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DoubleZero: Action Thriller Emulation


Okay, I’ve already addressed this question once publicly and about a dozen times privately. I’m going to do it one more time here. On my list of potential future projects I’ve penciled in a DoubleZero Guide Manual, which will include essays along these lines as well as tips on running adventures. There is one key design decision behind the system used in DoubleZero: action thriller emulation.

A Veteran character has a 12, the default difficulty is 3, so they only have a 36% chance of success. Yes. Affirmative. Correct. That is a true statement. It is not an error, it is not a flaw, it is an intentional design choice. If you read the whole thing, you will see that it is intended to be a grittier, more realistic game, DoubleZero was not created to play superheroes in God Mode. It goes back to those two words in the subtitle: action thrill.

Yes, there are action movies where the main character just runs amok and beats the hell out of everyone they meet. To me, that is not interesting to watch. There is no suspense, no feel that they might lose. It’s not particularly interesting for me to play, because the stakes are low and it just feels like icky wish-fulfillment fantasy. There have to be consequences to choosing a life of violence; that’s not so much a design choice as a reflection of my personal beliefs and values.

There are two things in the system that offset the difficulty: Hero Points, and the process of Character Death.

Hero Points

My first in-system response to this is Hero Points. Roughly 10% of the time, you will roll well and the character will earn one. Use them when you need them to survive. Bank them to use on the rolls that matter the most.

Watch one of those thriller movies where the character struggles through at least the first half. Nothing goes right. They get the crap kicked out of them, they crash the car, they make more enemies than they do allies. When they do succeed later, the victory will feel earned. It will be sweeter because they had to work for it. You will cheer for them.

In that big finale, they will be using the Hero Points they saved along the way. When they punch, it will do damage. The shots they fire will hit their target. Stunts during car chases will be executed smoothly. Because those are the beats of an action thriller adventure.

Character Death

I realize that people raised on a steady diet of murder hobo games equate failure with character death. If you’re read the rules, you’ll see how hard it is to actually kill a player character. Again, by design. You put the work into creating a character. The character has put in the effort to pursue the adventure goal, whatever it may be, and is willing to risk a lot to achieve it.

So they effectively get plot immunity, in the form of making it difficult to kill them. Other things will happen. They’ll suffer injuries, sure. Instead of dying they might get captured, or arrested, or they’ll have to do some time in the hospital. Milk that for drama. The cool part is when they get back up, not the fact that the mechanics allow them to get knocked down.

DoubleZero: Action Thriller Emulation

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