Without any prior knowledge of any such system existing anywhere, I'll just share my thoughts on a system that may be good for getting the dice off the play. I have not tested this but it may be fun to try.
Bargain for success
This system uses a currency of some sort(call it karma, chi, clout, mojo, energy, mana etc. Whatever fits your campaign world. I'll use the symbol @ for example's sake from now on.) that can be spent to buy successful actions from the GM.
The player announces his intent for an action, and if the GM decides that the action is a non-trivial one that should have a cost, he tells the player so and asks if he would like to commit to the action. If the player says yes, then his character is committed to the action and is doing it, come success or failure. Then the bargaining part begins. The player or the GM may make offers and counteroffers that involve exchanging a specific result for a set amount of @. Once they agree, the player gives up the agreed amount of @ and the agreed result happens.
GM – Ok Frodo. You notice that the chain holding The Ring™ around Gollum's neck has broken and the ring is falling down as Gollum is shouting foamy threats at you. It's possible that the ring may bounce into the lava pit behind him. What do you do?
Frodo – I'll grab the ring before it bounces away.
– That won't be easy, will you commit?
– Sure! I'll just dive towards the ring and grab it before it touches down.
– OK. Why not. You can do so, along with Gollum noticing your move and jumping in to stop you. You'd end up face down with the ring in your hands and a mad Gollum on your back. For @20 of course.
– Mad Gollum on back doesn't sound good. What if I kick him out of my way while diving for the ring? I'd be willing to give @35 for that.
– Considering your respective agilities and the fact that you're also trying to grab the ring, that sounds more like @90 to me. Deal?
– Nope. Way too much. I think I can handle one Gollum-on-back if you let me have it for @15
The result need not be a black-and-white success/failure affair. Any kind of outcome with its partial levels of success and related positive and negative side effects can be requested or offered. A magnificent result should cost much. A mediocre success should cost something. An acceptable failure should cost a bit. A catastrophic failure should cost nothing.
– No deal, that one stands at @20. For @15 let's say that Gollum notices and grabs The Ring™ but also you take the dive and grab his wrists.
– How about this? @20 and I grab The Ring™, Gollum grabs my wrist
– Good idea, but let's see… @25 and we have the action. Yes?
After the player commits to an action, aborting the action becomes a negotiable outcome. Its @ cost is up to the GM, who is advised to determine the cost according to how 'abortable' the said action is.
– This isn't going to work… Maybe I shouldn't dive for The Ring™ at all.
– Well, why not. For @10 you suppress the urge to spring into action, and the ring bounces away while Gollum tries to figure out the hesitant look in your eyes.
And yes, the player can decide to pay nothing, accepting failure at its worst or the GM's mercy.
– @10 for nothing? That's unacceptable! I'll just give up! Zero!
– Sure, but remember that you committed to diving after The Ring™. Zero @ would mean you take the dive but trip over, sliding past Gollum and finding yourself hanging by one arm from the edge of the chasm behind him.
Of course it is good practice to get every little bit of leverage you can think of.
– Come on! You know The Ring™ is calling to me. I have every motivation to get hold of it now.
– Ah, good point. I'll give you a @3 slack as long as you end up touching The Ring™ [evil smile]
– Fine, then I leap and grab it, and Gollum grabs my wrist. @22, right?
How do skills work?
The skills of the character provide automatic discounts to the amount of @ agreed on. A skilled character gets to spend less @ on the same result than an unskilled character. Higher levels in a skill provide higher discounts.
– Yes, @22 normally, unless you have levels in Juggling.
– Will acrobatics at level 1 help?
– Sure, L1 would give you a 10% discount. That makes this @20.
You spring towards Gollum, grabbing the falling ring. He tries to do the same but reacts a split-second too late, managing to get a strong grip on your left wrist instead.
When two characters oppose each other, it is an auction about whose result stands. Player A announces his intended result and amount of @ he's willing to pay for that. Player B can either fold and accept A's result, or she can raise the bid, and announce her own result. This goes on until somebody folds. The winner gets her way, but she has to cough up the @.
By the way, there is no reason for the auction to involve just two sides. Any number of actors may be allowed to bid on the outcome, pending the GM's approval or invitation.
When two or more characters are working towards the same goal and able to help each other, they can share the @ cost of their intended result. It is up to the players to decide how they share the costs. The GM can also make NPC's offer their help and @ contribution.
We the people…
It is not only characters that have and spend @. Other entities like teams, military units, guilds or even whole nations may have @ pools that represent their collective will to be applied towards their goals. Bigger entities will have bigger @ pools unless they depleted them. A nation may have millions to billions of @ at its disposal, to be spent when the action represents the interests of the whole nation(and not the state).
Players may have access to such pools when they are somehow in a position to influence the actions of the entity. A ship captain directly uses his ship's @ pool when running the ship, representing the collective will and skill of his crew. A rockstar will be able to tap into the @ pool of her audience, directing them towards a common goal, but that will be only when she is able to step into the spotlight.
This makes it easy to abstract any scale of conflict, the skirmish between border patrols and smugglers, the competition of two rival companies, or the global cold war between alliances of nations, into a single, even if elaborate narrative.
Death, or maybe not…
There's an interesting consequence of this system. Since death of a character is either the ultimate defeat or extremely hard to recover from in most settings, PC or NPC's would be willing to bid all their @ to avoid death. This makes killing people an expensive affair at best, since you would have to spend more @ than that character can muster(maybe including the extra @ his allies may contribute to save him). It also means that going on a killing spree would deplete your @ reserves rather quickly, leaving you defenseless against all kinds of attack and exploitation. Most of the time, it will be more effective to get your target to agree on a lesser form of defeat. He will be willing to top your @10000 bid to behead him as long as he has it, but he may agree to be disarmed by you instead of having to top your @100 bid.
Just as awarding XP, the GM should award @ for advancing the story, solving problems, overcoming challenges, defeating foes, acting in-character and good roleplaying.
These rules are not required for this system to work, but can make it more interesting.
Instead of accumulating XP, the players use @ for advancing their characters. Some of the accumulated @ can be used to buy new skill levels and perks. The players are advised to spend wisely though. A smart investment of the character's @ in a frequently used skill may mean a lot of @ saved during play. A bad investment is just precious @ wasted on a useless improvement, and could have been used to succeed in-game.
In your game setting, there may be more than one type of @-like currencies. A different currency may be required for a different type of action. Using combinations of different amounts of different currencies for one action may be allowable, as long as they make sense in your world.
A few examples of multiple-currency setups:
- Life + Magic + Prestige
- Good karma + Bad karma
- Fire + Earth + Water + Air
Call it GM special; during bargaining the GM may offer a secret outcome or fate at a relatively low @ cost. It may be one of the outcomes discussed earlier or something new entirely. The GM writes this down on a card and offers it face down. It may be any kind of result, ranging from spectacular success to abysmal failure, and include side effects. The player has the option of accepting this offer and he doesn't find out about the outcome until he agrees. The GM is welcome to entice, trick or cajole the player into accepting fate, and can lie about what's written in there.
And the only way for the player to find out about fate is to accept it.
None of this has been playtested yet. If any of you are willing to give it a try, please let me know about how it holds up. Any comments and suggestions are more than welcome.
I also intend to add imaginary in-play examples about how this system works, but it's late now, hopefully I'll be able to edit this later to include some examples.