I’m really flighty with which project I’m working on can actually hold my attention. I bounce from one thing to the next, doing surface level work until something grabs me and won’t let go.
Recently, I got it in my head to go back to two of my previously released games, and think about what I would do differently if I made them again: Corvid Court and Seasons.
Corvid Court and Seasons are two games about crime (I made a lot of games about crime in my earliest days), set in weird cities, centered around strange people. The other thing they share in common is they both use a reduced version of the Resistance System, created by Grant Howitt and Chris Taylor, and made popular first in their game Spire, and then later in Heart.
I really enjoy the Resistance System. The art is the first thing that grabbed me about Spire, then the premise, and then I actually read the rules and was hooked. It’s probably my favorite system that uses skills, the use of stress as a universal resource, and of course the wild abilities the characters have access to. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As I start thinking about how to update CC & Seasons, I thought I’d take a look at the Resistance System again, more closely. This is the first part of a series of posts that will be my journey talking about the roses and thorns of this wonderful system, how I’ve used it in the past, and how I’m going to use it in the future. Let’s get started.
What Is The System?
Probably a good place to start. If you’re not familiar, the best thing you can do is go read Spire. It was the first game that used the Resistance System, and it’s sort of the touchstone the Resistance Toolkit repeatedly calls on. Heart also runs on Resistance, but is a modified version of it. You should check out all three of these if you want to really get a feel for the system.
Spire first, to see it in action as it was originally intended. Then the Resistance Toolkit to see what Grant and Christ thought the system could do (and a really helpful tool for my own design). Finally, look at Heart to see the changes they made to fit the tone and themes of that game.
Today’s post is going to focus on the core mechanic of the Resistance System (aka how do you roll dice).
Resistance games use a dice pool system, where you assemble a pool of dice, roll them all up, and use the highest value to determine your success. Like many other games, the system uses ranges of success instead of a binary success/failure.
Let’s breakdown those two components: assembling a dice pool, and determining the outcome.
Where do these dice come from? Resistance games use d10s by default. You get one just for attempting something. The next steps come from your characters Skills & Domains. We’ll talk more about those in a future post, but essentially if your character is good at a thing that would help (Skill), and/or has some expertise in an area that’s relevant (Domain), you have a better chance of success. Add a d10 for each of those, and you’ve got your dice pool.
(Ok, you can technically get a little bit more from knacks and weapons and other things, but that’s something for later).
What does the outcome of a roll look like? Well, it’s still a matter of success and failure, but with the complication of Stress being added. I’m going to do a whole post about stress later on, but it sits at the core of the rolling mechanic. Not only will your character succeed or fail, but they will likely take on some stress from simply attempting whatever it is they are doing. Success while taking on stress is a fairly common outcome when rolling in a Resistance game, and that’s super important. Your character can’t just keep rolling again and again, they will eventually break.
Which leads us to the last part of a roll. That’s right, we’re not done. The last step, after determining the outcome of your attempted action, is to see if your character suffers Fallout. Fallout is a terrible complication that your character can suffer, and its linked to stress. Again, I’ll talk about those two in greater detail in the next post, but here are the basics.
The GM makes a check to see if you’ve accumulated too much stress. They make a roll (what that looks like differs based on which game you’re reading), and compare it against your current Stress. If you’ve built up too much Stress, the roll probably won’t go your way, and you get a Fallout thrown your way. The GM decides what that looks like, throws it at you, and play moves on.
Roses & Thorns of Rolling
Rolling is my most complicated relationship with the Resistance System. In some ways I love it, and in others I’m looking longingly at other systems doing what I wish this one would do.
Let’s talk love and roses first. I know some folks are iffy on skill systems in games, and I understand that. Personally, I dig them, but their ability to limit what a character can do can be a frustration. I think that the Resistance System overcomes this with the added component of Domains.
