superhero

Refining Endurance

February 23, 2020 - 3 min read

Following a recent and very early playtest, I got plenty of good notes. The biggest ones were around how Endurance powers your traits. I’m going to talk about my design goals, then talk about options that might satisfy those goals.

The Goals

  1. Characters ought to have diverse traits. I don’t want one-trick ponies where you just have this overwhelming trait and keep spamming it. You can have a single in-universe power (e.g. Cyclops’s Optic Blast from X-Men), but I want you to either build on that, or tell me something else about that character (e.g. Cyke is also a good tactician and planner).
  2. Character complications ought to be surfaced often. I want to hear about your problems and I want to see them come up during most battles.
  3. Scene complications ought to be engaging. I don’t want a game where the point is to deplete the other guy’s HP before he depletes yours, and that’s it. I want the fiction and the situation to matter.
  4. There ought to be uncertainty. When I roll 16d6 and you roll 8d6, most of the time we know what the outcome will be - I’m going to roll more effect.
  5. If you appear in a Panel, it ought to mean something. “I attack and miss” is one of the most boring outcomes in gaming to me.

Restoring END

This comes in two flavors:

  • When you invoke a character or scene complication, you either gain levels to roll with, or you can get END back.
  • Invoking complications only gives you END back.

This is “easy” in the sense that it doesn’t change the game as written. It meets goals 1-3 and 5, in that those goals seem to be already satisfied in the design. It doesn’t meet goal 4 in that it just lets you pour more END into powers. It solves the playtest comment about how it’s easy to over-commit END.

One Exchange Only

This is where when Alice, Bob, and Carol appear in the same Panel, there’s no “Alice attacks Bob”, “Bob attacks Alice”, “Bob attacks Carol”, etc. resolution. It’s just Alice vs. Bob and then Carol vs. Bob, and whoever rolls the higher effect gets an outcome on the other. This solves the initiative problem, makes you pay an END cost once (thus reducing bookkeeping but also overall END expenditure).

It doesn’t change any of the current goals, only reduces the END management problem slightly, perhaps at the cost of normalizing “super-slugfests” as the default action in combat. It also takes away strictly defensive uses of a power or complication.

Tension

Right now there’s two main tactical elements in combat: placement in Panels, and END management. You want your Endurance budget to cover all the uses of your powers, which you more or less know ahead of time because everyone can see the Panels they’re in, but you also want to place yourself in Panels where that Endurance does the most good.

The game’s model is simplified considerably by removing Endurance entirely and replacing it with something like Tension - a hard cap on how many levels of effect you can bring into play in a given Panel. This assumes that players will never “pull their punches” in the mechanical sense - that they always want to go all-out on an enemy - and I feel like that assumption holds true.

If Tension is something players can affect, that means we’ve introduced a new management mini-game. I don’t know whether this is better than Endurance or not, but if it cuts both ways - that is, a villain can’t just blast the PCs with more power than they can muster - then it satisfies goal 4, because 10d6 vs. 10d6 might go one way or another, but it’s almost certainly not going to be net zero.

If Tension isn’t something they can affect - perhaps a die roll, or a gradually increasing number - then we have another form of uncertainty. That might be something extra to keep track of, and we might not want that.

Does Tension limit character or scene complications? I want to say no - if you can break through the Tension limit with those, there’s more encouragement to use them.

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