Boosts and Recharge Mechanics

In preparation for the pre-alpha playtest document, I’ve been thinking about some special combat options (like disarm), weapons with the ability to perform unusual actions (such as whips), and spending boosts to do that.

In an earlier blog, I had described how in some cases learning a combat feat is the routine version of a special attack (like Power Attack), and spending a boost on one of those feats is like executing the perfect version of that special attack–everything that you and your opponent did lined up just perfectly, allowing you to accomplish that attack in an exceptional way (such as Power Attack without the attack roll penalty, or with even more damage beyond that of a normal use of Power Attack). This lets me design and balance the game around the assumption that characters have an at-will version of that attack, and a limited-use (based on the 5 boosts per day) increased version of it.

Someone replied to one of my other blog posts and asked whether or not there would be a success-based recharge mechanic in the game like PF’s gunslinger grit mechanic (which is, “confirming a crit or killing with a firearm against a suitable foe restores 1 grit”). In general, I’m not a fan of that sort of mechanic, for two reasons:

1) It’s highly variable, and someone who tends to roll poorly is going to fare even worse with that mechanic than someone who tends to roll well.

2) It’s pretty easy to “game the system” by carefully choosing targets who you’re more likely to crit or kill.[1] For example, if you’re a gunslinger in a fight with a wounded, low-AC creature and an unharmed, high-AC creature, it’s advantageous for the player to choose to shoot at the wounded creature because a kill (and grit recharge) is more likely, and also more likely to shoot at the low-AC creature because a hit and crit (and grit recharge) is more likely. It’s even possible for a character to end a battle with more grit than they started with.

That said, it would be nice to open up some ways to use the boost mechanic to accomplish unusual tasks, but not limit the character to just 5 of those tasks per day. For example, Indiana Jones is really good with a whip, and he can disarm people with it, use it to grab a tree branch and swing on it, and so on, and he’s not limited to doing that 5 times per day.

So what if there was a refresh mechanic for some boosted effects, and it was tied to attempting to use that boosted effect, and if you were successful, you regained the boost you just spent?

In other words, what if there was a rule like this:

Rechargeable Boost Rule: If an ability’s boosted effect is rechargeable, and you succeed at the boosted effect, unspend the boost you spent to activate that boosted effect (as if you hadn’t spent the boost at all, but still get the boosted effect).

Then the Improved Disarm feat could be worded like this (just spitballing on some example mechanics):

Improved Disarm (maneuver): When you try to disarm an opponent, add +5 to your disarm roll. When someone tries to disarm you, add +5 to your opposed disarm roll.

  • Boost: If you disarm your opponent, you also hit them with the weapon you used to disarm them (rechargeable).
  • Boost: If you disarm your opponent, the disarmed weapon lands 5–15 feet away in a random direction (rechargeable).
  • Boost: If you disarm your opponent and have a hand free, you catch their weapon and are now holding or wielding it (rechargeable).

With this setup, a character who has studied disarming can try spending a boost to get one of these boosted effects. If the disarm is successful, the character doesn’t expend the boost and isn’t any worse off for trying.

This basically means that someone who is good at disarming can keep getting boosted disarm effects over and over during the day (instead of being limited to 5/day), but it’s not possible for them to end up with more boosts than they started with (which would really bother me if they were able to go from 1 boost left to 5 boosts left, and then spend those boosts on other abilities unrelated to the thing that gave them those boosts back).

In effect, some of these rechargeable boosted effects become an aspect of the character’s at-will version of that ability–you’re not just “the disarm-focused warrior,” you’re the “disarm-focused warrior who usually knocks your weapon out of reach.”

You could do the same sort of thing for certain weapons (even nonmagical weapons) that you want to have special abilities, like this:

Greathammer: This heavy hammer is so huge, you have to wield it with two hands.

  • Boost: If you crit your opponent, you may try a free push against them (rechargeable).
  • Boost: If you crit your opponent, you may try a free trip against them (rechargeable).

You could have a similar mechanic for a parrying dagger, using a whip to disarm, using a shield to block (or against a breath weapon), and so on.

Thoughts on this recharge mechanic, and whether to add it to feats, equipment, or both?

