Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bad Stuff / Luck / Unluck

Want to know a secret? I despise the "Unlucky" disadvantage in most games. Why? Well, it is how the abilitiy works. Usually, unlucky works by giving the GM a set number of times each session that they can make a player re-roll a successful roll. In other words, and how it is often used, the GM gets a number of times where they can essentially rob a player of a success that they have just earned. Commonly, the rolls chosen for this are the hard ones too, and it all just adds up. However, the concept of an unlucky disadvantage is something that has merit, and it is something I've been debating toying with in various systems. So, let's take a look.

Bad Stuff
For most of this to make sense, you have to understand that there is a concept for "Bad Stuff." The saying "shit happens," is essentially about bad stuff. Sometimes, no matter what you do, things just go wrong. When you're a PC in a campaign then odds are quite a bit of bad stuff is going to happen to you. Unless you don't consider having to go fight and kill dragons to be dangerous and worthy of the term bad stuff. But if that is the case, much of this may not make sense to you.

Luck vs. Unluck
When it comes down to it Luck and Unluck can be explained simply as "the tendency for things to (not) go your way." Not obviously being there for unluck, and vacant for luck. This makes sense for the die-reroll mechanic that we're familiar with, as a second chance at beating a roll can result in success - things going your way - or make a hard roll into a failure - despite best efforts things don't go your way. However, that isn't a full way of molding Luck vs. Unluck.

Good Stuff and Bad Stuff
Instead of rolls, why not simply have points of Good Stuff and Bad Stuff. If a player has 3 ranks of Lucky, then they have 3 points of good stuff. The GM can then use these points - or maybe the player can - to have things go the players way. The player is looking for NPC X in a large market, but luckily for them they find them quickly. By contrast, an unlucky player takes almost the whole day before they can find the person. It is simple, small, and mostly Quality of Life, but it still reflects things being tilted in (dis)favor of the PC depending on what they have.

It can also be used in other ways too. A person with bad stuff is more likely to take the first attack of an ambush than someone with good stuff. If something randomly good is going to happen, it will more likely happen to the person with good stuff. Why? Because they're lucky. Inverse would also be true because the person is unlucky.

Player Control
I'm unsure on how I feel about Player Control, which is also one of the areas I have mixed feelings with Luck as it normally is. See, I'm fine if someone wants to blow all their luck on one roll if that is how a system lets luck be used (i.e. if the system says luck gives a reroll, I don't care if you spend all your rerolls on one roll.) However, luck being something in the player's control can also be weird in some situations.

Ultimately though, I think it would be good to have the player have it as a spendable resource. It frees things up for the GM a bit, lets them apply challenge and have the player spend to remove some as well. The trick would then be to have the options available for use.

Unluck though then becomes an issue. Do you leave it to GM decision? Do you trust the player to also put up unluck where it should be a factor? If you leave it to GM decision, is there a way to encourage it not just be used to screw over the player at key moments? If it is in the hands of a player, is it still possible to come up at those key moments? Granted, this depends on your group and players, and I prefer to go with the assumption that the player can be trusted. Your mileage may vary.

Less Dice
I think what I am trying to get at here is a way to represent something without having to use the dice for it. Luck, and Unluck, show up in a lot more ways than just dice rolls, and I feel that games miss out by not showing this. At the same time, there can be more to luck than just "bad stuff happens to others first."

Your Thoughts?
What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you like how luck is? Do you have a favorite way of using luck? Any game really blow your socks off with how they wrote the mechanics for luck? Sound off in the comments.

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