Roleplaying

Seven Design Mistakes Roleplaying Games Keep Making

Dungeons and Dragons was first published 41 years ago. Since then, a lot of progress has been made. Dice pools were invented. Many games now have social conflict mechanics. Groups who want more than a dungeon crawl have options. And yet, the same errors crop up in system after system. These mechanical defects are clearly bad for games, but we see them over and over again.

1. The Ability Tax

Pieter_Brueghel_the_Younger,_'Paying_the_Tax_(The_Tax_Collector)'_oil_on_panel,_1620-1640._USC_Fisher_Museum_of_Art

If you’ve ever seen an “optional” ability that wasn’t really optional, then you’ve seen the Ability Tax. Sometimes these abilities are so overpowered you’d be a fool not to take them, but just as bad is when they are merely a necessity for your character build to work.

For example, in Legend of the Five Rings (L5R), some players will want to play monks who dish out pain via their fists rather than samurai swords. The problem is that punches and kicks do pitiful damage. To address this, the game includes a Hands of Stone advantage, which brings unarmed strikes up much closer in damage to sword wielders. Not equal, but close. Hands of Stone is an expensive advantage that players have to take if they want their monks to be viable.*

In the New World of Darkness* games, this is the character’s magic stat. For Mages it’s called Gnosis, for Changelings it’s Wyrd, etc. Players have the option of leaving their magic stat at one in character creation or raising it with points. If they don’t raise it, their characters will be completely ineffectual, as most of their abilities rely on it.

Another flavor of the Ability Tax is near-useless prerequisites. Star Wars: Edge of the Empire is rife with these. Many low tier abilities remove special penalties that rarely, if ever, come up. However, players often need to purchase these semi-useless options to get better ones.

Ability taxes create traps in character creation. If an L5R Monk player makes their character without knowing that Hands of Stone is an option, they will be in a world of hurt. Same goes for a Changeling who thinks they can get by with only their starting Wyrd. Character creation needs to be as intuitive as possible. Anything that’s required for a PC to function should be required in the rules, and anything required in the rules shouldn’t be useless. It just feels lame to have an ability you’ll never use.

The simplest option for GMs looking to deal with the Ability Tax is to know their system really well. That way you can be aware of any traps in advance and either guide players around them or house rule them away. For example, in the World of Darkness setting, it’s simple to recommend that all players take maximum starting ranks in their magic stat, or just rule that everyone’s starts at a decent level.

Designers should test how the game would play without some abilities. Try playing without powerful abilities, and see if characters still work. One session playing a monk without Hands of Stone will show you how silly it is to make that trait optional. Then try playing a game without unlocked abilities, and see if it’s still worth using the prerequisite. You’ll soon learn what abilities can stand on their own.

2. The Wizard King

Incantation_Scene

Tell a roleplayer that spellcasters are overpowered,* and they’ll look at you like you’ve just said water is wet. Magic has a history of being unbalanced, and it’s not difficult to see why. Magic is, well, magic. By definition, it’s something humans are incapable of in real life. If a game’s magic feels like something a normal human could do, then it’s a failure. Unfortunately, in trying to deliver that special feeling, many games make magic the most powerful option in town.

For the most obvious example of this, see the old D6 Star Wars system, when jedi were like unto gods among the non-force sensitive rabble. Unfortunately, it’s a trend that continues. Anyone trying to mix the various New World of Darkness (NWoD) settings will immediately notice that mages are the most powerful by leaps and bounds. This isn’t so much about their ability to shoot fireballs as their ability to teleport you into another dimension. NWoD mages are so flexible that they leave everyone else in the dust. Not only can they turn their enemies into lumps of rock, but they can also do it from a bunker half a world away.*

Another tool of the Wizard King is magical buff stacking. You see this even in games with great magic systems, like Burning Wheel and L5R. Both systems have spells that add substantial bonuses to mundane skills. Not only can sorcerers and shugenja do things others can only dream of, but now the spell slingers are better at everyday stuff too. Thankfully, these two systems have toned their skill enhancement spells down significantly from previous editions, but they still make non-magical characters sad.

If you make one option obviously more powerful than all others, at best, you’ll end up with an entire party of wizards. At worst, the non-spellcasters will sit glowering in the corner while their magical friends solve all the problems. Fortunately, this problem is not insurmountable!

