GM Intrusions E54 - Tactical Effort

Today I’ll revisit the discussion on controlling how players spend their xp. I’m not just playing devil’s advocate, I’ve changed my mind. In Under the Lens I’ll dig into the tactics of when to spend effort on speed defense, and when not to.

This episode of GM Intrusions has been archived and is available to Patrons of Starwalker Studios. You can listen to the episode on Patreon. You can also learn more about becoming a patron

Opening Segment

Numenera How to Play Video

Monte Cook, Shanna Germain, Bruce Cordell and Jen Page

If you’re new to the game, this is for you!

The Strange How to Play Video

I’ve changed my mind!

I now let my players spend xp however they want (again).

I don’t want to track and enforce different xp pools. Both my players and I are too old to baby sit.

It adds unneeded complexity to the game.

Short-term rewards are often not worth it. Why spend 2 xp to be specialized with Numenera in one facility for maybe a few sessions, when for 4 xp you can be specialized in all numenera everwhere?

Cost-benefit analysis and instant gratification. Both of these argue that the 2 xp benefits aren’t worth it. The 3 xp benefits are probably worth it, but they’re not things the PCs will usually be getting all the time.

I like to say yes to my players, and Numenera & The Strange with their narrative focus seem to be games that share this philosophy.

I don’t think I should FORCE my players to spend xp on things that aren’t worth it.

In all my experience running & playing Numenera I see players spend xp for rerolls all the time. But I hardly ever see them get the 2 (or even 3) xp benefits. This is very telling. Gamers are smart. It’s not worth it! Now the 3xp benefits I think are worth it, but these are things you’ll maybe get once or twice in a campaign (e.g. make an artifact, get some shins, get a contact).

Optional Houserule

Allow players to spend 2 xp to declare a story element like with Destiny points in Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars games.

E.g. the PCs are out in the field and need a shovel. This isn’t in the Explorer’s Pack (it should be). A player says his character really would carry one, even though it’s not on his character sheet. The player pays 2 xp and now he has a shovel (he had it all along).

I tend to let my players do this anyway if it makes sense and isn’t a big deal, but in this way I don’t have to agonize over it so much, and it gives the players even more agency in the story.

Question for the Listener

Let’s come up with an Improved Explorer’s Pack! This can either replace the Explorer's Pack in your world (depending how much stuff we come up with), or it can be a more expensive version. Are there things you’ve run into that you thought, “This should really be in the explorer’s pack”? Like the shovel? Let me know!

Under the Lens

Mark Wiand on G+ asks how to know whether or not to spend effort on speed defense.

I’ve mentioned this on the show before, but let’s dig into it. From a tactical point of view, when do you spend effort on speed defense?

Matt DeKrey says:

Well, it all depends on what your Edge is at. If you can put Effort in with only one or no points, I'd say it's worth it. But, it depends on the exact situation, of course - I sometimes say that vs. a diff 6, it's not worth it, because I know I'll fail the roll anyway - 6 Might damage AND 3 Speed just to get a slightly better chance at not losing the Might? No thanks.
But that all changes with 20's giving your Effort back, using XP to get a chance to reroll... and just sheer luck.

Another factor that complicates things and makes it a bit more than simple mathematics is that MANY creatures in this game do far worse than the points of damage when they hit you.

It might grapple you, giving it free damage against you next turn (no attack roll needed).

It might automatically put you a step down the damage track instead of or in addition to damage.

It may do Speed or Intellect damage instead of Might.

The damage might ignore Armor, leading you to taking more than you think you will.

It might poison you, causing you to lose more pool, go down the damage track, fall unconscious, or gain a harmful mutation. The possibilities are endless. 

It only takes a short perusal through the Bestiary to come to the conclusion that when you're facing a creature your character has never faced before, it's best not to get hit, because you don't know what might happen.

Now, when you're facing a foe you've fought before, you may feel you know what to expect and decide it's safe to just take the damage. But even then I'd urge caution. Many creatures have additional horrific things they can do to a PC via a GM Intrusion that you may not have seen in previous encounters. And the GM can ALWAYS come up with something like that as a GMI.

Personally, as a GM, roleplay is most important to me. I'd rather see my players play their characters to the hilt as opposed to metagaming and making decisions based on combat math. If I say a player doing that a lot, I think that would be a great time to surprise them with a GMI when they take a hit to remind them that nothing is certain or completely understood in the Ninth World. 

I would also expect players to properly roleplay the difference between character knowledge and player knowledge. Just because the player recognizes the creature from the Bestiary and knows it doesn't have any horrific effects in addition to damage doesn't mean the character has seen it before. Again, if I caught players breaking the fourth wall in this way, it would be a perfect time to surprise them with a new ability the creature has via a GM Intrusion.

 

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