Optional Rule: Things Fall Apart

Hey all. There has been some discussion on the forums about weapon/tool degradation and sundering, and I now want to take a crack at it.

I’m about to start a game modelled thematically on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, which takes place in a multiverse that is falling apart at the seams: time is no longer strictly linear, space is heavily distorted, and weird beings are showing up with nefarious motives. Of particular interest to me is the inability of people to have a lasting impact on the world: there were once great civilizations, but for some reason, they died out, and the people who still live in this broken world are fighting against this meta-entropy.

SO. To represent the fact that the universe of my world is fighting against order and craft, I propose the optional rule:

Things Fall Apart: Whenever a player (or GM) tests a skill using a normal* tool or weapon and they roll EITHER all successes or all failures, roll a die of fate. On a 1, the weapon or tool breaks, and must either be repaired or replaced.

*normal means black-shade, non-superior quality

Some notes about this rule: I wanted to use both all failures or all successes to make sure that something could up and break from excessively powerful use as well as unskilled use. Things are far more likely to Fall Apart at lower skill levels, which makes sense. Also, there is a strategic advantage to using fate points, in that if you’ve rolled all successes, you can try to re-roll sixes in hopes of rolling a failure!

This rule could also make sense for anyone who wants to run a game where taking care of your possessions is important (like a wilderness-based story).

What do you guys think? Will it break the game instead of just my players’ stuff? wink wink

The skill kit rule is a slight variation of this. It simply adds the proviso: “each time after the first.”

Placing importance on technology is a great way to bring out the moods and themes of certain kinds of settings. I once did a steampunk hack for SotC to much the same effect. You won’t break the game, only enhance it. The goal of any RPG mechanic should be to showcase the desired setting, characters, and plot. So, no worries there!

That said…

I wouldn’t recommend you use this mechanic.

Firstly, if you want to emulate a setting where technology is unpredictable, it shouldn’t get more predictable the more skilled you are. Otherwise, this element of the setting will be mostly lost a couple of months into the campaign. You’d be better served by a mechanic that makes technology unpredictable for everybody no matter what your skill level. That way, this cool aspect of the setting will get showcased throughout your campaign.

Secondly, the chances of rolling all successes or all failures and then rolling a 1 on the DoF is actually extremely low once you hit exponent 3 or higher. At exponent 3, you’ll have about a 1% chance, if I’m not mistaken. At exponents 4 and higher, it’s less than a 0% chance. You need a mechanic that will ensure things will break somewhat regularly in your campaign, to give the players a reason to care about it and the characters a reason to worry. This ties back to my first point too. If you used your suggested mechanic, you’d end up with it coming into play only rarely in the beginning of the campaign, and then almost never later on.

The only strategic decision being made here is in deciding if the item is worth saving or not. After all, if you open-end a previously rolled 6, it’s not like you’d be risking even more failure. It’s a win-win situation. Either you roll a failure and save your item with the same number of successes as before, or your item breaks but your number of successes is increased. And of course, you’d still have to honor a succeeded roll, item breakage or not…

I would suggest using one of the three mechanics below:

Option 1: Use the rules for expendable tools to emulate breakage of any tools, as Luke suggested above. This would be the simplest mechanic, and would give a 16% chance of item breakage every time it is used. For increased sketchiness, enforce the DoF for all uses of the item, including the first!

To add a bit of strategic decision-making for the players, you could perhaps allow crafting tests to “add extra DoF’s” to the item. When you test for breakage, roll all the DoFs, with any 1’s rolled being permanently lost dice. Once you roll all 1’s, you’re out of dice, and the item is busted. I would make these crafting tests cost Resources though. Make it a decision worth thinking twice about!

Option 2: Use similar rules as for armor and shield breakage. Any time you use an item, any 1’s rolled are rerolled as a DoF to check if the item snaps. Use similar rules for run-of-the-mill and superior quality items. Note this would raise the chance of item breakage the more dice you roll, with a 2.7% chance of breakage per die rolled. You might want to allow players to “gamble” by choosing to roll fewer dice than their actual exponent – which would really add to the tense atmosphere – but make sure that the full exponent is used for calculation of tests for advancement. You could also hack in the “extra DoF” enhancements from above.

Option 3: Here’s a neat option I am borrowing from the shield breakage rules in the Conan RPG by Mongoose. Have items break when your roll exactly equals the Ob of the test. The chance of this happening varies wildly with every new situation, and will normally be quite high. Expect an awful lot of unpredictable technology! Also expect a whole lot of Fate points to be thrown around, as open-ending 6’s will be the best bet to avoid item breakage.

