Your Harebrained Ideas?

Dannyalcatraz

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This was, apparently, the best exercise of Poker Face I have had in my life, because he was exactly right, and I didn't let on. That was exactly what was happening, strong man, circus horses, dirigible, and all. And I know he guessed it, because he didn't own and hadn't read the book I took it from.
I did something like that once.

I had a flash of insight that essentially laid bare the core hidden plotline of the campaign, right as we were packing up our stuff after the 4th session, and I just blurted it out to the group. Then we had a month and a half gap in play due to assorted RW schedule conflicts.

When we returned to the table, I couldn’t remember what I’d said, and the DM ruled my PC was fuzzy on his recall as well.
 

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Dannyalcatraz

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My harebrained idea from the late 1980s was a magic system based on the characters’ knowledge of Runes of Power. A character would start off knowing 2-5 Runes, and could learn more over time.

The core mechanic for this was a 5x5 matrix in which PCs would place known runes in a pattern. The magical effect generated would depend on the pattern created, and reusing the pattern would create repeatable results.

Limitations on the matrix were:

1) a PC could only use Runes they actually knew.
2) a PC could only use the same tune a limited number of times in a pattern
3) a PC started off with access to only the first row of the matrix, and would add additional rows as they increased in power, up to the full 5x5 matrix.

Anyone who understands even a smidgen of the math of this would recognize that the sheer number of possibilities is beyond anyone’s capability to remember. This would REQUIRE a computer.

Problem is…I can’t program.*





* I took some introductory BASIC courses in the 70s, and was average at best.
 

kenada

Legend
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Opposed tests in Torchbearer, Burning Wheel and Prince Valiant are all very similar, and I think work well. Ties are quite common, which is a deliberate feature in BW and Torchbearer.

Cortex+ doesn't have quite the maths problem you've set out.

Rolling 2d6, d8 and d10 against (say) 2d8, d10 and d12 isn't ideal, but the variation across the rolls, plus the ability to keep a third die (at the cost of a pretty fluid resource) compensates. Whereas rolling 2d6 vs 2d6+4 is a bit brutal!
The math problems have been a constant source of pain. I want something that “feels” like D&D (e.g., roll+modifiers versus a target number), but I also want something with a non-uniform distribution of results. I like how the triangular distribution 2dX centers results on the average, making rolls feel a little more reliable.

Unfortunately, I’m kind of stuck with a particular progression of modifiers and need to figure out some way to make the dice mechanics play nicely with it. Attributes go from −3 to +3 (but only positive ones are really in play). Skill ranks go from −2 (for untrained usage) to between +1 and +5.

I could change them, but I don’t want to inflict another rebuild on my players. There’s also the issue of going too different from the baseline intended feel of the system (plus conversion concerns since I want to be able to convert monsters from old-school D&D easily). That’s why I’m finally looking at non-static difficulties.

Building up a difficulty will be similar to Torchbearer in that a target number is built from a base plus factors. The key difference is they’re not enumerated for each skill. It’s more like Blades in the Dark where the referee they’re derived from a set of generally applicable tables (with some affordances for temporary factors like weather).
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Looks my harebrained idea was similar to yours. After some different attempts I ended up with Armor being its own pool of HP separate from normal HP. Similar to HP and THP in DnD. Every time you take damage you subtract half from your armor pool and half from HP (Armor takes the extra point on odd amounts). Heavier armors had more HP and different materials had effects on how the damage was spread out.

Cool in theory, but my players preferred the damage all come from the Armor's pool first before coming from HP, with the exception of poisons and psychic damage. It reduced steps and they liked that. The good thing about either style is you can easily differentiate between HP and armor for healing/leveling/resting/etc.
I didn’t want to have separate HP pools to track, so I rolled all my together. I don’t know that having them separate would have helped in my case (since the values were based on level times the armor’s “armor HP” multiplier, and the problem was confusion happened when deriving and maintaining those values as you gained levels).