Ogrebreaker

[1] Now, I’m all for encouraging success and good tactics, and one of the parameters of the Five Moons RPG is that it’s easier to hit with a “basic” attack than it is in 3E (which is why the baseline attack bonus is higher and the baseline ACs are a little lower). But I don’t want to create a situation that encourages the player to use metagaming to come out ahead compared to a player who doesn’t. And in many cases, shooting at the low-AC or more-wounded creature is actually the better tactical option for the character, I just don’t want to set up situations where player knowledge encourages choices that are better from a rules standpoint than an in-game standpoint.

[2] I might want to have each rechargeable aspect something the character must learn separately (not a big deal, as in Five Moons RPG you can keep learning feats just like you can keep learning wizard spells, without hitting a max known limit), which would prevent this from becoming instantly super-versatile. So you’d learn “how to make the disarm-hit a rechargeable boosted effect” as a combat ability, and “how to make the disarm-send-it-flying a rechargeable boosted effect,” and so on).

 

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16 thoughts on “Boosts and Recharge Mechanics

  1. I’m excited for this! (And the playtest soon!). I’ll admit I was a little wary of the 5 boosts/day system as I thought groups might fall into the same trap of “I have 0 boosts left so let’s call it a day” that they currently do with spells/day. If it’s a resource, even a bonus resource, my group is loathe to do anything without it.

    Would I be correct in assuming that it is mostly martial characters that get rechargeable boost abilities, too? Less for spells, more for ‘weapon actions’?

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  2. That’s an interesting take on it. Usually I see things where if you fail, you get your resource back (like the Reliable 4e daily powers). However, I think this might actually model things better, in that you lose the boost when narratively it’s evidence that the character is getting tired or sloppy, until it reaches a point that they just can’t continue. But as long as they keep a succeeding it’s showing that they’re not worn out yet.

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  3. {“2) It’s pretty easy to “game the system” by carefully choosing targets who you’re more likely to crit or kill.[1] For example, if you’re a gunslinger in a fight with a wounded, low-AC creature and an unharmed, high-AC creature,}

    The idea of minion-grinding to rack up your points to spend them for a super attack on the boss, is something I wouldn’t think to be a bad thing. It can be rather heroic, and genre appropriate, merely be the in-game idea of the minions being “beneath him”, the villiain is a coward hiding/utilizing minions to weaken him, OR even the villain thinks the Gunslinger is beneath <b.him wishes for the Gunslinger to prove his worth, and hit him at his full potential (In this case, having all that Grit or whatever). That, and from the PF perspective, I highly doubt the class is all that powerful, so it probably needs that exploit to do the cool things it deserves to do vs. its spellcaster peers.

    { (which would really bother me if they were able to go from 1 boost left to 5 boosts left, }
    Despite what I said above, I think that is a fair notion, it would be hilarious to see happen, but Its good to rule out “infinite loops” and other such that would compromise the resource systems integrity. Especially with your proposed idea above, where “refreshing boosts” work quite well to creating a cycling cost system.

    Among your “spitballs” I’m not sure if Disarm is a power that one has to take (along with their Ice Shields, Elemental Weapon, or Smoke Bombs), or its some alternate resource system (like D&D Feats?), or how one “trains in disarm” in this vernacular. As if it’s a thing anyone can do, then I definitely think it should scale, such as where can eventually control the direction, and make it go farther (eventually making weapons go flying by hundreds of feet!).

    I kinda liked the idea of weapons, though does create the concern of “too much stuff to spend Boosts on”. Though the Greathammer “spitball” has the crit notations that you mentioned above disliking, and thusly, I also dislike spending points on a random chance. I think something like that should be more specific as a Trigger “When you Crit; may spend a boost to…”, though I agree then it probably shouldn’t rechargeable defeating the example. Which case I’d say something like that shouldn’t be a “rechargeable boost” option, if really wanted X dice notation mechanic, maybe suggest where its more likely to come up, like “If it lands on Odd/Even”, or “multiples of 3 (3,6,9,12,15,18).

