Just The Rules: Effort, Limiting Actions

Games almost always limit how many times actions can be done. Some actions can be used at will without limit (attacking with a weapon). Others can be used a limited number of times per day (often 1/day or 3/day, or number-plus-modifier; ’rounds per day’ is a similar limit).

I think such limitations have value, but I’ve never really liked these particular means of limitation. I have found one I like quite a bit more.

Kevin Crawford of Sine Nomine (remember Sine Nomine?) devised a wonderful mechanic: effort.

In Godbound (which I learned today has a Bundle of Holding through April 27, 2020!), godbound characters and certain other special characters have points of ‘effort’ (equal to 2+level, maximum level in Godbound is 10). These are used to fuel certain abilities.

A character can ‘commit effort’ to power an ability such as flight. As long as a character commits that point of effort, the ability continues, and when you stop committing that point of effort, the ability ends. This limits how many sustained effects the godbound character can use at once, and means a character who has exhausted all effort cannot use such abilities.

A character can ‘commit for scene’, which means the point of effort is expended and cannot be recovered until the scene ends. If you prefer, ‘until a short rest’ would be a fair description. These are usually abilities that are more powerful or have broader effect, but not overwhelming. ‘Commit for scene’ limits how many bigger powers can be used in a single encounter, and can be expended to the point that ‘commit effort’ abilities are unusable, but do not affect how much can be done in a day.

Finally, a character can ‘commit for day’, which expends the point of effort until the next day. ‘Until a long rest’ would also be reasonable. These are usually abilities that have decisive results or can turn the tide of a scene entirely. Committing effort for the day is a big investment for an encounter, because not only does it limit what a character can do in the encounter, but will affect all other encounters until the next day.

Keith’s Choice

No selection needed here. I’ve wanted to make use of the Effort mechanic since I read it. My only real question is how many points of effort I want a character to have.

I’m thinking a fairly low number. It would be easy to use 2 plus half level (rounded down) to be close to the 3..12 range in Godbound and is a linear. I considered 2 + 2 per tier: 4 at Basic, 6 at Expert, 8 at Master, 10 at Champion. This gives a range of 4..10 and also is linear. I could do basically the same and halve the result (for 2..5 points of effort).

I am confident I don’t want to deal with a lot of effort points. I’m pretty sure I usually want to stick to single digit, but I’m not certain I want a linear growth. A more quadratic curve might be appropriate, especially if abilities grow commensurately. That is, if basic abilities should almost always be available, expert abilities are usually available until exhausted, and master and champion can be hard bound but more points available.

Perhaps 2 + sum(1..tier)? That is

  • Basic characters have 3 effort points, and most abilities do not require effort. Those that do require effort are probably ‘commit effort’, and recover as soon as you stop committing.
  • Expert characters have 5 effort points. Abilities are a mix of ‘commit effort’ and ‘commit for scene’.
  • Master characters have 8 effort points, and abilities tend to ‘commit for scene’ and some ‘commit for day’.
  • Champion characters have 12 effort points, and abilities lean more to ‘commit for day’ than ‘commit for scene’.

These are not hard and fast rules, but having looked at character abilities in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, I think many ‘uses per day’ abilities will end up ‘commit for scene’ rather than ‘commit for day’. This seems odd until you realize how many abilities are uses per day (hint: it’s a lot) and that while the effort mechanic limits how many can be used in an encounter, more encounters means you approach the normal limit of uses per day.

Probably. I’ll have to try it and see.

Expert Path Creation

Speaking of which, my earlier post today showed how the cavalier class could be rebuilt as an expert path. Let’s see how close I got in my ‘assignment of effort’ in that post to the guidelines for path abilities I just wrote.

Cavalier is an expert path, which means most abilities should be ‘commit effort’ with some ‘commit for scene’.

  • Challenge is uses per day in source. This will usually map to ‘commit for scene’.
  • Banner has no limitation in source, but given how many it can affect I made it ‘commit effort’.
  • Order is a choice and has no actions associated, but the order abilities might. Out of scope for now, but most should probably be ‘commit effort’ or ‘commit for scene’.
  • Improved banner is still ‘commit effort’ for the base effects, but a cavalier can ‘commit for scene’ to give an extra save or extra attack.
  • Greater banner just has a bigger bonus, no change in effort.

On the face of it, I think I hit pretty close to my guidelines above. I looked over the order abilities and those tend to be a mix of no effort, commit effort, or commit for scene… and it’s not necessarily the level of the ability that determines which is which. I’ll need to rewrite the abilities to fit the game a bit better mechanically, but the effort requirements I would assign look like they’re mostly in line.


  1. Steve Gunnell

    Effort / fatigue is good … Lee Gold’s Lands of Adventure had this wonderful mechanic of fatigue points / body points / life points which cascaded for healing. When healing, N fatigue points became a body point and M body points became a life point so that until you healed that life threatening injury you were not going to be expending fatigue on anything. Interestingly it models some kinds of disease really well … you build up energy and get periodic “fever breaks”.

      • Steve Gunnell

        Good luck with even finding a second hand copy! Unfortunately my copy is boxed up somewhere. We had termites in the study floor and we had to urgently box everything and move it to storage so the room could be treated. I now have a wall of boxes that I must look through some day.
        But the mechanic is pretty simple you recover fatigue at some rate (1 per day if you are unconscious) and then you convert fatigue to body points at 5 to one and then you convert body points to life points at 3 to 1 (or it may have been the other way around) so effectively you lose all your lower level points until the top injury is healed. Body points are like hit points – you have a lot of them and you can eventually be beaten to death. Life points you have only a small number of and represent critical injuries. IIRC a 6 on a damage dice was a Like Point loss.

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