For some time, I’ve been chewing on the problem of player character cooperation. The basic version starts with D&D, wherein PCs mostly take turns doing stuff.

Cooperation in this sense comes from the actions of each player ultimately contributing to the success of the party, but the only areas this works in are like, combat and puzzle-solving.

In combat for example, each PC contributes to resolving the problem of, “these guys are trying to kill us.” I hope it’s easy to see how uh, easy is it for each player to contribute individually to the success of the party.

Puzzle-solving is the other area where each player contributes, often by bringing player knowledge and acting as a sounding board or supporting the brain storm. Combat has a clear-cut procedure, puzzle-solving is largely free-form. Outside these two situations, it’s difficult to see cooperation work the way it can, or ought.

Aid Another in the d20 System is like a patch over a gaping hole in the rules: how do other players contribute to a dice roll that’s led by one player but benefits everyone?

When you’re trying to break down a door, everyone benefits from getting the food open, but only a few characters can work on they problem. In the event you can’t get the door open, you have to what, try again? What do you do about the investment of time and effort the players put into getting it open? Wasn’t the entire party depending on the door being open?

I recently found an SRD for the detective/mystery rpg Gumshoe, which proposes some novel solutions to certain problems that occur in our favorite games. When the outcome of a dice roll is important to the progress of the game, don’t make the progress of the game dependent upon the success of the roll.

I think this is part of the basis behind the “fail forward” mentality, but it’s also a pragmatic approach to solving a frequently-occurring problem.

Classic D&D of course has an answer to this, in the form of wandering monsters. You want to try again? Sure, just keep in mind that any noise you make might attract unwanted attention.

So, where was I going with this?

Cooperation mechanics. Not every instance of failure of a group can be answered with wandering monsters. Sometimes you need a different dice procedure, and that’s what this is about.

I realized the error in trying to assume first for individual player rolls, then trying to figure out how cooperative rolls should work: classically, the game is cooperative and you should assume first the players are trying to work together–THEN figure out how individual rolls might succeed.

So the first thing I did was discount combat entirely, because combat is dependent upon the success of individual rolls. No, combat must be a subtype of some other dice-rolling procedure, not the basis of others.

In Gumshoe, players have a resource (dice pool) that is gradually expended as they make dice rolls. When the players all want to benefit from the roll of a single character, they each contribute from their pool while the one player rolls. Each player who can’t or won’t contribute causes the difficulty of the roll to increase.

Elegant in its simplicity.

Sometimes you want multiple players rolling though, and not every situation is resolved with a single skill. Like in a heist, sometimes you need one person to distract someone at a party whole someone else hacks the electronic security while a third person sneaks in and grabs the loot. These things might have to happen at the same time.

And that’s where other dice procedures become necessary. At least, a basis for a complex skill check–something more effective than say, 4e’s Skill Challenge procedure “succeed X times before accumulating Y failures.” No, we need something more robust than that.

So, I’m working on something. I have some ideas and I’m putting together some different uh, premise-things. I have some terminology borrowed from music that I think fits the idea, like “concert” and “harmony.” Thinking of players working together with different skills in music terms.

I mean, I refer to myself as “music illiterate” because I don’t have much knowledge or understanding of the field of music, and some of these terms and concepts seem like a good fit for the thing I’m describing… I just don’t know what most of them mean. In music.