One question I have about your approach: how does it affect healing? Should you always wear the heaviest armor possible, and are there any downsides to being in heavy armor? Well, I guess that was several. 😅
 

I want something that “feels” like D&D (e.g., roll+modifiers versus a target number)

I squared this by breaking the conventional wisdom of the modifier not being bigger than the roll.

Instead, the modifier is where the consistency is, and the roll is never meant to be reliable, and this lines up well with the Skyrim/BRP esque Skill system, where the characters get better over time with the things they do.

Also incidentally makes the game less complicated over time, as players will be able to just do things (especially basic things) rather than being under the spectre of uncertainty even for things that have no business being uncertain.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Instead, the modifier is where the consistency is, and the roll is never meant to be reliable, and this lines up well with the Skyrim/BRP esque Skill system, where the characters get better over time with the things they do.
I’m not a fan of BRP’s skill system. I like a little more focus and also prefer to use EXP as part of a positive feedback loop to drive play (assuming you also mean that usage = skill progression like in TES and BRP games).

Also incidentally makes the game less complicated over time, as players will be able to just do things (especially basic things) rather than being under the spectre of uncertainty even for things that have no business being uncertain.
Thanks for the suggestion, but having checks become certain is a non-goal since my homebrew system is not using task resolution. Checks are generally¹ made to determine outcomes, so there always needs to be some uncertainty. Aside from when the system prescribes it, they’re made when the following conditions are met:
  1. The player wants to change the status quo; and
  2. The referee can (and does) foreground consequences that could happen.
The roll resolves whether the PC gets what they want and whether any consequences occur (see this post for more on that). If the roll becomes certain, then it breaks the consequences engine. That’s an important way for the referee to get to say things (what some games would call “make moves”), so it needs to be functional.

I’ve been using static difficulties because I don’t like the progression treadmill, but (as noted in the post you quoted), I’m having to make adjustments. You should get better, and the challenges shouldn’t be resetting the chance of success based on your difficulty, but I can’t keep things static with the modifiers I want to have.

What I’m going to do is have some base (probably 8), and apply factors to adjust the difficulty. These factors are going to be systematized, so players can reason about them and (hopefully) come to the same conclusion as the referee. To an extent, it should be possible to change the situation to eliminate factors (and reduce the difficulty).

As also noted, I’m thinking of having factors for scale and quality as well as for transient effects. Distance is arguably one too, but I’ve so far really only considered that in terms of ranged attacks. It should probably be considered though if you want, e.g., to leap a chasm.

These will probably be ranked, so a quality +1 and a scale +2 results in a difficulty of 11. But I still need to look at the math and make sure they’re calibrated right (which it’s not currently). Using ranks would provide a nice symmetry with the rest of the system, but it’s not required. There will probably be a table or two with factors.



1: Combat is a little more task-oriented in that it is broken up into rounds with discrete phases (equip, initiative, fast PCs, monsters, slow PCs) and has an action economy (you get one plus a reaction in addition to your movement). To attack a creature, you use an appropriate action, which prescribes the check (e.g., a Melee Attack uses <proficiency> + Strength) and the result (deal damage = margin [adjusted by mitigation] + weapon dice).
 

I like a little more focus and also prefer to use EXP as part of a positive feedback loop to drive play (assuming you also mean that usage = skill progression like in TES and BRP games)

Fair enough. I have a lot of parallel progression paths going on, so rote EXP kind of becomes a superflous contrivance rather than anything particularly useful.

I’ve been using static difficulties because I don’t like the progression treadmill, but (as noted in the post you quoted), I’m having to make adjustments. You should get better, and the challenges shouldn’t be resetting the chance of success based on your difficulty, but I can’t keep things static with the modifiers I want to have.

Indeed. It'd be hard to make up a fitting analogy for what my game aims to do, but the idea is that by the time you've maxed your modifier, the only things you're rolling for (in terms of accomplishing some out of combat task) are things that would be genuinely challenging for someone at that level.