One option is to make the magical and mundane complementary. Burning Wheel is actually a great example if you take out its skill buff spells. Sorcerers can shoot lightning out of their hands, but to cast such a spell successfully you need to not be stabbed during the long incantation. You see a similar dynamic in Torchbearer, where arcanists spend many of their spell slots getting around the unique challenges of being in a pitch black dungeon rather than murdering everything in sight.

It’s also possible to make magic types compete in a different arena than their mundane fellows. Burning Empires follows such an approach. Psychics in that system do most of their work in the minds of others. It’s powerful, but limited. They can’t simply force choke people they don’t like.

The final option is to give everyone the same access to magic. You see this in Call of Cthulhu (CoC), where cost of magic is the same no matter who you are,* and Weapon of the Gods, where it’s assumed that all PCs have access to supernatural martial arts.

In the short term, we GMs can either avoid systems in which the wizard is king, or we can muddle through and throw some bones to the non-spellcasters. If your sorcerer PC has an ice spell that can instantly kill everyone in the room, throw in at least a few scenarios where murder will actually make the situation worse. If you have a mind control expert that turns all enemies into unwilling allies, mix in a few monsters with thoughts so toxic they’ll cause damage to anyone trying to influence them.* You can even toss some extra experience or other rewards to your non-magical PCs, so long as you’re open about it.

Long term, game designers need to take some cues from systems like Call of Cthulhu and Torchbearer. Magic should either fulfill a specific niche or have a cost so high that abusing it isn’t a good idea. In those roles it can still feel magical without unbalancing the game.

3. The Gear Grind

Armeria001

If your character’s stuff has ever been more important than your actual character, congratulations, you have entered the Gear Grind. This is what happens when PCs are pressured into acquiring more and more powerful items, until it seems that the only reason they sit down at the table is to find a shiny new short sword.

You can get this in any system where there’s a significant discrepancy in power between different pieces of gear and a reward for exploiting it. The way a GM runs their game has a big effect on the reward aspect, but the system will also exert a lot of pressure. Call of Cthulhu and NWoD are both good examples, even if their reputations suggest otherwise. CoC is supposed to be about a Lovecraftian descent into madness, while World of Darkness is hailed as a game about roleplaying rather than combat. Neither of those sound like systems for obsessively collecting gear.

Unfortunately, the rules for both systems disagree. In CoC, the most effective way to stop a monster from giving you sanity loss is to wipe it off the face of existence, and most monsters are perfectly vulnerable to bullets. The vast majority of NWoD’s mechanics are combat related, so characters will naturally gravitate towards solving problems with violence. In both systems, your PC will be vastly more powerful armed with a fully automatic assault rifle. Also, a plethora of expansion books introduce all kinds of new toys that will give just a few more bonuses. Laser sights, extended clips, etc. All of this is the perfect recipe for the Gear Grind.

Gear Grinding not only takes the spotlight off the characters themselves but can also get out of control really fast. The difference between single shot and autofire weapons in CoC is so vast,* that PCs can handle even the most terrifying eldritch monster once they get some AK-47s. In World of Darkness, especially when the players are ordinary humans, an anti-material rifle will make all the vampires and werewolves run for the hills. And that’s assuming they don’t get some magically enhanced bullets. The PCs can quickly get so powerful that nothing will pose a serious threat to them.

There are three ways to avoid the Gear Grind. The first is to GM really well. Don’t ever put your players in a situation where they feel pressured to acquire a more powerful weapon. This is doable, but it would be better if the rules were more on your side. To that end, you could always play a game like Spirit of The Century, where gear is of trivial importance to the mechanics. That’ll work for some groups, but others want their stuff to count for a bit more. In that case, you’ll want a game like Spycraft or Torchbearer. Both have cool gear systems that allow for a lot of detail without a crazy power curve.

Many games could be improved by taking cues from those systems. Both have a wide variety of items that either offer small, non-stacking* bonuses or allow a character to do something they couldn’t otherwise do. In Torchbearer, 10-foot poles give a small bonus to disarming traps. In Spycraft, tiny water jets allow an agent to move more easily underwater. If more games were designed with this dynamic in mind, the Gear Grind could become a thing of the past.

