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Fusion school of design - why no difficulty?

Noclue

Registered User
Validated User
Possibly, but sometimes things can be pretty binary. Let's say the character makes a bet with someone else whether they can lift a heavy object over their head or not. Well, either they manage it or not. (Whether they tear a muscle or something in the process can be an interesting question, but does not directly impact whether the lifting was successful or not.) And it makes little sense to me that in this regard, there's no difference whether you're lifting a chest or a tree trunk. Basically, everything's the same until there comes some arbitrary point at which the GM declares you can't attempt it at all. Everything up to that point is exactly the same
This is because you've internalized a value system that goes something like: The game models a reality in which, when the player acts, we determine the probability of success and the mechanics tell us if success was achieved. Probability of success or failure is largely dependent on how difficult we think a task is, possibly modified by PC abiity ratings. But, AW doesn't care about this (I don't like talking about all PbtA games like they're the same thing, cuz they ain't). AW has a different paradigm, which goes something like "Through our conversation we are going to create a fictional reality, when the player acts, we determine if the mechanics apply, and the mechanics tell us if the player gets what they wanted, the GM gets to decide what happens based on their operation framework, or we get a mixture of the two. Probabiities between these three options is mostly constant, with the PCs ability ratings resulting in players determining the outcome more when they use certain approaches and less when they use others."

It's not about whether a stronger person is more likely to lift a heavy object than a weak person, it's about whether a strong person is more likely to be able to lift a heavy object than a massive object.
This is really not a basic example. There is no LIFT HEAVY OBJECT mechanic in AW and no stat representing a character's strength. So, the first question that needs to be determined is whether this is even a MOVE. If it's not a move, the MC is going to decide if you lift it or no. The closest move I can think of is Acting Under Fire, which can be used when a character acts under any kind of serious pressure. But, that just leads to the question of what the pressure is here, because the move isn't about strength, it's about maintaining your Cool under duress. So, Acting Under Fire may be the move, but lifting the object or not, may be irrelevant depending on what the fictional context is here. You could roll low and the MC says, that when you get the stone above your head, Rolfballs opens fire with his shotgun. Take 3 harm.

I don't think anyone would claim that in the real world, a weight-lifter has as good a chance at being able to lift something that's heavy for a normal person but they've frequently (but not always, or you wouldn't roll in the first place!) managed for the last ten years, or being able to beat their personal record.
Not relevant in AW. Chance is not valorized by the mechanics the way it is in other games. Probability of success doesn't have the primacy of place that it does in other games (and in reality for that matter).

Like I said, I'm not personally offended that not everyone cares about this, but I am curious about why it's seen as immaterial by game designers of this particular school of thought.
Maybe because it leads to characters doing things that are exciting and commonplace in action adventure movies and stories, but would be difficult to pull off in many RPGs? Adventure fiction isn't shaped by probability mechanics. There's no real reason that a game has to be.
 
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Irked

Registered User
Validated User
I Irked not really:

So, the GM can start off by treating things like you've rolled an Action Roll and not gotten a 6.
Sure, but that's a higher cost to get in the fight (to pay for the resistance); it doesn't change the odds of the outcome at all. It isn't any less likely I beat the master swordsman, just pricier.
 

thuryl

Active member
Validated User
Not relevant in AW. Chance is not valorized by the mechanics the way it is in other games. Probability of success doesn't have the primacy of place that it does in other games (and in reality for that matter).
The way I'd put it is that AW doesn't want to be a game where players spend a lot of time thinking about taking calculated risks and carefully maximizing their chances of success, so it employs a system where there isn't much opportunity to do so. If you do something risky you'll probably have a good idea of what your chances of success are, but there's deliberately not much you can do to influence that chance other than not doing the risky thing in the first place.
 

vini_lessa

Registered User
Validated User
The game is about the conversation, not the dice. If you want to depict difficulty, do so through the conversation.

Also, most of times when the GM assigns some significant negative modifier he doesn't really want that to succeed anyway. Just deny it and tell players to find another way. The contrary is also true, instead of giving a significant bonus just say players succeed and move on. Such cases say to me the GM is A) minding physics simulation more than the narrative or B) not really playing to find what happens and is trying to steer the story his way. Neither works for AW.
 

Noclue

Registered User
Validated User
Sure, but that's a higher cost to get in the fight (to pay for the resistance); it doesn't change the odds of the outcome at all. It isn't any less likely I beat the master swordsman, just pricier.
Sure it is. It is true that it isnt less likely that you roll a 6 and "You do it," but "it" isn't the same in all cases. If you're up against a master swordsman, you're likely starting with a reduced effect. If you're rolling Limited Effect, than a 6 might mean that you injure opponent rather than kill them, now maybe you're still in a fight for your life but with improved position. Or, if the GM created a progress clock, you progress only 1 tick rather than 3, again leading to a longer fight with more chances to get consequences.

And if for some reason you don't have Limited Effect, than there's no reason it should be any harder to kill this swordsman.
 
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Zed

in Berkeley, California (he/him)
RPGnet Member
Validated User
As Noclue says, Blades basically does have a difficulty system baked in, but its abstractions work differently from many games'.

When I first started with PbtA, not having anything like difficulty levels seemed like a glaring absence. And then I found in play that I didn't really miss them. It keeps things moving quickly to not have declare a target number for everything, and hard complicated things end up taking multiple moves.

