Monday 27 August 2018

Three Ways to Solve Resource Tracking

Resource management can be a real fucking drag.
I'm going to call out the biggest potential drags here:


The trifecta of trackables. Mundane, cheap, and not that heavy. Often handwaved or forgotten.
Luckily they represent three different ways of handling resources in my game!

Prepper culture is essentially adventurers prepping for a dungeoncrawl that'll never come

But first!

Some game design theory around resource management.

Resource management has come up a fair amount lately in the OSR, which is of course what triggered this post.
DIY & Dragons has a two-parter on resource management -- Part 1 and Part 2
Followed up by Scones Alone in this post.
And followed up in turn by DIY & Dragons again in this post.

Read up if you haven't already, but I'll summarise where I'm coming from:

- I like the idea of tracking mundane resources.
- I want it to be easy.


There are two main ways a resource can be used up.
Drain or Use.

Drain is when they tick down over time. Usually these are the mundane things.
At the end of the day, mark off a ration. After an hour, light a new torch. Tick tick tick. They drain away.

Use is when you make the active decision to use them up. Throw oil bomb to set a thing on fire! Drink a potion to get a magic effect! Read a scroll to cast a spell! Throw torch in pit to see how deep it goes!

In essence, "This is constantly dwindled to prevent a bad thing" vs "You can choose to use this for a Cool Thing."

Resources that drain are the ones that are boring to track and easy to forget if they're left solely to the player to manage.
I've never seen a player complain that they've got to keep track of three different potions, but I had players forget to mark off rations and ammo and stuff all the time.

These Rations for RPG Races are great if you haven't seen them!


Solution A: Give an active use.

The troubling fact about rations in my game is that they're cheap and trivially acquired for any party that's gone on at least one adventure. As long as you're not on a long long road trip through the uncharted wilderness (a situation that's literally never come up in my game in over half a decade), they're not an interesting resource drain.

So I flipped it from a drain to an actively used resource.

There are two main uses for rations in my game:
- Heal in a dungeon
- Heal fast overnight

My players think about food a lot, and track it individually. It's the primary healing mechanic so of course it's important!
This is even before the new cooking subsystem which has made at least one player start tracking Standard Rations in close detail.

In practice this means that rations are a dungeon crawl resource replenished between delves. Run out of rations mid-crawl and you run out of easy healing, spend rations on the surface to get back down there as soon as possible.

Food tracking: SOLVED!!


Solution B: Procedural tracking.

Players gain no advantage from remembering to track light sources.
That's the simple fact. Even if they're not doing it maliciously, the only reason for a player to track light is out of a sense of fairness.
So as with anything that sucks for the player, it's up to the DM to make sure it's enforced!

Trouble is, tracking light is kind of boring overhead and takes up valuable mental load.

My solution, courtesy of a primordial version of Necropraxis' Hazard System, is to track light on the encounter roll.

Torches burn out after two Torch Burnout results.
Lanterns burn out after four Lantern Burnout results.

The main advantage of this, for me, is that it becomes part of the normal procedure of play. 
It's not extra mental overhead to track, it's part of primary dungeon timer mechanic - random encounters.
This also introduces a level of randomness to light sources which I think works. Torches don't all last exactly an hour, fire isn't quite so predictable.

Light tracking: SOLVED!!


Solution C: Ignore it

"Hey what? I thought this was meant to be solutions!" I hear you say.
Ignoring it is a solution my friend. Tracking normal ammo is the worst.
It feels like it should be important, but in practice it's really not.
It feels like it should be interesting to run out of ammo, but in practice it's not either. You just stab instead, or get creative with random junk in your inventory.

My players simply don't make that many ranged attacks - they avoid combat if possible, shooting into melee has a high risk of hitting a friend, and most of them have firearms that take too long to reload mid-fight.
I even tracked ammo with a Usage Die for a few years and nobody ever got low enough on ammo for it to matter. C'est le jeu.

So - just ignore it. A few ranged attacks per session isn't enough to worry about really.
Having a quiver or ammo bag or whatever has an encumbrance penalty, so there's a small but notable downside to having a ranged weapon already. It's fine.

Ammo tracking: IGNORED!!


So there you have it - three different ways to solve resource tracking.

A: Give it an active use.
Make it important enough to track actively, just like potions and spells and HP and all the rest.

B: Procedural tracking.
Track it through a game mechanic, ideally rolling it into some other procedural thing you already do.

C: Ignore it.
If there's never any real risk of it running out, just don't bother.

Ammo 2: Bonus Spitballing

In writing this I was wondering if there was a better solution to ammunition.
Ignoring it is a fine solution but inherently fairly unsatisfying when you could be the first person to come up with a Rad New OSR Mechanic.

So there are two other options if I want to stop ignoring ammo - give it an active use, or procedural tracking.

A: Active use would be the obvious one. Rather than spend an ammo to make a ranged attack, why not spend an ammo to give that ranged attack a boost?
So like:
Bow - Rapid Fire - Spend an ammo to roll damage twice and take the best.
Gun - Overcharge Round - Spend an ammo to deal exploding damage on evens.

But then this could be covered by magic ammo and trick arrows and such. Just give them the option to buy Overload Cartridges or Dum-Dum Arrows and they'll track them religiously.
Plus I already use Gambits for doing cool stuff with mundane attacks, making this concept unnecessary.

B: Procedural Tracking is the other side of the coin. Perhaps roll ammo depletion into the attack roll.
If rolling a 1 on an attack roll means you've run out of ammo, that works out to an average of 20 arrows per quiver which is bang on.
But then you run the risk of a real dumb situation where your first shot from a fresh quiver is also your last.

You could give each ranged weapon 3 Ammo Boxes and a Depletion Range, so a quiver of arrows checks off an Ammo Box on an attack roll of 1-3 and a bag of sling bullets only checks off an Ammo Box on a 1.

I'd definitely use this myself, only it doesn't solve the initial point that my players just don't make that many ranged attacks! 


A final note on encumbrance - writing this post has made me realise just how important encumbrance is as a limitation for mundane items like these.

There's no real limit to how much food, light and ammo a party can carry in the overworld. Any party that can afford a cart, a barrel of iron rations, and a pile of torches can park up next to a dungeon entrance and be set for weeks of delving.

The only limit is how much you're going to take into the dungeon with you. 
Are you going to be slow and prepared? Or are you going to travel fast and light? If you're wearing heavy armour are you willing to slow yourself further with bags of rations and jars of lamp oil?

Being slow means you face more encounter checks, so the feedback loop of resources-encumbrance-encounters is important if you want mundane resources to be an important choice.

Which is to say - if you handwave encumbrance and/or don't use random encounters there's no point tracking mundane resources. 
It seems obvious when I say it like that.