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

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