Designer Diary: Quick Draw

I ran Disaster Strikes! at Furnace last weekend, and it was pretty successful. I used a new mechanic for the first time – the disaster pool. But before I can explain how that went, I need to talk about Quick Draw, the conflict resolution system I’ve been using for DS!

We at Black Armada have been planning to release a “generic” conflict resolution system which we can use with our games, and QD is our first attempt at this. It’s still somewhat in development, but I’ve been testing it with DS! because it seems to fit the game pretty well.

QD works in a similar way to many conflict resolution systems in that you say what you’re trying to achieve, identify the stakes of the conflict (i.e. what happens when you win, what happens if you lose), work out which of your character’s stats apply and then set a difficulty number. In most games you’d then go to the dice, but as the name implies, QD uses cards instead.

The player who is taking the action draws 3 cards, and the GM (so far it’s only been used with games that have a GM) draws 1 card. The player reveals his best card and adds it to whatever stats are in use, while the GM reveals her card and adds it to the difficulty number. High number wins, player wins ties.

What makes the system interesting is how face cards are handled. Forgetting Aces for the moment (Aces are special), face cards count as 5-point cards for purposes of working out the results of a draw. However, face cards can be played after other cards have been revealed as described above, to add a +5 bonus to the player’s side. Naturally, having a face card dramatically increases your chance of success.

However, in addition, playing a face card generates a consequence of some kind. The consequence is usually decided by the GM, and is generally something that the character on the receiving end will not like. It’s against the rules to overturn the outcome of the card draw (i.e. the stakes as agreed above), so consequences tend to mean a new event of some kind, which might or might not be related to the current action. Kind of like Leverage, this means that conflicts often generate spiralling sets of complications.

For DS! this is a nice property for a system to have, because it reinforces the sense that the disaster is raging out of control. The GM can use complications to activate aspects of the disaster in an unpredictable way, so that a seemingly straightforward challenge can turn into a cascade of pain. The Furnace session saw the protagonists hurdling rivers of fire only to be struck by an out-of-control rollercoaster train with a zombie on it, carried by the momentum to the ticket stands where a horde of zombies began pouring through the turnstiles, and so on.

The downside, though, is that it’s a lot of work for the GM to come up with consequences. When the players are firing on all cylinders as well, this isn’t too bad – the GM can take suggestions and avoid running out of ideas. But there can be fairly long moments where the GM is all “what the heck do I do now?”. This is especially a problem when multiple consequences come up in a single turn. Which happens more than you might think.

I haven’t yet figured out quite how to get around this problem. Maybe it isn’t a problem at all – it generates creative challenges for the group, and I don’t think I’ve ever found it literally impossible to come up with something. But I’m wondering if there’s a way to avoid breaking the action while the GM thinks of a consequence.

Next up: suits, player-generated conequences, and the disaster pool.

Josh Fox

Rabalias grew up wanting to be a pirate. But a band of evil bureaucrats kidnapped him and forced him to work for The Man. Even so, Rabalias was patient and cunning. He escaped by gnawing his way through the walls of his prison and concealing the hole behind a picture of cthulhu. He fled to the coast, and stowed away on the Black Armada, where he worked his way up to the rank of Admiral.

2 thoughts to “Designer Diary: Quick Draw”

  1. How about the option to take that face card from the player and stash it, only to play it back at them at a later stage? Perhaps it has a different effect than just giving the GM a +5 bonus.

    The stashing will take the face cards out of circulation, and might be nice for upping the paranoia.

    NIce idea for a mechanic, anyway.

    1. Yeah, saving a card up your sleeve is definitely an option (and one I have used, despite the fact that RAW you can’t). But the more you save it, the more it feels like “couldn’t I just have sprung a dramatic event on them anyway?” – it’s the fact that the dramatic event is being played into an existing conflict that makes it different from the normal run of GM-created stuff.

      Upping the paranoia, though, is definitely something I’m interested in – as the disaster pool article will reveal.

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