Keep on trying?

I am currently learning Coriolis and I came upon one thing that seemed really unfitting to the fiction of the game and frustratingly difficult to fix within the established mechanics of the system. Repairing a damaged component on a ship takes one skill roll, one unit of spare parts, and one space combat turn, which is in the range of a few minutes. If you succeed on the roll, the component is working again. Which seems okay in the middle of a fight, but after a battle is over with your ship shot to pieces just short of breaking down, getting it back to a pristine state in just an hour or two without need to get to a space dock is just wrong.

And it turns out to actually be wrong according to the rules, because I kept forgetting one very simple but really important rule of Coriolis. You only get to roll on skills once. The rules for making repairs on ships doesn’t have to state that again, because this is a fundamental thing that applies to the whole game. Yes, in theory it might be possible to repair a badly mangled ship to full working condition in two hours, but that’s only if the engineer succeeds on every single repair roll for every single repaired component. You can only try again if something has substentially changed about the situation. Which in this case would apply if you take the damaged ship into dock where you have proper repair facilities. (The game doesn’t say what happens if that roll also fails, but I like the idea of the component being beyond repair and having to be ripped out and replaced with a newly purchased one.)

I’ve read the rule that you can’t try again on skill checks right when I first started reading the book and had been thinking about it several times later while getting deeper into the mechanics of the game. But when it came to reading the ship repair rules, I had already completely forgotten about it. I started RPGs with D&D 3rd Edition where trying again as many times as you want is an explicit feature of the system. It even recommends skipping the dice rolling in situations where you have decided to keep trying as long as it takes and simply assume that you’ll roll a 20 after 20 rounds of trying. Since that’s the highest number the die can get, if a 20 isn’t enough, the task is simply impossible. The other game engine I am most familiar with is Apocalypse World and it’s many descendants. In these games, any failed attempt at something results in something bad happening. In theory, these games allow you to keep trying something for as many times as you want, but with each failed roll the situation of the characters is only going to get more chaotic until eventually the thing you were trying to accomplish is no longer relevant or possible.

The idea in Coriolis that you get one try only actually does feel really fresh and interesting to me. Though obviously this is a rule as trivial and obvious as it could possibly get. I’m sure there would have been plenty of games that done that over 40 years ago. But somehow I never actually encountered it before.

One thought on “Keep on trying?”

  1. This is also how many skills in old school D&D work (such as lock picking). I house rule it away, though, for a very simple reason – it adds a huge amount of bookkeeping on the part of the GM. With such a rule in place, I have to write down, for every locked door (or broken component) which characters have tried and failed to interact with them. Which is not something I’m interested in doing…

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