August 31, 2013
Luck As A Mechanic
Several games have a mechanic to represent chance. Shadowrun gives its characters a pool of Edge that is used to give characters an extra boost when they need it most. Big Eyes, Small Mouth has a rule of dramatic flare players can call on when things are not looking their way. The Dresden Files RPG uses Fate Points to allow characters to gain influence over situations and environments. There are Destiny Points in both Star Wars: Saga Edition and Anima: Beyond Fantasy. The list goes on. I have always found this rather strange. Luck is already a variable in tabletop games. It is a part of almost every game, and every action within these games. It’s the roll of the dice. Dice are the ultimate representation of luck within a role-playing game. When your fighter character takes a swing with his mighty enchanted sword against the goblin king, it is your attack bonus that represents your fighter’s skill, the bonus given from the enchantment that takes into account the power of the blade, and the roll of the dice that takes chance into account. This is why I find luck mechanics strange and, admittedly, unnecessary. It is not luck when you chose when you get lucky.
In the defense of such a mechanic, however, is a simple rule that most games take into account. What works for the player characters works for the NPC’s, as well. So, if your fighter spends whatever their luck points to attack said goblin king, there is no reason that the goblin king cannot do the same to try and avoid the deadly blow. Sure, maybe not all NPCs should have access to such a resource. Normal, everyday thugs and non-essential NPC’s probably will not, but major characters – including the main antagonists – should definitely be given the same boons. If not, players will come to rely on the luck mechanic far more than it was intended. It turns into a game of “who has the most Fate Points,” which is far less fun than it might sound.
Now, I will not deny that when I play a game that uses a luck mechanic I make use of it. Players have to use any advantage they can get in a game. Having a luck mechanic just means that you have another resource at your disposal. Use it too readily and you might not have it when you really need it. If you do not use it, then it is a wasted resource. Both are usually very scary options. Often, players will save it as a “just in case” button for when the dice fall far from their favor, or as a counter for when the Gamemaster decides to have an NPC use that same resource against them.
So, while I might be the biggest fan of luck as a mechanic, I will not deny that they can be a versatile and fun system to play with. I personally just find them unnecessary. I know of many players who do not feel as I do. I have even had players ask that I include such a mechanic in games that do not already include one, as a house-rule — something else I am not all that fond of. I am not one to take out a game mechanic just because I might not agree with it, though, so my players may enjoy it in many of the games we play.
Image Credit: unclenikola / Shutterstock