Resource Management (Magic, Powers, etc)

Before I jump in, I’m going to admit that this is going to be one of those posts where I try and deconstruct the problem, and hope someone out there has a good answer for me – because I haven’t found one yet.

The question that comes to mind is how to go about providing characters with abilities that have limited uses.  One dissonant note of 4E was the concept of encounter and daily powers.  From a design perspective, they make a lot of sense, and work well from a resource management perspective.  But from a logical perspective, they make very little sense.  Someone might ask why their Fighter can only use Brute Strike once per day.  The idea of limiting powers this way forces you out of your characters head, and into a player-based meta strategy game.  So I think the Encounter and Daily idea is a disassociated mechanic that seems to work very well from a tactical war game perspective – but maybe not so well from a role-playing game perspective.

Spells in the varying editions of the game haven’t really had this kind of problem.  Using a Vancian Magic system, the game design has prepackaged a reason for the resource limitation.  The method seems to work for Spells, but I don’t see how it can work for more mundane abilities for fighters and thieves.  So instead, I’m considering a different mechanic entirely: Energy.

Energy would work like a mana pool for a character, and the powers the character can use would consume some of this pool, whether they are mundane or magical.  You can continue casting spells or using Brute Strikes until you’ve run out of Energy, at which time you become fatigued or exhausted.  The benefit of the mechanic is that it helps eliminate the scourge of disassociated mechanics.  You can stay in character when deciding whether to use that Brute Strike, because you know doing so taxes your reserves, and you’re exhausting yourself by trying the maneuver each round, until you’re simply too exhausted to do it anymore.

The downside of the Energy Pool approach is that it forces the designer to come up with very balanced cost numbers for every ability.  To accomplish this, the pool might need to be very large, so that there’s a fine degree of detail with which to balance different powers.  This level of complexity worries me a bit.  If you’re not scoring each ability, but instead you make each one limited in uses – you save yourself from having to balance each and every power separately against each other, and instead only having to balance them on a whole.  Sure, one power might be weak and another overpowered, but once you mix them all together, it’s far easier to get a balanced class in the end, as the under-powered will tend to even out with the overpowered.

If you have to score each power, and the only limitation is running out of Energy, then you risk players using the same powers over and over with no variety.  If you adjust the point values, you still risk leaving clear best choices, which limits creativity and variety at the table.

So – I guess what I’m looking for is a mechanic that somehow allows me to avoid the disassociated 4E mechanics of “Encounter Powers” and “Daily Powers” but doesn’t force me to balance/score each and every power on an Energy scale.  I’d like to avoid having to track “number of times per day” for too many different things.  I think a “day” isn’t really a good game unit to work with, necessarily – and unless it’s tied to something that requires rest, like exhaustion, it doesn’t make a lot of sense anyway.

Some games have identified that a day doesn’t make the best unit of measure for recovery in the game because 1) having the same number of encounters every day is boring, 2) 10 minute adventuring day issues, and 3) slower games (with rarely more than one encounter per day) become unbalanced, especially for casters or other classes that have the tendency to need more resource management when the assumed 4-5 encounters per day are played.  A popular solution right now seems to be for characters to recover powers at a “natural break,” or a new scene, as determined by the GM.  This strikes me as a solution to “Encounter” and “Daily” powers that ends up being just as short-sighted.  Now, as the player, I have no idea when my powers recharge, except by GM fiat.  Sure, there’s no more 10 minute adventuring day, but the game no longer has a sense of consistency or reason for me to role-play a character.

Do any of you have any ideas of good ways to provide resource management to the game, but do so in a way that doesn’t over-complicate tracking of powers and avoids being a disassociated mechanic?  Ideally, the method of resource management would be simple enough to help make the design and play balance of the game forgiving as well.

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2 thoughts on “Resource Management (Magic, Powers, etc)

  1. Andy

    Well shit, this is basically the meat of the whole system right? I wish I knew a good answer. As we’ve previously discussed, I like the energy system but I agree that people will use the same powers all the time. I think there needs to be a way to create a hybrid between “energy” and managing 1/d powers. I’ll keep thinking about it. Maybe you can only use so much energy in a given round and what are now move/swift/minor/etc actions would also require energy? So maybe at your level you can use 10 points of energy per round. Maybe you could use your most powerful move for 10 points if you don’t move or do any swift actions (say brute strike), or you could run to your enemy (3 points), ready your shield vs the archer nearby for a bonus to ranged defense (2 points) and then take a quick slash at the enemy (5 points). Although, I could see that taking a while with everyone trying to determine the most optimal use of their energy in a given round. This kind of system would also allow for a TON of relatively small options for the different classes. Maybe the rogue can run for 2 points when he gets to 2nd level, etc. Not a giagantic bonus but still mechancially interesting.

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