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Complicating Resources

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  • Complicating Resources

    I'm working on some house rules for adding more depth to Resources, and most likely to extend to other Social Merits. It's always bugged me how a 50-hour a week job as a software developer and a turnkey operation collecting money from vending machines or the like are mechanically identical- the system does not have any way to represent any of the things that complicate the getting of money in real life. I want to add some mechanical depth and tension to what happens when shadow-beasts from the dreams of a mad sorceror threaten your family... right in the middle of the lunch rush during your shift at Piggy's Palace.

    I'm considering two possibilities- one, a relatively simple Complication mechanic where players can get reduced-cost Merits that come along with a pool of points the ST can use to create conflicts. I'm thinking of something like: Each Complication point can be used to force a roll which, if failed, forces the character to either forego some course of action, or temporarily lose a point of the appropriate Merit. Complications would include things like timing conflicts, difficulties in actually performing the requirements of the job/income source, dealing with bureaucratic infighting, etc. Complication points refresh at the end of each story.
    It keeps things pretty light and narrative-driven, but still allows players to differentiate a complicated or demanding job vs. a trust fund that shows up in their bank account regardless of what they do. The particulars of the numbers are still unclear for me- I'm thinking something like "effective Merit points squared in Complication points equals one fewer Merit point paid". So a PC with Resources 5 could take 25 Complication points and only pay 4 Merit points.


    The other, much crunchier possibility I'm considering is a system for "building" the Merit with established traits to represent the specific demands and limitations of the Merit. This would make maintaining the Merit as much a focus of the game as investigating that haunting, or unravelling the conspiracy of crocodile-headed cultists in the sewers. After all, it's hard to assault a subterranean stronghold when you're too broke to put new batteries in your flashlight, plus you got scurvy from eating nothing but ramen for the last three months...

    Merits under this system would have 5 different traits: Magnitude, Commitment, Structure, Difficulty, and Responsibility, each ranging from 0 to 5.

    Magnitude is what the Merit system already represents- the level of benefit it renders. The other 4 traits are basically "negative".

    Commitment is the amount of time it takes to maintain the Merit. This is mainly a cost paid in time that can't be used for building a spy network, researching occult tomes, or what have you- it reduces the availability of "downtime" for extended rolls. 0 means simply token efforts- an hour or so per week- up to Commitment 5, which is over 40 hours per week. It also determines how likely a given threat/opportunity is to conflict with the demands of the Merit.

    Structure is how inflexible the Merit is in terms of when and how that Commitment is paid. A freelance job that can be done any time of the day is Structure 0, whereas a job waiting tables at a restaurant with a staff that is generally available to swap shifts around is 1 or 2, while a rigid corporate call center job where you have to be there at exactly 7 AM to relieve the previous shift and time-off requests have to be filed at least 2 months in advance would be Structure 5. Structure dictates how difficult it is to circumvent a conflict caused by the Merit's Commitment level, as well as the consequences for a failure to do so.

    Difficulty is simply how hard the job is, or otherwise how demanding the income source's requirements are to perform. Sweeping floors for minimum wage in a local hospital is Difficulty 0- maintaining a career as a cutting-edge avant-garde director might be 4 or 5. For Difficulties greater than 0, regular rolls of an appropriate Attribute + Ability must be made to maintain the Merit. Consequences for failing these roles are determined by Responsibility.

    Responsibility indicates how important the character's efforts are to the actual viability of the Merit. Solo freelance work is Responsibility 5- if you fail, you lose customers, end of story. A sinecure or otherwise bullshit job are Responsibility 0- no matter how badly you fail, the Merit remains unaffected. Failures on rolls to perform the job tasks, or what have you, would have consequences dependent on the level of Responsibility.

    There would then need to be some formula to determine how to reduce the cost of the Merit based on the complication Traits added on to the Magnitude. Something like ((Commitment x Structure) + (Difficulty x Responsibility))/10 reduction to the cost of the Merit. That means you can get Resources 5 for free, if you're willing to do something incredibly difficult all week long without missing a single commitment and never fucking up.
    My ideal target goal is that a shitty entry-level job that almost anyone could get should be free.

    I have more specific mechanics developed for this, but I'd appreciate feedback on glaring loopholes or simple, elegant ideas I've missed. Again, the design goal here is to help support balancing mundane life stuff with supernatural horror as a core conflict of the game. All comments and criticisms, or direction to other people who have tackled this problem, would be appreciated. Cheers!

  • #2
    The first concept honestly feels too mechanical and abstract. I don't really see what it adds.

    The second is a bit more interesting, though I kinda think it'd be more interesting to disconnect it from the Resources merit entirely. I mean, basically everyone has some kind of job, but it's not generally reflected in Resources. I mean, plenty of minimum wage work is going to score high on all four categories. Yeah it's difficult for the avant-garde director to keep at the cutting-edge, but there are probably plenty of options if they get fed up with that. All the cleaner needs is one bullying boss and the difficulty of their work goes through the roof and most people on minimum wage can't just take a break to find new employment.


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    • #3
      My neighbor runs vending machines... making a living off it seems to be a pretty time intensive thing, even though it's a lot steadier and more predictable than software engineers who go through pretty vicious cycles of time demands based on deadlines and product stages.

      In any case, there seems a much simpler solution: Conditions. Doing a whole subsystem for this seems unnecessary when two custom Conditions can do it just fine.

      Examples off the top of my head:

      Obligations (Persistent) -

      Your character has responsibilities above and beyond the norm of their society. This creates a high stress relationship between them and another person or group as their time is in high demand. This Condition is linked to a specific Merit; usually a Social Merit but other Merits might be applicable. Once per Chapter the NPC(s) that are on the other side of that Merit will give the PC a task to complete with either a penalty equal to the Merit's rating for simple actions, or a target number of successes increased by the Merit's rating for extended actions. Failing this task (or simply not doing it) will reduce the Merit's rating by 1, which recovers at the start of the next Story. If the character fails multiple times, the player can choose between a cumulative reduction that still only recovers one per Story, or a permanent reduction protected by Sanctity of Merits as the character gets demoted, or loses the trust of their fellows.

      Beat - Whenever the time demands brought on by their Obligations interferes with other parts of their lives, take a Beat.

      Resolution - Permanent loss of the linked Merit.

      Sinecure (Persistent) -

      Good work if you can get it! Some how your character has landed a job or position with great reward, and with almost no real responsibilities on their time or energy. While others grind away for money, respect, or power, your character has had it handed to them. Of course, what is given, can be taken just as easily. This Condition is linked to a specific Merit that can be blocked by other Merits. You character's Merit is fragile, attempts to block it are twice as effective compared to those that put in the time and energy for their rewards. So a character with Allies 2 can block your Status 4 without needing to roll.

      Beat - People resent those that are handed too much for free, take a Beat whenever the character struggles socially because of people not taking them seriously due to their unearned position.

      Resolution - Permanent loss of the linked Merit.

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      And that pretty much covers it, yeah? No need for whole Merit building systems or cost reductions. Just slap a Condition on to show that things aren't equal.

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