Friday, November 16, 2018

The Keep on the Warrenlands

Perhaps my favorite mechanic in any role-playing game is found in The Warren, a game that has players take on the role of rabbits in a world that was made to kill rabbits.

Good games facilitate good stories (of some kind, anyway) and good stories usually revolve around interesting choices. These choices serve as characterization and ultimately lead to their success or failure in achieving their goals. This is why so many GMs are fans of "dynamic combat" in which players make use of tactics and tricks more complicated that making generic attack roles. By making non-default decisions in a combat, it makes the scene more interesting, and the characters are naturally rewarded or punished for fighting in that method, as well as fighting at all.
Art from The Plague Dogs, a film in the style of the Watership Down movie.
More people should know about this movie.
And The Warren takes that a step further. For all of the "basic moves" a PC can make, there is a significant space between failure and total success where they have to make an interesting choice. Example: a rabbit rolls for the "bolt" move to escape a badger. This might be something like a 2d6+1. On a 7-9, they still succeed, but have to choose between ending up somewhere other than where they intended, taking a penalty on later rolls, or increasing their panic score. The "sneak" move is even less forgiving. On a total success, you're still upwind, making noise, leaving tracks, or within sight.

Plenty of games, like the upcoming Demon City, have rules for partial success. In the case of that game, tying a throw, which happens frequently, means that the GM is supposed to make the situation more complicated. It's a good way to heighten tension. But the Warren keeps that tension high while creating meaningful choices, because every round is a choice between bad and worse.
"Suddenly, stoats!" -the actual goddamn book
And this doesn't need to be exclusively for partial successes. In games where skills just automatically work instead of providing a bonus to a roll, I tend to remind players that they can do more when they aren't rushed, and basically work off a "quick, precise, expansive: pick two" trilemma for a lot of things. It's intuitive and keeps people from forgetting that "proficiency" still has reasonable limits.
In the Warren's terms: Calm/Intact/Fed

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