To spice things up, you might allow players to forsake a successful test by removing one of their successes and re-rolling it as a DoF. This saves the item from breaking unless the DoF rolls a 1. But the test now counts as failed! Now that’s a strategic decision worth pondering….

I don’t see why breaking gear means that “technology is unpredictable” in some sort of thematic way. Besides, doesn’t it make sense that more skilled people are less likely to misuse their tools and more likely to maintain them well? Wouldn’t that make the tools less likely to break?

Breaking gear doesn’t make the theme. It’s only an example of it. The theme of unpredictable technology is the goal, as the OP explained, and the mechanic should work towards that theme.

Absolutely. But what’s important here is that the desired theme is showcased through the mechanics. Contrary to popular belief, realism isn’t very important at all in RPG game design. Very few of Burning Wheel’s mechanics are realistic, except for the ones that directly serve the game’s complex themes. Even the advancement system itself is just a clever implementation of the “carrot on a stick” aspect of experience points common to most RPGs.

But even if it is desired to have higher skills give a lower chance of item breakage, the math is skewed, as I mentioned above. There’s almost no chance of item failure once you hit exponent 3, and on average, that’s just one advance beyond opening the skill up. And what about Beginner’s Luck? There should be a HIGHER chance of ruining your items when you don’t even have the skill required to use it.

I would recommend option 1 from my list above. The second one raises the odds the more dice you throw, and the third one is wildly unpredictable.

Hmmm… I just thought of a 4th option that would give the OP exactly what he wants, AND have the chance of item failure go down as skill exponents go up.

[HR][/HR]Option 4: When an item is used, you may have to roll a Die of Fate – or even multiple Dice of Fate – to see if the item breaks. If any of the DoF’s you rolled turn up a 1, the item is destroyed. Whether or not you have to roll the DoF and the number of DoF’s you have to roll depends on a combination of the quality of the item and the quality of your skill test, as follows:

# of Dice of Fate = the Margin of Failure of your test + the item’s Craftsmanship Modifier

Craftsmanship Modifiers (CM)

Poor Quality Item: CM +1
Run of the Mill Quality Item: CM -1
Superior Quality Item: CM -3

If your test’s MoF + the item’s CM equals zero or less, you need not roll the DoF at all. Also note that poor quality items require a single DoF to be rolled even if the test is succeeded!

[i]Example #1: I rolled 5 dice versus Ob 3, and turned up only 1 success. The Margin of Failure (MoF) is 2.
With a poor quality item, I would roll 3 DoF’s.
With a run of the mill quality item, I would roll 1 DoF.
With a superior quality item, I wouldn’t roll any DoF’s.

Example # 2: I rolled 9 dice versus Ob 6 and turned up 2 successes. The MoF is 4.
With a poor quality item, I would roll 5 DoF’s.
With a run of the mill quality item, I would roll 3 DoF’s.
With a superior quality item, I would roll 1 DoF.[/i]
There are a few cool things about this variant:

  1. The chance of the item breaking goes down as your skill exponent goes up, because your chance of failing average skill tests drops. However, you’ll still see seasoned characters risking item breakage fairly regularly, because higher exponent characters have a natural tendency to shoot for the higher Ob tests!

  2. It makes challenging tests very risky. You want to try something outrageous just to get that challenging test for advancement? If you want to ensure your item survives the test, it requires even more careful planning than normal, and most likely lots of Artha.

  3. If the GM finds the results are a little wonky, it doesn’t require removing the mechanic and inventing a brand new one. Just adjust the CM values to meet your expectations. You could make it [Poor +0 / RotM -2 / SQ -4] or +2/+1/+0, or whatever you like.

This is really just a variant of the regular rule for expendable tools, modified to make it less likely to happen for more highly-skilled characters.

By the way, I’m digging the new formatting bar in the forum. Very slick and fast. ^^


I quite like your 4th variant, and I think that’s going to be the route that I take. Something else that occurs to me about it is that it can scale with location (that is, if there’s a “purer” area of the world, I can make all the modifiers smaller, or in a more chaotic area they could be larger). Thanks a lot for the thoughts!

That’s a cool idea. You probably wouldn’t have to rewrite the CM’s for these “pure zones” either. Just give the zones themselves a CM that stacks with the items’ CMs. For example, “Ancient Temple, CM+4” or “Futuristic Lab, CM-3”. Stacked, that’d make items +5/+3/+1 and -2/-4/-6 respectively.