During 2008 I ran A Dirty World, and it was far from satisfactory. I must take a lot of the responsibility, for messing up a lot of GM-101, but I think the system did not really deliver on its promise – it was confusing, arbitrary, and did not foster much of any of the desirable intra-party conflict.
So I’ve been pondering “is this system workable” – can it be fixed so that it more closely emulates what I want from the game? I have come up with a list of suggestions – house rules I guess. I hope some or all of these may improve how the game plays:
1. ORE d6
A major problem was the infrequency of sets for the group. Most people had dice pools of 4/5 – getting a significant set with 4D10 is tough. That was quite frustrating, because it made almost every action inconclusive – the characters were bumbling idiots, and rather than cutting each other, they aimlessly flailed in the social combat.
Changing to D6 increases the number of successes on average irrespective of die pool size. For a set of 2 dice it increases the odds from 10% to 16%, and it only gets better with more dice. For 3d it increases the chances of at least a pair from 27% to 44%… and so on. It means that dice rolls are actually indicative of something.
2. “Tensions” – the conflict halfway house
As written, the game is an incremental conflict resolution system alternating with a task system, but it’s often written as if it’s a conflict engine. It is not.
I think that you need to completely ditch the task engine part – assume anyone succeeds at anything unless actually opposed by another invested character. Once another character is involved, it becomes a lot clearer how to use the dice: the descriptions become relevant again.
You then need to break up your “conflicts” into something smaller – the conflict sub-particle “tension”. The outcome is always by consensus based on the balance of the tensions. There are no cut and dried narration rights – only the willingness or not to engage with the other to shift tension.
3. Exchange Values
The game engine is written with the intent that characters pick up a lot of quality dots from doing stuff. But in practice, most of the things are very difficult to improve. Take “Purity”: it is improved by “Righting a wrong at cost, without duress”. Hard – you need to really engineer situations for this to happen. Compared to Wrath’s “Torment the Helpless”. It’s easy to get angry, it’s hard to get pure – and perhaps that’s a feature rather than a bug to an extent. But Deceit is improved when you “Have your faith betrayed”. Almost impossible.
So that sub-system needs to get ditched.
Instead, I think that when you manage to overwhelm your opponent in a contest, their “lost” dot should be transferred to your winning skill. That makes it possible to improve at whatever your character does best – and it gives you a real reason to pick on others’ weakness. You hammer their purity? It could do wonders for your Selfishness.