Sep 06

Totally Yes/No And But


Nuanced ways to say Yes and No in the narrative of your game

Adjudicating Player Actions

Can the Hero do that?

Describing the outcome of Heroes’ actions forms one of the major roles of the GM. Can the Hero hit the goblin, climb the wall or bargain with the merchant? For many games, this is a binary decision. To paraphrase, the Hero climbs the wall, or does not climb the wall, there is no try.

Yet, such tasks in real life are not always so black-and-white. Possible outcomes include;

  • Climb the wall very quickly
  • Climb the wall steadily
  • Climb the wall slowly and fatigued at the end
  • Start to climb the wall, only to become stuck halfway up
  • Climb a little, then give up
  • Study the wall, and decide that it is too smooth to climb
  • Climb a little, then slip back down suffering bruises
  • Climb a lot of the wall, only to fall off and suffer a serious injury

Thus, a good narrative set of rules should be able to produce a similar variety of outcomes in response to Player actions.

Free Universal

Yes, but how?

HeroQuest 2 already has such a graded outcome as part of the contest resolution system, and it has proven very helpful to me. Yet, once I began to think about it, I realised that I was not making enough of a difference between the various grades of victory or defeat.

This shortfall became even more apparent to me as I read through a copy of FU, the Free Universal RPG. This little gem of a system is currently available, for free, at DriveThruRPG. Yes, for FREE.

FU lists six possible outcomes for a contest in a way that can easily be applied to other rules systems. Under FU, the possible results, in descending order, are as follows;

  • “Yes, and…” The best outcome, with a bonus additional result.
  • “Yes…” The basic successful outcome of any task.
  • “Yes, but…” A classic Marginal Victory, where the action is successful, but at a cost.
  • “No, but..” The action fails, but it was close, and some new, beneficial detail comes to light.
  • “No… ” The action fails.
  • “No, and… ” The worst outcome, where the action fails and there is an ongoing penalty.

Here was a narrative structure that I could marry to the graded HeroQuest 2 outcomes and provide a more nuanced set of outcomes for the Players.

Just Add Totally

The HeroQuest 2 conversion

By adding “Yes, Totally” to the top of the list, and “No, Totally” to the bottom, I turned the six FU outcomes into the eight needed for HQ. I then added some mechanics to the mix to increase the impact of the results.

There is a ninth HQ outcome, the Tie, but I have essentially discarded this outcome as it does not progress the narrative. Ties are thus resolved in the Heroes’ favour.

First of all, the two “Totally” results would see the full five Resolution Points inflicted on the loser, so those outcomes needed no further tweaks. However, in a Group Extended Contest, it might be worth handing out a Lingering +3 Bonus to the victor, to reflect their momentum for having achieved a perfect result in the contest.

Likewise, the pair of “and” results will see the Player Hero receive a Lingering effect, in addition to the RP assignment. So, a +3 Bonus for the “Yes, and”, or a -3 Penalty for the “No, and.” Morale, momentum, fatigue or injury can all be reflected here.

Alternatively, the GM can impose narrative bonuses and penalties. Dropped swords, additional opponents, falling to the ground or similar changes in the situation, would all apply here. For a Player Victory, then the opponent is affected, or vice-versa.

The simple “Yes” and “No” results represent Minor Victory or Defeat, and do not need any changes.

Finally, the Marginal outcomes, which are likely to be the most common, are the “but” results. A Marginal Victory for the Player, under this system, bestows a single RP at the cost of a -3 Lingering Penalty to the Hero. Meanwhile, a Marginal Defeat inflicts the single RP on the Hero, but the opponent takes the -3 Penalty. In a Simple Contest, this could be replaced by some minor change in the narrative that would permit a second attempt at the task, but against a Resistance that is one step lower.

This method will produce a lot more Lingering Penalties, as these can be generated through the course of an Extended Contest. Yet, I have found that my Players can remove these relatively easily, so there is no long-term effect of this. However, what this method does give us is an element of attrition in a Contest. I hope that this will lead to greater creativity on the part of the Players, but there has not been enough exposure to these rules to see this come into play.

At the Table

So how does this play out?

I tried this system in my last Session, and I was pleased with the results overall. There seemed to be two main results.

Firstly, and most importantly, the different levels of Victory and Defeat felt more distinct. I expect that these differences will become more pronounced as I grow in familiarity with this House Rule.

Secondly, the Players seemed to take a different attitude towards the Marginal Defeats. Now, there was some benefit to a Marginal Defeat, so was not always “bumped” away. Likewise, a Marginal Victory is something of a two-edged sword.

For the moment, this Rules Widget seems to do what I want it to do, and enhance the narrative by providing me with different ways to describe each of the graded outcomes. Further testing will tell whether it has added too much complexity to the Contests, but what do you think?

Something for the Weekend next week; Rules Widgets A self-contained framework for introducing House Rules seamlessly