Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Complication System

Heiko Mueller - In the Clinch

 I’m taking another shot at a universal resolution system that does some of the fun things that combat does, but is meant for non-combat challenges. This is almost less of a core mechanical system and more of a flexible way of organizing one’s thoughts during play as the GM--I’m not sure it needs to be player-facing at all. It’s also meant to be completely flexible and adaptable on the fly--all rules listed here are more ‘it works this way unless you have a better idea’ and less ‘this is how you have to do it every time’.

  • By default, the PCs are in control of their situation. However, rapidly they will find themselves in situations where things start to get complicated and threaten to spin out of control.

  • Complications are issues that the PCs have to deal with through play, that are actively or passively threatening to make everything go wrong. The GM keeps an ever-changing list of all the Complications currently affecting the players and all relevant info needed to adjudicate them.

    • Complications can be pretty much any situation where things are threatening to go wrong at any moment.

    • Hirelings with low morale are a Complication

    • Trying to convince the king of something is a Complication

    • Being in a burning building is a Complication

    • A teammate having been dragged away by giant spiders is a Complication

    • Dangling from a rope over a canyon after a failed skill check is a Complication

    • Being stalked by a hungry beast in the jungle is a Complication

    • A locked door is a Complication

    • Being in a dungeon full of monsters is a Complication

  • Complications have two core stats: a Frequency and an Odds

    • Frequency is how often you check to see if the complication gets worse

    • Odds are how likely things are to get worse

  • Periodically (based on the Frequency) you roll the Odds of the complication, and if the roll triggers then you suffer a Consequence--the situation gets worse.

  • Frequency can either be a fixed amount of time (once a round, every ten minutes, once per week) or a triggering situation (every time you ask the statue a question, whenever you fire the cannon).

  • Odds can either be a flat ‘roll 2 or less on a d6’ or can be some sort of skill check or saving throw the PCs need to make.

    • Overloading the dice probably works really well with this

  • Consequences can be pretty much anything, but some good go-tos are…

    • Raise the stakes on the current Complication

      • Dangling from a rope, after one failure the rope begins to fray. After two, it snaps.

      • There’s no hard rule against Complications being lethal from the get-go, but it is somewhat bad sport in most genres

      • This works even better if done in tandem with one of the below Consequences

    • Create a new Complication

      • Being in a dungeon full of monsters, rolling a 1 leads to a wandering monster showing up

    • Take some damage

      • Each turn you’re in the burning building make a CON save or take 1d6 damage from smoke inhalation and heat

    • Cost some other resource

      • Each time you attempt to pick the lock, failure causes ten minutes to pass (works best if you have other time-sensitive Complications running)

    • Or just do something that narratively makes sense

      • While your hirelings are upset, there’s a 1 in 6 chance per day they bail in the night with whatever they can steal

      • Until you rescue them, there’s a 1 in 6 chance per hour that your teammate who has been dragged away by giant spiders gets eaten

  • Consequences should generally just be whatever makes the most sense. If you have multiple ideas for things that can go wrong, roll for them or bring them out in sequence. If you have only one idea, it just does that. If you don’t have any good ideas for Consequences, you shouldn’t use this system.

    • The sinking ship’s first Consequence is a stampede running for the lifeboats, then all the heavy objects on deck rolling around as the ship tips, then avoiding being sucked down into the depths.

  • Give the players a chance to respond to or mitigate the Consequences, and map the Consequences to the actions of the players

    • Wrapping yourself in heavy cloth may help briefly with the fire in a burning building, but failing a save may mean that it catches on fire/is destroyed (removing your protection but allowing you to skip one round of damage)

  • Complications resolve whenever narratively appropriate--when the players overcome/circumvent them or when they naturally exhaust themselves

    • If you want a Complication to have some weight, when the players take action to defeat it you can begin a progress track that will end the Complication when filled, and that fills up relative to how impactful the player action was

      • Each time you repel the beast, it loses 1d4 morale (2d4 if the PCs seriously hurt/scare/frustrate it). Once it loses 5 total it gives up.

