Category Archives: A Game Mechanic

Dice Mechanics Draft for A3.X

Even if it scares the hell out of my current players who think that I have gone insane and will ruin their game, I decided that I will start posting rules ideas here even if I never decide to use them. And at the moment, that mind is slowly but surely moving towards something using dice instead of the current playing card based resolution mechanic for the eventual 3.X Alpha of New Horizons.

Roll Dice, ??, Profit

The reasons behind this are as follow:

  1. Dice are much easier in terms of production values than the custom deck of cards constructed from 3 decks of cards. Unless going for custom ones, but that’s just silly.
  2. The current tokens (that are also cards) lack the tactile feeling you get from fiddling something that’s concrete. And the tokens before this were lacking in meaning – “Why do I have different things in front of me?” “What does this one mean again?”
  3. The damage mechanic from cards lacks finesse.

The big reasons not to switch from cards to dice are:

  1. Cards have a somewhat predictable curve – if you’ve gotten the two Queens in the deck, you know for sure that you will not be getting a third unless the deck resets.
  2. Cards are pretty, and when printed, could allow more custom information on them than just the basic value. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately with my need to come up with a proper corruption mechanic for the game.
  3. And well, all this.
  4. (a bonus late edit thanks to one of my players pointing this out on FB) Cards aren’t as familiar territory for the player, so a card draw creates a much more intense and scary experience than good old dice.

The basic Powered by the Apocalypse mechanic (2d6 + stat) is something that the current card+stat mechanic of +H emulates quite religiously. Thing that I’ve found really annoying with it is that the short scale gets hard to work with in a game that makes the players face the world, instead of other players — teamwork brings a constant momentum to the rolls; the characters get experienced and gain stat bonuses; and the players let the professionals focus on the things that they are good at. And all of this skews the scale assumptions a lot.

Add to this a good season of playing Blood Bowl, a wonderful miniatures board game by Games Workshop, that also loves its 2d6 rolls (even if the dice are wonky-looking) and too many deaths in the tentacles of some Great Old One in Arkham Horror from FFG. And me looking at the probabilities of rolls in those said games. Suddenly I’m thinking a lot of “what ifs?” — The basic scale of PbtA is “nope”, “yes, but…” and “yes.” (with a bit of “yes, and..” sprinkled in between from the 12+:s to basic moves). The probability spread of basic successes is not that far of from those of rolling certain things in BB or AH. I could tinker with the mechanic without losing the effect quite easily.

I thought about dice pools and target numbers. These were always a pain in the butt in Storyteller System games (one of the big flaws they corrected with the future versions was to have a static target number), so the idea was a bit painful. But with a limited amount of dice, it could be manageable, even tolerable. The system version I have in front of me (doodled on a napkin, more or less) says:

  1. Roll 2 six-sided dice.
  2. If you have the advantage die in front of you, roll that as well. (The easiest way to get this is for someone to help you in whatever you’re doing)
  3. If you have a #hashtag relevant to the situation you can spend and roll one of your confidence dice as well. (These are passed around like candy, so it’s more a question of having a relevant #hashtag)
  4. Look at the (2-4) dice you just rolled. Any dice showing a number that is less or equal to your relevant stat is a hit.
  5. Consult your move card to see what your success actually means in this situation.
    • The card will tell you that if you have one hit, you get the “yes, but..” result for the move.
    • If you have more than one, you get the “yes” result.
    • Investigation moves will let you ask a number of questions based on the number of hits you get.
    • No hits means that the GM gets to make a hard move against your team.

Thing to note is that this mechanical chance means switching the stat range from the old -2 to +2 (or -3 to +3 if you’re crippled or really experienced) to 2 to 4 (or 1 to 5, cripples and legends, again). Characters starting with two 2s, two 3s and one 4 for their stats.

Super special advanced and complicated difficult extra rules (only for real pros):

  • If you are damaged in the stat that you are rolling with, roll a special disadvantage die with the other dice, but don’t count it as a hit if it comes up less or equal to the relevant stat. Instead, if it comes up more than the stat, the GM gets to make a soft move (one of these is giving one of the current threats a soft move later, so this doesn’t really mess with the pace of a situation, but can add pressure nicely).
    • If someone helps you, you don’t need to roll the disadvantage die, and probably get an advantage as well.
    • If your damage has been healed in the stat you are using, only a 6 rolled on the disadvantage die counts.
  • If you have trust towards another team member, you can spend it before they make a move. If they get more than one hit, nothing special happens and you get your trust back. If they get just one hit, they get a second hit, and you lose your trust point. If they don’t get a single hit, the GM gets a soft move, you lose your trust point, but they get to re-roll all their dice. The second result sticks.
  • If you have flow, you can spend it after a failed roll to re-roll your original 2 dice (not your advantage or confidence dice)
  • If you have unlocked the possibility of a critical success (a “yes, and…” result, 12+ in ye olde AW) in a basic move, if you roll doubles (two or more of the same number, like two sixes or two ones, disadvantage die doesn’t count) and get at least one hit with your roll, the result is a critical success.

