The Nova Problem / 15 minute adventuring day

December 13, 2014

It’s a problem where the mechanics for super powers, magic, or special moves are supposed to support a choice between using them to get a bonus now, or trying to hold on to them for when you might need them later – BUT, the actual game play makes it optimal just to use all of your best powers now, retreat, recharge, and do it again, over and over.

Remove the design from it’s context, and…

In the case of D&D, it’s yet another problem of what happened when the game carried over things from it’s original context without adapting – in this case, the resource of time.  In old school D&D time was your enemy – it not only meant wandering monsters, it also meant running out of supplies – food, water, torches, and not just in the dungeon, but potentially days or weeks of supplies you’d need to get from town to the dungeon.  Each extra day spent was a threat to the party as a whole.

When D&D shifted away from that kind of time and logistics issues, then the constraint of time stops being such a big deal.

Resources fueled by time, without any time pressures, are effectively free.

This also becomes a problem when you realize magic can, in theory, solve everything.  Need to do damage? Magic can do that.  Need to heal damage? Magic can do that.  Need to learn about the threats ahead? Magic can do that.  Need to avoid a fight? Magic can do that.

Simple Solutions

Reintroduce Time Pressures

Without the logistical issues, the other ways to introduce time pressures include either a literal time limit to a specific goal (“We have to cross the border before the monsoons, and the floods, cut us off completely”), or some kind of opposition that makes taking time dangerous (“Every day we waste, they get closer to surrounding us.”).  These are by nature, contrived, but when done well they feel a natural part of play.  You will need to take some time to consider what the logistical issues are and naturally your players should be aware that this is a key point of the game you’re playing.

Powers fueled by something OTHER than time

Fictionally this could be many things – the good old “material components” system can work here, in which case the question becomes what are players paying with instead?  Is it gold = magic power?  Is it time or cleverness? (“Let’s spend an hour looking for herbs in the woods, I can use it for spells.”)

If you’re willing to go into meta mechanics, it can be things like being entertaining or fun – for example Tenra Bansho Zero’s Karma dice come from earning Aiki by saying/doing cool things people at the table approve of.  The Shadow of Yesterday does this with players doing character development time – time spent romancing or expressing their passions is used to recharge your Ability Pools.

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