But at the same time, the game is intended to not just end at max stats. Thats what I dislike about how DND et al tends to do things, where characters max out and then the game starts over, leaving little to no time to actually enjoy the high level play.

In a lot of ways Im actually leaning towards a character progression that aims to get out of the way rather than being the central focus.

Currently using a sort of rapid version of Dragonbane's progression system. You get up to 5 potential Skill Points at a time, earned by using Skills and specific Class abilities, and you can attempt to confirm these when your character Rests, and/or at the end of the session.

Its probably going to end up being too fast, but thats easy enough to adjust.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Fair enough. I have a lot of parallel progression paths going on, so rote EXP kind of becomes a superflous contrivance rather than anything particularly useful.
The way experience works is players set two individual goals at the start of the session and a group goal at the end. Group goals are intended to take several to complete. At the end of the session, a player gets 3 EXP for completing an individual goal (but no more than that even if they complete both) and 1 EXP for each one they help another player complete. If the group completes its goal, everyone receives 3 EXP.

Since the game is open-ended and sandbox-like, goals help players in picking and pursuing a course of action. They also serve as in-session reminders of things they indicated they wanted to do outside of the pressure of playing the game. This kind of “external brain” is inspired by my GTD practice. Players decide whether they complete their goals, and the group (by consensus) on the group goal. The referee can opine, but they don’t get a veto over whether a goal is completed (but if the whole group disagrees, the player should reconsider).

Characters gain ranks in skills, specialities, and proficiencies by spending EXP. The cost goes up with rank. Getting all the way up to rank +5 can be expensive, especially if your group does not give you a discount (e.g., mages buying combat specialities do not get a discount while warriors do). There is no control on how high or quickly you can buy ranks, but you actually don’t want to specialize hard in this system. Your level is based on total EXP acquired not by how much you have spent (to avoid punishing players for saving up for something).

As part of the resolution process, there are opportunities to help and contribute. Not having skills makes you worse at helping, which makes the rolls harder for everyone. There are two options to help. You can help, which lets you pick the method (skill) and approach (attribute). Successfully helping lets the target make their check at +modifier (based on your result). You can also do a group check. A group check requires you to use the same method, but you can vary the approach. For a group check, you designate a lead and everyone rolls. The best result is used to determine the result. Any failures reduce it by −2, but the leader can gain stress to prevent that.

Also, not having diverse skills limits the methods you can use to solve problems. If you want to manipulate someone into doing something, that’s Manipulation. If you want that outcome and have a terrible (or no) Manipulation, then you need to figure out some other method or find help. There’s just not a lot of flexibility in how skills are used. Where the flexibility comes is with your approach (attribute). You can use any attribute as long as it makes sense. Wisdom in particular lets you call on past experiences (which are noted on your sheet). For example, if you are trying to lure a bulette, and you can relate it back to your experience in the wilderness, then you can add +Wisdom instead of a different attribute.

Indeed. It'd be hard to make up a fitting analogy for what my game aims to do, but the idea is that by the time you've maxed your modifier, the only things you're rolling for (in terms of accomplishing some out of combat task) are things that would be genuinely challenging for someone at that level.
I want there to be some progression, but it needs to not break the math. Rolling 2d10 mostly worked with static difficulties, but my players would occasionally forget which dice to roll. Using 2d6 pervasively makes it hard to roll the wrong dice, but now I have to make sure the math is calibrated right. I think factors will be a compromise that’s okay because it’s framed as an objective property rather than as a product of the referee’s discretion.

