A fan site for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game by Margaret Weis Productions
Heroic Role-Playing is a type of RPG often referred to as a narrative-driven game. Such games focus more on the storytelling and character development than on such game concerns as leveling up, keeping track of lots of obscure modifiers or generating character sheets that look like they are written in some obscure programming code from the early 1980’s.
One of Heroic’s cousins in the RPG narrative-driven genre is Fate Core. In that system, success and failure are not cut-and-dry. Like Heroic, they have failure, success and extraordinary success (which they call succeeding with style). However, they also have a neat little concept called Success With A Cost.
Success With A Cost (SWAC)
When a character in Fate Core rolls a failure, the player has the option to take the failure, or to succeed but with a cost. Something happens to make sure that although the character gets to succeed at his roll, he suffers a complication that (a) furthers the story and (b) provides a challenge to the character that he wouldn’t have otherwise suffered, often times making the success more trouble than it was worth.
Note that the cost doesn’t have to pertain directly to the roll in question. It just has to pertain indirectly to the character’s goals for the scene. Say your character is trying to diffuse a bomb inside a vault. The bomb is tied to a chair, and also tied to that chair is the bank manager. The vault door is open, so as to ensure that you can beat a hasty retreat if things go south. You fail your roll. The Watcher would normally say the bomb goes off, but you don’t want that, so you say you’d like to succeed with a cost. The Watcher smiles, saying that you manage to diffuse the bomb, but you set off a secondary trap. The vault door slams shut, and with a hiss a green gas begins drifting through the vault’s vents. You’d better figure a way out or you might just die from the poison.
Heroic doesn’t have a mechanic for Success With A Cost. I’d like to propose one.
If the player wants to implement Success With A Cost, he’s granting the Watcher an Opportunity after the fact. If the Watcher agrees to the SWAC, he surrenders a Plot Point to the player and adjusts his doom pool as usual. Instead of a failure, the roll is treated as a tie (so no Extraordinary Success is available) and then the Watcher gets to spend from his doom pool to dictate the cost (usually a new Scene Distinction). The cost gets applied immediately; the Watcher does not have to wait for his turn in combat to implement it.
Some may fear that SWAC could prove unbalancing and that players might abuse it, but I don’t see that as an issue. The point of the game is to tell a good story. If the character implements SWAC, it gives power to the Watcher to do something with an enhanced doom pool. The plot point and the doom pool growth balance. This is just another way to implement an opportunity and move the story forward in a creative way.
Watchers just need to remember that this is called “success with a cost”; don’t let players get a free success with no penalty. Use the boost in the doom pool to ensure that the resulting “success” produces a new situation as bad as or worse than failure would have been from the character’s point of view. Split the party, spring a new villain on the heroes, end the scene on a devastating twist in the plot (such as the villain escaping after revealing that he’s abducted an important NPC; the players will have to wait until a future Action Scene to rescue the NPC, and that NPC was vital to the players’ next move). Just remember that whatever you do, make sure that the players then have the opportunity to overcome this new cost, this wrinkle.
Players, feel free to make suggestions as to what the cost could be. Own the experience; these are your characters, and you can and should negotiate with the Watcher as to what cost would best serve the story.
I like what you’re trying to construct here. I’ve heard of the mechanism under other systems and it seems to be a natural way to create interesting narrative flows. However, I’m having a little trouble with your implementation.
First off, there’s already the Automatic Success mechanic (OM55) that gives you a way to pay a PP to succeed. An alternative automatic success mechanic needs to be similar in cost to this or one of them will never get used.
Second, the Watcher doesn’t have turns in the combat order. They can spend a Doom Die to create a new Scene Distinction or other scene trait anytime it’s appropriate for the narrative (OM17), so you’re not really giving up anything there.
Third, this is typically going to be a PC action lost to the reaction of the Doom Pool or a Watcher Character, which means the Watcher already has an effect die teed up to inflict upon the PC, they just need to spend a Doom Die to counter-attack. So it seems like adding a mechanic that calls for the Watcher to use a Doom Die to create another effect is needlessly complicating the sequence.
Lastly, what if the Watcher’s roll had extraordinary successes? This mechanic would allow the PC to just take a PP to succeed with a tie and avoid the consequences of the Watcher’s stepped-up effect die. The Watcher gets a Doom Die and a chance to inflict an effect, but they had that anyway because they won the roll. There’s a lot of advantages for the PC in this mechanic, and it just seems that in practice it will work out to success “with an extra PP” rather than “at a cost”.
My suggestion for this would be to do something simpler that takes advantage of all the mechanics that are already in play at that point. I fail the roll and declare I want to SWAC. My action succeeds, but the Watcher gets to use their winning effect die for free, or gets to step it up, or gets to keep a second effect die, or something along those lines.
Perhaps this needs to be looked at the way other systems handle similar situations. Mouse Guard, for example, does this. You succeed at your task, but the consequences of that task leave you with what would be (in MHRP), a complication or stress. In the example listed above, perhaps you successfully defuse the bomb, but the poison gas hurts the hero by giving him physical stress or a ‘Poisoned’ Complication equal to the Doom Pool’s Effect Die for the following Action Scene. I wouldn’t charge a PP for that, since the cost is covered by taking the stress/complication. I guess that’s similar to what you say in the last paragraph.
That’s just an idea. I would assume this is the sort of thing a hero would use if they were out of PP to spend on an automatic success, assuming the Watcher allowed it in the first place.
SWAC can be done simpler in MHR. If you successfully make your roll but your effect die is lower, that should be a SWAC, imo. You defuse the bomb’s timer but it still can be blown remotely. You dodge the blast but now you have no cover. You hear the conversation but it’s in another language you don’t understand. I think your way is really too complicated when it doesn’t need to be.