Thursday, September 16, 2021

Zen and the Art of Triage: Revised Objectives for UA3

This idea is only half-formed, so expect a small amount of brainstorming, especially toward the end.

One of the major innovations in third edition Unknown Armies is the Objective system. It's both a method by which the players can delineate their goals, while also giving everyone a countdown and a road map to fulfilling those goals. (In play, it acts a little like collaborative tools for scenario generation, a little like clocks in Powered by the Apocalypse and Forged in the Dark, and a little like a convenient quantitative method by which characters can fulfill their goals by improvised magick, which was notably lacking in previous editions but exists in the source material like Tim Powers' Fault Lines trilogy.)

However, while making and switching Objectives is relatively cheap and easy, anybody with a modicum of GM experience knows how players get about their character sheets: once you put something on a character sheet, players will do anything in their power to keep it, no matter how foolhardy. So, even if players turn out to be lukewarm about the Objective they've chosen, they will almost never abandon it, even if something more interesting comes along.

In essence: the Objective rules work as designed, but not as intended thanks to the sunk-cost fallacy.

(Plus, characters invariably accumulate personal goals, but in my personal experience, it's particularly rare for a player group to focus on such individual goals, so they just tend to languish in the background unless they are especially easy to adjudicate.)

Enter: Juggling Objectives

I haven't playtested these or even fully formed them, so I don't know how players will respond to them, but the jist is this: the Objective rules still largely work as described in Book Two: Run, with the exception that you can take on as many Objectives as you like. Your cabal is no longer limited to just one Objective. For the purposes of these rules, you are only considered to have additional Objectives if there are points in them. So, if you have "Assassinate the Mayor 56%" and just declared "Successfully cast How to Cut Off Your Own Head 0%" on your character sheet, you still technically only have one Objective. It's only when you increase "Successfully cast How to Cut Off Your Own Head" above 0% that you now have two.

(I don't quite know how to determine when a new Objective is declared, though. Can individual players determine a new Objective whenever they want? Should it be a simple majority? A unanimous declaration? My sense is that it should be a unanimous decision, just like regular Objectives, but different groups might be all about letting individual players determine their own goals without the intervention of the rest of the cabal.)

If you just have one Objective, the normal rules apply.

If you have more than one Objective, pay attention to which Objectives accomplished milestones this session. At the end of every session, if a given Objective is left untouched, it loses percentage points. (All others gain Objective points as described in Book Two.)

I haven't quite decided on the number. I figure either the Objectives lose 1d10+5 points (like a petty milestone), or roll a number of d5s equal to the number of Objectives minus one. (So, if your group is juggling four Objectives, you roll 3d5 and subtract that number from all inactive Objectives for the session.) The former is straightforward and mimics the rest of the extant Objective system, while the latter disincentivizes players from juggling too many Objectives simultaneously. (Rolling Xd5 is less of a penalty in the 2-4 Objective range, but becomes more likely to penalize the cabal at 5+ Objectives. If that seems too low, perhaps roll d10s instead. Again, I'm just noodling through an idea that still needs testing.)

You might want to try both and see how players respond to them.

If an Objective drops to zero points, it goes away. Of course, you can always re-declare it and try again, or just abandon it and continue on your way.

My sense is that this would encourage players to juggle one or two Objectives at any given time while also providing a method by which they can abandon Objectives that no longer suit their purposes without going through the rigmarole of declaring that they're abandoning an Objective. But it might just be additional bookkeeping or underutilized. In any case, if you try them, let me know how it goes!

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