4. Hitpoint Mountain

Assyrian_lion_hunt_-_lion_with_multiple_arrows,_blood_from_mouth Assyrian Lion Hunt by Richard Keatinge

How many crossbow shots do you think you could survive, roughly? For most humans made of meat, the answer is “Oh god, why would you shoot me with a crossbow?!” On the other hand, if you’re a roleplaying character, chances are good it won’t be a problem at all. You see, most systems don’t want their PCs to go down after one hit, which is fine. What’s not fine is how they often deal with the problem, which is making characters absurdly tough.

This is Hitpoint Mountain. Characters can take hit after hit and walk away completely fine. This is, to say the least, really silly. Some will argue that hitpoints don’t represent actually getting hit, that they’re some kind of abstract measurement of how a character is doing, but that idea completely falls apart in many systems.

For an example, let’s take another look at our friend, the crossbow. In Fifth Edition D&D (5E), it’s limited to one shot per action, even if you could normally make more. That’s reasonable; after all a crossbow takes a while to load, and each round is only six seconds long. You see, D&D precisely measures everything, except its hitpoints. Those are an abstraction. This creates a dynamic where everything is a realistic model of real life, except when a character is hit by a crossbow bolt. See the problem? No one uses a crossbow after low level because they can’t make more than one attack per action, and you need lots of attacks to scale the summit of Hitpoint Mountain.

Things get more absurd from there. A character standing in the middle of an empty room can be struck with a fireball and be completely fine. Remember, this is an exploding ball of fire. The character is fine because they’ve only lost half their hitpoints, and most systems with Hitpoint Mountain have no wound penalties either. Trying to explain how that happened in-character is a Sisyphean task. “Um, yeah. I guess you were protected from the deadly inferno by… positive thinking?”

This breaks immersion. As we saw with the crossbow, it also has negative mechanical impacts. One way out is to give your game extremely realistic damage rules like Burning Wheel, but that’s not for everyone. How many people actually want to play a character who burns to a cinder at the first sign of dragon breath?

The second option is to abstract all the rules, not just hitpoints. Spirit of the Century and other FATE games use this method. Characters are hard to actually kill, which works fine because the game doesn’t keep careful track of how many seconds a combat round is or how many square feet an explosion covers. The GM describes an incoming fireball, which does a little damage, and the wounded player describes how their character avoided the worst of the flames by hiding behind a zeppelin.*

If you’re stuck running a Hitpoint Mountain system, the best thing to do is keep everything to relatively low levels. In general, the absurdity of hitpoints gets worse the more powerful your characters are. It’s also not a bad idea to put in some house rules to correct for the weird dynamics that Hitpoint Mountain creates. In 5E, there’s no reason to limit the crossbow to one shot per action.

5. Incomplete Rules

Unfinished Bridge

Have you ever gotten to the end of a rules section and wondered “wait, where’s the rest of it?” Sometimes roleplaying books have sections that don’t feel finished. Maybe the designers ran out of time before the game had to ship. Maybe a chapter was cut to save printing cost. Whatever the reason, this mistake can range from annoying to game breaking.

Most commonly, you get incomplete rules in ancillary sections that, while not required to play the game, would have been a nice addition. The L5R fourth edition crafting rules are a perfect example. They essentially add nothing to the game, yet they take up an entire page doing it.* They give costs and times for crafting ordinary, run-of-the-mill items. There are no rules for making anything unusual or of exceptional quality. In other words, no PC will ever use them. It also gets the currency conversion wrong, which is just confusing. If the designers had left out these rules, no one would have missed them.

It’s irritating when a game includes an option that isn’t fully explored. Players get excited about rolling up a swordsmith, only to find out there’s no real support for it. Even more damaging is when the core rules themselves aren’t finished. Dungeon World has such a problem. It’s full of rules that tell you something and then don’t explain what it means. Some weapons have their reach listed in feet, but there’s no indication of what advantage/disadvantage that grants. Characters have to eat, but there’s no indication what happens if they don’t. Monsters have abilities, but no rules state how to implement them. These are mechanics central to playing the game, and they don’t exist.

On the player/GM side of things, not a lot can be done about incomplete rules. The group must simply decide if the missing mechanics are something they can deal with. To the designers, if a rule isn’t important enough to flesh out, don’t include it. Half-finished features are useful to no one. If your game’s core mechanics aren’t ready yet, please don’t ship it. We get sad when you do.

6. Repetitive Skills

Each of these probably needs its own skill. Each of these probably needs its own, separate skill to drive.

