Friday, July 20, 2012

Whitebox: Tempo & Milestones


The purpose of "tempo" is to provide the basis for further subsystems which will ultimately replace Vancian-style magic.  It is specifically designed to offer more options and resource management for advanced players but to provide equal power levels for newer or less skilled players.

Tempo: Tempo measures the sophistication of a character's "bag of tricks." In general, new players (i.e., beginners) should start with low tempo scores ("slow fuses" or "low nova"). Advanced players should begin with moderate to high tempo ("fast fuse" or "super-nova").  You can think of it as the character's "metabolism" or pace.  Neither a fast (high) or slow (low) tempo is not necessarily strictly better or worse.  Low tempos will actually get more resources/special opportunities over the course of a full quest.  Choose one of the following ways to implement this score.

Action Points:  A generic mechanic which can be used with baseline White Box rules (or just about any other D&D system)


Tempo as a Derivative of Intelligence (w/ Advanced Group): Utilize the character's Intelligence score for Tempo. Convert the 3-18 INT score to a modifier per the following conversions: 0-1 (1), 3-5 (2), 6-8 (3), 9-12 (4), 13-15 (5), 16-18 (6), 19-21 (7). Using this option, the DM should consider allowing Intelligence scores to be increased over the course of the campaign or supplying items which increase the derived Technique attribute as player skill improves.
VARIANT (WIS FOR MU):  DMs may want to consider using WIS to determine "Tempo" for Magic Users, as INT is already important for them.  This is to spread out the importance of different ability scores.
VARIANT (DEX/CHA/CON):  DMs may want to select one of the non-class related scores such as CHA, DEX, or CON so as to avoid giving any class a built-in advantage.   These scores already tend to be relatively important for all characters, however. 
PROs:  Uses existing ability scores, turns INT into more than a dump stat
CONs:  Random, which means that technique score may not map nicely to player skill; magic-users have built in advantage unless variant is used.

Tempo as a function of Level (w/ Basic Group):  The Character's Tempo score equals their level (maximum of 7).  If the campaign will proceed to higher levels, consider spreading out technique increases to scale smoothly with level.
PROs:  Simple, allows character complexity to grow with player skill over a campaign
CONs:  Forces advanced players to go at slower pace with new players; all characters have similar resource expenditure curves and resource management issues/capabilities
Tempo as a unique and player-chosen attribute (w/ Mixed Group):  Allow the player to select a Tempo score, which is its own separate ability score.  New players should start with lower scores (ex, 2).  Experienced players should start with higher scores (ex, 6).  Players with moderate experience should begin with a moderate score (ex, 4).VARIANT (ROLL):  Add a new score and determine technique randomly.  Allow new players to decrease it, or experienced players to increase it.

PROs:  All tempo scores are theoretically equal in power so this gives players the ability to play the style of resource management they enjoy. 
CONs:  May not feel "old school," adds another attribute/ability score to the traditional "Big Six."


Starting a Quest.  At the start of each quest or adventure, the character gains a number of Action Points equal to their Tempo score.

  • Carry Over:  Points cannot be carried over from a previous adventure or quest.  Excess points from previous quests are lost.
  • Henchmen:  Subtract "1" from this initial pool of points for every Henchman (but not "red shirt" hireling) in the character's employ who is actively engaged in the adventure.

Gaining Action Points.  Action Points are gained at Milestones.  At a milestone, each player rolls 1d6.  If the die is equal to or greater than the tempo score, the character gains +1 Action Point.  The DM should allow around 8+/-2 milestones over the course of a typical adventure.
Behind the Scenes:  After the sixth milestone, all characters can expect to have gained 7 total Action Points.  This is the "breakeven point."  If there are fewer milestones than six, then high tempo characters have a double advantage over low tempo characters (they get more points and get them sooner).  At 8 milestones, a tempo 2 character can expect to have almost 9 action points, a tempo 4 character will have 8, and a tempo 6-7 character 7 points.  At 10 milestones, tempo 1-2 characters can expect to gain about 2.66 more Action Points over the course of the adventure than their tempo 6 counterparts, which is the largest spread likely advisable.

  • Traditional Approach:  The simplest way to award milestones in a traditional campaign is to treat each night of rest when spellcasters recover spells as a milestone for all characters.  In this case, the DM can expect each quest to take 1-2 weeks, and characters to undertake around 1-2 intense combat encounters per day (i.e. short adventuring days).  This is not unlike traditional white box; a low to mid level party with but a handful of spells and very limited HP does not lend itself to long adventuring days!
  • Story-Based Game:  Many DMs and groups want a faster moving game driven by a story or plot arc.  In that case, the DM should provide milestones as rewards for achieving objectives along the way to a quest goal.  In a story-driven game, the DM could break each quest arc into two or three acts, and provide around 3 milestones per act (1d6-1 milestones per act for 3 acts, 1d6 milestones per act for 2 acts).  That likely means one milestone for every scene or two.  An act is likely equivalent to a typical gaming session.
  • Hybrid:  A hybrid approach would be to award milestones for achieving signifcant plot objectives, for a full day of rest in the field or a night of rest in an inn, or as part of treasure/loot rewards.


In the simplest variant, characters expend an action point to reroll any die roll.

DMs may also allow a character to expend an action point to gain a +1 bonus to saves, AC, hit, or damage. This benefit lasts until the next milestone.

The D20 SRD gives a list of ideas which are generally appropriate if the DM desires expanded choices for action point usage.  Further sub-systems will give ideas for how to use Action Points.

NPCs and Action Points

Generally monsters do not have Action Points or use Milestones.  At the DM's option, certain "elite" NPCs (generally those with names) may have a limited number of action points available for use.  PCs should be able to expend Action Points on behalf of henchmen, but henchmen do not gain their own repository of points.

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