Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Conditional Success, Significant Actions

Conditional Success is basically replacing failure with an Extreme cost for Success. The Margin of Failure determined how much it would have cost to succeed and if the Player or Party are willing to pay that cost.
System Agnostic. You can apply this to any game system (better with bell curve dice systems). I recommend Squaring the margin of Failure as the Cost of Success on bell curve dice system or square then half when using a d20.
How this is resolved is basically the Player rolls to attempt to perform the Task, Action or Activity but on a failure realizes there is more work and cost to making it work given his circumstances. It can be multiple attempts built in, much more work and resources needed because of the variables of the circumstance, timing, particularities of the scope of work, etc...

Usefulness. The main reason behind the mechanic are the following:
1) Pacing - the feedback loop of the Roll does not end with the player knowing if they Failed, it now becomes a much harder and ambiguous question:
          i) can I pay the cost of success.
          ii) is it worth it? is success at this point worth it?
          iii) what are my opportunity costs?
          iv) the player has more agency since they can make more of a call instead of having to ask the GM what can he do about it.
2) Heightened Tension. Because of how it leaves an ambiguous answer that requires more thought on the Player it affects the tension. Uncertainty and Ambiguity ramps up tensions (and frustration of players) used skillfully it adjusts level of tension for the players.

This mechanic requires the GM to recallibrate how the System deterines what is a Significant Action.

Significant Actions

the 2 min rule  of David Allen's getting shit done, Kal Newports Deepwork on 4-6 hours concentration blocks, the definition of Shallow Work (Kal Newport) and my own experience in Operation man hour metrics got me thinking about Significant Action. In a Day one of the most productive things we can make maybe progress in a difficult task OR juggling many small "shallow" tasks. So I proceeded to define A ROLL or a Significant Action to be at default 1 Workload or 4-6 manhour task. From this anchor I proceeded to make the following Definition:

The GM doesnt bother with insignificant tasks. He looks at the Gross Cost or Final Cost of the Action in Time and Resources.

You'll notice that the Definition give you a better anchor when researching what can be done with a Roll or a Skill use, because in real life no matter how capable or skilled, and what industry one works in, people still have to break down tasks in these small do-able chunks.

Few people can block of Months or Weeks for a tasks without Personal Life getting in the way, few businesses allow people to concentrate uninterrupted in their work without throwing a LOT of distracted firefighting and shallow work. Even the best people in their fields have to make time for distractions from personal, the world, or their superiors to get their core tasks done

  • Task or Activity. 
  • Insignificant: 1-5 mins. The GM doesnt bother with such tasks and they serve purely for immersion, visualization, and RP.  
  • Minor Task. 45mins to 15mins (maybe margin of success lessens the number of mins)
  • Partial. 3 to 1 man-hours (defaults at 3 unless specfied)
  • Workload: 4-6 man-hours, we use 5 to simplify
  • Standard: 1 workload (standard difficulty). 
  • Man-Day is 2 Workloads
  • Complex Task: 4-6 Man Days, we use 5 to simplify. 
  • Concentrated Work Rule. Basically doing things broken up when it can be done in one block of time results to excesss time. Breaking up an Activity multiplies the activity by x1.5 more time. This can get worse as failure adds more and more sub activities.  
  • other rules not discussed: Equipment (Capital and Infra requirement) and Consumables (materials spent in the activity). 

* the System may make can make the tasks that take less time have a bonus to success or fall under the easier task difficulties.
Beyond Complex Task level is a level of uncertainty thats best RPed and played out. If its being used to measure Downtime tasks and activities half the level of efficiency and assume there are a ton of distractions. Reserve the level of focus and clarity to period of "Adventure" or the Campaign.
Beyond this level the GM and the Player works on a Bill of Resources and various Operations Technical Estimates and Planning metrics.


  • Now the occasion to roll tends to be something that eats up a work load and a failure may cost the character up to 4x to 9x or WAY more work, resources, or time.
    • The GM or Player can better identify critical tasks and duties.
    • The player delegates and plans how to tackle the problem.  
  • The Player has to sort Significant Rolls from less important tasks. a level of frustration and tension from the disfluency of having to arrange tasks by priority and consequence. The players really have to prioritize and adapt. When a Petty Tasks 
  • The GM can calibrate tasks appropriately since he looks at the Workload vs Distracting Busy work of the Job or Role. It becomes a world building tool. 
  • Skills being benchmarked against a Partial or Standard Task. Some skills tend to be mostly shallow tasks (see Deepwork) while others require Deepwork or requires the full standard task and more. In a scifi setting AI aided deepwork will be the kind of work humans will have left. 

Quick Take Away.
  • Magin of Failure is now the Inflated cost of Conditional Success
  • Recallibrate what is a Significant Action

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