Sunday, July 22, 2012

Whitebox: Focus

One thing I love about White Box is that it is very free form.  One thing I dislike about White Box is that it is very free form.  It can be difficult to adjudicate exactly what a special action should be, what the odds of success look like, and what the consequences of failure are.

Enter the Focus mechanic.  Focus is binary; you either have it, or you don't.  There is no tracking of "points" or anything other than "focused" vs. "not-focused."  It is a renewable resource, and characters can be expected to have it a few times each encounter.  Focus can be expended for one of several effects.

Gaining and Regaining Focus:  Characters roll 1d6 each round.  On a roll of 5-6 focus is regained.  Most characters do not begin combat with Focus.  Focus is binary:  characters either have it, or they don't.  Thus it is impossible to gain multiple "points" of Focus.

Maintaining Focus:  If Focused, characters gain +1 to hit and +2 to saving throws (only use this rule if "Quality" is not used).
DM Trick Option:  If this is too hard to keep track of, give all characters +1 to hit and +2 to saves, and impose penalties if unfocused.

NPCs and Focus:  Only significant NPCs with names or special monsters have Focus.  Henchmen do not have Focus but their lieges may expend Focus on their behalf.

Expending Focus - Crazy Stunts:  Characters expend Focus to try an unusual, risky, or non-standard maneuver and be assured of a reasonable chance of survival.  In general, when using Focus, the consequences of failure should be limited to a modest amount of damage (1d6, perhaps with a save to avoid), wasting the round, or so on.  The chances of success should also be reasonable, perhaps around a coin toss.
For example, say a character wants to vault out of a second story window onto a horse's back with the princess to make a daring escape.  Without Focus, there is obviously a risk of taking 2d6 or 3d6 damage if the attempt fails.  With Focus, the character should have a reasonable chance to succeed (perhaps 3 to 4 out of 6, +1 if they have high DEX) with failure resulting in but 1d6 damage (save for none).
Maybe a character wants to jury rig a zip line across a long lava-filled crevasse.  Normally failure would result in instant death.  With Focus, failure might mean that the character ends up clinging to the side of the cliff or burned from noxious vapors but not instantly dead.
 In another example, a character may want to slide down a banister, vault onto a chandelier, and strike someone across the room with a sword in a dramatic display of swashbucklery.  Obviously a strict reading of the rules makes it tough to adjudicate this and success is very unlikely.  With expenditure of Focus, the DM should assign a reasonable probability of success and just say that the attack misses and the character swings around helplessly clinging to the chandelier if the attempt fails.
Expending Focus - Tactical Bonuses:  The intent for Focus is to allow players to try new and exciting things and take risks, not just to gain simple mechanical bonuses, but some groups may opt to use Focus for a slight increase in tactical flexibility and options.

In more conventional uses, characters might claim a small bonus to hit (no more than +2), a bonus to damage (roll twice and take best result), a bonus to AC for a round (+2), a bonus to saves for one round (+2), a bonus to grit and stamina (ignore 1 HP per HD damage for one round), or so on if it makes sense for the tactical situation and is narrated appropriately.  The list of appropriate "routine" uses is limited by the DM's discretion.

Optionally, focus is used by other sub-systems.

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