More Fickle: “Lucky 17” and defeated players

So far the alien campaign for Fickle RPG is going well. The plot is advancing, perhaps not as quickly as I’d like, but it’s been tough to maintain enough steady players from the pool of drop-ins. I’m not sure when I’ll end the campaign – originally the plan was early March, but that’s coming up fast. Maybe I’ll just play it out until people want a change. I’ve actually been considering trying Fickle RPG for a non-real-world based campaign, likely Star Wars.

Lucky 17 – Testing

critical-hitAnyway last week I tested the “Lucky 17” mechanism. Let me describe how it works. If the total amount on the dice you allocated as Fickle is exactly 17 you get a “Lucky 17” (basically a critical hit / critical success). When that happens every Fickle dice you rolled counts as a success. The odds of this are around 8% on 4D6, and 10% on 5D6.

The intent was to provide an alternative to going for the Underdog Bonus (where the lowest allocated Fickle dice means they can Explode). So another player choice.

But after testing, I’m not going to use the Lucky 17 mechanic. Maybe I’ll add it as a Variant (a bit more discussion about that below). There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Additional Math – Adding up dice is tedious and reduces the speed of resolution, and also is harder as players get tired and the night draws on. It’s also one of the only times you need to do addition in Fickle RPG.
  2. Bait and Switch – You can easily see your successes before you can calculate if you totalled 17. Which means a player might end with 5 successes and feel pretty comfortable because they see the Storyteller only has 3, except then everyone finishes adding up/doing math and sees the Storyteller got a Lucky 17 and won after all. Kind of a disappointing feeling.
  3. No Immediate Gratification – I think the best part of a Critical Hit in other games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, is how immediate the feedback is. You roll a 20 on a D20, see that, and get excited. It’s even bled into mainstream culture. But the Lucky 17 mechanic wasn’t immediately obvious when you rolled 17, so the excitement wasn’t there.
  4. Gimmicky – Lucky 17 felt a bit gimmicky in the sense that it didn’t fit very well into the current resolution “flow”. Just seemed like a corner case that wouldn’t be used much, and didn’t add much. Whereas Underdog Bonus comes up almost every resolution, and is something players actively choose to try for or not.

So Lucky 17 is put to rest for now.
I still like the idea of an “anti-Underdog Bonus” to provide more reasons to allocate more dice to roll. Something like “if you roll triples” is easier to see at a glance and stands out. Works out to around 3% on 3D6, 10% on 4D6, and 15% on 5D6, so even slightly better than Lucky 17.
In the end there are only so many ways to manipulate a pool of D6s though.

Defeated Players

downed-warriorKnow what isn’t that much fun as a player? Getting Defeated. From the rules:

If Stamina for any Category reaches 0 or less
that entity is Defeated and loses the scene. They
cannot participate anymore, unless Stamina is
restored by an ally or situation.

The bolded part is the problem. We had an intense scene where a player was Defeated in the opening attack, and basically had to twiddle their thumbs for a good 30-45 minutes (and that’s a gentle estimate). Was it fun for them? Not in the least.
The hope is other players would help the dude out and restore some Stamina. But normally if a scene is challenging enough for players to get Defeated, it’s challenging enough that every action is precious and they can’t take a moment to heal instead of go on the offensive. And as much as I enjoy playing a support/healer/medic in games, very few other people do, so the incoming Stamina loss (say from 7 successes) is normally more than the Stamina restored by an untrained character (say from 4 successes).

D&D gets around this by having a “Death Saving Throw” so that you’re at least doing something on your turn.

I think it’s time I revisit the entire concept in Fickle RPG and look for alternatives.

  • My first instinct is simple and copycat-ish: add a “Recovery Roll” of an attribute chosen by the player against a flat pool of 4D6, with successes being Stamina recovered. So they’re still allocating and doing something. Downside is failing doesn’t really have a penalty, I mean you can’t get much worse off than Defeated.
  • Along the same line, I could see the Recovery Roll being a mirrored roll, wherein the player is “rolling against themselves”. Basically like they’re internally overcoming whatever Defeated them. So if they choose 6 Might to try to take a breather, they roll against 6 Might. You’d have to choose the attribute in the category you lost all Stamina in, of course.
  • To take the idea even further, instead of recovering Stamina the player could transfer Stamina from another category. This means their overall total is still low, and means they could get whittled down over time. Downside is that’s a drastically different resolution than the standard “success = Stamina”. I think to remedy this successes could be a cap of how much Stamina you could transfer. However in a way this just delays the player elimination, but doesn’t remove it.

I want to brainstorm a bit more on the above ideas and see if I can come up with something streamlined. The best approach so far is the “mirrored Recovery Roll” concept.

But I also want to take a step back and ask myself if I’m just re-using the oldest RPG trope of all: player elimination as a consequence.

What about if instead being Defeated doesn’t stop you from acting. Instead it’s just a “state” you’re in. You could even be “triple Defeated” by having 0 or less Stamina in every Category. Then if the entire group is Defeated, they lose the scene. Perhaps being marked as Defeated gives a penalty (like -1 dice per Defeated), but I want to avoid a death spiral (where a Defeated player becomes more likely to stay/keep being Defeated).
Perhaps I’d change the wording, so that Stamina becomes Morale, and Defeated becomes Broken.

A more drastic approach would even be a binary state of “Okay” vs “Defeated”, with no middle ground. Upon further consideration I tossed that idea out though, as I like the idea of someone being able to specialize into a “tough guy”, which wouldn’t work if everyone was either Okay or Defeated. So pass on that.

Anyway to adjust for the “Defeated but Active” concept described above I think I’d lower overall Stamina. I’ve never hugely liked the math for it (of [Attribute + Attribute – 2]). I’ve considered just adjusting the minus number to -3 or -4. But I innately like the idea of [Stamina = Highest Attribute of Category +2] instead. Or even just your highest Attribute in each Category being the Stamina, without any additional math.

Now for upside/downside time.
Upside is players are always active and engaged. Another upside is I could see the tension building as players do an ad-hoc check of who’s Defeated, and the number of players grows as the situation becomes more dire.
Downside is consequences feel less “real” (thus the likely need for some kind of penalty – just not sold on a flat dice reduction). Another downside is opponents probably wouldn’t work the same, and would still be “out” of the scene when 0 Stamina as they are now.

Regardless I think I’m going to try the “Defeated but Active” approach with some playtesting very soon. I could also try the simpler/copycat approaches, but they don’t wow me as much, and seem like a bit of a bandaid.

Include Variant Rules or Not?

My final talking point today is Variant Rules. Now in my previous game Dinosaur Cowboys I included a section of them. But I’ve always been on the fence, mainly because any major variants can make a game feel a bit fragmented or…indecisive? Like the designer couldn’t decide what was best so they just put everything in and said “choose what you think”.
In Dinosaur Cowboys I didn’t put any developer comments or reasoning, but for Fickle RPG I think I would, so that players know what to expect, and the thought process behind why the rule isn’t “core”, so that they don’t have to come to the same conclusions through slow trial and error.

In terms of Fickle RPG I could see “hot potato” turns being a variant (where there is just a “player turn” and the group can choose amidst themselves who goes). I could see Lucky 17 being a variant as well. And “bonus dice” (either from a shared pool or per-player).

Not much else to say on the topic. Definitely on the fence either way.

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