But at the same time, the game is intended to not just end at max stats. Thats what I dislike about how DND et al tends to do things, where characters max out and then the game starts over, leaving little to no time to actually enjoy the high level play.
The thing I dislike is calibrating difficulties to progression. Your numbers go up, but so do those with the challenges you’re attempting. They might be “bigger” or described more superlatively, but moment-to-moment play is basically the same. The only time this feels good is when you’re dealing with the higher opposition early. For example, in Blades in the Dark when you have to be careful dealing with higher tier factions early but eventually rise to the point where you can bully them instead. That’s cool. Just picking fancier locks is not.

What high level play will look like in my homebrew system is still TBD. In theory, you know that things are out there that are nasty. The world is meant to be a “living world” type of setting (with various mechanics to support it). The players in my campaign want to loot the fallen capital. That’s their campaign goal. It’s still too scary at the moment though. They’re only 5th level. The max is 15th level, though I expect players will be able to continue spending EXP (as described above). Monsters are not capped and can be much nastier. You’ll need to bring resources to bear to deal with them.

In a lot of ways Im actually leaning towards a character progression that aims to get out of the way rather than being the central focus.

Currently using a sort of rapid version of Dragonbane's progression system. You get up to 5 potential Skill Points at a time, earned by using Skills and specific Class abilities, and you can attempt to confirm these when your character Rests, and/or at the end of the session.

Its probably going to end up being too fast, but thats easy enough to adjust.
Are the skill points tied to the skills and abilities used, or can you spend them freely?
 

Also, not having diverse skills limits the methods you can use to solve problems. If you want to manipulate someone into doing something, that’s Manipulation. If you want that outcome and have a terrible (or no) Manipulation, then you need to figure out some other method or find help. There’s just not a lot of flexibility in how skills are used. Where the flexibility comes is with your approach (attribute). You can use any attribute as long as it makes sense. Wisdom in particular lets you call on past experiences (which are noted on your sheet). For example, if you are trying to lure a bulette, and you can relate it back to your experience in the wilderness, then you can add +Wisdom instead of a different attribute.

Hmm see thats a big difference there, but there again we're probably working with different baselines for characters. My characters when they're at "0" in any of the 9 Talents (Attributes combined with Skill Mods) are assumed to be somewhat above average compared to a real person.

Anything you'd intuitively know a human can do, so can your character (with some margin of error until your Skilled), and as such for every skill even without any experience you'll be able to Improvise an Action to take with it, with which you could also directly try for any codified ability in the game. (While conventional levels aren't really used, every ability will have a Level that not only defines a "default" progression path, but also gives you a DC to hit to use it without taking it)

Improvise Action is actually pretty integral; its going to be the only Action thats directly printed onto generic character sheets (i plan on having generic ones for builders, but also bespoke ones for those that just want to solo-class), and I plan on it being, perhaps over repetitively, reprinted into every single Skill's progression tree.

Basically, I'm taking a nuclear hammer to the issue of people being overreliant on codified abilities.

The thing I dislike is calibrating difficulties to progression. Your numbers go up, but so do those with the challenges you’re attempting. They might be “bigger” or described more superlatively, but moment-to-moment play is basically the same. The only time this feels good is when you’re dealing with the higher opposition early. For example, in Blades in the Dark when you have to be careful dealing with higher tier factions early but eventually rise to the point where you can bully them instead. That’s cool. Just picking fancier locks is not.

Yeah I feel this tends to be just as much an issue of gameworld design as it is character or difficulty.

For one, while we don't necessarily need realism, we do need a lot of space for a series of escalating challenges to reasonably coexist in, especially over a long period of time. Too small a gameworld, and you're kind of obligated to do difficulty scaling.

For two, in sandboxes I've found its better to make it as "fixed" a world as possible. Ie, when you establish that a dungeon exists, all of its challenges already do and sit at whatever DC they're set to, whether the players engage with it in the first session or the hundreth, after they can do the dungeon in their sleep.

That doesn't mean challenges can't change, but I think its better if theres a clear and intuitive in-world reason for it. Robbing the King getting harder after the party (or some other group) failing and getting caught makes sense.