    { “[2] I might want to have each rechargeable aspect something the character must learn separately (not a big deal, as in Five Moons RPG you can keep learning feats just like you can keep learning wizard spells, without hitting a max known limit),” }

    That would be far too granular to track I’d say, having to find/learn recharge for every single thing someone wants to do. Especially if the action is common enough (Whip Tricks), end up with Players “grinding for recharge tricks” to play the character they want & such. Having the pre-built mechanic in place for certain things is going to be easier on everyone.

    Though I do recall the “setting based upgrades” you mentioned awhile back, albeit that does come with its own issues. Such as it can create predictable play experience, where every Flame Swordsman will go after “Fire Shield Glyphs”, or creates certain “always get” options where the Dragonborn the Storm shout to TKO the dragons in the game. Predictable in the degree of if there being certain options that are good (in general), or for certain characters. Though, that can create stories within a setting, which is cool. The second issue I wanted to mention, is getting feats and like from sites can create bloat on a character, and make things that more complex from simplicity wanting to do. I also wonder if it’ll create a power-gap between PC’s who “have site powerups” and “those that don’t”, especially when bringing in new characters. Making me wonder then as per Wealth, if new PC’s or making higher level than normal, should have X site powerups as well?

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  4. How about if you inverted the refresh mechanism. Rather than having it happen on having something advantageous happening, what if it was overcoming something bad? It could either be a voluntary set-back or accepting a short-term penalty. Survive it and you regain a boost.

    I’ve seen this in other gaming systems and it can be interesting. Pathfinder doesn’t have critical failures (of which I’m glad), but it could be something like roll 2d20 and take worst roll, voluntarily be victim of random happenstance, voluntarily fail a balance roll that puts you at a starting disadvantage for that combat, or rope you are holding on to starts fraying and you have limited time to finish. Nothing that is auto-kill but does put the character at a temporary disadvantage.

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  5. I admit I was a bit wary about boosts at first. Especially with how some of them looked like they would be no brainers to use compared to other more limited or less powerful options. Something like this would certainly go a long way to help with that, since specializing would allow customization and being able to do something impressive far more often than a very limited 5/day.

    How are you considering making them rechargeable, though? Is a feat spent for the specialization or are some abilities just inherently rechargeable? I think a mix of both would be best honestly. That way, just taking a simple feat gives some base rechargeable options and slightly more powerful options that can’t be. Then if said character wanted to be able to do a more powerful option as rechargeable they could spent a talent, feat, or something else to also specialize in it as well. They become even better at it and could be iconic in its use.

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  6. In addition to the points mentioned, having a class feature that lets you regain Boosts also shoots the entire Boost economy. Refunding a Boost on a successful check sounds like a great alternative implementation to the general idea. Worst-case scenario with an optimized build, the PC can use an ability’s Boost at-will, but ONLY that ability’s Boosts. The rechargeable tag lets the designer choose whether or not to enable the refunding. Overall, I see it as a great mechanic.

    I do see an issue where a player may feel free to spend their rechargeable Boosts on weak opponents, but I suppose that’s not a big deal. It gives the PC a chance to show off, and they won’t get very much mileage out of using Boosts against targets that can be easily defeated without one. I also like how this rewards specialization without punishing versatility. In fact, it might help you be more versatile since your Boosts will likely sink in abilities you’re not quite as good at.

    I like the idea of giving items Boosts, which encourages active abilities into the design space (unlike most items in 3.5e/PF, which encourage stat bonuses). At first, making them rechargeable sounds weird to me. On a second thought, I think it would be weirder if a mundane weapon (neither magical nor fantastically mechanical) had an ability a master warrior couldn’t do at will.

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  7. After looking this over and thinking about it I have a theme to suggest: “Investment Rewards Options”. Let’s use disarm as an example.

    1.) No Feat, No Boost – Octavius is down to his last boost and has his back to the wall against a talented combatant wielding a weapon. He is alone and knows that if his opponent didn’t have that weapon in hand he might have a chance to escape unscathed, but doesn’t want to risk his last boost just yet. He’s not trained but he’s desperate, so he attempts the disarm with no bonuses to his modifier, hoping to roll high. No investment, no extra reward.

    2.) No Feat, Boost – Octavius is a bit more fresh in this instance and decides to spend a boost to increase his chances, acting for that roll as though he has the Improved Disarm feat. Succeed or fail, he lacks the appropriate training to get that Boost back.

