Friday, 19 April 2013

Monitors: some like it hot 2

Dan's Dicepool Tracker

In a comment on my last post, Dan made this suggestion:

I think I'd lean towards a combination of the small pool tracker and the ultra simplified system at the end.

I'd define any environment as either Cold, Very Cold, Hot or Very Hot, and I'd have you lose HPs in Cold/Very Cold environments and gain them min Hot/Very Hot environments.

I'd also be inclined to keep a simple version of the Tracker system, but make it symmetrical (1-2 Very Cold, 3-4 Cold 5-6 Average 7-8 Optimal 9-10 too hot). I might also be inclined to use some kind of dice pool mechanic - like you roll a number of dice equal to the difference between your temperature and ambient, and you gain/lose a point of Heat for every 6 or something.

Well, let's take a look.

  • Reptiles have a capacity of 1-10 Heat Points.
  • Environments vary as Cold, Cool, Moderate, Warm and Hot. These are defined in relation to reptile body temperatures, and their effects on other species would have to be determined later. Each range equates to 2 Heat Points.
  • Freezing and Scorching environments represent intolerable cold and heat exceeding the scale.
  • Insulation has a rating representing a d10 score, arbitarily 5-10 for now.
  • At as-yet-undetermined intervals, you roll a number of dice equal to the difference between your temperature and ambient. For each die, if you roll equal to or under your insulation score nothing happens. If you exceed your insulation score then a point of heat is transferred.
  • If Heat Points are exhausted, the reptile becomes torpid.
  • If Heat Points would exceed 10, the reptile falls unconscious.
  • Specific heat sources and targeted basking modify the ambient temperature. Same for chiller cabinets and seeking shade.
  • There are specific bonuses and penalties for different body temperatures.

Tangent: shifting ranks

I have this idea of avoiding variable numerical bonuses and penalties, and instead shifting things in ranks. For example:

Xerxes is trying to pick the lock of a door. He's okay at lockpicking, but nothing special. He has plenty of time, a helpful electropick and is nice and warm. On the other hand, it's dark here and he's trying hard not to make any noise.

The D20 way to model this might be something like: +2 for electropick, +3 warmth bonus, -4 for poor light, roll an additional Stealth check. Perhaps the Stealth check would be replaced by noise as a consequence of failing the roll, or perhaps the GM would apply a -2 penalty for the care required to avoid noise. Maybe Xerxes could take 20 on the roll because of the plentiful time, but has to roll a Stealth check to see if he makes noise in the process. In Traveller, you might decrease the difficulty by extending the timeframe beforehand.

Basically the idea is that rather than having a series of different numbers to add and subtract, you just tot up bonuses versus penalties. So Xerxes would have two bonuses, plus a third for spending a heat point, and then two penalties, which means the difficulty is shifted down one rank overall, making it a Simple task which has some arbitrary overall modifier.

In the table below, for example, the numbers for skill/speed are not hard modifiers but a number of ranks. More on this in a more relevant post.

So here's a handy crib table with pretty colours (you can tell I'm proud of that).


Heat points Description Actions Skills/Speed Metabolism
0 Torpid N/A N/A No metabolism
1 Cold Major only -2 Slowed
3 Chilly Major + Minor -1 -
5 Moderate Major + Minor - -
7 Warm Major + 2 Minor +1 Increased
9 Hot Major + Minor - -
++ Heat Shocked N/A N/A Unconscious


Okay, time for some maths!


Average rolls equal or higher
Die number value
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
1 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1
2 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 2
3 0.3 0.6 0.9 1.2 1.5 1.8 2.1 2.4 2.7 3
4 0.4 0.8 1.2 1.6 2 2.4 2.8 3.2 3.6 4
5 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5 4 4.5 5


Doc Edna has basic Insulation 5 clothing, and manages to escape from the meat safe just in time - to find the building on fire. With a single Heat Point, she's Cold, while the building is Scorching.

  1. In the first interval, this gives a difference of 5 ranks, so she rolls 5d10. On average she will roll 2.5 over her insulation value, and gain 2.5 Heat Points, increasing to Chilly.
  2. In the second interval, it's 4 ranks difference, and 4d10. On average she'll gain 2 more Heat Points and become Moderate.
  3. In the third interval, it's 3 ranks and 3d10. She should roll another 1.5 Heat Points. At this stage she's gained 6 HPs and is now at a healthy 7, able to act with peak efficiency.
  4. At this point, it should take her two more intervals to reach 9 HPs and start overheating.
  5. Finally, she has four more intervals before she hits the limit, exceeds it and succumbs to heat shock.

This suggests an average of 7 intervals to move from Moderate to heat shock (or torpor - it's the same maths either way, of course). Honestly, that seems suitably generous to me even if it's once per turn. This is also with the lowest type of insulation, and with top-quality 9 Insulation clothes you could survive 37 turns in a furnace even if you start moderately warm. The maths may want some work, depending what kind of timescale I want, but I think the principle's fairly sound.