Goblintown becoming harder to successfully assault after you've slaughtered the other 4 Goblintowns makes sense.

Goblintown getting harder because you're playing at some high level instead of earlier really doesn't make much sense.

So if one combines a suitably sized gameworld (relative to what the PCs can do) with the idea of committing to fixed, pre-established challenges, then you can avoid much of the treadmill issue. The worlds my game would need to be played in would actually be rather gigantic compared to the norm, and not always jam packed. Lots of space to do the things players can do.

It does introduce a pacing issue, though, and thats where calibrating is, at least imo, easier and more fun. Introducing new hooks and such is a lot more fun for guiding and responding to progression.

And thats assuming you don't have other parts of the system to help out. Thats part of what I'm looking to solve with my Exploration and Discovery system. Due to how the Oracles work, it'll be easy for WKs (World Keepers) to introduce appropriate (or wildly inappropriate) challenges to the adventure, and players will still maintain their own agency in pursuing those new side adventures.

Are the skill points tied to the skills and abilities used, or can you spend them freely?

I haven't put it into practice as of yet, but my idea is that you fill a generic pool, but you also check off what Skills you used. If you spend the SPs on Class levels or Racial/Profession perks, you can just spend them freely. But if you want to increase Skills or take a Skill perk, then they have to go into the ones you used.

Its tempting to just have it be freely spendable, but I'm not sold on it yet. Especially becauss then it becomes cheesesable.

But thats also why I'm considering having every Skill have its own pool, rather than a generic one, which would be cleaner, but would also mean progression can accelerate pretty fast depending on the session.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Hmm see thats a big difference there, but there again we're probably working with different baselines for characters. My characters when they're at "0" in any of the 9 Talents (Attributes combined with Skill Mods) are assumed to be somewhat above average compared to a real person.
Characters are assumed to be adventurers with skills appropriate to adventuring. A skill is a method you can use to achieve an outcome you want. Characters also have proficiencies (for interacting with weapons and armor) and specialities (for additional customization and capabilities). For reference, these are the skills and proficiencies available. The specialty list occupies a space similar to feats in D&D, but specialities have also have ranks.

A 1st level PC starts with 50 EXP. You don’t start at 0 EXP. As part of character creation, some choices will tell you to take certain things. The rest is available for you to spend as normal (or not). You could spend it all to get one thing really high, but that’s dumb. It’s better to spread it around a bit. A rank +1 skill or speciality costs 4 EXP. Increasing it to +2 costs an additional 7 EXP. A rank +1 proficiency costs 3 EXP and 5 EXP more to go to +2. Your group may provide a discount. Warriors can get lots of cheap proficiencies and combat specialities. Experts get cheap non-combat skills and specialities.

Skill List​

  • Athleticism: running, jumping, etc
  • Camouflage: disguises, hiding
  • Coercion: force, threats
  • Construction: structures (typically but not always permanent)
  • Crafting: items (handheld, wearable, etc)
  • Deception: trickery, deceit
  • Entertainment: dancing, singing, pantomiming, etc
  • Investigation: direct inquiry, examination (to gather information / introduce facts)
  • Leadership: command subordinates, authority
  • Manipulation: entice, seduce, tempt (they have to want what you’re offering)
  • Negotiation: parley, offer consideration
  • Persuasion: convince, flatter, reason
  • Rapport: relationships, connections, chemistry (personal)
  • Research: analysis, fact-finding (to gather information / introduce facts)
  • Rituals: ceremonies, rites
  • Sabotage: damage, destroy
  • Sneaking: creeping, slinking, prowling
  • Survival: foraging, navigation, camp sites (fire, bivouac shelter)
  • Tampering: tinker, modify (traps, etc)
  • Tracking: follow, trail
Note that certain skills require an appropriate Experience. You can’t just take Crafting to make swords. You need to acquire the appropriate experience, which is a project that can be undertaken and advanced during weekly downtime activities. An Experience is something character-defining. Aside from providing permission to use skills like Crafting, Entertainment, Rituals, etc; you can call upon your Experience to use Wisdom as your approach when making a check.

