Friday, April 3, 2009

Math in F#

Most RPGs have a learning curve that comes from the rules being complicated, or from there being lots of weird modifiers a character can invoke. In D&D, for example, you've got all those +1's and Feats that apply.

F# is a really elegant system, downright minimalist, yet it still has a little bit of a learning curve. I ran it for the first time last night, and I found it kinda tricky setting difficulty numbers right. The rules document offers this scale:
0 Easy
1 Average
2 Tricky
3 Hard
4 Flawless
5 Masterpiece
6 Nigh Impossible

That's it. It doesn't go into any deeper examples, and probably for good reason. The system is very flexible, and what is "tricky" will vary from situation to situation, and campaign to campaign. In a very over-the-top setting, an entire squad of mooks might be a single Easy roll, in a grittier game each henchman in the squad might be a seperate Tricky roll. You throw some Tokens into the mix, and such generalizations mean nothing. It's a strength of the game that it's so flexible and can handle a great deal of variation.

Last night, however, that meant my difficulty settings were largely arbitrary, and I wasn't completely happy with that. I feel like, in hindsight, I didn't do enough homework. So today I want to analyze the math just a bit.

At the start of the first session, all Aspects are rated at 1. New Aspects added mid-session are rated at zero. Once per session, you can advance one Aspect by +1. As a result, the information relevant to your first session (all the sessions in a one-shot) is pretty simple to calculate.

DifficultyChance with Aspect 0Chance with Aspect 1Chance with Aspect 2
0 (Easy) 63% 85% 96%
1 (Average) 37% 63% 85%
2 (Tricky) 15% 37% 63%
3 (Hard) 4% 15% 37%
4 (Flawless) 0% 4% 15%
5 (Masterpiece) 0% 0% 4%
6 (Nigh Impossible) 0% 0% 0%
  • In the first session of a campaign, Nigh Impossible really is Impossible. No problem there, and no big surprise either.
  • Average tasks are very likely to be a success if it's inside one of your character's specialties, but more than likely a failure if it's an improvised level 0 trait.
  • Now I understand why raising a trait from 0 to 1 costs 3 Tokens, but raising it from 1 to 2 only costs 2 Tokens. The power jump from level 0 to level 1 is pretty huge.
  • I like that starting characters have very good odds at succeeding at things they're good at. (That same notion is probably the thing I like most about Savage Worlds, as well.) I want to be able to play a Hero right out the gate - I'm not a big fan of "1st level" in D&D (versions 0 to 3.5), for example.
  • I am not so fond of the notion that you'll fail at an average task if it's outside your original purview. Little worried this could encourage players to never try anything new. On the other hand, the consequences of failure are rarely very hideous in this system, so maybe that balances out. I'll have to run and play it more to say for certain.
  • All the more incentive to take advantage of the way character creation rewards being a Jack-of-All-Trades.
  • I hadn't realized last night just how steep the bell curve was, and neither did my players. They were spending Tokens much more slowly than I was handing them out, and I suspect if they'd seen this chart (which didn't exist then) they would have been a bit more active with the chips. We were all assuming that it was always worth taking an action if the difficulty is 1 above your aspect. Considering the math, it's way better to spend another Token or two. You really want to be rolling against difficulties 1 below your Aspect whenever possible.
Last night, I'd felt like I was giving out too many Tokens, and at the end of the session everyone still had a handful. Now I know that I was giving out the right amount of Tokens, I just wasn't setting my pre-Token difficulties high enough. I think once everyone has grown comfortable with the system, F# will be almost diceless. There'll be a lot of back-and-forth as Tokens change hands and cool ideas get rewarded, and the characters will finally roll when the odds are really in their favor. You want (or at least I want) the Tokens flowing like water.

Will I use F# again?
Yes, definitely, and those future games of it will be better balanced than the awesome one-shot I just ran. Will F# replace all other RPGs for me? No, but I will be more likely to run F# than Risus, InSpectres, d6 System, or probably Savage Worlds. F# is really good at doing stylish narrative games, and lends itself well to games cerebral, pulpish, or humorous. It's an excellent system for any setting where character death is rare, provided you're okay with the hefty amounts of narrative control the players will have (and I generally am okay with that). I think I'll be hauling the fudge dice and poker chips to one-shot night fairly often.


Bill Burdick said...

Did you use chaining?

r_b_bergstrom said...

No. I wanted to get a feel for the system in action before trying out the bells and whistles.