Optional Badness

edited December 2018 in Story Games
The most interesting idea that came up designing Hot Circle RPG was something I've been thinking of as "Optional Badness". The character has attributes that are negative in some situations, but the player is never forced to make that negative into a mechanical disadvantage. The player is just heavy-handedly bribed to do it instead.
There are several situations in the game where something that has been established about a player character could cause them problems and complications. The player is faced with a decision between ignoring the sub-optimal choice, or accepting it and complicating the situation. The player is awarded Fate Points when they make the sub-optimal choice.

The player is rewarded fate points immediately after:
Expressing a belief (stance) causes significant complications
Following an instinct causes significant complications
Expressing a trait causes significant complications
Helping a relationship causes significant complications
Using a hindering lifepath for an obstacle/ability test
Using a hindering trait/condition for an obstacle test
Accepting a compel from another player
In 90s point-buy systems the common design was for a character to take a flaw to get more points for other things. The relationship the player has with the character flaw is ignoring it and hoping that is never features in the story. This means the flaw adds nothing to the characterisation given by the player.

In the Burning Wheel there are examples of optional badness similar to those in the quote above like "[optional badness] causes significant complications" to recieve metacurrency. This is good and simple and features in several other games.

In HCRPG I take this concept and run with it. There is BW style optional badness reinforced by a stronger metacurrency-advancement loop:

- Make your character mechanically flawed to recieve metacurrency.
- Spend the metacurrency to do better on tests.
- Accumulate spent metacurrency to trigger advancement.

There are also new styles of optional badness introduced in HCRPG:

Failed tests cause consequences, for some tests these can be freeform conditions (injured, angry, exhausted) and in others these are tax (temporarily unable to use that kind of narrative edit again). In both cases, the player of the character can only remove that consequence by choosing to engage in optional badness. These are the cases of "using a hindering lifepath to clear tax" and "using a hindering condition to clear a condition" in the quote above.

To give an example, a character fails a test and recieves an injured condition. This condition has no mechanical effect, until the player chooses to have it negatively influence a future test. Only then can the condition be cleared. This is a fairly extreme example of optional badness. Why would the player ever choose to clear the condition if it has no mechanical effect?

This is solved by a Fate style Compel mechanic that also factors into the optional badness calculations the players make:
One player can Compel another to try to influence them into making an interesting but sub-optimal choice that would award fate points.
- Pay a fate point to compel someone.
- They accept and get your fate point plus the one they would have gotten anyway.
- Or they refuse and buy off the compel by spending a fate point.

This means that these sources of optional badness become big compel targets shining on the characters. The badness is still optional (whilst the player being compelled has fate points to defend themselves) but if they run out it is not. Compel interactions between players have conservation of badness. The player making the compel must have already engaged in optional badness to have metacurrency available to make the compel.

So the optional badness calculation for a player becomes, should I clear this condition now in a relatively lower stakes test, or keep it and potentially open myself up to a compel at the worst possible time?


I'm interested to discuss examples of optional badness found in other games. I think it's a really rich concept to mine. Have you seen it implemented in other ways? Do you think it can be introduced as an add-on into existing games? (Say for example in 5e something like allowing a healing surge after taking disadvantage on checks for being injured?)


  • edited December 2018
    Hello, I noticed the Conditions removing condition in Hot circle and I think it's good. I like the "real flawed human" correction mechanisms in general. They are like the levers for a giant mecha seen from the inside. They help you animate the character, which I enjoy.

    However I think their implementation is very dependent on the system.
    Putting a disadvantage mechanic on top of a system is really like tinkering the engine.

    I'd say if you want to put "optional badness" on top of something, it rather be mostly fiction. By mostly fiction I mean what 2097 called "affordance markers" stating "it's OK to punch here" (Compell, with or without Drama points to regulate negotiation). flagging with little numerical influence. The players can then interpret and adapt it to make it work in game. It is often enough : players know badness when they see it. If the Drama/Fate currency is too valuable, either it's central to the game, or it's gonna pull the focus, yanking the game in its direction. People will complain about players negotiating crumbs of it. Because it's hard to make a rule for managing degrees of narrative badness. When you set to it you're already in HP territory : off topic.

    One sort of optional narrative badness that I really like is : loaded questions. It's like in a game of truth or dare. I.e. the social context allows you to give in to badness, but if you don't feel like it, it's always you making the answer. Unilateral compel (eg : Drama-Fate points are this when you're bankrupt) is problematic for my playstyle because it makes people pull their punches and halfassedly buy in.

    "Declared badness" is possible, but I want to avoid it at all cost, except for a very tongue in cheek effect. One related example you probably know is "declared evil" : declare the paladin good and the orcs evil, you get baby orcs slaughtered in the crib. Another example with declared badness : Daredevil is blind. :rolleyes:

    Judged badness is much better in my opinion. In the end, badness is just a low stat score.
  • Great post DeReel! 2097 approved
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