Tempo Lives

A while back I posted the system I was using for a spies game, and I talked a bit about using it as a platform to design a game.  That went silent for a bit, but it bubbled to the surface this past weekend, and I finally ground out the first draft.  So, for the curious, this is Tempo v0.1.

I’ve already gotten some good feedback, and something that Jason of the forthcoming Spark RPG had to say has me really chewing on combat.

Warning: What follows is seriously nerdy.

So, at a high level, the idea behind combat is that one side usually has the advantage, and leverages that advantage to do cool things.  Effectively, you sacrifice the advantage to impact the situation, so if you have a minor advantage, you give it up to add an aspect to the scene.  A moderate advantage can be give up to put an aspect (like an injury) on an opponent.  A significant advantage can be used to end the conflict on your terms.  There are also some benefits to holding advantage. You get narration rights (with progressively more authority) and you win ties.  There are other mechanically fiddly bits to it, but that’s the conceptual core.

Jason brought up the very reasonable point that this could be handled with a simpler currency model, where Minor advantage is 1 point, moderate is 2 and so on.  You accrue advantage, then spend it.

This is _really_ compelling. While it gives up some of the linguistic nature of advantages, it makes for a simpler, more streamlined model. What’s more, it makes other mechanical hook ins MUCH easier.  Suppose, for example, I do a martial arts hack – it becomes easy to have cool maneuvers have specific tempo costs.   That’s nicely elegant, and I was trying to figure out why I was resisting it on a gut level.

When facing an issue like that, I find it useful to ask yourself what you’re really trying to accomplish, so that’s what I did.

The goal with this system it to encourage gaining then “spending” advantage, since such expenditures should be the kind of interesting things you want to see in a fight. The cadence I’m looking for is the alternating escalations and unexpected reversals that I have previously only really gotten out of good diceless play, and that brings up a seemingly small, but utterly critical mechanical point.

At present, advantage does not help your roll directly – if you want a bonus, you want to use it to create or tag an aspect.  The intent behind this is because the behavior I want to avoid is someone sitting on their advantage, building it up, then cashing it all in at the end for a big win.  That’s mechanically optimal, but dull in play.

Similarly, advantage does not accrue[1].  If you’ve got a minor advantage and don’t spend it, then gain a minor advantage in the next round, your advantage doesn’t bump up – it stays minor.  Again, the goal is to incentivize  spend.  And this is where the tension arises.

In a currency based model, I would expect accrual.  A certain MoS gets me X points of tempo, so in this case my minor advantage (1 point) followed by another minor advantage bumps up to 2 points.   Now, this is not necessary, but if I _don’t_ have accrual, then currency is just another labeling method (Which is not necessarily bad, especially if it’s a clearer label).

But I’m not sure if that’s a problem with the system or my assumptions. Accrual is not automatically bad, but it’s problematic in conjunction with the possibility of a one-hit takedown. But if you changed engame conditions, then accrual opens up some interesting possibilities.  One big one is the element of playing chicken – only one side has advantage at a time, so your entire accrual can be wiped out by a bad turn as your opponent seizes the advantage.  Thus, you have an interesting choice of spending for an effect or holding out for the chance to spend for a bigger effect.   This would call from some number crunching, but might be fun.

Anyway, I don’t have a solution yet.  I definitely need to kick that part around some, and I’m nto sure what the final shape will be, but I want to call it out as the sort of thinking that happens when you really start getting into the guts of a rules system.

So, thanks to Jason for you feedback, and I encourage anyone else to feel free to read and comment.

1 – The one exception: it is pretty hard to get a significant advantage on a straight roll.  Once you have advantage, the threshold for significant advantage is lower.   This sort of works, but not very well. It rewards sitting on Advantage and swinging away, so it’s going to change.

9 thoughts on “Tempo Lives

  1. Fred Hicks

    It’s a use it or lose it model, which I think folks “get”. You can phrase the gaining of advantage levels from a roll as “fill your currency up to X”. And in fact, in that way, you could do this with cards rather than coins. Your current level of advantage is your hand size.

  2. Cam_Banks

    Immediate thought: if it costs advantage just to keep advantage, then you have a sense of “use this now or keep spinning wheels” that might be motivating. For example, rather than say “you can’t get 1-pt advantage if you already have 1 point” you say, “you get 1-pt advantage. Are you spending it NOW or are you going to use it to keep your advantage for the next go-round, in which case you’re going to have to try for that 1-pt again.”

  3. Jason Pitre

    I love your thought processes here and I am glad that I had the opportunity to give feedback. I have two somewhat-disconnected thoughts that might be fruitful for discussion.

    1) I feel like you might make the choice to spend Edge either to affect the environment directly (create aspect) _or_ to improve your chances of getting an Advantage.

    2) I can’t help but consider the Unknown Armies charge system. Minor, Significant and Major charges seem to map onto Edge, Advantage and Significant Advantage somehow.

  4. Anonymous

    If the tempo was mapped to a grid or pyramid system, then accruing advantage could also grant minor advantages and major advantages in a predictable fashion, while reversals could eliminate predictable amounts of advantage.

    If the grid looks like this:
    Column 1: 3 boxes of tempo
    Column 2: 3 boxes of tempo
    Column 3: 6 boxes of tempo
    Column 4: 9 boxes of tempo

    Then once tempo fills up each column, you grant the player an advantage. So if Step 1 is filled up, you could give an advantage. The player then begins building up tempo in the next column. Reversals could knock out the highest column, so going for the last column for a major advantage becomes riskier (three times riskier) because it takes more tempo to fill. If you allow the players to “hold” advantages in a separate pool, then they can use their tempo to defend as well. You could also allow players to define the size of their columns to show if their characters are more cautious, building up many smaller advantages, or riskier, having just a few larger columns, trying to come in with a decisive advantage.

  5. Kirby Vosburgh

    Can you spend moderate advantage for two minor advantage effects? If so setting them as points makes much more sense to me. I think Fred’s wording is the best, though I agree that it can be counter intuitive.


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