Proficiencies​

Armor proficiency is used to determine your defense when being attacked, which is <proficiency> + Block / Dodge / Parry. Block is equal to the rank of the shield you are using. You can block a number of times per round equal to your shield proficiency. Dodge is equal to your armor’s dodge rating plus Dexterity. Parry is a speciality with additional specialities you can buy (such as the Unbalance and the Riposte combat specialities). The quality of the armor may limit the maximum benefit you can get from your proficiency rank.

Armor also has mitigation (typically ballistic, bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing). For example, a buff coat has is light armor with a proficiency limit of +3 with slashing 1 mitigation and dodge +1. Breast plate is heavy armor also with a proficiency limit of +3 and ballistic 1, piercing 1, and slashing 1 mitigation. For budgeting purposes, I am treating every +1 to dodge as two points of mitigation.

Mitigation reduces the margin of success on an attack, then it applies to the damage dice. For example, an attack with margin +2 against mitigation 3 would reduce the margin to +0 then reduce the damage dice by −1d6. If you are at 1d6, that becomes 0d6 (roll 2d6 and take lowest); 0d6 becomes 1 damage; and 1 damage becomes 0 damage. The reason for doing it this way is it means you’ll always do some damage if you roll damage dice.
  • Armor: Light, Medium, Heavy, Unarmored, Shields
Weapons proficiencies are used with attack actions such as Melee Attack, Missile Attack, Thrown Attack, and Unarmed Attack. When you use one of those actions, they will tell you what to roll. For example, a Melee Attack has you roll <proficiency> + Strength versus the target’s defense. Damage is based on margin + weapon dice. A Missile Attack has you roll Bows or Firearms + Dexterity at +3 versus the target’s defense. You apply mitigation, but you do not get to add any remaining margin. To counter mitigation, you can use missile weapons and/or ammo with Armor Penetration (ArP).

Combat specialities and spells may have you use attack actions with modification. The Backstab speciality allows you to make one with ArP at +rank. Using Forceful Blow increases the margin of a Melee or Unarmed Attack by +rank, but you do not add margin to damage. Instead the target is knocked back margin meters, and then mitigation is applied to the margin to determine any reduction in damage dice. The Smite spell allows you to choose between making a Melee Attack or a Missile Attack using your Mage rank as your proficiency. Because Smite is lightning-aspected, the target must have lightning mitigation to reduce your Smite damage.
  • Weapons: Axes, Bows, Clubs, Daggers, Firearms, Hammers, Polearms, Slings, Sticks, Swords, Thrown, Unarmed. (The omission of crossbows is intentional.)

Specialties​

There are quite a few different specialities, though the list is currently biased towards combat. Specialities may give you new actions, passive benefits, or a new method you can use when making a check. For example, Followers is a speciality. When you take it, you gain a small crew. If they help you on a group action, they roll their rank. Otherwise, you can use your Leadership to direct them.

For example: Tama (the cleric) in my game has Followers at +2. The party is working on developing a settlement. They’ve hired an engineer to oversee construction while they are away. When you hire someone, they have a rank relating to their speciality. In this case, the engineer is +1 and rolls 2d6+1 for the weekly progress check on construction (tracked via multiple clocks). Tama has directed her followers to remain back at the settlement and help, which allows her to perform a group check in absentia to help the engineer on the progress check.

At one point, spells were a kind of magical speciality, but that is not the case currently. Spells are just things that mages have access to cast. A cleric gets a set of spells they cast based on their rank. Casting spells costs MP. Some spells have fixed costs (e.g., Smite is rank +1 and costs 2 MP), but some scale. Cure has rank *, which means you can determine the rank (up to your group rank) and pay the associated cost. A rank +2 Cure costs 3 MP and heals 2d6+3 while a rank +4 would cost 7 MP and heal 4d6+9. Characters have 3 MP per level. Mages gain 3 × Mage rank additional MP.

