The drama of resource management in RPGs

spotlightYesterday I was listening the GrimDark Podcast again where James and Mike were doing a dissection of the new ‘research’ rules in Dark Heresy 2nd Ed.
Essentially the rules seemed to be designed to quantify academic research, and give intellectual characters/players more to do. An interesting idea, but it made me wonder that the FFG designers had not missed the point that plot information is best used to develop or progress a ‘story’ and not a character sheet!

However, there were a few key ideas that I took away from their discussion, and one was about the option for the researching-character to burn personal fatigue/resources in order to speed up the time between each research skill test. That’s useful, and thematic.

The second idea was about giving the players some control over the ‘speed of the game’. You know the problem… one character is doing research that takes a year, the other character has a burning grudge that needs bullets to be expended NOW!
While two such extremes are difficult to reconcile, there are a lot of Skill tests, and indeed just plain character actions that involve time, but not a hideous amount of it, and here there may be scope to introduce a new resource…
Consider a character sent on a scouting mission while the rest of the heroes sit around. As a GM I would be tempted to play out the slightly longer mission, at the expense of the characters who do not have the spotlight on them now.
But what if one of the un-lit characters had something they wanted to independently achieve? Normally, that player has to play second-fiddle to the storyline of the majority – even if it makes perfect sense for them to do something while everyone else waits.
So… what if a player could spend a ‘token’ for no other result than to shift the spotlight onto them? All characters would have roughly the same capacity for doing this, and thus it would become a truly democratic process. Plus, because it requires the expense of a token resource then it would help to allocate that spotlight where the players most want it (I’m taking the analogy of money being used to allocate resources, as driven by the market.)

Could this introduce a new player.v.player conflict into the game? Not really… it might give a name to that conflict and give it mechanics, but the conflict is already there – the difference is that currently that conflict is resolved by a mixture of passive-aggression and the tyranny of the majority. However, it might turn that unspoken conflict into a ‘token-driven arms race’, which has its own pros and cons.

And this need not be entirely player-centric, or limited to GM-less games. Imagine a game where the GM acted like the ‘house’ in a gambling game, and had their own (geometrically larger?) stash of tokens to spend…

Which leads me to this question… when you play <insert your game of choice>, would you, and if so when would you choose to use your tokens/bennies/fate points/karma to ‘grab the spotlight’ like this?

P.S. There is also a Savage Worlds specific discussion of this point on my HIGH-SPACE DEV SPHERE, as n element of the Kickstarter for the second edition of H-S.



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