What the Morning Brings

Friday, May 5th, 2017

Appropriately enough, I woke up this morning thinking about At the Dawn. Specifically, I’ve always worried the penalties are too harsh (they’re not, they’re brutal, and that’s good because, in this case, it drives the narrative conflict), but my brain was whispering to me “Why not change the penalties into an increased Threshold?”

Which is not half-bad as an idea: it still ramps up the difficulty and removes the (appearance of the) penalty death spiral, might make those precious additional dice more important, and doesn’t require quite as much record keeping for a player.

Issues: it significantly alters the math of play as increasing the Threshold doesn’t change the outcome probabilities per roll, only the outcome probabilities per conflict; the probabilities of success aren’t affected as drastically; and, psychologically, a failed roll ends up being something that happens to the other guy, not something that happens to you.

The latter is something I really don’t like.

This would also mean a change in what spending Virtues does: spending Virtue would have to lower the Threshold rather than remove penalties (this is the simplest way to handle it, and requires the least — as I am now going to refer to this all too common practice in game desgin — fizzbin-ing[1]). But this is kind of neat since it means Virtues could always be spent to make a conflict easier, not just when a penalty was involved.

Ultimately, though, I don’t like the idea, not for this game. It is particularly the psychological and narrative results of making this change, in that it depersonalizes failure and reduces its probability, which are both very important.

However, the idea of being able to spend Virtues to lower the Threshold in addition to spending to reduce penalties does have some merit. Perhaps I will keep that bit, but I’m going to think about it for a while.

[1] fizzbin-ing: creating complex rules, especially when a more simple rule would suffice; examples: adding interest rates and a market fluctuation chart to Monopoly; adding body-area wounding with to-hit probabilities and damage modifiers to D&D; adding or subtracting to dice rolls in Sorry! based on the player’s luck so far in the game; Star Fleet Battles…everything.

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