Advantage and Consequence

Last week I was a little self-indulgent in my posting and also quite unproductive. With the impending revelation that is the D&D Next playtest starting this week, I’m worried that I’ll have a lot to write about next week as well… so this week I’m going to devote some posting time to writing about my own gaming project.

First off, just to get this out of the way, the game I’m working on is a diceless RPG. It’s going to function as smoothly as possible with as little “rules” interface as I can get and still call it a game. (Honestly, I’m not really sure I care if people call it a “game” or not as long as they get fun out of it.) That said, I think of what I’m creating more as a framework for interaction rather than a true set of “RULES.”

At it’s heart, the game I’m working on could be said to fit into the genre of Romantic Fantasy. I actually prefer the term Hopeful Fantasy (because romantic fantasy can be interpreted to be Twilight… or…) because Hopeful Fantasy better describes what I want from my heroes in the game. Life may be hard, occasionally unfair, and even downright dangerous… but heroes still strive to bring hope into the world — even if it’s just one small corner of the world. And heroes have to make hard choices…

Prince Lir: Do something. You have the power. I will kill you if you do not do something.
Schmendrick: I cannot. Not all the magic in the world can help her now.
Molly Grue: Then what is magic for? What is the use of wizardry if it cannot save a unicorn?
Schmendrick the Magician: That is what heroes are for.
Prince Lir: Of course. That is exactly what heroes are for.

— The Last Unicorn

And right after the Prince says his lines he strides off to face a horrible monster, unarmed, and meet his death. And it was his most “optimized” action in that moment. (Yeah, yeah, I went there.)

The point is, choice is powerful. And not the choice of what combat maneuver to use, or what spell to cast, but hard choices, about the lives the character’s lead. And I know… those choices — like the Prince’s choice above — are campaign specific, player specific, etc. How can one make such choices a viable part of the game mechanics? Well, first of all, by having less game mechanics that marginalize such choices. When the heroes can always beat the monsters because they’ve always got some fancy power it’s a lot easier to NOT have to make those choices (which is at the heart of my dissatisfaction with many other games lately, I think.)

Choice is powerful when there are consequences and choice is powerful when those consequences are not known but also, choice can be more powerful when consequences are known and are accepted willingly.

So I’m building my game around a few concepts…

The first is a concept of Relative Advantage (or just Advantage). As a game, there needs to be some framework for adjudicating actions (especially actions less epic in scope than the death of a hero). Advantage is my answer to this. Players will use their heroic traits to build a level of Advantage for an action and this is then compared to the difficulty (or opposition — though in this game every test is against opposition in one form or another) and the relative advantage of the hero helps determine success or failure.

The second game concept is consequence. Players may accept consequences on some of their actions to change the relative advantage in a situation. (That does an incredibly poor job of explaining what I’m doing but it’s enough for now.) This “system” comes into play most in tense combat situations and in the use of magic but it could apply in any situation a hero ends up in.

At the core of this whole thing is a simple rule set and the power of choice. Choices made willingly, choices with real consequences are the most powerful thing in the world and for me, that’s the goal. And this goes hand in hand with my feelings on investment — both player and GM. Hey, you know, sometimes you just want to kill stormtroopers — I get it. But this game is for me, and honestly, for me, what’s the point in running/playing unless you really want to?

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7 responses

  1. Amusingly, this sounds vaguely like a simplified version of Fate/Aspects, or Heroquest 2nd edition to me. Your inherent/skill/career what have you grants some level of advantage normally. And then there are times when you can add prepartion, assistance, consequences of various levels, all to push that “slider” of advantage as far to your corner as you can.

    Either from the Heroquest 2nd ed scale of Critical Failure->Failure->Draw->Success, Critical success, or something more complicated from Dr. Who where it goes – Critical Failure->Failure->Yes, but Complication, Yes, Yes and Bonus

  2. Well, you’re not even a little bit wrong. I don’t like Fate/Aspects — but it’s not the idea that bothers me, just the implementation. I would say that I draw a lot of inspiration from Fate/Fudge… also from the original Minds Eye Theater rules with their profusion of traits and of course, Amber

    I think one of the things I want to accomplish is to have the freedom of Amber but with a little better framework to hang on for players/GMs.

    I don’t want to actually have a sense of “successes” but there is very much a sense of “you can succeed… if…”

  3. Sounds awesome. It’s definitely the sort of thing I like to see, and I love the fact that you’re more than willing to move away from the traditional definitions of “games.”

    1. Thank you. Encouragement is always comforting. We’ll see how it all turns out…

  4. So the result of each choice will essentially be determined off a sliding scale that can be mitigated or augmented by accepting consequences? Am I reading you correct?

    Sir Kevin the Ravenhearted accepts the loss of his beloved as a consequence of challenging her father in direct conflict. Kevin had no choice but to accept the challenge or lose the respect of the Council of Twenty. And while the decision to accept the consequence of defeating her father means Sir Kevin will survive the combat, he will nevermore be allowed to seek the hand of his fair Sarah.

    Is that the flavor/nature of choice and consequence you’re seeking?

  5. Almost… but perhaps less high concept. I’m more interested in how advantage and consequence interact at a more individual level. So, yes, what you have written could be part of it — and at a “campaign” level probably will be… but my focus is more on the little choices that lead to those bigger story bits. Move it down to the action level.

    1. So correct general concept… only more granular and individual action focused?
      Sounds like a cool track to take. I look forward to seeing it fleshed out.

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