    • If you can think of a way to twist the Complication each time progress is made on it, do so! If you can keep the stakes up while demanding a new approach to make further progress/changing the consequences of failure it’ll keep things from becoming stale

      • Each time you get the king to make you a concession, they make a new demand of you in return

    • Use this only if it makes sense. If the player action sidesteps the issue or is just generally smart of appropriate enough, you can just resolve the Complication in one go

  • If you have multiple Complications active at the same time, try to keep them on the same die size and just roll once. If more than one trigger off of one roll, pick one randomly or grab the most appropriate/fun and then roll again for the remaining ones

  • If someone does something to exacerbate a Complication, you can roll for it once even if it isn’t time for it

    • If you make a loud sound in the dungeon, it can provoke an extra Wandering Monster Check


  • This is all meant to be system agnostic--more of an aide you can add to an existing system than the core of a ruleset itself

  • My problem with my previous attempts at slightly more involved complex resolution systems is that they are prone to being overcomplex while demanding relentless and exhausting creativity without giving much help in prompts

    • If it takes multiple rounds to resolve a challenge like picking a complex lock, and you generate multiple Partial Success events, how do you even keep that fresh?

    • My hope is that this system helps keep things interesting while not being quite as demanding. You can still use Skill Checks or whatever for more simple situations, and there are plenty of hooks to drape creativity on whenever you have ideas, but if the only complication you can think of is “you take 1d6 damage” that’s fine too

  • I intentionally want to give as little guidance as possible on what forms Consequences should take, or rules for resolving Complications. The more all that can stay in the narrative layer, the better.

    • On some level, this whole thing is just an attempt to allow for slightly more formal narrative-layer consequences. If the hirelings are unhappy, this puts the fact that something’s wrong on the table and lets it be a slow burn the PCs need to address

  • I’m not sure how visible these should be to the players. I think you should generally lean towards making your list public but not actually showing people the notes/stats/etc. If the hirelings are unhappy, let the players know so they can try to do something about it.

  • This is honestly probably more useful for slower burn stuff. Anything with an “every round” frequency is easy enough to hold in your head you probably don’t need a formal system unless you’re acting out a gigantic rolling heist or something.

  • I don’t think anything about the procedures for this is that wild or new (it’s basically just Wandering Monster checks but for more things), but my hope is that by giving it a name and some loose form it makes it easier to keep multiple Complications active at once

    • Like, this can be used to set up a bunch of clocks within a dungeon. You have the default one (wandering monsters), but if you get spotted by a group of weak enemies that run away you can just start a “the goblins are gathering allies to repel you” Complication that slowly builds over time and eventually culminates in a big fight. When you rescue the noble from the lizardman prison there’s a small chance every time you end up in a dangerous situation they do something decisive and incredibly stupid. The symptoms of inhaling all those mushroom spores slowly grow over time. What starts as a straightforward delve eventually turns into a whole bunch of spinning plates threatening to go flying

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Platesting: Negotiation System -- 1st Test

 I haven’t been posting here much! I’ve been busy with a RPG-related project that isn’t quite relevant to the topic of this blog, but I do still do occasional pen and paper work. Updates here will probably be infrequent (but not never) for a while.

Covid has been tough for playtesting, but I did finally get a chance to try out my negotiation system in a live game. I’ve actually also been using the other systems posted here in the same game, but given the slightly unusual nature of the game (it’s a single player Deep Carbon Observatory run with a player not especially interested in combat) I don’t have too many thoughts on those yet.

What’s Working

  • Overall, it feels pretty good! Every time I’ve used it, we’ve consistently created outcomes that are way more complex and interesting than either what I would have gotten out of a single roll or a simple ruling

  • The math works out way better than I was expecting. Players can usually get one concession safely out of a receptive audience, but have to play clever to get additional advantages

What’s Iffy

  • The scene-setting and starting rolls (Patience and Stubbornness) have bad pacing. The fact that the GM rolls both means there’s a lot of behind-the-screen bookkeeping while the players don’t have much to do.

    • Making one of the two belong to/be handled by the player seems like a good idea

    • Maybe even merging the two into one concept somehow. Both the players and the NPC have “NP”--”Negotation Points” and the side whose NP runs out first ‘loses’ the negotiation?

    • Also, maybe these shouldn’t be rolled--it creates a fair bit of busywork at the negotiation’s start. Maybe it’d be better to just have both be a number between 1-20 and just provide guidance on how to set the number intelligently?

  • While the concepts all make sense in my head, I don’t have a good spiel to explain the system to players yet. Patience and Stubbornness don’t have the self-explanatory nature that something like “HP” does to the average player.

