Tuesday, 22 May 2012
The Luck (Stat) in the Head
As long-term readers of this blog may know, I spent probably more of my formative years playing Cyberpunk 2020 than any other game. Cyberpunk 2020 is a kind of messed up system, very much "of its time", but one of its great qualities is its Luck stat, which is at least as systemically important as any of the others (Intelligence, Reflexes, etc.). Naturally, the tendency for beginner players and GMs is to treat Luck like a dump stat - give it 2 points, the minimum required, and use your points to improve your other skills. This is because Luck in the core rules is pretty useless - you just spend Luck points to get bonuses to rolls. Zzz.
I gradually developed a more expansive approach to Luck - so much so that anybody who treated it like a dump stat would be a fool, a fool I tell you. Luck in my Cyberpunk 2020 games became, essentially, a primitive form of FATE point, giving the players a kind of control over the narrative: if a player asks me something and I don't know the answer and feel like making one up would be arbitrary on my part ("Is there a CCTV camera nearby?", "Is there a stapler in the office?", "Is there a taxi passing by?") I have them roll a d10. If the result is less than their luck, they get the answer they wanted. If not, they don't. I might also use luck if I can't think of a way to resolve something (there's a car crash and the players didn't decide in advance who was in the passenger seat - they all roll a d10 and add their luck and the lowest is the unfortunate one who gets thrown through the windscreen).
I've always liked this approach, because it makes me feel like it aids my objectivity (I'm neither giving players what they want nor deliberately refusing them what they want) and I enjoy the thought that luck is an actual 'thing' that has real-world effects; there's not only an element of luck in the things that you do as a player (rolling dice to see if you succeed), there's also an actual, almost physical phenomenon in the world which shapes the destinies of the people in it. And because it tends only to be used for things that are relatively trivial ("Is there a taxi nearby?") but which could literally be the hinge between life and death, it feels true as an accurate reflection of the rather random nature of life.