Monday, July 22, 2013

A Hack I'm Trying

A barrel of all my best ideas
I get skills and feats. I like them in some games and they can be a lot of fun and really let you put a personal touch on a character and squeeze a bit of extra awesome out of them. For that matter, I like some luck systems, or Oomph, or hell Fate Points, that kind of "I want to be extra badass here but know I don't get to do it unless I really sell it so let me make an investment!" I just don't like these things enough to build an extra system of skills and feats and fortune rolls for the game I'm playing or play a different game. It's a dirty secret of a lot of GMs that those extra 2 points you need on your roll, the ones you took a feat to get and now have to justify in role-playing by really describing a cool, signature action? We'd give you those. Yeah, we have no problem giving you a bonus if your idea is rad enough and has enough extra frosting, possible side-effects, and if you put a little extra work into making the whole thing real. You're doing your job AND taking some of the work off of us. If you want a bonus to hit because you taunted a guy and distracted him, or feint? Taunt. Feint. Don't take a thing that says "Taunting is cool sometimes" and then say "I taunt."

Just say, "I call the orc a wet elf poet and ask if he uses his axe to trim the stems on fresh daffodils every morning."

We will add penalties when things are hard and we will add bonuses when you are smart or skilled enough as a player to earn those bonuses in game. That's how this works. But a lot of players don't think like that because that's passive play from their perspective, something being done for them rather than something they're doing, even if the "something" in this case (setting and modifying difficulty) does fall well within my job, rather than theirs. Still, I'm flexible, and anything to draw players out and compel them to be more awesome.

Let's say I want something else. For a while I used a lucky number mechanic I half remember from either +Zak Smith or +Jeff Rients, where a second number 2-19 acts as a second crit number. I also tried a 2 point bonus to checks where certain skills like swimming or intimidation were concerned, 1 skill bonus of choice at 1st level and another every even level. People kept forgetting to do these, though, or they would pick skills that never came up, and I won't abide things cluttering up a sheet unused, not when the thing in question is an extraneous mechanic I can just drop.

Trying something new with the wild west game. Roll 1d4, add your Dexterity(read: Discipline) bonus. If you're a gnome, roll 1d4+1+Dexterity bonus. If you're a thief, you get a flat 4+Dexterity bonus. If you end up with 0 or a negative number because your Dexterity sucks then never mind, but otherwise write that number down somewhere next to a big B. B stands for Bonus, Boost, Benefit, Bangarang, whatever you like; it's just a quick signifier symbol not used on most normal B/X character sheets for stats.

In my game, it stands for Barrels. Barrels have a long tradition in fantasy rpgs and the video games that came after them, they make logical sense in a wild west setting like I'm using, and their goal is to make specific tasks like shooting fish in a Barrel so my players have a Barrel full of monkeys. It's also there because I own a shitload of Lego Barrels for reasons I won't get into, so it becomes a genre-appropriate physical resource to track at the table. Barrels also let me have fond memories of this thing but I'll be entirely honest for a moment. A big reason for Barrels is it lets me use game terminology my players are familiar with.

Yes this bad joke from tracking Fate points with my barrels has stuck and I can fight it or live with it. I'm electing the latter until it becomes a problem.

Barrel Points can be used to make Barrel Rolls. A maximum of 1 point may be spent per round and Barrel Points only refresh at the beginning of a session, as in ass-hits-chair. Barrel Points not spent in a session do not carry over to next session. You spend a point to improve a roll, specifically a to-hit roll, a damage roll, an ability check, a save, or a morale check for a character's retainers. They may also be used by a caster for rolls made for magical healing from spells, or on secret door checks. They may not be used for HD rolls, to improve AC, to improve HP, to improve a Reaction Roll, to modify Thief skills, Halfling stealth, spells memorized or spells per day, etc. In other words, if it's a core class feature or flat benefit and especially if it doesn't require a roll, you can't use Barrels for it. There are some gray areas but those will be dealt with as they arise.

Your Barrel Points do not improve over time.

If you want to spend a point to improve your roll or improve the range of your roll, you have to declare that you are doing so and describe how what you're doing is better now. You have to put more panache into your description, maybe include some possible consequences should you miss that I can exploit. (Hey, if you want my job for a turn you take more responsibility than just whether or not you hit the gnoll.) If you declare you're making a Barrel Roll, you're ineligible for any modifiers I might have applied on my own. You can take a chance that I will be fair and awesome to you and give you the chance to do something great, or you can ensure that you have a better chance to do something great but it will never be as great as it potentially could've been (being just a 1 point modifier).

So....not quite how things work in Feng Shui but the same spirit, then.

Pros:
  • If you begin the game with something like basket weaving to make some extra money but then we spend all campaign in some cloud world, you don't feel bad for yourself.
  • The effect and benefits are super variable, conforming to the character class, Player's play style, and to the ever changing situation on the ground in game, which no feat list or skill list is exhaustive enough to cover.
  • It doesn't make skills and feats too big a part of the game, to the point where you're a special sub-game in being good at those things.
  • It afford you ample opportunity for those deftly-sidestep-a-combat-encounter things while also letting you be good in combat.
  • It affords a sense of specialization without having to pigeonhole you to the point where you basically do the same thing every fight (or round!).
  • The Barrels make use of the physical space of the game table in a way I enjoy.
  • By adding a new commodity a new level of strategy is added for most game situations, the economy of awesomeness.

Cons:
  • One more thing for players to track, and may be confusing to new players.
  • Major NPCs will have this too, which is one more thing for ME to track, and which can work against the party big time.
  • Barrels sometimes roll AWAY and off the table all by themselves.
  • DO A BARREL ROLL!
  • People with a low or negative B-score might feel left out altogether. 
Anyway, that's the plan.