Games Need Diminishing Returns, Part II

At last, the long anticipated (or at least delayed) sequel to Games Need Diminishing Returns, Part I.

In Part I, I talked about the character creation aspect of diminishing returns, and how they can be a pressure to build a balanced character.  Now I’m going to talk about how game systems can utilize diminishing returns in gameplay, and why they should.

This mostly effects “with teeth” mechanics- those game systems that have some player oriented die mechanic that allows the players to spend a resource to give their character a boost.

When I was first designing the Reserve System, one could spend lots and lots of points on one action.  In a combat, the dominant strategy seemed to be blow all ones points on the first attack roll, getting a one shot kill, or at least enough damage to put ones opponent far enough into the death spiral to cripple them.

I could never figure out exactly what the problem was and how to solve it; a hard cap on the number of dice one could spend rankled me; I wanted people to be able to blow all their reserve points on one roll if they really wanted to, but it was too powerful.

Most such systems that have these factors either have very limited resources to spend, which makes spending all of them on one roll less of an auto-win, or they have limitations on how much can be spent.  These both work very well, but aren’t an option for all systems.

Let us turn to Shadowrun, particularly the third edition of the rules.  It has a mechanic called Karma, a pool that can be used (on a per adventure basis) to reroll failures, or add extra dice to a pool, among other things.  Adding one die costs 1 karma, adding two dice costs a total of 3, adding three dice costs a total of 6, and rerolls work similarly.

Sometimes, that expenditure is worth it, but it usually isn’t (its often worth it on the reroll option.)  But what is important here is the choice:  are dice on this roll worth spending more, and giving up more dice spread across multiple later rolls?  By asking that question, the game gives us a tactical hard choice.  And the hard choice, in many ways, is what gaming is all about.

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