So, the Marvel Heroic RPG has one of the most clever initiative systems I’ve ever seen. For the unfamiliar, it basically breaks down as follows – someone goes first, and after they’re done, they choose who goes next. Repeat this pattern until everyone has gone. This idea (which I call “pass-around initiative”) is pretty simple, and while specific implementations need to answer specific questions (like, ‘who goes first?’, ‘how can I interrupt?’ and ‘how do you reflect faster characters?’) the core idea is portable to many other game designs.
This was on my mind when I encountered another very common RPG occurrence – rolling to determine who to do something bad to.
You’ve seen it before. A monster makes a surprise attack, rocks fall, a god smites – something bad is going to happen and you need to decide which player it’s going to happen to. Hell, when everything is going OK, then it can be doubly important to do something nasty to keep things going. The questions is always who to do it to. GM’s want to be fair, so they tend to use rules or randomization to make these choices (since just picking someone could be seen as mean) but this can produce uneven results.
So, I was struck by an idea for handling this inspired by pass-around initiative, and thus the doomball was born.
So, at the start of the game, give one player the doomball (Ideally in the form of some physical token). How you decide which player is totally arbtrary, and if you want to use a classic method (like randomization) feel free. My suggestion is to give it to whoever was holding it at the end of last session (or to whoever missed the last session), but there might also be mechanical systems in the game that might help with this too; Amber DRPG has “Bad Stuff” which might be a great way to determine this, for example.
The player holds the doomball until the GM comes to a point where something bad needs to happen to someone. In this case, the GM targets the player holding the doomball, and once she’s done, the player passes it to another player. The only rule about the handoff is that no player can get the doomball until everyone else has had the doomball.
How often the doomball gets passed depends a lot on the game. Combat brings up the possibility for a lot of passing, but it shouldn’t necessarily be used for every attacks. Enemies often have specific logic by which they determine their attacks – a logical choice doesn’t invoke the doomball, but an open choice of targets might.
This can certainly be the end of it – its a simple determinant to resolve issues as they come up – but there can be more to it. It’s easy to build mechanical hooks into the system, such as abilities that make you take the doomball or allow you to pass the doomball early. Hell, this may be a more useful way to reflect luck-based effects (like blessings and curses) than the usual bonuses and penalties to attacks because this feels more like luck.
Anyway, it’s a slightly silly name, but the idea is pretty usable, so feel free to go nuts with it.
1 – The name was inspired by the tvtrope of the idiot ball