    3.) Feat, No Boost – Akiko is a seasoned veteran of melee combats however, and when she’s back against the wall she isn’t worried about immediate failure and so attempts the maneuver as is, trusting on her skills and experience to pull her through.

    4.) Feat, Boost (recharge) – But Akiko is not so confident against a hill giant carrying a club, and decides to tap into her inner-reserves in order to treat her target as the same size category for one roll. It’s useful but only in the right circumstances, and if she succeeds her training allows her to win the boost back for future uses. If she fails well, she has other options.

    5.) Feat, Boost (no recharge) – This time the hill giant has seen enough combat to wear armor and use a metal weapon, truly a dire threat. Akiko needs to get out of danger now and rejoin her allies. She goes for broke, opting to use her boost to make the maneuver so spectacular that if she succeeds, the giant is baffled by her brilliance. It’s a steep cost, but when the payoff is that her target will be both weaponless and stunned? Certainly worth the try.

    As someone invests their character-development-points in a certain piece of equipment, skill, maneuver, spell, and etc they not only get more options, but are more proficient at using boosts with what they’ve invested in. Players will sometimes wish to try things without training/investment and have limited options in how they do so, but someone who is talented at something can do more with it, and can do even more when they start using boosts, even beyond what an untrained character might receive for using a boost.

    To specifically address the recharge option, it sounds like a nice way of rewarding players who specialize to be able to gamble their boosts on better results, such that they’re investment feels rewarding on a more consistent basis. I like the idea however that some boost abilities can be learned but are never tagged as “rechargeable”, as the highest amount of investment yields the highest rewards, but still has high risks.

    As for your last question, I would like to see investment and boost options possible for as many things as possible. it allows players to make characters with interesting quirks for both fluff and crunch. “My reputation as a cook got noticed by the local baron, so I spent a boost when preparing a meal for him and his family and rolled a twenty, lost the boost but making them weep tears of joy at my cooking? Priceless.” “Oh the miracles I could work if I only had my tools. Why did they have to search us so thoroughly before capturing us? Seriously I could have spent a couple boosts, undone the bars and turned them into crude weapons hours ago. Then who could hold us? No one!”

    Anyhow, looking forward to the test-so-far!

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  8. I’ve been worried about the limited number of boosts in a day, and thought that some groups might go back to a 15 minute workday, blowing through all of their boosts in a single fight, then getting out and resting until boosts are recharged before going further. Bleh. After reading this, I’m more encouraged as to the direction this is going.

    To expand a bit on some previous ideas, I like the idea of improved/greater feat groups. For example, disarm by itself might have a couple of things that you can use boosts on, but no recharge. Improved disarm would allow conditional recharge of the basic boosts (if it succeeds), and add another tier of boosts to use with no recharge. Greater would allow auto-recharge (no cost) of basic boosts, conditional recharge of improved boosts, and add in top-tier boosts that can’t be recharged. Maybe 3/2/1 boost options for basic/improved/greater? Maybe 2/2/2? This could also work for spell keywords as well, and not just martials.

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  9. I can actually see a combination of innate, trainable, and equipment based.

    On the disarm example, and equipment, I can see a rapier having the recharge on the opponent loses weapon effect and a parrying dagger (like a main gauche) gaining recharge on the disarm and do damage effect.

    The disarm and catch the weapon in free hand could be an ability that some kind of swashbuckler would know, or be trained in. There might even be overlap. For example, with the previous disarm equipment rapier effect of opponent loses weapon you don’t have the recharge on doing damage. With the right training you could gain that as well with the rapier and suddenly you start looking a lot like Zorro. Now to find the black mask & cape and a white horse. 😉

    I really don’t think that anyone should be able to get recharge on all the boosts of something without the right gear and lots of work/training, but I can definitely see someone striving for it.

    If there are recharges on equipment, it could bring up the idea of magic or masterwork/superior gear having (additional?) recharge abilities. That would make them desirable and expensive, but of limited use to someone without sufficient skills. (I don’t know what kind of proficiency/skill system would apply, but I’m guessing there is one.)

