Delve (meta-)playtest: the Adventure Pool

One of the linchpins of the Delve system is the economy of Adventure Points, which is proving to have a lot more kinks in it than originally anticipated. The basic premise is that players get rewarded with AP when they make the game more perilous for their adventurers by pushing further into the dungeon and facing challenges, and can in turn spend those AP to do cool things with their characters.

That said, there’s what we might call an ontological issue that wasn’t readily apparent: where do AP come from? Is the Hazard/Adventure Pool a closed system in which the same points are endlessly recycled back and forth, and the game consists thereby of a shifting balance of finite states? Or can points be generated and destroyed, which has the potential to be very empowering to all the participants but might involve a headache-inducing level of bookkeeping?

Here are the possibilities that have been sketched out thus far. As it stands, each Pool starts with a number of points equal to the number of adventurers. So far, the rules haven’t really been diligent in specifying where new points come from – it’s apparent in some cases, like when the Thief decides to Sneak, spending an AP to go into the Hazard Pool. That’s a spontaneous use of an existing resource, an action rather than a reaction to an existing situation. By comparison, if the dungeon goes Lights Out, that’s being imposed on the adventurers, and what Nightsight does is prevent the normal loss of AP that accompanies having to re-light.

In attempting to more rigorously define the way points operate, a correlating issue is what it means to be out of points. If the adventurers have drained their Adventure Pool in a hard fight, the presumption is that they should have a hard time of things until they can manage to get more AP into the Pool by pressing ahead and facing down possible danger in spite of the risks. That’s heroic, and being heroic is what the game is about. But what about the Hazard Pool? If the GM has thrown every nasty boggan and backstabber against the party and they’re still kicking, there becomes a risk that the party can simply meta-game and withhold the addition of new HP to the GM’s Pool by just not using specials. In that sense, we could say the dungeon has been “cleared out,” but what about that one unexplored hallway?

It seems the most reasonable answer is that entering a dangerous area puts a new Hazard Point into the pool. But where does it come from? It seems like it comes from nowhere, a natural consequence of adventuring in dark monster-infested corridors, but that raises questions about where other points come from. Is there a situation in which Adventure Points just appear out of thin air? Perhaps: maybe when an adventurer falls in combat. As envisioned right now, dead is dead, from a mechanical standpoint, and that’s a logical potential result of facing down evil wizards or barbarous orc warbands, but there’s a case to be made that going down swinging, at least, should be equally rewarded for being heroic, not to mention genre emulation to be had in netting the party a chance to rally through a valiant sacrifice. We’ll think about that and come back to it.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned thus far: each dungeon has what’s called a Danger Level, which rates how harsh it is (a function of how likely any given turn is to generate a hazard or potential hazard: a standard dungeon is Danger Level 50, for a 50% chance – the standard Dungeon Table is split evenly between hazard and treasure – but custom Dungeon Tables can be of higher or lower DL by imbalancing the results). We open the way to an interesting cross-mechanic if we have an escalating point total in the economy: if the number of total points between both pools hits the Danger Level, there’s immediately what we might term a “Game-Changer”: a plot twist event that opens up new possibilities or alters what’s already established. That might be “the dragon slumbering in the heart of the cavern complex awakes,” or “the goblin shaman has cast a spell, and all the goblins in the stronghold have increased stats now”.

A final design consideration: Delve is meant to be fast and light, so cobbling together scores of detailed mechanisms goes against the spirit of the envisioned final piece. While it might be true to the conventions of early RPGs to just throw every disparate mathematical model together in a book for players to navigate, I want to stick to the ethos of modern game design as cohesive and streamlined wherever possible.