Wednesday, November 30, 2016

RPGs As Resource Management Exercises

I realized in discussion on Google Plus about Perception rolls that these days, I'm really much more of a boardgamer than I am a roleplayer. And that shows through in my play and my thoughts about play.

Lately, I've seen RPGs are being a resource management exercise.

Bear with me, here.

Players (PCs) have limited resources. Spell slots and hit points are the most obvious resources that most games feature, but there are others. Potions. Magic items. Abilities with "refresh" frequencies. Story Points. Time.

The goal as a player is to maximize these resources. Save the Daily Powers for the Big Bad. Use the little stuff on the mooks. Work as a team.

The goal as a GM is to make the resources feel thin, whether they are or not.  "Okay, guys. Your goal is to reach the top of the hill and kill the Death Priest.  He's standing over the entrance to a Goblin Warren, and every

Now this isn't a campaign.  The GM didn't completely tip his hand, either: the GM didn't say, "When you reach the top, you'll learn that the Death Priest is the Mayor of Safeholm, and he's taken Sir Truehart's squire, Jacob the Awkward, as a hostage." These are things the PCs will learn when they reach the top of the hill.  This is one session's encounter(s).

Some games are more explicit than others about their resource management. Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition was quite explicit about it. Players had "At-Will" abilities that they could use every round, "Encounter" abilities that they could use once per combat encounter, and "Daily" powers that they could use ... once per day.  They also had points that they could accrue to spend for extra actions.  GUMSHOE system games let players spend points on rolls - and those points don't refresh as much as you want them to.

Other systems are more subtle. In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition, it's the list at the beginning. Spell slots and hit points. Some magic items had limited charges. Potions were single-use. Spellcasters who wanted to create magic items had to sacrifice XP to do so.

Character advancement is a form of resource, too. Where you choose to spend your XP has a direct impact on what resources you have available. When you level up in 2E, sometimes you would gain skills (both Weapon Proficiencies and Non-Weapon Proficiencies).

I wonder how many designers see the games in this way.

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