    Of course, there are lots of boosts with regards to combat, but other skills/abilities apparently have them, and I’m sure there are a number of them that it wouldn’t make sense for equipment to help. On the other hand, even if you go the equipment route, there should probably be some way to get recharge on those types without some arbitrary equipment.
    That’s part of the reason why I think multiple sources of recharge on boosts makes sense and some of my oddball thinking.

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  10. First off, I really like this mechanic. It reminds me of the Pathfinder monk’s ki strike which only functions while you have ki points remaining, except way better, since it doesn’t create the situation where you simply spend points freely until the last one and then save it to keep the passive abilities functioning. I imagine it should encourage more frequent use of boosts particularly versus weaker enemies, which is great as it allows player to make fuller use of their cool abilities and reduces the boss-battle-nova syndrome common in Pathfinder and its relatives.

    As far as associating such abilities with feats and/or weapons, I would say primarily feats with a few specific weapons coming with abilities by default (basically retain the concept of weapon properties from PF). Conceptually, I would approach it using an idea I originally saw in Kirth Gersen’s PF houserules, where instead of weapons being classified as simple/martial/exotic, each weapon had different attributes depending on whether you had simple, martial, or exotic proficiency with said weapon. For Five Moons, this could translate to one feat granting the abilities, and a second making them rechargeable or otherwise improved.

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  11. Per your footnote 2 – I’d do it differently. When you learn Improved disarm, you get all three boosts as normal boosts. Then there’s a feat that allows any specific boost to be rechargeable. This should apply to anything with some sort of roll to determine if it succeeds. This way we can have people incredibly skilled at anything. They are spending their feats to become specialists instead of getting broader.

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  12. I’m not going to be nearly as eloquent as some of the other comments so far, but I though I would post my thoughts on the question you asked, “Thoughts on this recharge mechanic, and whether to add it to feats, equipment, or both?” I also haven’t read all of your articles yet, so I apologize if I mention or go over a point you have already covered.

    I like the idea of the boosts, particularly as the examples show. For one thing it can reduce the number of “small, but incremental, advantage feats” (IE Most of the side branches of the maneuver lines.) You can reduce some of these “gateway” or “feat tax” feats by making their abilities boosts instead of full on feats.

    I like the idea of not being able to start off with more boost than you started with, so that mechanic of recharging and boosts I don’t mind.

    While I like the idea of the recharge, the fact that you only recharge on a success means that people with consistently bad dice rolls (ie Me, who rolls successive 1s every gaming session) is going to be really stingy with boosts, while people with consistently good dice rolls (IE Tim, who I’ve watched roll 3d6 16 times in a row and not get a number below 12) is going to be using them like water and get them recharged most of the time. I also agree with the comments about weapon users not being able to use their special abilities freely.

    As for the “feat, equipment, or both” my belief on the matter is “both”. As stated above, the boost mechanic is too useful for reducing side-benefit feats for it not to be included on many, or maybe all, feats. But as for equipment, boosts represent the opportunity to do something that really hasn’t come up in DnD and Pathfinder, the ability to make equipment truly differentiated.

    In 3.5/Pathfinder, a weapon only has four stats of consequence: Damage, Critical Range, Critical Multiplier, Damage Type. Of these four, Damage Type only really matters at the very low tiers, where overcoming DR to a specific damage type represent a huge boost to character’s damage. Base damage really only comes in two variants, roll two die or roll one die that has the same max damage as the two. Rolling the two die is almost always better because the minimum value is higher and the rolls more consistent. Te argument of Crit Range versus Crit Multiplier has been argued by better than me, but better Crit Range is almost always better over the long term.

    If some weapons carry boosts that can allow you to model greater differences in the style and combat utility of weapons that otherwise have the same stats. Maybe something like:

    Fail: This weapon consists of an iron ball connected to a rod by a flexible chain.

    Boost: You use your opponents shield as a lever, negating its advantage. (Recharge).
    Boost: You manage to wrap the chain around your opponents weapon, make a free disarm attempt. (Recharge).

    Armor is even worse, there’s almost never a reason to take any armor than the “optimal” one for each tier. A useful boost or two might make non-optimal armor a better choice.

