Andy has some good comments on my post on Difficulty Modes, and I’d like to expand on that discussion.
I’m really not sure allowing each player to choose a different difficulty level would work very well. If I want to play on nightmare mode and someone else wants to play on easy, that means that the easy mode character is going to beat the shit out of the enemy with their uber stats, weapons and abilities while the enemy they’re hitting is attacking me, giving me a debilitating condition and then knifes me when I’m down.
I also don’t think “easy mode” goes very well with the gritty campaign theme you’re trying to set up. I COULD see some of these things working on easy mode – mulligans makes sense. I like that idea. Unless you’re making rules for the system vs. making it for the specific setting.
I think all of it makes a lot of sense from a group perspective. I just think it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for the world to react according to the mode we’re playing. Two people are fighting Jamie Lannister. Easy mode dude is beating the shit out of him while I’m barely hitting him and then he chooses to attack me instead. Doesn’t feel immersive to me. Feels like a video game.
I don’t think I’d give the easy-mode character much better stats, or much better equipment – they shouldn’t be “uber” compared to a nightmare mode character. That’s why I called it “casual” mode instead of “easy” mode. My goal here is to let someone who doesn’t want to invest as much play the game that way – but still accommodate someone who wants to invest more. These different levels would be “badges” on the character sheet.
Let’s say Jim wants to play with the group, but he basically wants to be along for the ride. Maybe he has attachments to his character, and his participation in the game might derail entirely if that character becomes significantly handicapped or dies. This may be a person we socially want involved, and who adds quite a bit to the game in a different way (maybe they are the “drummer” of the game, using a band metaphor). Maybe this player has no interest at all in learning the rules, and just wants to be told what to roll and when. Because he doesn’t know the rules as well, he also wants to be able to take-back mistakes or make late decisions, or look-up rules, have plenty of time on his turn, etc.
Andrea, on the other hand, wants to take the ‘challenging’ mode, and basically have that flag on her character sheet that says “Nightmare mode.” For that badge of honor, you’ve got to randomly generate stats (we’re talking 19+1d6 instead of 25 build points, and random assignment instead of complete build choice), no mulligans, and if you die, you’re character is probably actually dead – because that’s what Andrea wants to have happen when her character is reduced to 0, because that threat of character death is exciting to her. She wants to play a more lethal game than Jim and is willing to see characters die if she “loses” a combat. I used quotes, because Andrea might not even see a character death as a loss in the same way Jim might. Andrea might have just as much fun if her character dies an epic death than if she had killed the goblin king.
In the particular game Andy and I are in, there’s already a dynamic of people that clearly want to play on a higher difficulty level than others. In some cases though I have to guess how a player will react. If I’m selecting who to attack and who not to attack, or what strategy to use in a combat, I think it would be useful to have the player expectations about the game, selected upfront with a clear social contract. If a player chooses a specific difficulty mode, then as the GM, I know what I can work with and what I can’t; and what to expect from a player and what not to expect.
I was brainstorming in the last post, and I think you’re right, I don’t want “casual” mode characters significantly more powerful than “nightmare” mode characters. One thought I had was to give special “rewards” to Nightmare mode characters, but I think I’ve decided against it. I want the relative power level to be the same. I think playing a Nightmare level character is its own reward for the type of player that wants to play that kind of character. I don’t want someone selecting that mode if it’s not what they really want, only because they feel like they can’t get all the goodies if they don’t.