  • Patience is a little abstract to judge, as well. Right now it’s this abstract mix of, like--how much does the NPC like you/how much leverage do you have/how tense is the current situation. I need a better way of framing it that makes it easier to make judgement calls on.

    • AP Example: The player is trying to convince a newt-man to put off massacring a settlement of humans they’re at war with for a few days while the player tries to broker a peace or something. They’ve been travelling with the newt for a while, but also the newt has been somewhat cynically manipulating them into acting as free mercenaries. I opted to give them 3 dice of Patience, but it felt ambiguous

  • The back and forth is a little floppy, I’m noticing. Right now the player makes an argument, then the NPC makes a demand, then the player answers the demand. It’s a weird ABA,ABA,ABA pattern that feels a little stilted (the player makes their answer than their next argument back to back). Figuring out a little ritual to put between the two beats feels like it’d make things run more smoothly.

  • Things can get a little hazy when the player makes un-asked-for concessions when answering a NPC demand. Does that count as a gift, and if so am I both rolling to reduce Patience and also add to it? Or should I just treat that as a response so strong to the request that I don’t even reduce Patience that round?

  • Semi-related, it seems fairly common for the player’s goal to evolve fluidly throughout the negotiation, as the discussion leads them to think through new aspects of the situation. I wonder if the players shouldn’t be reducing Stubbornness through their arguments, but should rather just be gaining Leverage or some other currency that they can spend on concessions mid-play.

  • The moment of reducing the NPC’s Stubbornness to 0 is a little awkward. Reducing them to 0 feels like it should be an instant ‘defeat’ moment, instead of letting them make one more Request before giving in. If I do that, though, then does that mean that the player gets to take two turns in a row if they make additional demands? It all just feels a little awkward

  • I’m also finding that it’s fairly common to find a deal that’s appealing to all parties involved before the negotiation is fully over. Like, the players will offer a gift/concession so appealing that it feels unrealistic to keep haggling--I’m finding that it feels pretty okay to just go “oh yeah, if you give them that they’ll just concede” and smoothly end the negotiation.

    • AP Example: In the above negotiation, the player offered to take the newt into the dungeon to find weapons to more fully obliterate their enemies. This felt like a good enough deal that I just ended the negotiation early

Overall, I’m really happy with how the mechanic is working so far. There are some definite rough spots, but I’ll just keep iterating on it until it works the way I want.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Rough Drafts: Character Sheet for an Organization

Alexandre Cabanel - Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Those Condemned to Death 

This system for managing an organization came out of a discussion of people trying to brainstorm up a simple but interesting kingdom-management system on a RPG discord. The main approach people were taking was the seemingly standard approach in sim-ish RPGs--all about juggling various currencies (wood, stone, iron, gold). It made me realize what has bugged me about this approach for a while, but that I couldn’t put my finger on--material conditions and the ways that wealth get created matter a lot for an organization, but they’re only interesting in how they create conflict and incentives with the people in and around an organization; how much wood you have isn’t interesting, but the question of who gets to profit off of it really is. This is my take on a simple and abstract organization management system that’s all about who gets what shares of an organization’s wealth.

In order to keep this system and setting agnostic, a lot about it is left intentionally vague--it should work just as well for tracking the turf controlled by a street gang as it does for tracking the territory controlled by a fantasy kingdom. It is also very much not meant to be self-contained--it’s built to basically be a plot-hook generator, interfacing with the fiction as often as possible.

Organization Sheet & System 

First off, here’s the sheet used to track this all. It’s pretty lacking in the quality-of-life department, but it gets the idea across:

Name: Some Fantasy Kingdom

Wealth: 100

Income: 5w/season








Worked by peasants




Worked by peasants





























City Walls







Monsters roam the wilderness


Mutual enmity with Kingdom of the Elves



Basic Info

  • An organization has five main types of things it cares about:

  • Wealth, an abstract representation of valuable goods and currency

  • Resources, which can be worked to generate wealth

  • Factions, representing the various members of the organization and want a share of the wealth

  • Infrastructure, representing the various non-person non-wealth holdings of the organization, which cost wealth to maintain

  • Problems, which occasionally rear their head and have to be dealt with

  • Each season (which is flexible in how long a time period it represents) an organization’s resources generate wealth, which then gets divided up between the various factions and infrastructures making up the organization. Anything left over goes to the organization itself (in this case, the King’s treasury).