You’re in your car, and a left turn is coming up. Do you use “Drive: Sedan” or “Drive: Passenger Car?” Quick, which of these highly distinct skills are you going to use? Many of us have faced a similar situation in various roleplaying games when the designers couldn’t make up their mind which skill would work best for a specific task, so they decided to put in more than one.

Call of Cthulhu used to be exhibit A for this kind of silliness. Your character could have no ranks at all in Hide but max ranks in Sneak. You’re practically invisible so long as you keep moving, but the moment you stop everyone can see you. You could have a super high Rifles skill but have no idea how to handle a pistol. My personal favorite was making characters with lots of points in S.C.U.B.A* but none in Swim.

Good news for Lovecraft fans, though, CoC’s seventh edition has finally pared down most repetitive skills.* The notable exception is that Track and Spot Hidden are still separate skills. This is odd because most of tracking is spotting hidden signs of another being’s passage. In fact, a clever player could probably get away with using their Spot Hidden for a Tracking roll if they phrased the task correctly. Something like “Can I spot any hidden tracks in the underbrush?”

Burning Wheel still has this problem in spades. Hunting is supplanted not by one, not by two, but by three other skills. After all, there are three main tasks for hunting. One: follow the prey. Two: kill the prey. Three: get back home with the prey. #1 is covered with the Tracking skill. #2 is represented by a weapon skill like Bow. #3 is served by the Orienteering skill. The only explanation is that the Hunting skill represents someone who can follow tracks, shoot bows, and navigate the forest, but only when going after deer.

The most obvious problem with repetitive skills, other than sounding dumb when you explain them, is they punish players who spread their points out. Purchasing two skills might not let you perform two different tasks but rather the same task twice. Players who only put points in one of the repetitive options are rewarded unfairly. The reverse can happen too. A player might take the Apothecary skill, thinking it’ll be great for making a poultice for Old Man Withers’ bad leg, only to find out the GM thinks Herbalism is more appropriate.*

More immediate, repetitive skills are confusing, and that’s bad game design. Players should easily be able to tell what skill is for what task. Fortunately, the solution for GMs is simple; prune down the skill list. If there are two skills for stealthing around in the shadows, cut one of them. It will rarely cause any problems, and the benefit is huge.

For designers, don’t worry about a specific skill for every possible task. In real life, using a rapier and using a broadsword are very different skills, but in most cases you’ll be better served putting them down as “sword.” Unless your game is meant to really drill down into the minute differences between similar skills, it’s better to err on the more general side.

7. Repetitive Combat

Everyone wait your turn. This should only take four more hours. Everyone wait your turn. This should only take four more hours.

You hit the orc. The orc hits you. You hit the orc again. Rinse and repeat. It doesn’t take a genius game designer to see the problem here, and yet it’s disturbingly common. These are games in which combat takes multiple rounds, but the player has no meaningful choices. All they can do is mash the attack option until the other guy falls over.

This is why roleplaying games have their reputation as boring slogs, and sometimes that stereotype is far too accurate. Even though I praised Spirit of the Century’s combat earlier, it fails here. PCs and major villains take forever to knock out, and the only option is to keep rolling until they do.

Systems that present false choices also fall into this category. In Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies, players are given options for splitting their dice between attack and defense, but a little math shows that each option is almost exactly the same. Mouse Guard has this problem too, because while it gives many options in combat, Attack is by far the most powerful.

Combat, whether it’s physical, social, magical, or something else entirely, shouldn’t be boring. It should be the exciting action sequence that everyone talks about fondly afterwards. Many a new player has been scared off roleplaying games entirely by their first two-hour melee against a raiding party of goblins. It’s true that making a good combat system is difficult, but it’s been forty years. We should have figured it out by now.

The options for those of us playing at home are limited. The truly dedicated can attempt to house rule repetitive combat systems into something more interesting, but this is not to be attempted lightly. Some games will require more work than others. An easier option is to reduce combat down to a single or handful of rules. This has the disadvantage of rendering many PC abilities useless. A trait that grants extra attacks isn’t much use if you resolve every situation with a single Swords roll.

When designing a combat system, it’s important to bring in some testers who will try to break it. These people will discover that it’s most advantageous to only ever use one option over and over again, while the more roleplaying oriented types instinctively vary their choices to stay in character. Running simulations helps too and doesn’t require extra people. Every example I listed above can be deduced just from calculating die rolls.

