Resource Model Conundrum


There are different schools of thought about how to allow players the usage of their special maneuvers, abilities, or spells. Many of the older gamers came from a combined Frequency and Slot system. As the world of videos games became more prevalent, the Energy System became an option as well. When I evaluated the Frequency, Slot, and Energy Systems, I always had a very clear lead horse and that was Energy, but there were times when a Frequency System or a Slot System also seemed a fun way to go. I wanted to explore this conundrum here and we will start with definitions of each system as I see them.

The Frequency System equates to charges or uses of an ability a number of times over a given time period. You would be familiar with the Frequency System if you played any sort of game that said you may use an Ability “X times per day.” In a basic Frequency System, your abilities are granted to you without a choice as you level, so what you decide for a class determines what you get to play with in the game.

The Slot System equates to being granted a limited number of actions that can be filled with an Ability once or multiple times and it is restored under a particular condition. For example, you may have 10 Action Slots that you fill with 5 Fireballs, 3 Magic Portals, and 2 Heal spells. Slot systems have charges as well, but how you fill them is entirely up to you. The basic Slot System will likely allow you to make decisions about what Abilities you want to learn as you progress and then you must choose the frequency of how you will use them.

The Energy System equates to fuel in your car, you get a certain amount, and where it takes you is entirely up to you. You could drive to California, you could drive to the grocery store, or you could drive to both, you just need to have enough fuel to do it. In a basic Energy System your Abilities or Actions will have an Energy Cost assigned to them and each time you decide to perform them, you must pay the Energy Cost from your Energy Pool. This system is widely used in video games and there are many models of how abilities are learned, most are a straight progression with variances to that path through a Skill Tree.

I looked at all these systems. I started with Energy, worked through a Slot System, dabbled in a Slot/Frequency Hybrid, and came back to Energy. Why? Because the other systems limit choice and promote waste. When I thought of using a Slot system I imagined a rotating incentive program where one Slot used could be replaced by a triggering event and where the ingenuity of a player would be rewarded for smart skill choices. That made my stomach cringe in the end, because what if I picked 4 uses of an Ability out of 10 Slots for the day that I could never use? If I did that, then 40% of the stuff I picked would be useless. Why would I want that? What if the adventure I was playing called for no combat and yet at the beginning of the adventure I decided to give myself 7 uses of offensive abilities and 3 Boosted Jump actions? In that case, my offensive actions would be useless and so would I, that’s not even taking into account if I would even get to use my Boosted Jump actions.

I looked at a Frequency System that is widely used by a popular RPG game that we all know and love. Once again I tossed it to the side. The Frequency system would probably have Encounter, Daily, Weekly, and possibly Monthly uses of particular actions. They can either have so many charges per Day, Week, or Month that use of them is inconsequential, or they can have so few charges that you are afraid to use them. Think of the case where you get to use one mega-ultra-super action per day. You really want to save that for a good fight. In the game, you have three battles, all of which seem easy, so you save it for that boss fight that should be coming in the future, only to find that you won’t get to the boss tonight or it happens on another in-game day. Now you didn’t use that super-mega-ultra-awesome action and it was wasted. That was not where I wanted to go either.

I settled on the Energy System and sprinkled in a few cases where the other systems would be useful. I say settled, but it wasn’t settling, it was the only choice for me in the end. The Energy System would not leave the player feeling that the Unchained Heroes RPG cheated them out of something, the only one that could be cheating them out of using abilities would be themselves and by their choices. Unchained Heroes allows all players to choose their abilities as they level. There are some abilities that are common to all, and these are called Starting Abilities. Each Ability is assigned an Energy Cost ranging from None to 60 or more. They are provided an Energy Pool of approximately 150 at the start of the game and it grows as they gain experience and power.

With the Energy System, players are able to make decisions in the here and now about what they need to do, with the only penalty being that when their resources are gone, they can’t use some actions. They additionally have the opportunity to refill and refuel their Energy Pool through the use of Rest, Abilities, and Potions.

You could argue that I have aspects all three systems in my game and you would be correct, but we have the best features of them all. You choose abilities as you level (filling slots), but you are able to choose the frequency of usage on the fly. You have a resource that once gone, does not return until the next day, but you get to choose in what manner that resource is spent and how quickly it is used up–in addition you can refill it through many different means.

In the end, Unchained Heroes uses the Energy Resource Model because it is and always will a game about choices. You can make good ones and you can make bad ones, but the choices are your own. You can rest assured that when you play Unchained Heroes, I am always working on making that statement true.

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