Creating uncertainty without randomizers

You might consider checking out Undying, by Paul Riddle; it’s a game about very political vampires. The only resource in the game is Blood, which you use for all kinds of stuff, like performing acts of super strength or coercing a mortal. More human (less monstrous) vampires have a lower maximum blood, while more bestial vampires can hold more maximum blood, but will cause more damage to mortals.

The most important use for Blood, though, is in combat: when you fight, you secretly bet Blood against another. Whichever vampire bets more Blood wins the fight, but both sides exhaust however much they spent; the amount of Blood everyone has is open, generally, so it means that lower-ranking vampires are always on the lookout for higher-ranked vampires to take down.

The game ends up with a lot of complicated mind-games and diplomatic deal-making, as you try to broker alliances to ensure you won’t end up dead in an alleyway if you have to spend any Blood. Vampires can team up, so if you have an ally to defend you, you can almost certainly win a fight.

Very fun game, very uncertain at all times, but no dice.

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Yes, thanks – Undying is actually the main inspiration for the game I’ve been working on! :slight_smile: I’d rip off that bidding mechanic wholesale if it made sense for my game, but I’m not sure it does; it seems to fit best in a game with PVP elements, where the GM tracks every NPC’s blood pool separately. In a game with a more traditional “party” of players, potentially larger groups of NPC antagonists, and enemies who aren’t necessarily a recurring political presence, I fear tracking tokens this way would get unwieldy.

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I haven’t played it in years, but Amber is the grandaddy of them all in this respect, and it works just fine. The key to its success chess is the huge variety of powers and abilities the characters, and their opponents can have.

There’s a very clear hierarchy of potency, so it’s rarely unclear what the outcome of a given exchange or clash in a contest should be. The problem is you never know how powers are going to be used, or exactly what powers NPCs have or can use. The unpredictability simply emerges from human imagination and ingenuity, and also the prices characters are willing to pay.

It’s hard to explain really, but Amber fundamentally changed the way I think about RPGs. It’s super highly recommended.

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