Friday, October 13, 2023

Bidding into Danger

I've posted about the James Bond 007 game more than once in the past. Today I want to talk about one mechanic that I suspect could do a lot of good in other games, but that I don't recall seeing elsewhere. When you have a chase in 007, whether by foot, car, air, or underwater, initiative is determined by bidding. Initiative starts at 7 and whoever bids lowest gets to decide who goes first. What are you actually bidding? What currency are you spending? Difficulty level for all rolls. Well, technically its Ease Factor, the mathematical opposite of difficulty. A higher Ease Factor means something is easier to do. Either way, you take initiative of a given combat turn by willing to be more dangerous than the other guy, by increasing the chances of a car crash or some other mishap.

A fun bit is that, for vehicle chases, every vehicle has a "Redline" score. This number is the safest number you can bid without additional, additional risk. Super sporty high performance cars have a 1 or 2 for Redline, allowing for a lot of high-risk action. While ordinary sedans have a 3 or 4. This means a PC in a Lambo can do more tricky maneuvers than his pursuers, even if they have the same Driving score. (And you can hamper the PCs by forcing them to flee pursuing baddies in a Volkswagen Beetle.)

This bidding method strikes me as appropriate for the genre. The person most willing to risk everything (typically, the Bond-esque devil-may-care PCs) gets to set the agenda for the chase. I feel like this is a mechanic that could be used in other games. Chases in a Star Wars style space opera could use the same approach.What other situations? Anywhere where a foolish willingness to risk disaster grants a short term advantage. Here are three ideas:
  • An RPG where pro-wrestling is for realsies: The flippy shit high-fliers can take the initiative by willing to risk botching their attack.
  • A fantasy or horror game: Wizards may go first if they are willing to risk accidentally unleashing the forces of hell.
  • Rolemaster, just for fun: Initiative bidding where the number goes up and the result is added to everyone's fumble range. 
I'm sure there have got to be other uses for bidding in RPGs. Anybody know of another game that uses it?

Sometimes I jibber jabber about a game and fail to give appropriate credit. Not this time.


  1. EABA v2 does a secret bidding each round of combat. The minimum is zero and the maximum is the attribute that will be used in that round. Everyone acts in order of initiative declaration, from high to low, and take a penalty equals of the declaration for most task on that round. You can hurry and hurt your chance of sucess or take your time and risk act too late.

    1. That's pretty cool. I've never looked into EABA. I assume that stands for End All Be All.

  2. Man, I can't think of one off the top of my head, though I *feel* like I've seen it before. Maybe in Dying Earth? Or Maelstrom/Story Engine? But I can't think of the specific mechanic.

    Amber Diceless is pretty famous for using an auction/bidding structure in its chargen process.

    However, James Bond 007 is a pretty underrated RPG that does a lot of cool, interesting and innovative things. Its mechanics are very appropriate to the specific IP it emulates.

    1. Oh...Baron Munchausen (well, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen), is a semi-RPG, and it has a series of "bids & wagers" to exert narrative control (each player having a limited number of coins with which to bid against each other). Maybe that's what I was thinking of.

  3. I'm sort of surprised that this was never embraced as a design. Fantasy games are full of high-risk/high-reward behavior. Going up against a guard with a dagger? Well, that halberd has a much higher "redline" than your dagger due to its reach, so you'll have to risk disaster to get within stabbing range ...

  4. I've heard of this mechanic, but have never been able to play James Bond. Sounds very cool, and I love the redline mechanic. Yeah, that would work well for adapting to Star Wars, I could see like an X-Wing having a much better redline stat than a TIE.