Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Screen: Vol 2 – Never Repeat A Task

There is not a lot to look foward to on the average Thursday, except fencing.  For most people, Wednesday is Hump Day and if that is the case for me, then Thursday is the summit hiding behind the hump that means you have further to climb.  There is however one thing about working on Thursday that I enjoy and that is reading a new “This Is How I Work” article on Lifehacker.

This Is How I Work is an interview conducted with various entrepreneurs, leaders, influential types and interesting people about how they manage their day; ranging from tools and tips they use to philosophies that govern their use of time.  The people interviewed include Guy Kawasaki of Apple fame, Chris Anderson former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, Jonathon Coulton, Bob Dylan of the Nerd and Geek scene, and Robert Llewellyn, who I was surprised to learn has a wide range of pursuits beyond playing Kryten on Red Dwarf.

Third paragraph in you may be wondering what this has to do with gaming.  Well it was during the reading of “Eben Upton’s (Co-Founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation) This Is How I Work” that I came across a phrase that resonated through the gaming brain:

“Never do anything twice”.

It’s a phrase I’ve read a couple of times over last year in regards to automation of tasks and it sounds nice if you can program.  It’s something I’ve tried to incorporate into my work duties though my “programming” is limited to formulas in Excel.  But it wasn’t until I read Upton’s interview that I started to consider how it would apply to the gaming side of my life.  And looking at the things I and other players do twice, there is a lot:

REPEATING TASKS

Assembling Dice Pools:
In the case of D20 Systems, the repeated tasks is successive rolls against variable target numbers- roll dice, do the math and, if successful roll to determine how well.

In White Wolf it typically means the combination of an attribute and ability, the total being the number of ten-siders rolled against a static number with weight of successes informing result.

Cortex Plus calls for the player to cherry-pick attributes and roll their value in dice with the two highest informing outcomes.

Each system calls for the following task breakdown:

1: Consult character sheet (inverted for D20)
2: Assemble dice
3: Perform arithmetic to determine final score
4: Compare to value that determines success
5: Repeat until task is resolved…

…because in some cases one roll doesn’t determine complete success so the player repeats the sequence in stages until completion. One roll to attack followed by a roll for damage. Include an opposite rolling dice and it becomes One roll to attack followed by a roll to defend followed by a roll for damage with arithmetic to determine the extent of the damage.

Referring to Rules
Exalted and Marvel Heroic RPG occupy opposite ends of the rules spectrum of the games I’m running. Exalted has many steps and different rules for multiple situations while Marvel funnels actions and outcomes throug a central mechanic. Both have obscure bits that call for rules referral and more often than not it’s the same rules over and over: Combat and something obscure (Poison rules in the Exalted game last week).

Combat
A section deserving special mention as it’s most often in combat the above repeated tasks will occur. The stakes are high and there is a lot of elements for the GM to juggle. Individual players, many NPCs- each with their own abilities and advantages/disadvantages. Dice to roll, math to do and, in many cases, descriptions to repeat. Was he over here or over there? Did she look like she took more damage from fire or less?

Marvel has a brilliant mechanic called “Scene Distinctions” that allow a player and NPC to leverage dice-based advantage using descriptions in the scene, but its also the one that bares the most repeating. So to does the Stress and Complications one takes when assembling a dice pool. It’s a step of calculation that repeats and I wonder whether it needs to be.

I’m experimenting with a couple of solutions, the results of which I’ll be placing up on the Manifesto. Hopefully there will be some success in making the games I run easier, clearer and more fun.

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