Saturday, December 17, 2005

Limited Resource Adversity Systems

This meme is still kicking around in my brain. What ways are there to institute mechanically limited adversity in games? I basically want to look at ways to curb or eliminate GM fiat in generating adversity for characters.

In D&D 3.5, the Challenge Rating is a soft guide towards scaling adversity, but as thousands if not millions of forum topics show, it's by no means a perfect system, if it's adhered to at all.

In DitV, the GM gets a certain number of dice on his side of a conflict, and when they're gone they're gone.

In Carry, the GM has a pool of dice that he spends for adversity, and can be refreshed by being given dice from the players.

In PtA, the Producer has a certain amount of Budget depending on the characters and their Scene Presence.

So, from these few examples, we have a couple of different design patterns (check this if you don't know what I'm talking about. I haven't gotten through the whole document yet, so if I'm retreading old ground - oh well).

We have soft guidelines, where theres some kind of rating that is meant to inform the GMs choice of adversity.

We have hard limitation, where theres a resource spent on adversity that is finite and dependent on some other mechanical system (your proto-NPC rolls in DitV, the characters Scene Presence in PtA).

We have another kind of limitation (soft? negotiable?), where theres a resource spent on adversity that is finite, and dependent on the good will of other players.

What about:

Hard guidelines. You can only present a party of 4 7th level characters with a CR 7 monster, etc. There seems to be no intrinsic advantage of this over a soft guideline, unless the system is fine-tuned enough to make those kinds of blanket guidelines applicable.

Player-generated intentional resource. The players only assign the GM (or another player, or whatever) currency or resources to generate adversity when they want to face it. While having this be very strict could lead to easy violation of the Czege Principle, I think, having some kind of system where the player decides when the GM get resources, and the GM (or another player, or the system, or something) decides how much resource could be interesting. This idea dovetails with my previous idea, I think.

Player-generated required resource. Whenever the player does X, the GM gets Y resource with which to present challenge. Creates choices for the players between doing things that may be easy or smart and giving the GM more resources for adversity, or doing dumb or hard things and not facing that challenge. Can be tweaked to encourage/punish whatever kinds of behavior is appropriate.

Hard mechanical adversity. If your character has X stats, he will face opposition with Y stats, calculated in some way via the system. GM still presents and plays the opposition, but its composition and resources are completely contingent on the players choices. Alternately, the GM has some kind of resource with which to modify the hard stats given by the system.

Soft mechanical adversity. Like above, but with guidelines instead of hard rules, which are then interpreted by the GM.

For the sake of completion, random adversity. Roll on a table, get a monster or encounter, with no thought towards how it intersects with the characters. To make this more interesting, perhaps the players can narrow down a range of possible challenges, one of which is then selected randomly, as a form of Challenge.

That's it for now. More thoughts on limited-resource adversity design patterns, as well as examples of games that do use some of those presented above, are welcome.

If you count Polaris's Mistaken as a GM (which is pretty fair), you also have some other sort of adversity limitation. Not sure what to call it. Your statements are much broader (they cover most of the world) but they are limited in effectiveness to the same as the player's statements.

I think that random generation is much more than "for the sake of completeness." I've run a couple of frighteningly-good random encounter based games.

Player-limited scope, maybe?

Fair enough. Random encounters were always something I did when I couldn't think of anything interesting *shrug*.
Take a look at the "random encounter" systems in Twilight 2000 and Oriental Adventures.

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