Revising Creation

My suggestion in the last post that we could generate characters during play created the problem that it would work better if the basic rules relied on simply beating a difficulty, not on the amount by which you beat it. However, the rules I designed for creating something relied on the final total. Can I redesign them to use fixed difficulties?

We can start with the simplest level again. To make the creation “work” in a certain way, you need to beat a certain difficulty. If we keep the pattern of having about three aspects to a creation, which seems reasonable, that would require about three rolls for a whole project, which is obviously insufficient.

So, we start adding complications. If you try and fail, the resistance of that aspect increases by a certain amount, the same no matter what the failing total is, adding to the difficulty of future attempts. If you try and succeed, the resistance of the other aspects increases by a certain amount, again the same no matter what the succeeding total is, meaning that the order in which you approach things matters.

We can then add rolls to reduce the resistance, giving them fixed difficulties again, in return for a fixed reduction in the resistance. The rolls to get additional dice for your pool work perfectly well as they are, as long as we only include one level of success. That’s fine; more complex things can be introduced later in the game, when scores have been fixed and people are more confident about their characters.

So, will this work? We want the characters to succeed at just about everything, because a failure fixes features of their character, and we want to avoid fixing things this early. So, if there are three qualities in an encounter, that’s three rolls, one for each quality, to start with. If each success adds the same amount of resistance to the other qualities, and we are going to recommend reducing the difficulty to the base level, that’s another three rolls; one to reduce the resistance of the second quality, and two to reduce that of the third. Six rolls is, at least, enough for one each in any practical group, but it’s still a bit low.

We can also introduce rolls to get additional dice to roll, or give the option to purchase character features that grant additional dice in a limited context. This would help to keep the level of commitment to talents down, by allowing the characters to explain some of their pool dice through a feature instead.

Thinking about the big picture, shorter encounters might actually be better in this situation. We do want to finish creating the character, or at least the relevant aspects of the character, by the end of the scenario, so we probably want a relatively large number of short encounters, to give the players a good idea of what the various talents and abilities do. In these encounters, the difficulties should be set to encourage easy success, so that the characters who do act only have very low minimum scores in the relevant statistics. A difficulty of 4, requiring a 5 or higher to succeed, might be reasonable. Success while keeping a single die is certainly possible, but players are likely to need to roll more than one, which provides space to introduce features. A difficulty of 3 might even be usable, because there’s still a 50% chance that players will need to roll more than one die.

Let’s look at a semi-concrete example. Suppose there are three tasks, each of which has a difficulty of 3. Failing at a task adds 3 to its resistance, but failing is strongly discouraged. Succeeding at a task adds 3 to the resistance of the other tasks, but there are things you can do to reduce those resistances. These tasks also have difficulties of 3, and reduce the resistance by 3. For each task, there is a character feature available that adds one die to roll, and an action that another character can take, with a difficulty of 3, to similarly add a die. We’re going to need features available to make more dice available for the rolls for assistance, as well, because we don’t want them to push the defined statistics up too high. However, support tasks for the support tasks are a bad idea in general; things will get rather recursive.

So, once we have gone through the bits of the setting and rules that are relevant, we can move on to more difficult tasks, where players can choose what they want their characters to be good at, and start to define them. The short encounters would naturally be part of a larger problem, but it’s probably best not to provide any major choices at this point, as the players don’t know what they’re doing. However, the more difficult tasks in the second part should allow for real decisions about strategy, and the first part of the adventure should have provided enough information for the players to make such decisions sensibly.

The biggest remaining question is how to justify the fixed difficulties within the game. It doesn’t make much sense for there to be thresholds of success in writing a novel, for example. You can write a readable and entertaining novel, and still have plenty of room for improvement. (Been there, done that.) However, it does make sense in what might be called engineering problems. For certain problems, you can solve the problem, and it really makes no difference how much extra brilliance you put into it; the solution won’t be any better. Obviously, there are exceptions, and the game should cover them, because they are the great technological breakthroughs that revolutionise society, but the more mundane problems do exist, and so they can be used in an introductory game.

Of course, this means throwing away my example pretty much in its entirety, but that’s OK. The example was just to help with clarifying the basic structure, rather than a serious suggestion for what I was going to use.

At the end of the introductory scenario, the players will have spent a certain number of points, and defined a number of aspects of their characters. Note, however, that you could also create a character just by spending the points, and such a character would be perfectly balanced with one created in play. This means that I can also produce a big book full of character creation options with point costs, for people who like doing that sort of thing, without biasing things in favour of people with the book. People who create a character in play are, after all, guaranteed to have lots of statistics that are useful in play, because something is only defined when it is useful in play.

In addition, this change to the basic rules still doesn’t require a gamemaster. The scenario needs to define the difficulties, but the players and characters are supposed to be aware of them, so there’s no problem with defining them out in the open. However, there is a problem for the introductory scenario. Someone needs to describe the world, but there might be no-one at the table who knows much about it. How can we approach that problem? That will be the topic of the next post.

Posted in Game Design.


  1. For engineering projects, even if they succeed, there are significant consequences to the amount o quality that was put into them. Sometimes, however, it takes a long time before this is known. For example, in San Francisco, the Golden Gate bridge and the Bay Bridge were both built at around the same point of time in history, and are comparable in many respects. They both succeeded at conveying the appropriate amount of traffic across San Francisco bay. Over time, however, it has become obvious that the Golden Gate is a better-built bridge. It has continued to operate without much in the way of disruptive maintenance. The Bay Bridge, on the other hand, seems to be closed a few days every year for maintenance.

    The demands on engineering projects change over time, and the better quality ones can be more easily adapted to meet the new requirements. Depending on the particular project, this can manifest itself as reduced retrofit or maintenance costs. If you think of marketing as maintenance for something like a novel, these same concepts can apply there — the better a novel is (in at least one sense), the better it will stand up in the face of a changing cultural environment.

  2. Thanks for the comment. That’s a good point; I was definitely over-simplifying. However, “good enough” makes sense in an engineering context in a way that I don’t think it does in a more artistic context. The Bay Bridge is good enough, as it hasn’t actually fallen down, even if it could have been better. Most importantly, I think that an engineering context would let me simplify this way without breaking suspension of disbelief as badly as an artistic context.

    Your point does suggest, however, that it would be a good idea to have the characters creating things that don’t need to last for a long time in the first scenarios. If quality makes no difference to the durability of the product, it might get difficult to suspend disbelief.

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