    Equipment boosts could also be used to further differentiate weapon-users (IE the Fighter) and non-weapon users (IE the Wizard) by their access to these boosts. Give characters that are primary weapon users access to all weapon and armor boosts, while less weapon-oriented characters have access to either a limited number of equipment, (IE and can use the boosts from X number of weapons) or a “lower-tier” (IE all simple weapons.)

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    • {Armor is even worse, there’s almost never a reason to take any armor than the “optimal” one for each tier. A useful boost or two might make non-optimal armor a better choice.}

      That is true, the Chainshirt/Breast Plate/FullPlate issue, one decent solution to that was just make 1 armor of each type, and let the players fill in the flavor for whatever it is (So there’s Light/Med/Hvy, and whether want it be chainmail,roman armor, B-plate, Lamellar or whatevs up to you). For Five Moons, since its piecemealed, it looks like its expected there will be new sets of armor to upgrade to over time, likely piece by piece, so to scale PC AC numbers, something non-swag to spend gold on, AND to give sense of quick and small advancements over time. If not, just used for magic item slots, then it seemed likely to me that armor will all the same have scaling sets that PC’s will eventually buy into. With that assumption, I’m not so sure each one should have abilities, should it then encourage some players to lock into certain armor, causing their AC to fall behind. Also, if Boost abilities per parcel, that can get rather complicated right quick, even if 1 per piece, that’s 5 Boost options to keep track (likely what’ll happen, players just write down the boost options that are good/relevant to them).

      {Give characters that are primary weapon users access to all weapon and armor boosts, }
      Given how I’m heavy Pro-Fighter/Martial types getting nice things, superpowers and like, I agree with this assertion. Martial types should get more milage out of boosts, and wield them plain better than mages. There’s potential here in equipment for the Rogues/Skill characters as well, where they might dominate the “Equipment/Gadgets” portion of Boost-Rechargeable options. Though really, I’d settle just for Magic-users not getting to take the Martial/Skill’s good stuff.

      {While I like the idea of the recharge, the fact that you only recharge on a success means that people with consistently bad dice rolls }
      I totally misread “Flail” at first to mean some type of method of failure, opposed to success. That aside though, your rate of success should be higher than normal, given rate of success seems to imply 5+ on D20 for average? (basically auto-hit for Fighter, packing the +5 bonus to hit)

      {Thoughts on this recharge mechanic, and whether to add it to feats, equipment, or both?}
      BOTH, simply just so I can see where it may lead, though still the concern of over complication, and option Paralysis (boost-style).

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  13. I like the idea. But on reflection I guess I don’t see the need for it. All it seems to do is inflate people’s number of boosts per day by about 1/3 (my assumption of the typical chance to fail). And if there is a boost ability to increase hit/success (a big assumption on my part), people might feel inclined to blow a boost on accuracy to get their “free” boost on success. While that may not be bad depending on the original chance of success (get 2 boosts for the price of 1), it feels gamey. Using too many mechanics to accomplish one task. Boost stacking, I guess you could call it. My personal preference is for that not to be possible.

    I guess I’m not sure what this is trying to accomplish. Do you need people to have more boosts? Are you trying to thwart the capability to NOVA boosts? Or are you just looking for an answer to grit?

    If people need more boosts, you could just give them more. Or treat boosts like 5e inspiration and give boosts as rewards.

    If it’s a NOVA problem, you could consider eliminating the superior nature of a long rest. Make all rests equal in terms of how much they regen, and just require a long rest for regen to occur at all. Like how a power nap feels like a full night’s sleep, but in the end you still need the sleep.

    If it’s grit, personally I wouldn’t worry about it. 5M doesn’t need to pay homage to an idea just for the sake of doing it. If the game needs such a mechanic, that’s one thing. But if it’s not needed, it feels shoehorned in. I guess decide if the game really needs it.

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  14. I am liking the idea of the boosts. Personally, I am a fan of the recharge mechanic as seen in 5e and 4e DnD. The X ability recharges on a 5 or 6 (can roll a 1d6 every turn).

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  15. Pingback: Rhetoric Studios » Blog Archive » Why Grit “Feels” Different From Ki

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