And the fiction-first principle scales the outcome to the context, kinda incorporating difficulty after the fact. A 10+ is something like the best possible outcome under the circumstances. If you jumped on top of a dragon's back to stab it with a butter knife, the best possible outcome still isn't going to be that effective. If you get a 6- when you were performing some risky manipulation at court with high social stakes, that things-get-worse result is going to be a lot worse than when you were at the market trying to haggle down the price of a rug.
 

Toa

Freilanzer
Validated User
TBH, with PbtA, I've recently been thinking that playbook moves do so much lifting that a character could be defined without numbers -- use only the 2d6 roll, and shift all the target numbers down a bit.
... which is pretty much what City of Mist does, I'd say.
 

Zaleramancer

Social Justice Warlock
Validated User
Hi!

So the PbtA game I've played the most is Masks- the game about teen superheroes. As such, the differences between different characters' powers and abilities and how difficult they find things is something that most games about superheroes care a lot about.

It's come up in our games a few times! In one game I'm in, almost everyone on the team has some level of superstrength, but it varies from character to character. Difficulty isn't the main issue that comes up, because the conversation carries the weight of modelling what's feasible and possible. We built up expectations with how we describe and explain things.

My character, formerly Element Kid, can be kind of strong (He can mimic physical substances and shapeshift). He's shifted from the Janus to the Bull playbook, and so he's good at fighting when needed. However, he's not that strong. He probably can't lift a car. He'd be able to push it, for sure, and probably flip one over if he had leverage. Meanwhile, one of the other characters grabbed a moving 18-wheeler and flipped it over her head to save a civilian and the other kicked a multistory spidertank into orbit.

The only character he's stronger than, physically, is the one who recently lost her superpowers and is learning magic.

So, in the game, what determines if something would be easier or more difficult for my hero to lift? Mostly our shared understanding of how strong he is, and should be. If I tried to lift and throw a car, the GM would certainly ask me to try to Unleash my Powers because my hero is pushing himself past what he usually does with that kind of power. One of the other teammates- the robot space viking magical girl, or the robin-turned-superboy? If they said, "I pick up a car," then the GM would just nod and go, "..and? What next?"

It's not difficult for them to do, and so doesn't really trigger the move. Just like you don't have to unleash your powers to fly around if you can fly. You just do it because it's so well established that you can that it's not narratively interesting or sensible to linger on.

Possible actions are divided into the feasible and the infeasible, with a wide ambiguous overlapping area being things that you maybe can do, if you push yourself, and that would be interesting if you failed. The conversation can include, "Can your character do that?" and [Yes/No/Maybe].

I find that pretty satisfying, intuitive and flexible framework to delineate difficulty- it in the end kind of boils down to being a more pure manifestation of the "adjudicate difficulty numbers" style of play, but with more player input and less math.

Side note: The triggers on moves are very important- for example, in masks the "fighting" move is Directly Engage, and it has the trigger, "When you directly engage a threat.." This means that if the thing you are engaging is not a threat to you, or if it's not possible for you to engage with it directly, then you can't roll. If you're Kid Flash, then a normal bank robber with a knife is not a threat to you- you will just probably say, "Well, I take the knife and then handcuff him in half a second," and the GM will say, "Alright, you do that and then you see the second bank robber come out of a door. She has a gun and a hostage. What do you do?"

The fiction moves to the point of most tension and interest. God I love Masks.
 

dindenver

RPG Designer
Validated User
So, I don't know Blades very well (I am about to run Scum and Villainy, but am still learning the rules). But I do know PbtA pretty well.
The idea behind a set difficulty number (7 for partial success) is that the system does not require mechanics for tasks that are not part of the premise or tasks that are mundane. The playbook represents a character who is the best at what they do. There is no "average" difficulty task for them that requires a chance of failure. Similarly, the MC can just say, it doesn't happen if it is an impossible task. All that is left is this narrow band of tasks with above average difficulty that are part of the premise of the character or genre of the game system and are not impossible. An ambitious designer could probably still break that into 2 or 3 difficulty numbers, but our esteemed Mr. Baker chose not to and the PbtA products carried that design forward.
Does that make sense?
Does it help?
 

Extrakun

Tinker of Games
Validated User
Adding in my two cent worth:

IMHO, the thing about Pbta and Bitd games is that the roll represents control, not so much success.

In Pbta games, you only to get to make the roll if the fiction allows you to do so. If the GM agrees it's possible, then he will have to see if you have to trigger a move. If you are lifting a heavy object but there is no immediate urgency to do so, he could let it happen if the narrative allows. However, if you are trying to lift a boulder blocking the exit while zombies are rushing at you, it could be Defy Danger, if we are playing Dungeon Worlds.

Take for example the (in)famous dragon fight in Dungeon World. On paper, the dragon is a weakling. In Dungeon World actual play, the dragon's fiery breath, bulldozing attacks, using wings to create winds to deflect arrows etc. means that a lot of the PCs' moves are going to be ineffective against it. IE, they don't even get to make a move at all.

So while most RPGs use rolls for task resolution, Pbta games use it to see if you stay in control and get what you want without consequences. You will have to position yourself in a manner where in fiction you can even make the moves in the first place -- that's where the difficulty is. IE. the difficulty is modeled int the fiction. It is possible to force players to make a Defy Danger, or a resistance roll (in BitD case) first when up against a superior opponent to even make an attack.

At any rate, Dungeon World does allows the GM to put a -1 to -2 penalty to the roll, though it is not encouraged. Forthright, another Pbta-inspired game, simulates difficulty by shifting up the results band up or down by one (so roll a 10+ against a difficult foe means rolling a 7-9). though that is reserved for when scales make a big difference (trying to out-wrestle a gorilla, for example).
 
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