  • Additionally, each season there’s a chance that things go wrong and must be addressed. This can come from unhappy factions, underfunded infrastructures, or long-term problems facing the organization. These are generally expected to be handled within the fiction.


  • Wealth is liquid and abstract--it represents a sum of all the money, trade goods, resources, food, luxury, etc moving within the organization.

  • Wealth replaces the need to track individual types of resources. It’s assumed that if a kingdom has a large amount of lumber and not enough stone, they are able to trade with neighbors/etc in order to meet their needs.

  • Exactly what one ‘unit’ of wealth’s exchange rate represents is going to vary depending on setting. Maybe it’s something like 1000gp in a D&D-like setting? I don’t know, I’d have to run more math to be sure.


  • Resources are the things held by the organization that generate its wealth.

  • Each unit of a resource generates 10 Wealth when worked.

  • These might represent land held by a feudal kingdom (farmland to create food, woodland to create lumber, mines, etc), but could also be more abstract (a trade deal, a mob-run casino, a smuggling operation, etc).

  • Importantly, these resources must be extracted with labor coming from one of the factions. Don’t sweat the exact numbers, but you should have appropriate factions available in order to work each resource. 

    • In a fantasy setting, peasants are probably going to do most of this labour for Resources like Farmland or Lumber.

    • But you could also imagine needing a Merchants faction in order to extract wealth from a Trade Deal resource.

  • What a ‘unit’ of a resource represents is fairly fluid.

    • In a hex-crawl game, maybe one hex of plains can support one unit of Farmland?

    • But then a single diamond mine might be represented as 3+ units of Mining, since it’s much more valuable.

  • Instead of generating Wealth, a resource can be worked to directly pay for a relevant cost at double value.

    • If you are building a Castle and have a Quarry, you can use one Quarry Resource to pay for two Wealth worth of the castle’s construction.

    • Basically, by using the resource within the organization instead of needing to trade it around to generate wealth, you get more value out of it.

    • This will usually be used to pay for infrastructure costs, but some Factions might be bought off with especially apt resources as well.

      • Luxury goods like Fine Wines or Silks could be used to keep your Nobles happy in this method, for example.

  • You can also loan resources to allies, in order to give them this double-value bonus.


  • Factions are the people your organization has to keep happy.

  • Each one has an Amount rating. Keeping one unit of a faction happy for one turn costs ten Wealth.

  • How many people make up a unit differs based on the type of faction and how expensive they are to keep happy. 1 unit might be 1000 peasants, 100 soldiers, or 5 nobles.

  • Each turn their happiness moves one unit towards 7 if paid or two units towards 10 if paid double. If 50%-99% paid their happiness moves one unit towards 0, 1%-49% it moves two towards 0, and if not paid at all moves three towards 0.

  • Roll 1d6 each Turn per faction. If the result is over their happiness rating they cause some sort of trouble this turn. For each turn in a row they’ve been making trouble, the trouble gets worse.

    • Trouble might be a one-off thing or might be adding a new Problem to your org

  • Paying a faction represents a mix of maintaining the infrastructure they need to live (maintaining roads and paying tax collectors for peasants, building fancy summer houses for nobles, etc) and the amount of wealth that they are allowed access to (the amount of money and food that don’t get taxed out of the peasants).


  • These are things your organization owns or has built. They probably let you do cool things or give you bonuses at stuff in other parts of the game, but here they mostly just cost wealth to maintain.

    • Like, castle walls might give you a bonus if you start having wargame play, while Alchemy Labs might give you potions to bring with you into the dungeon, and Exquisitely Tended Gardens might give you bonuses in international diplomacy

  • Each one has a cost rating--you need to spend that much wealth to maintain it for a Turn.

    • If you pay it in part it loses one health, pay nothing and it loses two health.

    • Health can also be lost via narrative events--Orc catapults are as capable of damaging walls as lack of funding

    • You can have zero-cost infrastructure--it just represents an asset the organization has that doesn’t need funding to stay useful

  • Repairing lost health costs a Wealth.

  • If you ever engage with the thing in-game you can roll a die the size of its Max Health. If you roll over its health then something goes wrong or dysfunctional and causes you problems.

