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Big Plans

Aug 13, 2022

Making big, complex plans is fun. It creates intriguing narratives and a satisfying payoff — if all goes well. Unfortunately, things rarely go well. Standard table-top games discourage multi-step plans by increasing your chance of failure for every additional step of the plan. If your plan has 10 steps, you must roll 10 times. This gives you 10 opportunities to fail — failing any of which fails the entire plan (or at best, complicates it).

This is why most players resort to direct, 1-step actions. “I attack the whatever thing”. There is no cost to failing beyond losing the move at hand. If we want to encourage complex plans, we must make it mechanically advantageous to perform them.

Collaborative plans

One way to encourage multi-action plans, is to reward cross-group collaboration. Each player can perform an action, summing together into a much stronger total result.

Many games have an “assist” mechanic that gives additional points towards the move by providing a way in which another character helps them. This is mediocre in practice. Players tend to provide not very realistic assists to get the extra points. It breaks the fiction, letting the metagame interfere with the narrative. The actions taken are not about moving together to reach a common goal.

Instead, the mechanic could work by allowing players additional actions when working collaboratively to accomplish a single task. Each player would take their turn, and perform the action they want. All other players could add additional actions to complete the multi-step plan, without using up their own turn. This would incentivize players to work together and develop plans that can be done be multiple characters (“parallisable plans”, if you will); the more players involved, the more free moves the team gets.

Lone wolf

There is of course, still value in players creating complex plans of their own. This can be incentivized by allowing players to perform actions without rolling, adding to their “tab”. Once the plan is complete, the player can roll a single time for the entire plan. If they fail, they failed all the moves in some way (perhaps in the fiction, this is them not realizing it didn’t work, or was too loud, etc.) — but if they succeed, they succeed the entire plan. It is a gamble the player must make: they can either know the result of each move once they’ve made it and adapt, or they can put all their eggs in one basket with a higher chance of success.

The risk becomes inverted. Instead of failing the plan early (a disappointing player experience), failure is pushed to the end of the multi-actioned event. It is also worth noting that this “tab” mechanic would be optional. Players can choose to play in the standard way as well.

Players may choose the scope of their plan. They can complete the plan in small chunks, or wait until all the pieces have been laid to pay off the tab. The only requirement is that the tab is paid when taking an action that directly affects another character (NPC or otherwise).