM Screen -OR- you can pull down some of the nifty free condition cards from the intertubes and hand them out as neccessary. Make your players hold them up on their foreheads like Indian Poker and you'll never have trouble again."

    I'm sorry? Right on the what of the what? Cards? I haven't used a screen in over 25 years. And cards are just one more thing getting in the way. Still...

    The custom cards and make'em up as you go cards are intriguing. They do share the sort of vibe I am thinking about.

    I also like the glass beads/chips idea. That's definitely more in line with my style and what I am going for here.

    I am definitely in the make it up as you go camp, as long as there are some parameters to prevent people from giving themselves too much power with a significant threat of danger, be it weakness, harm or loss.

    As for loving Champions, see my post answering Zak's 23 Questions. I do love Champions but I have no idea why I love Champions. All things considered I should hate it but I don't. It just works.