Friday, April 11, 2014

More on Char Stats & Gen

Awhile ago I wrote about some char stats and gen methods I'd like to flesh out further.


If you didn't realize, the four skills loosely relate to the four elements:

  • Mechanical Arts = Earth
  • Martial Arts = Air
  • Liberal Arts = Water
  • Sense = Fire (may rename this one "passion" or "faith" or "zeal")
As written, having Sense/Zeal/Passion/Faith above two is fairly pointless.  Mathematically, a rank of 2 Common Sense is better than zero ranks in another skill (obviously), and equivalent to one rank with a lower chance of a critical fail to boot.  After that, more ranks in Common Sense just reduce your critical failure chance until you get to Rank 5.

I was toying with letting the character gain one rank in a skill bundle for each rank in Common Sense/Zeal -- with the caveat that they must all be the same bundle.  This requires characters to commit to a patron/planet to get the benefit, of course.  I have to think on it though and see what it does to game balance/power though.  It also increases complexity at character creation, as players would have to commit to a relatively important choice (patron) fairly early on.

Abilities are intended to create a semi-flexible "class" straightjacket of role differentiation.  I have a few concerns.

1)  What if you get cruddy rolls after investing a ton of points in "potential" that doesn't pan out?
2)  Did I pick an appropriate trinity?

The first one is easier to mitigate.  I think some sort of rule that allows increasing ability scores could help.  Alternatively, using the "potential" as a Dice Pool ("rank") for certain rolls could also work.  For example, you could have people roll the Potential as a dice pool if no skill is relevant, perhaps for saving throws.

The second is harder.  I wanted to go with a "holy trinity" model.  Three broad classes allows a party of two characters to cover everything if they "major" and "minor" (hybridize) in two different things each.  With my gaming trends today I'll rarely if ever have a large group, so three core roles instead of four or more to cover helps.

  • The "heal/tank/DPS" model is well established and easy for players to grok.  It also has the advantage of not needing a battle map.  I haven't entirely thrown that out yet.  I could sub out the three ability scores I have now for something like "Spirit (Heal)," "Stamina (Tank)," "Strength (DPS)" without a problem.  Stamina needs to be linked to an aggro/mark mechanic.  Still, this is overdone and I rather dislike aggro mechanics.
  • "Armor/Firepower/Mobility" would be entirely appropriate for a tank/armored vehicle game.  I don't know if it fits for other genres.
  • "Speed/Stamina/Strength" is roughly drawn from physical conditioning, with stamina being aerobic and strength being anaerobic endurance.
  • "Mobility/Endurance/Firepower" matches with 19th century Napoleonic warfare.  Think "cavalry, infantry, artillery" or "light infantry skirmishers, line infantry, and grenadiers."  It also kind of lines up with the Speed/Stamina/Strength.
  • "Cardinal/Fixed/Mutable" fits my astrology theme better and links to ancient archetypes.  The trick is defining what those abilities actually do.  I tried to do this with the above Speed/Stamina/Strength model but am not convinced I got it right.  There is some trickiness here, especially with the treatment of mutables.  Mutables are flexible, perceptive, and adaptable.  They also can bring death (as at the end of a season; fall dies and the cycle begins anew in winter).  So, do they do the "utility"/"support" role or are they the strong DPS types?

The easy solution is just to go with Heal/Tank/DPS.  I don't particularly care for "heal" as nobody likes to be the healbot so that could be eliminated, give everyone some healing, and broaden the role to "support."  Alternatively, you could axe DPS, give everyone credible offense, and make the third role something like "mobility."

I definitely think this is homing in, though...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Character Stats & Gen

I'm having a bout of insomnia so figured I'd throw something out there that has been rattling around on some notebook scraps for awhile.  Basically it is a way to describe a character's core capabilities.


  • Martial Arts / Physical Domain (Riding, Tilting, Fencing, Wrestling, Running, Leaping, Throwing or Archery)
  • Mechanical Arts / Mental Domain (Fabric Making, Hunting, Commerce/Navigation, Armaments/Smithing, Surgery*, Agriculture, Cooking)
  • Liberal Arts / Emotional or Spiritual Domain (Logic, Grammar, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, Astronomy)
  • Common Sense / Catch-All
Each skill is rated from zero to five points.  Each point in a skill represents about six years of study.  For example, a single point in liberal arts could represent a grammar school education, two points a secondary education, and three some sort of time at a university or college.  In the mechanical arts, progression might follow the apprentice-journeyman-master model.  While a theoretical maximum of five (or even more!) is possible, most people will have one or two points in a skill.

Common sense is a "catch all."  If the GM is unsure what skill applies, common sense should fill the gap.  Additionally, anyone may make any other check with "common sense" at a -1 penalty (or the target number is increased by one).

