Wednesday, March 08, 2006

How I learned to stop bean counting and love resource management...

As a general rule, I don't like resource management in role-playing games.

There are exceptions, of course. The rule is a general one, not absolute. Ultimately, though, I would rather be paying attention to the action than obsessively counting up tokens or paying attention to how long an effect will last. Steady depletion of resources doesn't build dramatic tension for me. Instead it simply increases my overall anxiety. I hate it when I get the feeling that I wasted something that I was saving for the right moment.

This really hit home the other night. I was playing (the non-d20 version of) Aberrant (reviews), a not-particularly-four-color superhero rpg put out by White Wolf. Like most White Wolf games, Aberrant has a resource pool that is depleted as you use your powers and replenished fairly haphazardly. In this case, it is called quantum, as opposed to quintessence, essence, gnosis, inspiration, pathos, glamour, or blood (betcha can't guess what game that last one was from). Now, I find the idea of resource-depletion management of this sort to be particularly odious in a superhero game. This might be because I still like the old Marvel Super Heroes game put out by TSR where the abilities made the acronym FASERIP.

Aberrant is otherwise a cool game, though. The setting is fairly well thought out to allow for stories based around conspiracies, politics, and changing the world. The rest of the mechanics are fairly strong, considering that they are built on White Wolf's Storyteller system.

I said that playing Aberrant the other night brought home how much I disliked resource management. In addition to managing a quantum pool, different powers have different durations. Some require that additional quantum be spent on them after a certain number of rounds or scenes. Others work as long as you concentrate on them. Going into the game, I was dreading the necessity of keeping track of all of this despite the fact that I was only likely to have 2-3 powers going at any one time. Ultimately, though, the GM decided to simplify things. We'd spend the quantum on our powers and they'd last until the end of the scene. At the end of the scene, we'd get some quantum back and our powers would need to be renewed.

All I had to keep track of was the quantum I used in the scene. He'd announce the scene end and tell us, at that point, how much quantum we'd get back. Next scene? Repeat. This was easy. I could do this without worrying. The relief I felt was tremendous. I must remember to keep resource management in my game designs no more complicated than this.


Jeff Rients said...

There's more than one way to skin the resource management cat. All the games you cite give you one big pool of Do Cool Stuff points. I can see that would lead to the depletion issue you raise or to PCs operating at Minimal Coolness Factor until the boss fight at the end.

That's why I like games with relatively balanced multiple resources to manage. If I've got meta resources like Savage Worlds bennies but also power points for my spells as well as equipment like scrolls or whatever, I find that a much more enjoyable experience than simply having a big pile of Spell Points.

szilard said...

That does take care of the one issue, but then I run into the frustration of keeping track of multiple metagame currencies, when I'd rather be focusing upon the action and/or narrative.

Jeff Rients said...

Yeah, I could see how that wouldn't work for you. It also makes the GMs life a hassle when NPCs operate with mutliple resources.

Jeff Rients said...

Yeah, I can how my suggestion doesn't necessarily help story-oriented play. And adding more resources to be managed makes the GMs job harder too, since most games use the same rules for PCs and NPCs.

Jeff Rients said...

Frack. I forgot about that comments here are mod approved. When the first comment didn't appear immediately I typed another one.