  • It costs one Wealth per Max Health to build a thing. If you use an appropriate Resource to pay for it each one used can replace two wealth. 

    • You can also use Resources to pay for upkeep and repairs at a discount, too.

    • Max Health should be the size of a die, if possible.

  • Sometimes Infrastructure can be gained through play, instead of built using this system

    • “A big stockpile of guns” can be bought, or the PCs can acquire it via a heist.

  • These can potentially be somewhat abstract.

    • An alliance to a nearby kingdom could be counted as Infrastructure--especially if the relations are being kept good with paid diplomats and gifts

  • You can use the building system here to create Resources and Factions, potentially.

    • You could potentially fund the founding of an Engineer’s Guild, which could then become a resource

    • You could potentially fund the founding of a Wizard’s School, which would then produce a “Student Wizards” Faction.

    • These sorts of constructions probably require some roleplaying in order to kick off--you can’t really found a wizard’s school unless you have some wizard teachers lined up, after all.


  • Organizations have ongoing slow-burn problems. There’s a place to track them here

  • Problems have a Rating--this is how likely the problem is to come up in a given season

  • Roll 1d10--if you get under or equal to the problem’s rating then an issue relating to the problem flares up. It needs to be dealt with in some manner or something bad will happen

    • Monsters Roam the Wilderness might cause problems like “giant spiders have driven the lumberjacks out of one of the forests--gain no Lumber from it until they’re dealt with” or “people are getting scared of goblins--calm them down or they’ll lose happiness”

    • Mutual Enmity with the Elves might cause problems like “a border skirmish breaks out--increase the rating of this problem by one” or “the elves straight up declare war”

  • The nature of the problem should just be something that makes sense narratively

    • The Elf King isn’t going to declare war out of the blue, but if two problems ago a bunch of elves got killed in a border skirmish and the PCs didn’t do anything to de-escalate and then last time the Elf King demanded reparations and you didn’t give it, then maybe this time when the Problem gets rolled war is totally on the table

  • This is a system for handling unexpected problems bubbling up. If last turn something bad happened and wasn’t addressed, it’s reasonable that it might come up again this turn even if the Problem wasn’t rolled. If it was rolled, then maybe some unexpected event pours extra gas on the fire

    • If the Elf King declared war, the elves will probably attack next turn no matter what. Rolling a new problem would represent them trying some sort of scheme (sending assassins?) or some side-problem cropping up (food shortages?)


  • As always, this is a concept-dump and hasn’t been tested yet

  • Remember that these are a sort of ‘if business is running normally’ rules. They should be modified and ignored as appropriate as things happen in the fiction

    • Like if you’re under siege maybe all those Silk Farms don’t give you anything, since you’re not trading them to anyone

  • I’m somewhat allergic to tracking all this stuff for its own sake, so the goal is just to create a simple engine that creates narrative events that need to be solved in the other modes of the game

    • Resources are McGuffins to come into conflict with other organizations over

    • Factions that become unhappy cause trouble that needs to be resolved

    • Infrastructure gives you tools to do cool things in other modes of gameplay

  • The lines blur between the three types pretty easily

    • The difference between Resources and Infrastructure is that Infrastructure has a net negative or neutral impact on your Wealth while Resources are positive

    • Conceivably a Resource could become an Infrastructure, or vice versa. A restaurant that’s losing money is Infrastructure, but that same restaurant turning a profit is a Resource.

  • Maybe you can damage a resource to get extra wealth out of it short-term?

  • For really big organizations, maybe you can have smaller vassal organizations as resources.

    • And maybe you should get penalties if you have too many holdings, which you can abate by creating vassals to manage them for you.

  • How often are turns rolling around? Rolling for each and every faction every turn sounds painful if they hit every 15 minutes, but totally fine if it’s more of a “once every few sessions” thing.

    • Honestly, the whole ergonomics of this needs a lot of work. I think I can get it there, though.

    • The tracking who’s working each resource and resources being able to pay extra for relevant expenditures are both pretty awkward to track. I’m leaning away from tracking the first, but I would be sad to see the second one go. I’ll try to think of methods

  • This was initially meant to be pretty PC-facing, but it might be useful for NPC organizations in a faction-play game as well

    • In that case I wouldn’t track wealth or roll for problems/happiness, and would just use it as a way to visualize what the factions and desires of the NPC org are for quick rulings.