Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Ramping Up The Difficulty

Increasing the difficulty in a game is much like
motorcycle jumping. Too much throttle and you overshoot your mark;
not enough and you land flat on your face. 
I am the Warden!!

In my last post, I talked about the major challenge for Killshot: Reloaded, the upcoming supplement for tabletop's deadliest game. I want to use it as an extension for more experienced characters, particularly with Operation: Killshot, the international espionage theme.

As we all know (and if you've never read or played Killshot yet, you can fix that problem with this link), active rolls attempted against non-opponents are challenged by difficulty levels, each one increasing the number of circumstance dice applied to the Director's opposed roll. By taking on experienced characters - such as those with over 50 training points - the difficulty has to keep up or else the game starts to collapse in on itself.

So here's the issue I'm addressing. Using the rules for difficulty levels as is, I could simply add more difficulty levels with more d10s. In all honesty, that's what I'm trying to avoid. As much as this system is built on dice pools, it can get really out of hand as the experience goes up.

And that's what we're here to brainstorm today. How do we address difficulty levels for experienced characters? Let's begin with some ideas I'm cranially tossing about at the moment.

#1. Base Dice Substitutions

Once characters reach certain markers for total training points - starting at 40, let's say for now - the Director can replace one of the difficulty level's d10s with an extra base die. Therefore, instead of the Impressive difficulty level being 1d20+2d10, it could be 2d20+1d10.

This solution might be too easy that it's broken and it brings up an issue with the Optional System and character progression. It's very difficult to calculate the probability of these dice pools when they're opposed by an infinite combination of opposed dice pools. While using a higher dice group to substitute a lower one seems the likely choice, there's still a chance of the base die rolling as high as or lower than the circumstance die. Does that reliably increase the difficulty on par with the characters? Only playtesting will tell.

#2. Difficulty Tiers

The last idea makes me wonder how to explain why there is a change in dice groups on these rolls? Sure, we could do it for the sake of doing it, but if we can explain it through the story...

Considering the theme these rolls are intended for, I'm wondering about difficulty tiers whereby an extra d20 is added based on an overall threat. For example, a job is inherently more difficult because the mark is a publicly revered figure who has repeatedly talked about his life in danger. Pulling off the job without making it look suspicious becomes all the more harder as everyone - citizens especially - will automatically jump to homicide as a possible cause of death. Therefore, the job is placed at a higher tier and all difficulty rolls gain +1d20.

#3. Locked Modifiers

Instead of adding or substituting dice, what about an automatic modifier added to all difficulty rolls? Simple and effective, yes, but it goes against everything the Optional System stands for and so it's rejected.

#4. Capping Focus Dice

Enforcing limits on the number of focus dice any stat or focus can access may work, but it reeks of errata more than an expansion. If I were a player and not the game's designer, this would look like a patch or something individual Directors would enforce as a house rule. Also rejected.

#5. Emphasize Criticals

Here's an idea I'm leaning towards because it doesn't seem like a modification of the existing mechanics. As the jobs become more difficult, players must gain at least a critical hit (3 hits) to achieve the goal. The only problem I can with that is what to do when the player succeeds with 0 hits; do they still succeed and get to roll again? Or does the increased difficulty actually soak up anything less than a critical and convert it to a failure?

A possibility is to work out a hybrid. If the player rolls a critical, it succeeds. If the player rolls less than a critical, it fails yet counts as a partial success. If the player gains three partial successes before rolling a critical, the player finally succeeds at the task, thereby sparing everyone the agony of constantly "failing" despite making higher rolls. If this doesn't make sense, better terminology can fix that.

The Verdict

I have to confess. Everything above this last segment was written two days ago and I've made a decision since then. No, no, I'm not going to tell you just yet, there's still some drafting of the actual concept before I can go ahead with that, but it's definitely making use of #2. At the same time, I think #5's criticals idea should also be looked at as a generic means of increasing the difficulty in any game and is something I'm thinking about for an upcoming article in Killshot Files or perhaps another installment of The Director's Chair on BRG.

Stay tuned, killers. I think you might find this idea a bit... awesome.