Cinco: Recalibrating Aspect Checks

From last time: success on 20+; compromise on 10–19; failure on 1–9. I can't stop myself from thinking how, for lack of a better word, "cruel" that distribution is. You compromise half the time unless you have advantage which, unless you have a high enough aspect bonus, just makes compromise more likely. Then there's the 5% chance of straightforward success and the 45% chance of outright failure.

I reframed the problem in my head. The roll should be precisely to bypass compromise, and the compromise should be a difficult decision to make when the situation becomes beyond one's control. Readers latched onto the melee example, so let's put it in those terms. The player already makes the choice to melee, and the outcome to avoid is one where they face the consequences for it. Why is the choice to hit (and be hit) or not to be hit (and not hit) the default outcome?

What I'm happier now is with shifting the goalposts so that failure is basically what compromise meant before, so long as the character's fictional positioning allows them to bargain for what they lose. This turns failure into a dramatic decision, rather than a full stop. This reinforces the characters' heroic competency and keeps the session flowing.

Something else on my mind is a negative shadow of aspect bonuses. I really like exhaustion in One D&D, for just being a counter from 0 to 10 which subtracts its value from ability checks. What I don't like is that it's specifically exhaustion. Why not spill the bucket? Have counters and status effects which impose difficult decisions, or even worse, introduce the chance of actual "failure". Exhaustion, hunger, thirst, fear, insanity, encumbrance, etc. You could even sneak in difficulty modifiers external of characters. Aspects then take on the dimension of soaking stress as characters act under pressure.

The scale is now critical success on 20+; success on 10–19; compromise on 1–9; and catastrophe on 0 or less. The next knot to cut: why have hit points or 'hearts' at all when you can accumulate burdens instead? Wouldn't aspects then serve, more or less, as resistance against looming catastrophe?


  1. There was a very interesting system in a Japanese tabletop game I was reading some years ago where the default for all injury taken was system based burdens but you could choose to take a wound to alleviate those burdens. In fact if one chose to take a serious or mortal wound the short term result was a burst of power at the cost of requiring rest after the scene or dying at the scene's conclusion.


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