Some game designers are catching on. Torchbearer features a much improved version of Mouse Guard’s combat system,* and 5E D&D gives each class new options for what to do in a fight. If we’re lucky, there will come a time when repetitive combat is consigned to the dustbin of history. Repetitive skills are also on their way out, with several major roleplaying systems slimming down their rules so that Hide and Move Silently are no longer separate, thank Pelor.

The other design mistakes might stick around for longer, but we can help drive them out! Our task as players and GMs is to purchase games that make as few of these mistakes as possible. After all, if we keep giving our dollars to designers regardless of these mistakes, they’ll have no reason to improve.

Treat your friends to an evening of dark ritual murder. In a fictional game scenario, of course. Uncover your lost memories and save the day in our stand-alone game, The Voyage.

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Comments

  1. omestes

    As a person trying to design a RPG from scratch: the over powered magic and combat slog problems are actually hard to get rid of. Magic, in a traditional fantasy sense, is by nature overpowered. I’m trying to fix this by making it more “utility” based. At low levels it isn’t going to be as powerful as a gun, but gives more tricks than a gun would.

    Combat balance and health is hard. How do you let players have their escapism, and not feel overly squishy, while keeping things from getting stupid?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Yeah, if it was easy we wouldn’t still have this problem. For magic, I think the best option is to change the dynamic of how the magic works in the setting. It’s very difficult to imagine a way in which D&D style magic wouldn’t be overpowered, because it’s wizards shooting fire around whenever they like.

      If you change what magic is able to do, as seen in some of the settings I mentioned, it becomes a lot easier. The magic dynamic with Call of Cthulhu is much easier to manage, for instance. Burning Wheel also has a neat kind of magic called Spirit Binding, which is far lower key but still pretty cool and fantastic.

      With combat, I recommend looking at how 7th Sea did things. It’s system of flesh wounds and dramatic wounds gives you a nice buffer for combat, but you can hand out a Dramatic Wound when it’s time for things to get serious.

      • CharonsHelper

        D&D style magic can be much more balanced if you make it have severe drawbacks. For example – in Pathfinder a pretty easy fix (for in-combat power at least) is to make nearly all spells take at least a full round. This gives foes a chance to hit them and break their concentration, thereby making spellcasters reliant upon their martial buddies for protection. (Also with the secondary benefit of making counter-spelling viable.)

        I do agree with your article though – games should avoid designing spells which allow casters to step on the toes of martials. (Going back to Pathfinder – get rid of all summon monster & polymorphing spells, and nearly all spells with range ‘personal’.)

        The final suggestion I’d have, is to allow inherent mundane counters to spells. For example – one thing already in the system is that lining buildings with lead makes them immune to scrying. (It works for Lex Luther too.) Or inherent limitations to spells – like teleportation only transporting you to ‘places of power’. (however you decide to define them) You don’t need to limit what your magic system can do so long as the spells themselves have limitations.

    • Ethan C.

      Omestes, here’s an idea off the top of my head that could help: have most of the actions in combat not affect health directly. For example, maybe instead of hit points, each character has a variety of defensive qualities that have to be overcome before you can hurt them: armor, dodging, parrying, etc. On your turn, you take an action to try to overcome one or more of these defenses. Once all of the defenses are broken, only then can you actually injure your target.

      That might help make combat interesting, as different foes could have varying strengths in defense, and certain actions could be stronger against different defenses. But “health” could still be low, a matter of only a couple good wounds causing death.

  2. Sionnachuighiim

    The Ability Tax trope is easily averted in “best option” settings like nWoD if players are reminded at chargen that their mystical effectiveness or lack thereof is a character trait rather than a flaw.

    Your changeling is bad at magic if they have 1 wyrd. Create them accordingly. Are you savvy? Should all the PCs be savvy starting out?

    That said, if the magic options not only eclipse but also encapsulate the mundane, if there is no tradeoff (other than narrative) for a lack in one area or another, the GM’s role is rolling up their sleeves to balance things out for the characters who are “lacking”, or even the table altogether. In the face of flawed systems, of course. Ideally there is some benefit to remaining a muggle at some point in each individual system.

