Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Plot Points" in 13th Age

Wow, this may have been my longest hiatus from writing in this blog.  Not much to say about that other than I've been busy, and that's included doing a whole lot of gaming.  Gaming to the point where I'm not in the mood to think about it at my leisure.  I suspect that as long as I keep up with all of my weekly games my posting rate will probably remain sparse, alas.

My Saturday group has been playing through the D&D 5e beginner box, and we've actually been having a blast so far.  While the point of this post isn't to review 5e, I mention it because of the Inspiration mechanic, which we're quite fond of.  Half of this group hasn't played 13th Age yet, and that's what we're going to be playing next.  While considering character options I couldn't help but think how much I'd miss Inspiration, and then the gears started turning about how I might be able to implement it in 13th Age without introducing 5e's Traits (which are largely redundant with Backgrounds, OUT, and Icons).

Ultimately Inspiration is a narrative carrot that serves the same purpose as Fate Points, or Plot Points in Cortex+.  While I get why Inspiration isn't cumulative, I think everyone in the group agreed that we prefer being able to bank 'points.'  The question still remains of how to earn those points, though.  I'm getting close to running Firefly with the Tuesday group, and I think Cortex+ really nailed it with Plot Points.  In that game characters have three Distinctions which can have up to 3 triggers.  Think of Distinctions like Aspects in Fate, or Traits in 5e.  It's a narrative phrase or concept that can either work to your benefit or detriment.  Whenever you roll a dice pool and a Distinction would be a boon for the action you can add a d8 to the pool.  The first trigger for all distinctions (which starts automatically unlocked) is that if the Distinction hinders you, you add a d4 to the pool instead of a d8, and you earn a Plot Point.  It's important to note that rolling a 1 has detrimental consequences in this game, and that d4 is going to make that really likely to occur.  That's why it gets added to your pool (possibly helping you a little) instead of the opposing pool.

This provides for interesting, dramatic stories because the player is self-handicapping their character with certain rolls in order to bank a benefit for later.  A character needs flaws in order to be interesting, and this mechanic provides a narrative incentive for players to play up their characters' flaws.  I think that it simply works better than the 5e and Fate versions (at least on paper).

So here's how I'd make it work in 13th Age.  Any time a Background would be a disadvantage for a given action, the player can opt to apply its negative value to the roll as a penalty.  Doing so grants the player a plot point, which can be spent later to re-roll any d20 roll.  Optionally if your OUT would be a hindrance you can take a -4 penalty in order to earn a plot point.

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