Something very nice about this is the way that the dice pool handles the probability effects of temperature differentials without feeling too clunky and mathematical. Of course, it also introduces an element of randomness that might be problematic at times; a bad set of rolls could shift you two or even three ranks in a single turn. However, I could work around that with some safety measures (a maximum HP change of 3 per turn, for example, would avoid too much bad luck).

Also worth bearing in mind is that only a small proportion of environments will be dangerously hot or cold; most will be Cold to Hot even when outside, so Monitors may find themselves struggling at times, but they're only occasionally risking collapse. So mostly you're working with differing levels of efficiency, nothing more. That being the case, I'm inclined to think that much lower numbers for insulation (1 for barely-clad, 3 for ordinary clothing, for example) would be perfectly acceptable. It really just depends on the timescales, as I said.

I think this system is probably streamlined enough to be worth trying. The metabolism aspects would only come in when drugs, poisons and healing are involved. Actions might not come in at all, depending how I end up doing that. Really, it's mostly about modifiers to skills and speed.


Die Tap

The complicated tap model I mentioned last time is a damp squib, but I have another one.

The die tap is a fairly simple halfway house between a spendable pool, tapping and Dan's idea.

  1. Environments are rated 0 (Freezing) to 6 (Scorching), while you can have 1-5 Heat Points and remain conscious.
  2. You can tap heat points from your hand to make tasks easier (changing the difficulty rank by one) either before or after attempting it (again, fun game, not hardcore)
  3. You can tap heat points outside your own turn, such as when reacting to an event, but they remain tapped until the end of your next turn.
  4. When your turn ends, untap the points and roll a die:
    1. if you roll over your insulation value, and the ambient temperature exceeds your hand, add a heat point to your hand
    2. if you roll over your insulation value, and your hand exceeds the ambient temperature, remove a heat point from your hand
  5. Specific sources of heat or cold may modify your hand out of turn.
  6. Specific events (such as special attacks) may modify your hand out of turn.

This system doesn't directly give penalties or bonuses based on body temperature. However, at higher body temperatures you'll have more points to modify your rolls, making you more effective. It has more of a brinksmanship element than other models, because having 5 Heat Points is optimal, and only occasionally a risky strategy - though if it does go wrong, it goes badly wrong.

Like most models, this does not immediately help with controlling general metabolism. However, the size of the body pool could modify metabolic effects if I do worry about that. The main strengths of this model, in general, are simplicity and turning body temperature into an active, choice-based mechanic. It also gives some hard predictability by limiting heat change to 1 per turn, barring things like a heat ray attack.

A disadvantage is that heat- and cold-based attacks could be very powerful in this system, and would need to be carefully... monitored, I suppose...


Flip Tap

A more complex version of the die tap. This is a loose version of that model I mentioned that didn't work. Dan's suggestion of using dice for insulation has really been helpful (although I haven't yet succumbed completely to the lure of the dicepool) - which you can probably tell from the fact that all three of these models use it.

  1. Environments are rated 0 (Freezing) to 6 (Scorching), while you can have 1-5 Heat Points and remain conscious.
  2. The flip tap uses points counters that might as well be actual pennies. One side indicates a Heat Point, the other indicates its absence (Cold Point, if you like).
  3. Hot points go in your hand; tapped points of either kind are kept together in your tap pool; and cold points are effectively in a discard pile of no use to anyone
  4. When your turn begins, if the environment is warmer than your hand, add cold points equal to the difference to the tap pool.
  5. You can tap heat points from your hand to make tasks easier (changing the difficulty rank by one) either before or after attempting it.
    • if the environment is colder than your hand, you must tap hot points equal to the difference this turn, whether you use them or not.
  6. When your turn ends:
    1. roll a die for each point in the tap pool, and if you roll over your insulation value, flip it
    2. return hot points to your hand and cold points to the discard pile
    3. your hand can't decrease when below the room temperature, nor increase when above it, so remember how many points you started with and adjust the end result accordingly.
  7. Events outside your turn may move points to the tap pile, such as exposure to heat or cold. In some circumstances heat points may be tapped to modify rolls outside your own turn, as when reacting to an event.

Like the die tap, this has the advantage that it lets the players actually do something with body heat, rather than just passively dealing with it (although note that all the models I've tried offer strategic choices, just not necessarily immediate tactical ones). It also makes the difference in temperature more relevant, and makes it easier for monitors to shift temperature if they want. Because points are spendable bonuses, it means colder reptiles are less effective and warmer reptiles are more effective, without any thresholds needed.

Unlike die tap, I can't really call it that simple, although I think you'd get used to it fairly quickly: it's just compare, tap when wanted, roll, untap. It still has the disadvantage that hotter is always better, and an abrupt cutoff when overheated, though that could just mean interesting gambles to take.

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