Design notes: Escalation

One of the things I like most about Amazing Tales is the way quite simple activities can rapidly get more and more dramatic, until being resolved. It’s kind of an alternative approach to the ‘fail forward’ discussion. More a ‘fail big’ mechanic. When a hero fails a roll, things have to get worse. You can never ‘just fail’.

I mean, how bad can it possibly get?

The first few times I tested Amazing Heroes I felt some of the energy that I got playing Amazing Tales wasn’t there. Despite the simple mechanics things seemed to be slowed down. It took a while, but eventually I realised what was going wrong.

I wasn’t escalating situations when heroes failed their rolls.

I was too busy giving them conditions – a new, and persistent penalty for failure, and trying to stick to a more serious tone – we were playtesting a gritty setting at the time. And the result was that I was just letting failures be failures.

Once I realised this I came up with a new bit of guidance for GMs, and made myself stick to it. “Do the escalation first”. You can handle the mechanics later, but the most important thing is to make the situation worse.

And this is still, at it’s heart, a straightforward game. However bad things get the heroes are usually just one good roll away from being back on top of things – that’s not always the case with big bads, but that’s a discussion for another day. So that dynamic of things get worse, and maybe worse again, and maybe even worse again before suddenly the hero pulls through and solves the problem in a burst of awesomeness is still there.

Did it work? Absolutely. Making sure I escalated things whenever the players rolled badly, and threw the action back to them quickly as a ‘what do you do’ choice brought the energy and pace back to the game.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about conditions, in a section I think of as ‘No, there are still no hit points in this game…”

Amazing Heroes is backing now on Kickstarter. Find it here.

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