Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Action/Drama/Fate points and player engagement

I was replying in a comment on this post, and realized it was turning into a post of its own. I'll expand all my thoughts below.

The idea was that points which players can use to change probabilities and/or change the game world is bad in a old school game. The perceived threat was that of eliminating the deadliness of the system. Here are some direct feedback on that, and some further thought on the matter.

There are multiple kind of systems for giving the players a way out, and for changing the fact of the game world. I have played multiple systems using those and have some experiences to share.

First, in Warhammer FRP there are something called Fate Points. Those can be used to "save the character from certain death". Suggestions are mitigating the effects of a fall from a cliff, or a critical hit. But, and it's an important but. Once they are gone, they are gone! In a game like WHFRP, which is quite deadly, this is literally a life saver. Will it rob the game of something? Well. I have played with quite a few characters in WHFRP and I tell you that I sweat every time my character takes a hit! Fate points or not. Too see those few points dwindle just reinforce how close to death I just came.

Secondly I want to mention the Drama Dice of 7th Sea. In that system you roll dice depending on your stat and your skill, as a pool. But, you only keep as many as your stat's value. Using the Drama Dice, you basically get more dice to choose from to keep. So, using this mechanic you make it likelier that your character succeeds. These Drama Dice you get for acting in a heroic and swashbuckling manner, i.e. it reinforce the theme of the game. It's a reward mechanic. When I was running 7th Sea, I noticed that the psychological effect of getting a physical token (poker chips in our case), and comparing the amount to the guy sitting next to you, made it work really well to reinforce the theme of the game. Sure, sometimes people chucked in token after token (you can commit them after the fact) on a roll they really wanted to succeed at, but it mostly worked as a prod to act thematically correct.

Thirdly, and finally, I'm coming to Type IV D&D. I played in a campaign up to "Paragon Tier"?  See, I have already managed to dismiss the jargon from my head. Anyway, up to what used to be called Name Level. I remember that I once in a while used a Action Point when I wanted to do something, but in that game the "respawn time" of powers was dominating the game so much that yet another mechanic, like getting "blooded" and triggering new effects, made it down in the general noise of game mechanics. Basically, I barely noted those points and they never affected our actions as far as I could see. They surely never did mine.

So, what am I trying to say? I'm saying that having some kind of points or game mechanic to "save your bacon" can work out in many different ways. I would claim, with some emphasis, that the brittleness of characters is not the defining factor of old school play, and that there are more than one way to skin a cat. The cat in this case being giving those points to players. Compare getting xp for gold to the Drama Dice in 7th Sea. Those are both reward mechanics. Also, having dwindling resources can in fact give the game an even tenser feel, and reinforce the dread. If that's what you're after. But, when you add something like a new mechanic to the game, make sure you are not conflicting with other systems in the game, making the effect lessened by it being forgotten or drowned!

I am vary of the idea of giving more spells to neophyte magic users. It change the tone of the game, but I don't think a scarce resource like the Fate Points in WHFRP does. Is it a valid comparison? I don't know.

4 comments:

  1. I think that there is a difference between fate points (or bennies in SW) that affect the probabilities in the game (which is something like upscaling the luck of a character) and mechanisms that enables player to affect the gaming world (" I want a door here...") which changes the viewpoint of the game from "I have the viewpoint of a character living in an alternate reality" to "we are scenarists co-authoring a story about a character".
    I wrote a much more detailed post about it if you are interested:
    http://toybox-sw.blogspot.com/2011/10/retrogaming-and-retroclones.html

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  2. Yeah, the whole "co-narrative" points is another kettle of fish. I actually had though of including them as well in the discussion, but actually lost track of that. It was probably for the best, since the probability altering ones are a topic enough out of itself.

    Thanks for the link!

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  3. Points that alter the probability without the player having to thing about them aren't a problem for me. You just died? Mark off a Fate point and keep going

    Points that the player has to make decisions about keeping or using, and if using what to use them for, are irritating to me unless they map closely onto things the character might be thinking about. "I really need to succeed!" is ok, "If I succeed at this I'll get extra XP" is not so good. Even ones that aren't so bad in themselves can be a pain if they imply some fixed store of resources that the character probably shouldn't be aware of but the player has to track. "Hmm... running low on Awesome points, I'm going to need some for confronting the boss, better do some wacky stunts." Bleh.

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  4. Yes, that's when metagaming kicks in that you know for sure that your players have left your universe to just be some guys around a table.

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