Monday, January 3, 2011

The Pool

Last post talked about coming up with a diceless core mechanic and briefly touched on blind bidding. Let's get more into that this time.

All characters in Heroes of Destiny have, at their core, The Pool, which is made up of 10 points (simply because 10 is such a nice, round number). It's from this pool that you can bid on actions you want to perform. If you bid enough points toward your goal, you succeed. If you don't, you fail. It's that simple.

Well, it's mostly that simple. There's a few layers on top of that basic idea. But before we get into that, I want to define a term that gets used a lot in resolution: effort. Effort is the final score you create toward accomplishing something. It's your effort that needs to beat the target number of a task in order to succeed.

The reason for coining the term "effort" is because not all points The Pool are created equal. I'll get into hope points and destiny points later, but right now it's enough to say that when you spend your points you can get better than a 1:1 point to effort rate if you spend the right kind of points in the right way. So if you spend 3 destiny points to dive tackle the enemy general off his horse, you could generate 6 effort from that expenditure. If you spent hope points for that, you'd only get 3 effort for the points.

So, there's one layer of complexity to the system. Not too bad, right? We might be dealing with a little multiplication here, but it's a far cry from Mekton. No offense to Mekton players, by the way. A friend of mine loves that game with every part of his body (including his pee pee), and he tried running a game with us once. I like to consider myself both pretty astute and open minded, but I will never again play a game that requires a scientific calculator to resolve die rolls.

I digress. In addition to the favorable exchange rates you can claim, you can allocate points to multiple actions and effects in a round. For example, in combat you can allocate 3 points to one attack, 3 points to a second attack, 2 points to damage, and 2 points to defense. In this case, you'd be making 2 attacks, raising the difficulty of an opponent to hit you, and you'd have some additional damage you could apply if either of your attacks hit.

I found that when characters had only one thing to do, there was nothing stopping them from allocating their entire pool to accomplishing it, which meant if it was at all in their grasp, they'd accomplish it every time. An example one of my friends gave me was "what if they needed to get past a locked gate?" His argument was that with dice, it was still an iffy gamble, since you could always fail the roll. With a diceless mechanic as I'd laid out, you'd either get by or you wouldn't. This, by the way, is my friend who extols the virtues of ye olde Red Box D&D, which explains the hypothetical situation he produced.

My answer came not in adding variance to the mechanics, but in changing the way you structure your games and scenes. He was absolutely right. Presented with a locked gate, the party was either getting past it or they weren't (as in the target was above the highest effort they could generate by spending their entire pool). But, as the example above showed, you can spend your points toward a number of ends in a single round, and those points go fast when you're trying to get a lot done and you've only got 10 points to spread around.

Thus, the answer wasn't to put variance back into the game, but to not place a safe, static challenge like that in front of the players. Instead, put something more dynamic in their way, something that requires them to split their attention, and thus their pools.

Sticking with the old D&D-isms, what if they needed to get past that locked gate, but there were goblins behind it armed with crude javelins and shortbows? Now the gate's still there, and unlocking it, ripping it open, or however else you want to bypass it still has a target number. But in addition to creating an effort pool to accomplishing that, you've got defensive actions to consider unless you want to be a sitting duck and let the goblins stick you full of sharp wooden things probably smeared in filth. And, of course, there's always the option to try sticking them back while you're at it (though I'll assume you don't smear your own weapons in filth; that's what makes you better than them). Sure, you could wipe them all out first and worry about the gate later, at which point you just open it without trying because you can spend your entire pool on it, but in my mind that's still different. At that point the gate still provided an obstacle since it created a complication in the encounter with the goblins, and addressing it or ignoring it both came with peril. By the time the goblins are all dispatched, the gate's no longer a concern and you can open it without risk and not have the game suffer for it at all.

It's a neat, unintended side effect of going diceless, but one I find I like quite a bit. It's a new kind of thinking in scenario construction, especially for those solidly entrenched in the old ways that rely on the variance of dice and possible random failure to create difficulty (which, I imagine, is most of us), and thus it will take some getting used to this new way, but I'm convinced it's a better way that will lead to better scenes. Guess we'll see in time.

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