Confidence, A Game Mechanic

Most of things in New Horizons are based on Apocalypse Worldthat I’ve been hacking quite extensively to suit my own needs. One of these hacks is the Confidence system, a derivative of Fate Aspects.

My core mechanics revolve around AW’s Moves. Moves, by design, are dramatic moments of success or failure or failure with a price, that get triggered at certain points in the fiction by player character actions. But horror games, with the pacing sometimes coming to an intentional slow crawl, tend to suffer from too big things happening with high-drama mechanics attached to them. I wanted a subsystem for the quiet parts of the narrative and use the Moves for those moments where it’s do-or-die and the tension of the card draw really brings up the drama.

Fate‘s Aspects are a good mechanic I like to use. They are short character descriptions, open to some interpretation, that have mechanical relevance. Apocalypse World doesn’t have anything that. At first I wanted to use Aspects as written, but like Moves, it is a high-end system. They would have ended up competing for the spotlight. The game would have felt cluttered and looked like it didn’t know where it is going.

Confidence tokens

On the character sheet the parts relevant to Confidence look pretty much like Aspects. Characters have a whole bunch of different traits on their character sheet, from their work background, to what their personal dark place is. Any of these can be tapped into for mechanical benefits.

When a situation arises, where Moves would be too flashy, we use Confidence instead. If you’re doing something the Moves don’t fit, I can ask you if you have something that would justify the character succeeding in the situation on your sheet. If you do, you succeed, if you don’t, you can choose to spend a point of Confidence to succeed. No rolling the dice. No chance. Just choice. You can succeed or fail, it’s up to you. And if the thing is more challenging, I’ll can tell you that you have to have both the appropriate thing on your sheet and use a point.

Oh, and failing always gives you a point of Confidence.

Because New Horizons is a team-based game, there are situations where a lot of the characters would be repeating the same Move someone else just made. That slows things down and bogs down the narrative with “ok, you all must succeed in this” or “ok, if one of you succeeds with this it’s ok” checks. I use Confidence to get past this points, picking one character who actually does the Move for the situation, and have the rest handle it as a Confidence “check”.

Another way that’s more tied to making Moves that it inherits from Aspects, is to support a Move with some Confidence. If you have something on your sheet that would specifically benefit your character with this Move, you can use a point of Confidence to gain a +1 to that Move. Simple as that. Once per Move a free +1 if you’re doing character-y things. It is a nice bonus, without being too overwhelming. This makes Confidence mesh up with the Moves system instead of being completely separate from it.

Confidence points are a currency. They started as a Game Master tool – if you do cool things with your character that fits the fiction, I as a GM would give you a point of Confidence. While works just fine in theory, I’m the sort of person who gets quite deep in the narrative flow when running a game, so keeping note of the moments when you are as a player being awesome is very hard for me.

I turned to Fan-mail distribution from Primetime adventures by making Confidence a player-to-player reward mechanic instead of GM-to-player one. The way handing out Confidence in New Horizons works is that any time any player thinks you did something they thought was worth a cheer, they hand you a point of Confidence from the (infinite) pool at the center of the table. Simple as that. Max gain of one point per one thing done. Instant reward by your peers. Also instant peer-pressure to do things that the group deems appropriate, but that’s just an added bonus. Confidence resets at the start of each mission, so there’s no point in hoarding it too much.

I admit that it’s a bit shaky and still hard for everyone to remember, but it’s one of those mechanics that I hope that will balance itself and shine once the campaign progresses further. At the moment, doing flashy things is an instant way to get a reward from the other players. But once the characters become more familiar, my assumption is that it will become a reward more for things like “Well, that was a very Lexi thing to do” or “Oh, I loved how that plays into what your character told her mom a few games back.”

But will have to see how it turns out.

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