    • Cay Reet

      The problem, as I understand it, is not ‘making the best possible character,’ but having abilities which, at first glance, have no logical connection to what you want to achieve. This makes it hard for first-time players who, perhaps, don’t have the most savvy GM in their campaign, either. They might make horrible errors building their character, because some arbitrary skill which they are not required to take (or raise, see Wyrd) is necessary for their character to actually function. That, simply speaking, is bad design, and will lead to players who all but enjoy the game. If a player can’t enjoy the game, because their PC can’t do something they should be able to do, then there’s something wrong.

      A PC doesn’t have to start out as a master spellcaster or suchlike. (Or as a master warrior.) Usually, they won’t. But they need a good basis to build up from. If they don’t know they need it, to use the Hand of Stone example, they won’t even get a real chance to correct the mistake, because their character won’t even get to a point where they could give it what it needs. You don’t usually design a PC as an everyman. You design them to be a budding warrior, mage, rogue, whatever. So you need to put in the basics they’ll be able to build on as their character evolves through experience.

  3. Boronx

    The hitpoint mountain problem is actually the same as the battle slog problem. If getting new hitpoints isn’t a part of levelling up, then there will never be much of a slog. When no player goes over 12 HP, someone is going to be in grave danger by the third round of combat.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      They’re linked, certainly, but you can actually have one without the other. Repetitive Combat comes from combat systems that both A) offer no choice, and take a long time.

      In Mouse Guard, for example, characters don’t have absurd amounts of HP, but it still has the repetitive combat problem, because there’s only one viable option in combat.

      Spycraft had way too many hitpoints on a character, but their combat system offered enough options that it wasn’t too repetitive.

      But you’re certainly right that they often go hand in hand.

      • GeniusLemur

        I’d argue that the hit point mountain inevitably leads to repetitive combat (although you can have repetitive combat without it) because even if you have different options, you’ll inevitably go with the same one or maybe repeat a simple pattern as you thrust your sword into the dragon over and over and over and over…

  4. Skylark

    The variety in combat thing is why I didn’t like 4th Edition (plus EVERYTHING was a mountain of HP). Any version of D&D can get repetitive in combat, but I’ve found ways to vary it some. My Pathfinder cleric can heal, buff, attack or defend as needed, and the fact that I can spontaneously cast healing in combat means there’s less downside to preparing utility spells that I use outside of combat (I can swap for Cure spells as needed). In 4th edition, everything was “simplified” into specific moves for every class, which made them all equally viable in combat – and to me, equally boring.

    Pathfinder combat can be repetitive, certainly, but I found I at least had a few more choices in terms of what kind of spells I could prepare ( than in 4th Edition, which also seemed lacking in utility spells to use outside the battlefield.

    • Skylark

      Also thank God they collapsed Spot, Listen, and Search into “Perception”. And Hide and Move Silently into “Stealth”. Though it baffles me that “Appraise” is still a thing when everyone just looks up the gp value.

  5. TheHoundHalf

    I like to imagine that the Spot Hidden / Track distinction made in CoC7 is due to a character with a high ‘Spot Hidden’ noticing absolutely everything that could possibly be signs of a track, but being unable to distinguish which ones belong to the individual being currently tracked.

    It makes it less stupid.

    Slightly.

  6. Adam Reynolds

    One issue that is interesting here is the way in which Jedi should realistically be portrayed. While the Force grants the possibility to have superior abilities to those without its gifts, choosing to accept this path causes one to lose a degree of control over one’s own destiny. You are accepting the fact that you must take on certain responsibilities in return for your unnatural abilities. Jedi cannot ignore the suffering of others, and can especially not hurt others through their actions intentionally.

    Choosing to take selfish actions leads one closer to the Dark Side. While it would seem that choosing to play as a Sith outright is superior, it then leads to a different set of problems, as you are unable to form proper emotional connections without being drawn towards the light side again. This makes it harder to have the cooperative party dynamic of most games.

    A smuggler can choose to do what they want, be it throwing in with the Rebellion or staking out on your own. A Jedi cannot. While you could choose to abandon your position and simply become a Force sensitive smuggler, you would have the problem that using your abilities attracts enemies. This would especially be true in the time of the Empire, which is sort of the default for Star Wars.

    The only system that I know of that does anything like this is the nature of compels in Fate, as Jedi tend to have a lower reserve as a result of spending all of their Fate refresh on stunts that allow them to do things like swing lightsabers around. But that is still problematic in that a normal character can choose to spend all of their refresh and be in the same position.

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