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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Intermittent Luck vs. Universal Competence

Let's step away from the more abstract post on dissociated mechanics and instead focus on specific mechanics. I'm pretty sure almost everyone will agree that a once-per-time-period ability is not dissociated (or is less dissociated) if it seems to be tied to resting: if an encounter officially ends after a five minute rest, for example, once per encounter abilities seem like tiring abilities, and once per day abilities seem like something that requires time to "reload" or re-prep (like Vancian spells.) The spectacular one-handed catch suggested on The Alexandrian seems to raise a lot of hackles, however. I'm actually not that disturbed by a once-per-day or once-per-encounter version of that ability because it's "intermittent luck", as I mentioned previously. If an ability seems highly improbable, you can assume that there would be at most one opportunity in a given encounter or day to actually do that. I might balk if the ability seems more probable, like a once per day Taunt ability.

But what I'm interested here is comparing people's reactions of Intermittent Luck to Universal Competence. This would be something like some of the Instincts in Burning Wheel: "Always have my sword ready", "Never lose my dagger." You could also include some of the class abilities I've suggested in the past: "Use any weapon", "Speak with any spirit". Do people think of mechanics like these as more dissociated, or less dissociated, than Intermittent Luck?


  1. Intermittent luck seems dissociated to me because it is something that the PC would presumably have no knowledge about or ability to control. Compare to a vancian spell, which the PC knows is in her head and can be expended with a choice.

    To me, luck is already encoded in the system by rolling dice.

  2. @Brendan: What about Universal Competence? Do you think a "Always have a ready weapon" ability is more dissociated than Intermittent Luck, or less dissociated?

    1. I think that depends on exactly what "always has a weapon ready" means. If it is something like quick draw or hard to disarm or something like that, then it seems associated.

      Intermittent luck is more dissociated because it is not something that a PC would be able to exert that level of control over.

  3. If you're going to talk about dissociative mechanics, I think the more of them there are, and the more complex they are, the more dissociative they are as a whole. You can split hairs and nit pick about this or that particular rule being more or less dissociative, but I have found that the more complex a rule system is, the more dissociative it becomes in actual play. A simple, robust rule set that allows a more complete immersion in a given scenario becomes more associative through continued play.