I love when RPG rules allow for results somewhere between success and failure. That “partial success,” “success at a cost,” or “yes, but…” keeps stories feeling uncertain and makes the unqualified successes feel even harder earned. Coming up with contextually appropriate costs, however, can be tough to improvise. Rob Donoghue offers Potential Risks (also used in Soft Horizon games) to build upon, and “MC moves” in Apocalypse World offer another fruitful list. What I really want is a handy mnemonic so I don’t have to consult a list—so I made one! But then I made a bunch more, and now I can’t keep straight what the letters stand for in each.
Here are some of my favorite such mnemonics by me and by others. I recommend picking your own favorite and studiously not memorizing any other ones. Don’t go down my doomed path.
My first attempt at this was a G+ post on “THINGS That Could Go Wrong“, which you could pick as appropriate or roll a d6 for one at random:
- Time. It takes longer than expected, which presents a problem. You miss a window of opportunity, or open yourself to increased chance of danger of being noticed by patrols, or get hungry in the meantime and dig into the rations in your gear.
- Harm. Someone or something suffers damage, and you wished they hadn’t. Maybe you. Maybe a friend or an innocent bystander. Maybe the precious vase on the table over there, or the lock you were trying to leave intact so nobody would notice your passage.
- Ineffectiveness. Whatever you were trying to do, it only kind of worked. Just a glancing blow; only a momentary distraction; no more than a brief solution. It’s better than nothing, but not as good as getting it right the first time.
- Notice. You draw unwanted attention. Maybe it’s from guards you tried to sneak by. Maybe it’s from another dimension.
- Gear. Some piece of equipment you rely on lets you down, or limited supply runs out. Swords can be dropped or get stuck where they’re swung; bow strings can snap; guns can jam or run out of ammo; armor can slow you down or break off around you.
- Setback. Some new obstacle is now in your way, likely a result of being positioned poorly. Maybe you’re cornered, or knocked down and need to get up, or trapped in a burning room. Harm or notice seem imminent, or got you here in the first place. (This was originally “supplies,” but that’s pretty redundant with “gear.”)
This post was actually inspired by Aaron Griffin, who recently reminded me of this topic with a post on his own great mnemonic, CHILLS (paraphrased here—see his blog for better descriptions):
- Collateral damage
- Harm that nails you right in the hit points
- Interference blocking your way
- Loss of objects or persons
- Lesser outcome
- Shitty choice (which should probably be the “S” option for anything that doesn’t need to fill a “U” with “ugly choice,” really)
(This one is naughty)
You can thank Adam Schwaninger:
- Hard choice
- Time lost
Emmett O’Brian also offered examples of what you might have RISKED (again, paraphrased):
- Reduce a stat or effect.
- Insult yourself or others, harming your reputation.
- Setbacks block you from your goal.
- Knowledge reveals something unwelcome or proves unreliable.
- Equipment is lost, damaged, or depleted.
- Damage oneself, an ally, or some other object.
In the hopes of making a mnemonic I would actually remember, I decided to try one that has an alliterative two-word phrase for every letter. And it worked—I always remember this one! My choice for “N” feels kind of weak, though, so I’m open to suggestions there.
- Deal damage to an unintended target—player characters, allies, priceless artifacts, or what have you.
- Attract attention player characters would rather avoid.
- Notice negatives about characters’ items or abilities—weapons need to be reloaded, vampires need to avoid sunlight, and so on.
- Give ground (or gain ground, if thinking from the opposition’s perspective), ending up blocked, trapped, knocked down, or otherwise repositioned.
- Expand effects so they’re more extreme or longer-lasting than the character had hoped.
- Reduce results—a glancing blow, an opening only large enough to allow one person through at a time, or reversed effects backfiring upon oneself.
- Offer opportunity—a tough choice the character needs to make fast, or an opening an opponent could try exploiting.
- Use up a precious resource—food, ammo, time, etc.
- Show signs (or see signs) of something bad coming soon.
Depending on the type of game you’re playing, either the player or the GM could pick from this list, or you could roll a d8 for any option but show signs. That’s deliberately out of range because it’s kind of a catch-all for something that’s about to happen, but that can still ratchet up tension too. (That last one could also be suffer setbacks, but that feels a little redundant with give ground, and might even cover any of these, broadly speaking.)
Whatever your preferred acronym or move list, I wish you luck in trying to memorize exactly as much of it as you need, and nothing more.