Table Cost

April 13th, 2011 by paul

Next time you design a new rule or game element, calculate its Table Cost. That's a measure of the strain it places on the players around the table, in terms of time, brain stress, and suspension of disbelief. Rules with low Table Cost are less annoying to use. Rules with high Table Cost are more annoying to use, and they'd better have something else going for them, or they Get The Axe!

Recall Cost
+0: Not easily forgotten, because it's obvious when should you should use it. ("I need healing, let me see what healing powers I have left!")
+2: Somewhat easily forgotten. Your CHARACTER could be reasonably expected to remember it. When it's not the focus of attention, you don't have to think about it. ("I can activate Fire Form to get through the lava!"
+5: Easily forgotten. The PLAYER has to remember it, because it's based on a generic or a meta-game trigger. May require something to be tracked from round to round. ("I became Bloodied, so my Animal Fury kicks in!")

Speech Cost
+0: You don't need to bother anyone else with the details (you roll 3d6 extra damage when flanking)
+2: Requires you to specify a game term aloud ("...and I do 15 fire damage")
+5: Requires you to specify a game term aloud EVERY TURN ("...and I'm using my minor action to sustain the Flaming Sphere")

Belief Cost
+0: Provides a vivid mental picture ("I slam into him and push him back a step")
+2: Abstract ("When I hit this guy with my mace, I give you an AC bonus")
+5: Defies imagination ("So I guess the fog is prone?")

Time Cost
+0: Can be handled with, at most, simple addition ("My bard song gives you +2 to your skill check")
+2: Requires one or more additional die rolls ("I've hit you with my Trip touch-attack roll, so now we make opposed Strength checks")
+5: Requires consulting the manual, no matter how many times you've done it before ("I Grapple")

Learning Cost
+0: Self-explanatory to a new player ("You can't see anything that's not in range of a light source")
+2: Easily explained, even if arbitrary ("You can't open the door in the middle of your move action because you have to complete your move action before you do your minor action")
+5: When explaining it to a new player, you eventually have to resort to "You'll figure it out once you see it in play" ("The first diagonal move of your turn costs one square of movement. The second and every subsequent even diagonal move cost two squares, even if the diagonal movements are separated by orthagonal movements that always cost 1 each.")

Table Cost must be lower than the Awesomeness Factor, an arbitrary number from 1 to 10. If the Table Cost is 11+, the Awesomeness Factor must be TRULY EPIC.


3rd edition Dodge:
Recall cost is +5: You have to remember it, not based on a specific cue, but just as part of your action.
Speech cost is +2: You need to specify it aloud with some frequency.
Belief cost: +0. It makes sense that you'd be able to guard against a chosen target.
Time cost: +0. Just adds +1 to AC.
Learning cost: +0. Makes sense.
Tracking cost: +5. You have to keep track of which opponent is currently under your Dodge.
Total Table Cost: 12.

Now let's look at the benefit. You get a +1 AC versus a single opponent - a benefit which might change a hit to a miss once every, say, 4 encounters.
Awesomeness factor: 1.

In order to support its very high Table Cost, Dodge would have to have an extremely awesome benefit: for instance, you are TOTALLY UNHITTABLE by your Dodge opponent, or whenever your Dodge opponent rolls a natural 1 on attack roll you INSTANTLY GO UP A LEVEL, or something else crazy like that.

10 Responses to “Table Cost”

  1. Noumenon says:

    “You can’t see anything that’s not in range of a light source” –

    Recall cost is +5: You have to remember where light sources are and what their radius is for you and your target.
    Speech cost is +0
    Belief cost: +0
    Time cost: +0.
    Learning cost: +2. Concealment and hide interactions.
    Tracking cost: Uh, you forgot to detail this one and I kind of wrapped it into Recall cost.
    Total Table Cost: 7.
    Total awesomeness factor: 4 (shadows help you imagine scary scenes and add immersion).

    We ignore these rules…

  2. Rory Rory says:

    Haha, I think that if dodge gave like a +5 bonus it might be awesome enough to justify its existence (you’d probably be willing to take it around the +2-4 level, but you’d still grumble about it being annoying). That would bring it to the level of a solid class feature, especially in combats with one or two big guys. Or imagine if dodge existed in 4e and fighters could take it against enemies they have marked. Awesome, and you could mitigate a lot of issues by just always dodging the enemy you have marked.

    I noticed you left out an explanation of what tracking cost is, though I agree that is one of dodge’s biggest flaws :).

    Also, wouldn’t speech cost be +5 since you need to do it every turn, or is it lower because you forget about dodge sometimes :)?

  3. Kevin says:

    Agreed. At best rules should be in this range:

    Recall: +0 to +2 (since rules should be simple and elegant even if crunchy but sometimes even the simple things get overlooked)
    Speech: +0 to +2 (since even the simplest of rules oftentimes require descriptors)
    Belief: +0 to +2 (elegance and simplicity helps to avoid abstraction and absurdity)
    Time: +0 to +2 (did I mention rules should be simple and elegant yet?)
    Learning: +0 to +2 (cue broken record)

    I’m guessing a lot of GMs actually follow this methodology for identifying what rules they use and what rules are ignored:
    Any rule that hits the +5 scale on any of these criteria is a good candidate for house-ruling.
    Any rule that hits the +5 scale on more than one of these criteria is a good candidate for elimination or fiat. (Grapple and Weapon Speed Modifiers and Weapon vs. Armor tables for example)

  4. paul paul says:

    Oh man, those weapon vs. armor tables from 1e are a perfect example of Time Cost. Of course, so many things in 1e required consulting a manual every time you did them.

    Oops, right, I did forget to deal with Tracking Cost. Basically, I’m allergic to things that take up a memory byte. 4e conditions are generally +2 (maybe +3 because you have to remember if it’s save ends or ends at the beginning/end of someone’s turn). Tracking the duration of a spell is +5.

  5. kwinslow says:

    “…and I do 15 fire damage” merits a +3 or +4. Not only do you need to say “fire”, you need to sort of get the DM’s attention and make sure he heard you. And you might be wasting your time because it might not be weak to fire anyway (even though it appears to be a freakin oilsoaked mummy). I prefer when dms just come out and tell you what’s weak to what instead of being coy about it :-)

  6. Fred Fnord says:

    >“…and I do 15 fire damage” merits a +3 or +4. Not only do you need to say “fire”, you
    >need to sort of get the DM’s attention and make sure he heard you.

    The ‘…and’ implies that you’re already talking to your DM, so that’s not a concern. If your DM isn’t listening to this, he wasn’t listening to the first part, and that’s a whole separate issue.

  7. TheClone says:

    Cool table of table costs :) Soembody had to write that one down. Maybe I’ll do a translation for the complicated rules lovers ion Germany. They should tattoo that on their dice hand.

  8. OnlineDM says:

    Excellent article! Another table cost to consider (or perhaps to wrap into Tracking Cost) is when an effect requires a DIFFERENT player at the table to keep track of it, such as with a lot of benefits from 4e Leader classes. The Runepriest’s fiddly bonuses (you get DR2 when next to me, and since I healed you the three of us get plus 2 AC for a turn, but not you two because you were too far away…) come to mind. Argh!

  9. paul paul says:

    Good point, things that require a different player (or the dm) to track something are even worse.

  10. Kevin says:

    In the spirit of keeping the table cost rules simple and elegant:

    Simply multiply the base cost of the rule times the number of members (both players and GM) who have to track/recall/say/be present and required to teach it. Therein lies the true cost of the rule.

    Wait, that probably makes almost all rules fail to meet their minimum Awesome Factor requirement…

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