If there’s any design goal I have a hard time sticking to, it’s the desire to keep things simple. I’m too much in love with intricacy as an ideal, and I have such a good head for complex systems that I have a hard time realizing when I’ve crossed the line from “elegant simplicity” to “Wile E. Coyote style schematics”.
The current core mechanic of AWW in a nutshell is: when you try to do something that requires a roll, you figure out which of your qualities covers it and roll a number of additional dice equal to its level. Simple, right? Higher level equals appreciably higher chance of success without changing the range of target numbers/difficulties you can interact with.
But in the interest of keeping things on an even keel, I’ve been working with the idea that you can only have one quality applied to a problem at a time. If you have similar/overlapping qualities (like the profession/skill set quality Expert Treasure Hunter and the personal attribute quality Dexterity), you pick the one that has the higher level.
My thinking was that this would help encourage players to diversify their abilities more (in the sense of not always looking for the qualities that could cover the same thing) and also keep the failure rate at a level where it still has some significance, by cutting down on mammoth dice pools.
But at the same time I have kept thinking, “But surely you should have some advantage to being a more dexterous-than-usual
thief treasure hunter,” and so, accordingly, I have been working out different mechanisms for synergy bonuses and things, all of which have the common feature of changing the core mechanic away from “one fairly simple rule for just about everything with very little to remember”.
So then I started thinking about things from a different angle.
First, I considered what the system I’m designing is supposed to do, vs. what it would reward.
If you can only apply your *best* quality for a certain action, this actually motivates you to *not* diversify your abilities… every time you have a choice between adding another quality or taking a level of an existing one, the mechanically superior choice is to take a level of the existing one.
More, only allowing you to use a single quality the idea that your qualities are not just discrete special abilities but integral components that blend together to create your character. If you have Dexterity, Expert Treasure Hunter, and Perception as your three starting qualities, the “pick your best one” leaves being dexterous and perceptive off to the side of being good at collecting valuable things that don’t belong to you.
Allowing you to combine Perception and ETH when you’re searching for traps or hidden compartments and Dexterity and ETH when you’re trying to disarm said traps or open said compartments allows them to all work together. You’re better at spotting non-treasure-hunting related things than the average person, but noticeably better than that at spotting the stuff you’re trained to spot. This makes your Perception different in focus than someone with, say, Ranger and Perception.
But what about the game balance concern? Doesn’t adding more dice to the pool quickly make failure negligible even at the maximum possible difficulty of 6 (1/6 success rate with 1 die)?
I actually sat down and did the math. If you have a pool of 4 dice (1 by default, plus 1 for each of 3 qualities), you’ll still fail just under 50% of the time at maximum difficulty. Since average difficulty (4) has a 50% failure rate for a character of no particular ability, that works out pretty slick.
You’d have to get a grand total of 17 dice for the failure rate to fall below 5%, which is what “automatic fail on 1” establishes as the lowest possible failure chance in d20-type systems.
And if too-low failure rates were a problem at higher levels, it wouldn’t really matter if players were getting their dice from one outrageously high quality or from multitudes. Any dice cap rule could easily apply regardless of the source.
Plus, no matter how low the failure rate gets, the whole point of the fate system is to add a random element of “wildness” that is not affected by skill or level. The idea of “even if you do everything right, things can still go against you” is present by the fate system, which makes even automatic success not that big a deal.
The other area where I’ve been having to fight my tendency towards feature creep/system bloat is the definition of the qualities. Again, the idea is that qualities, rather than being special abilities or collections of special abilities, are just a description of the quality’s “scope”, the “this is what this is about, these are the kinds of things it’s good for, you might use it for this”, with actual rules being very thin on the ground.
The problem I run into is I think about “extra stuff” that might be useful to a character with that quality and being tempted to put it in as a special ability. For a while I was trying to put one limited-use special ability on each quality, because some of them seemed to be super crying out for such a thing and so the balanced thing to do would be to give all of them one.
This actually steps on more than one of my design guidelines, though.
First, limited use special abilities should be an optional layer of complexity. No character has them if the player doesn’t want them, and you never have more than you want. Tying every quality to a limited use ability means you have a minimum of three of them at chargen, and they just accumulate from there irrespective of whether you want them.
Second, it means that unless you’ve got a mind for rules, you absolutely need to have more on your character sheet than the name of the Quality. Don’t get me wrong, I expect people to put some shorthand on some of them, particularly if the name is unfamiliar or used in an unfamiliar context, but an actual special ability? With mechanics to remember, even fairly abstract ones? And a limited number of uses to keep track of?
(The actual limited use ability mechanic the game uses is called Gimmicks, and they are equivalent in character resource terms to a character piece that gives a smaller static benefit. If you like resource management and having “big guns” to pull out when the going gets tough, you can use them. But you don’t have to.)