You see, each time it’s time to roll, you and the GM have a little discussion. What are you trying to accomplish, what skill seems most appropriate? Pretty basic stuff, we see it a lot in games. After some discussion, if it isn’t obvious, you decide if you get that extra die because of the elected Skill. But, the next step is so important.
Does your character have any background, knowledge, expertise, etc. that might be related to what you’re trying to accomplish. Enter the Domain. My favorite example comes from Spire. You might be a completely shit fighter, and so don’t have the Skill you need to effectively take on this opponent in front of you. But, you are a big ass nerd, and this fight is taking place in a library, and so your Academia Domain gets you that extra d10.
I love love love this. Games like this oftentimes have a big of negotiation in how a dice pool is assembled (see Blades in the Dark as another example). And while we can discuss which Skill is being used to a certain extent, the fun comes in assembling the pool by tying in the Domain component. Characters can increase their chances of success, and maybe holding back some of that dreaded Stress, if they act in the realms of their expertise.
So what are the thorns? In my opinion (and let me emphasize that again, this is my opinion), a roll just takes way too long. If you’ve read any of my games, you know I like quick play. And a roll in Spire/Resistance games is just too many steps:
- Describe what you want to do
- Determine which Skill is relevant
- Determine which Domain is relevant
- Add in other modifiers (I didn’t even cover this in this post)
- Roll and determine the outcome (success and stress)
- Mark any Stress
- GM rolls to determine if there is a fallout. If there is, decide what it is.
- Finally, describe what happens, advancing the scene
You might argue we can combine some of those steps, but it’s still too many steps! And truly, the problem comes from those last two steps. Because a roll is never just one roll, but two. The GM has to roll to see if you’ve got any Fallout coming your way every single time you roll. So a roll is really two rolls, two checks, before you decide what happens.
This complicates things, because not only does the GM need to decide what kind of complication happens in the scene after you inevitably mark Stress, but if you also get Fallout, they need to decide what that looks like as well.
So, what can be done about it? Well, what I ended up doing is incorporating the Fallout check into the player’s roll. I didn’t want to remove Fallout, because I agree with Grant and Chris when they say that Fallout is something that players eventually seek out because they love a good complication.
When a player rolls in CC or Seasons, they assemble their pool based on Skills & Domains, just as the system calls for. And then they roll.
Fallout is determined in that roll. If the highest die rolled is less than or equal your current Stress, you suffer fallout. Here’s the beautiful thing, you’re already looking for that highest die, right? It’s how you’re determining the outcome of your roll. So you’re on the lookout for that die anyway, why not use it to decide Fallout immediately, instead of adding another roll?
Check that value against the resistance stress you’ve already established in related to the roll, and boom, you have an instant decision on Fallout.
This keeps a roll to just one roll, doesn’t involve the GM in any rolling, and doesn’t add any extra layers to a roll that weren’t there already. That second point is one I want to emphasize too. GMs don’t really roll much in Resistance games, except for when determining Fallout. If we want to emphasize the idea that the fiction is determined through player rolls, they should be the ones rolling, instead of bringing the GM for this one check.
So that’s how I tuned the core mechanic to fit my needs for faster gameplay. I don’t think that this is inherently better, just more in line with how I like my games to run! I totally understand players getting into that tense moment of watching the GM roll to determine their Fallout fate, it’s just not for me.
One last point I’ll note here. You aren’t supposed to be a rolling machine in Resistance games. You don’t roll a ton, and when you do, it should meaningfully move the game forward. That means it’s totally ok for the system to take its time and really chew on a roll, it makes sense with the games that use it officially (Spire & Heart).
So yeah, I’m just an impatient person and want one roll instead of two. It’s how I like my Resistance games to run, and how I started changing the system to better fit my games Corvid Court and Seasons.
That wraps up Part 1 of this series on the Resistance System (whew it was a long post). In the next post I’ll be talking about Stress and Fallout. Hope you’ve enjoyed this, let me know what you think about the proposed roll change.