And I think that’s where I am at the moment with the probability mechanic revamp. It is quite player-friendly. Advantage and Confidence are easy to get, and that puts the balance towards the players getting most of the rolls to the “yes, but..” or better territory, but still there aren’t situations where a bad result can’t happen – no amount of bonuses will make it sure that you get a hit.

And even if it’s starting to feel like something that is alien to the 6-/7-9/10+ mothership that is *World games, it still stems from the same basic ideas. I will have to see where this line of thinking takes me, if anywhere.

Damage, A Game Mechanic

We, as gamers, are obsessed with combat and especially the way our characters take damage. If we haven’t been specifically trying to create a game where physical harm doesn’t come the characters’ way, we incorporate one damage mechanic or another to our system.

Me too. Of all the rules components in New Horizons, damage mechanics have gone through the biggest changes throughout the design process. Despite my efforts to keep combat as secondary element as possible, I’ve focused on it a lot.

Damage and Doom tokens on Move cards

I started with a system that was just Hit Points. Damage is an abstract arbitrary number that goes down on a hit and up when healed. Simple. Fast. A model for combat where you go in a dangerous situation with some numbers and come out with some others, and the actual events of the combat don’t reflect mechanically on the greater story.

But a “black box” combat system trivializes violence. Actions need consequences. In New Horizons, combat is a bad thing. So, I re-did the damage system. This time modeling it after Vampire: The Masquerade. As I have implied before, the redeeming qualities of White Wolf‘s Storyteller system are few to none. I admit I chose it because of familiarity.

Having a mechanical penalty from damage was a simple way to give concrete effects for characters getting hurt. It also allowed me to highlight the teamwork that’s central in New Horizons – you were allowed to ignore the penalties from wounds if you worked together with someone or someone patched you up. Damage was brutal enough. I felt happy and proud.

Now. This would have been the final version if I hadn’t been playing in an Exalted game where I was on the receiving end of White Wolf’s damage system working as intended. That is, working horribly. My character got injured early in the game and I spent the rest of the campaign being pretty much useless, since even small penalties can cause a horrible tilt to the capability to perform anything.

This, combined with the Moves, where success also determines narrative responsibility was horrible. Roll penalties from getting damaged result in a spiral of darkness in the story that would be almost impossible to escape.

So I redesigned. Stole basics from Apocalypse World, and then did the rest of the system myself. When your character is harmed, a Move triggers to see what actually happens. This is to keep me, as a Game Master, from being too calculative with the way I deal out damage. Things can go much worse than I planned.

When the player marks down a point of harm, they assign it to a previously unharmed Stat. When a character triggers a Move that uses a harmed Stat, they have the same success rate as always, but if they act alone, they trigger additional consequences from their actions if they draw a black card from the deck while making the Move. That’s about 60% chance of the GM getting an extra consequence from your Moves if you do them unassisted. If some other character helps you with what you’re doing, it negates the possibility, making teamwork integral at the later parts of a mission when characters have taken damage.

In story terms, the harm marked in Stats is non-remarkable. Bruises and shock. Any character can heal these from another with something on the level of a good pep talk. A successful healing move marks harm in Stats as “healed”, which means the worst edge of that harm has been dealt with. But you can’t mark another harm on a “healed” Stat, and there is still a possibility of consequences if you trigger a Move with it while acting solo. But only if you draw a blue card from the deck.

Once you’ve marked five of the character’s Stats either as harmed or healed, the next time you take a point of harm, it’s Critical. Critical harm is the point where you need actual medical attention, and fast. Getting to Critical triggers another Move and that can cause lots of long term badness (that I didn’t use in the Tutorial, in case my players reading this are wondering) and after that point, you have to apply the black card rule to all Moves you make.

When you get injured while Critically hurt, you’re out. Killed. Dead. While I am one of those people who love long-term character-centric stories, I didn’t want to remove death as a real system-generated possibility. Horror stories are not horror stories if there is no possibility of the ultimate ending. Keeping the stakes real.

As with most system components, damage is there to give the right flavor for your game. Using this particular damage system for many other games I have ran would have been a terrible mistake. Every game needs things that work for them, not things that work for some other game.

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.