Game Design: Results and Consequences
So in a dice-less game, it usually isn’t that important that we know how well you did something. You wanted to be first in the race through the market square, or you wanted to climb the cliff face. It isn’t so much about how well you made it through the impromptu obstacle course or how fast you climbed the stony edifice, just whether you succeeded or not. Sometimes however, it is important to determine how long something takes, or how well something is performed, or how accurately a shot is aimed, etc.
Cinematic Fighting System handles that with a Result rating. Your total minus the opposition or challenge rating. This is why marginal success is usually nothing to write home about. If you achieve a marginal success, it’s numerical value is 0, so if the number suddenly matters you don’t have anything worth much. This is how the game system enforces Defender Wins Ties, a longstanding game tradition. In contests where the Result matters, a 0 Result is not really a victory.
Result can be used for all sorts of things, the base amount of damage dealt by an attack, the effectiveness of a special maneuver, the amount by which Initiative is improved, the number of distance classes a character is allowed to move, and so on. It can also tell you that you did well, or performed amazingly well. Obviously if you are in a race against time to find an answer, achieving a Result of 3 is much better than a Result of 1. So it may take you only a few seconds to find the answers with a Result of 3 or more, while it may take you most of an hour with a Result of 1. When the Result has a subjective meaning, it should be scaled approximately like the Challenge Ratings themselves.
Consequence is another interesting concept. If you are making a test, it either has a consequence or it is risky in and of itself. The Game Master is not going to ask you to overcome a Challenge to make a leap up to grab a box off the top of a refrigerator. Half the time she won’t even ask you to make a Challenge to leap over the gap between rooftops while chasing an enemy. If it doesn’t add tension or drama to the scene, why are you making a Challenge out of it? So actions that don’t inherently have tension of their own due to perceived or absolute consequences should be hand waved. Your Resources tell the Game Master everything she needs to know about your potential, and for certain actions that’s all it takes to tell the story and move on.
As stated above, some tasks aren’t risky, but they are time sensitive. The fact that you can succeed is not in doubt, it’s how fast you can succeed that matters. Thus, failure often takes on a different timbre. When a character issues a challenge to another character or goes against the environment, there are no do-overs. If you fail a challenge you fail to succeed, you fail to succeed in time, or you fail to make appreciable headway. It is for this reason that pushing exists and why Guts doesn’t automatically replenish every round. It is a precious commodity precisely because there are no take-backs and it can help you succeed.
I like to use an idea I was first exposed to in the writings of Luke Crane around my personal gaming table. Whenever possible, a failure leads to consequences but also opens up new story opportunities, even if they are negative. So the heroes can’t try to synthesize the elixir of life again after failing, but perhaps one of the alchemists was impressed enough with their attempt that he offers to help them using a healing balm he already created for the remnants of their attempt, or he tries to steal it which complicates matters and adds pressure to the clock. Having an absolute moratorium on immediate retries squashes the roll-play desire to do things over until they go your way, and sets the game up for this sort of play automatically. The players need to adopt a new tack, not retread if they want to go forward after a failure.