Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Usage Die and why its isn't that great

So here's the thing. I see a lot of people introducing the Usage Die (UD) mechanic into their hacks and house-rules for things that really shouldn't be using it. The UD is great - its a really neat tool for making resource management fun, something I think a lot of other games do really badly, but, it isn't a one stop solution for plugging the perceived holes in your home-brew system. There's two good reasons why.

Risk vs. Reward
Mechanical Association.

First up is Risk vs Reward. One of the very interesting things the UD lets us do is inject tension and drama into a situations that typically aren't very tense or dramatic. Normally D&D goes "Oh, my wand of Stone to Flesh has 3 charges, sorry petrified 4th party member, you'll be staying a statue" Whereas TBH asks us to take a Risk by rolling that UD for every 'Zzap' of that wand. Will that 4th party member be brought back? Will we be Rewarded? Maybe. Hopefully. Suddenly a very 'routine' situation became fraught, transformed into an event where everyone at the table will be watching the dice - holding their breath.

Well that's good, lets create those moments for other elements of the game - you might be saying. And I agree that we should, but not not using the same tactics. In Horror films a jump scare is only effective when delivered with a certain pace and it's the same with the UD. If we overdo it's use that natural tension becomes routine again, acting in opposition to the UD strengths -- we aren't asking people to make interesting choices -- just roll more dice. That's run-of-the-mill. It could even get boring.

Second is Mechanical Association. This is important, but probably not considered so much, so think of it like this. When you pass GO. What do you do? I'm gonna bet you know the answer, and when you get a chance card or whatever that asks you to pass go and not collect $/£200 .. how much more interesting is that, due to the subversion of that readily identifiable mechanic. Its the same with consumable, limited things in TBH. When you use something like a wand, drink a potion, light a torch, fire a bow. What you do? A readily identifiable, unique and special thing.

So when we apply the UD to traps, hirelings, the weather, armor all these other things -- rather than what does that add to those game elements -- think about what does it take away from the things the UD is meant for. The distinction of what your meant to do and why you do it blurs, any subversion becomes meaningless because its not special.

Now of course you should feel free to mash up TBH's rules however you want, its your game. That's TBH's spririt. But next time you think about using the UD to model something, think at it from a different angle. Is there a way you can uniquely model this thing, giving it its own Risk vs. Rewards. It's own Mechanical Association? Roll the Usage Die on the Usage Die mechanic, I hope it comes up a 1-2.

Looking forward to the comments.

DB