(Magical consumable items cost MP to use, and other classes also have ways of spending MP.)

Anything you'd intuitively know a human can do, so can your character (with some margin of error until your Skilled), and as such for every skill even without any experience you'll be able to Improvise an Action to take with it, with which you could also directly try for any codified ability in the game. (While conventional levels aren't really used, every ability will have a Level that not only defines a "default" progression path, but also gives you a DC to hit to use it without taking it)

Improvise Action is actually pretty integral; its going to be the only Action thats directly printed onto generic character sheets (i plan on having generic ones for builders, but also bespoke ones for those that just want to solo-class), and I plan on it being, perhaps over repetitively, reprinted into every single Skill's progression tree.

Basically, I'm taking a nuclear hammer to the issue of people being overreliant on codified abilities.
Skills can be used untrained. You take a −2 penalty when doing so. That means your average result will be 5 + attribute (depending on the approach). That’s a baseline 41.67% chance of Mixed Success on a roll. If you want to do better, there are ways to improve your odds (working together, sacrificing things, etc). Aside from certain skills requiring the appropriate Experience (see spoiler block), most can be used untrained. Proficiencies can also be used untrained at the same penalty, but specialities generally cannot be. The exception is Initiative, which you can use at +0 instead of the usual untrained penalty.

I settled on the current skill list after trying to use a smaller list that represented the core competencies of being an adventurer. Specialities were meant to pick up the slack. There were skill specialties in addition to the others
you could take to give you more things you could do. It ended up making resolution too confusing. Is this basic skill enough, or should it require a speciality? Skill speciality design also risked getting way too narrow at times. Plus, having a type of speciality that was used differently was needlessly confusing. Using a list (see spoiler block) that means what it means is a lot easier.

Because of the way the resolution process works, there is no need for an “improvise action”. To initiate a check, the player says something they want: “I want to scout the area for trouble.” Okay, how are you doing that? “I want to climb up the tree and look around from the top.” That’s Athleticism. What approach? “Well, I spent time in the army as a scout, so I have a good eye for danger that could be hiding.” Great, that’s Athleticism + Wisdom. You guys know the raiders have been looking for you, so advancing the clock for when they find you is a potential consequence. (Unstated is falling while trying to climb the tree because falling while climbing is an obvious consequence.)

The player rolls and gets Mixed Success. They see movement in the distance, but they also see a glint from a spyglass looking back their way. They’re pretty sure they’ve been seen. The clock advances a tick and goes off. That means the raiders will be showing up soon. They’re not showing up now because that would be negating the PC’s success. Instead, they have enough time to plan how to respond. They decide to set up camp and hide in the trees (which would be Camouflage + approach with the desired outcome being surprise). They’re all doing that, so that would be resolved as a group check. If they succeed (and in the session this example is based on), they get the drop on the raiders. In our case, it was quite literally. After a good thrashing and some casualties, the raiders retreated (and the PCs decided not to pursue).

Yeah I feel this tends to be just as much an issue of gameworld design as it is character or difficulty.

For one, while we don't necessarily need realism, we do need a lot of space for a series of escalating challenges to reasonably coexist in, especially over a long period of time. Too small a gameworld, and you're kind of obligated to do difficulty scaling.

For two, in sandboxes I've found its better to make it as "fixed" a world as possible. Ie, when you establish that a dungeon exists, all of its challenges already do and sit at whatever DC they're set to, whether the players engage with it in the first session or the hundreth, after they can do the dungeon in their sleep.

That doesn't mean challenges can't change, but I think its better if theres a clear and intuitive in-world reason for it. Robbing the King getting harder after the party (or some other group) failing and getting caught makes sense.

Goblintown becoming harder to successfully assault after you've slaughtered the other 4 Goblintowns makes sense.

