Monday, February 11, 2013

Pass/Fail or something in between?


Inspiration can come from the strangest places. In this case, it came from a video game!

If you ever game on a smartphone or tablet, chances are you've come across Temple Run 2. It's known as an infinite runner style game. You control a hapless tomb robber.. err.. I mean treasure hunter who has stolen an artifact from an ancient temple. Upon acquiring the artifact, a giant beast with a skull mask gives chase and your mission become clear... RUN AWAY!

The title screen

Unfortunately your path is impeded by a variety of obstacles. You must jump, dodge and slide your way from hazards while a tireless brute breathes down your neck. It can be disorienting at times but it's actually quite fun!

They aren't paying me to advertise their product so let me get to the point. There is a particular mechanic in Temple Run that got me thinking. You see, if you miss a jump by just a hair, or if you fail to dodge a small obstacle on the ground the little man on the screen trips. He doesn't fall down, he doesn't get gobbled up by the monster, he just sort of stumbles for a second. The screen shakes, a booming roar echoes out of the speakers and the hulking beast gets closer to your pint-sized pilferer. The game is letting you know that you're safe for the moment, but trip again and you're monster chow! It's a great way to keep you on your toes.

The beast!

Let's take a look similar situations in many fantasy tabletop games. You stepped on a pit trap? Make a reflex save to jump out of the way! You got hit with a poison dart? Make a fortitude save to see if you succumb to the toxins! Some lusty water nymph charmed you? Roll a willpower save to see if you can shrug off her entrancing allure!

Not only are these common occurrences, they also have a common quality: they are pass or fail situations. Pass your reflex save and deftly jump over the pit, fail it and you plummet to your doom! Fail your fortitude save and fall over with burning guts and explosive diarrhea, pass it and you can sprinkle that poison on your cornflakes to give them a nice piquant aftertaste. There's no in between!

It's pretty much like this. Every time.

I've been playing with the idea of near misses and close calls. What if the player failed their reflex save in the aforementioned pit, but only by one little point on the die? Is it reasonable to say that the player fell in the hole but caught his foot on a dangling root about half-way down? Maybe he only takes half the fall damage, avoids the spikes and loses all his spare change? What about the adventurer and the poison dart? Say he passes, but by only one or two? Is it possible that the toxicity still runs it's course but he is mostly resistant? Maybe it leaves him feeling just slightly off or it gives him such potent gas that stealth is out of the question for at least an hour!?

It's a fun thought and I'm sure some systems out there support near misses. It would add a great amount of flavor but would also require a significant level of trust between players and GM, as rulings would be handled case-by-case and on the fly. Who knows, maybe I'll toss the idea to my group and see what they think.

Do you have any rules for close calls and near misses? Core rules or house rules? I think it's an interesting topic.

Until next time, happy gaming!   

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