Goblintown getting harder because you're playing at some high level instead of earlier really doesn't make much sense.

So if one combines a suitably sized gameworld (relative to what the PCs can do) with the idea of committing to fixed, pre-established challenges, then you can avoid much of the treadmill issue. The worlds my game would need to be played in would actually be rather gigantic compared to the norm, and not always jam packed. Lots of space to do the things players can do.

It does introduce a pacing issue, though, and thats where calibrating is, at least imo, easier and more fun. Introducing new hooks and such is a lot more fun for guiding and responding to progression.

And thats assuming you don't have other parts of the system to help out. Thats part of what I'm looking to solve with my Exploration and Discovery system. Due to how the Oracles work, it'll be easy for WKs (World Keepers) to introduce appropriate (or wildly inappropriate) challenges to the adventure, and players will still maintain their own agency in pursuing those new side adventures.
Things that are fixed are fixed. If those things want to develop or pursue an interest, that’s what clocks and faction checks are fore. The referee is constrained such that they can’t just pull out the rug from underneath the PCs and declare, e.g., the raiders are now more capable. I also want to have a process for stocking dungeons, but it’s not there yet. The idea is if you leave the dungeon, something else may have moved into it.

Outside of defined things, the consequences engine is there to pick up the slack. That’s why having a functional consequences engine is so important. I absolutely do not want to prep a massive key for my hex map. The subregion where we’re playing is 32,000 km². The full region is bigger (~120,000 km²). I have better ways to spend my time than keying all that. Settlements and stuff are noted, but there are a lot of blank spaces. Consequences provide a way to fill them in with details (you got lost and stumble upon a statue garden …). The other way is through information-gathering (Rapport, Research, etc).

We had that happen in my game where the PCs did research on stirges (since they needed to clean out a nest) and established that they tended to be lethargic after feeding. When it came time to deal with the stirges, I put two clocks on the table. One tracked their response. If you made noise (i.e., consequences), I could put ticks on it. If it goes off, the stirges are up and swarming. The other was for the overall health of the nest. Every time they attacked the test, it would go up. If it went off, the stirges would disperse because a predator was destroy their nests. They’d be gone for a while as far as hex-clearing goes, but they’ll eventually show up again as a problem.

I also sometimes use the monster tables from OSE after rolling an event check. The event check stuff is supposed to happen regularly, but it needs work. The event check is modified by the danger rating of the current environment. If you’re up and about making noise or causing trouble, expect to have a lot of things happening you probably don’t want. One of the things you do when setting up camp is making decisions that affect your danger rating. For example, concealing the camp will reduce the rating as will sleeping without a fire (but that makes setting up watches difficult because there is little natural light at night, and darkvision is not a thing).

I haven't put it into practice as of yet, but my idea is that you fill a generic pool, but you also check off what Skills you used. If you spend the SPs on Class levels or Racial/Profession perks, you can just spend them freely. But if you want to increase Skills or take a Skill perk, then they have to go into the ones you used.

Its tempting to just have it be freely spendable, but I'm not sold on it yet. Especially becauss then it becomes cheesesable.

But thats also why I'm considering having every Skill have its own pool, rather than a generic one, which would be cleaner, but would also mean progression can accelerate pretty fast depending on the session.
Having separate pools (and maybe also a generic one separately) seems like it would be easier to manage. My concern would be that making it conditional on how you spend it will prove confusing for players. It’s probably not something they do often enough, so it seems like it would be a point of friction.

Blades in the Dark is an example of a game that uses multiple tracks. When you make an action roll from a desperate position (or use training), you can mark XP in the track related to that action’s attribute (e.g., Insight for Hunt). When a track is full, you can increase the rating of any action under the attribute (e.g., Study for Insight). There is also a generic XP track that fills based on end-of-session XP triggers (and training). When it is full, you can take an advancement (special ability).
 

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