Note that skill training has diminishing returns -- the first point invested has a more likely payoff than the second.

*Surgery is a mechanical art or trade and generally deals with trauma.  Internal medicine is a liberal art and deals with disease.


Some groups may want more refined skill sets that the bundles described above.  This variant rule is perfect for such groups!

Gaining skill specialty bundles:

  • Option A (power neutral):  Expend one character point that would otherwise be used to improve a skill set or potential ability to gain two bundles.
  • Option B (higher power):  All characters get one bundle at character creation
  • Option C (power neutral):  All characters may take one bundle, but in turn, take one bundle as a "flaw."  The flawed bundle receives -1 to all checks.

Available bundles (All bundles list skills in the order liberal art, mechanical art, and martial art):

  • SATURN:       Astronomy, Agriculture, Riding
  • JUPITER:       Geometry, Architecture, Mounted Combat*
  • SUN :              Arithmetic, Surgery, Climbing
  • MARS:           Music, Armament (Smithing), Melee Fighting
  • VENUS:         Rhetoric (Inform, Persuade, Motivate), Fabrics (weaving, tailoring, etc), Swimming
  • MERCURY:  Dialectic (Logic, Argument), Commerce, Dancing
  • MOON:          Grammar (Languages, quotations, history), Hunting & Tactics, Shooting
*At the GM's discretion, for cultures which lack mounted combat experience, this skill can cover regional tournament games such as Bull Fighting in a Spanish campaign.

Effects of skill specialties:  Gain a bonus die on all checks relevant to the skill, as if you had +1 rank in that skill.

  • Speed
  • Stamina
  • Strength
Each ability is given a "potential" from zero to five points.  The "potential" is used to generate an actual score from 3 to 18.  Not all people live up to their potential, after all!  Note that potential has diminishing returns -- the first point invested has a more likely payoff than the second.
  • Zero Potential:  Roll 4d6 (avg 8.76), sum the lowest three.  Below-average potential.
  • 1 Potential:  Roll 3d6 (avg 10.5).  Typical potential for most people.
  • 2 Potential:  Roll 4d6, sum the highest three (avg 12.24).  Significantly above average potential.
  • 3 Potential:  Roll 5d6, sum the highest three (avg 13.43).  Dramatically above average potential.
  • 4 Potential:  Roll 6d6, sum the highest three (avg 14.27).  Extraordinary potential.
  • 5 Potential:  Roll 7d6, sum the highest three (avg 14.9).  Legendary potential.
After rolling the ability score, apply the following standard modifiers:
  • 0-1 (-3)  -- only used in special cases
  • 3-5 (-2)
  • 6-8 (-1)
  • 9-12 (0)
  • 13-15  (+1)
  • 16-18 (+2)
  • 19-21 (+3) -- only used in special cases

Each character has ten points to divide between starting skills and starting potential.  The division, at the GM's discretion, is linked to character starting age.  It is recommended to start each character at an age of about 30.
  • 18 yrs of age (3 skills / 7 potential)
  • 24 yrs of age (4 skills / 6 potential)
  • 30 yrs of age (5 skills / 5 potential)
  • 36 yrs of age (6 skills / 4 potential)
  • 42 yrs of age (7 skills / 3 potential)
  • 48 yrs of age (8 skills / 2 potential)
  • 54 yrs of age (9 skills / 1 potential)
  • 60 yrs of age (10 skills / 0 potential)
Variant:  For more mundane characters, use a total of 8 points rather than 10.  10 points is intended to create well rounded characters who are somewhat above average.


Players may choose to assign points.  Alternatively, they may use the following random method:
  1. Pull only the face cards from a deck of playing cards.
  2. Draw five cards (for a 30 year old character).  Each card represents six years of training and development.
    Jack = Speed
    King = Stamina
    Queen = Strength

    Aces = Martial Arts
    Diamonds = Mechanical Arts
    Hearts = Liberal Arts
    Clubs = Common Sense

    For example, if the first card I drew was the King of Aces, I'd place one point in Stamina and one in Martial Arts.

To make a check, roll one D6 for each point in a skill, retain the highest die, then apply any modifiers from your ability score.  Treat "boxcars" (two sixes) as a natural seven.  Treat three sixes as a natural eight, and so on.

For example, say the GM calls for a Martial Stamina check.  My character has three ranks of training in the martial arts and a +1 modifier from a stamina score of 14.  I roll three D6 and get a 2, 4, 5.  The best die is a 5, so I retain that then add my +1 modifier for a total of six.

If you are entirely untrained in a skill, roll one die (c.f. "critical failures" below), or you may substitute "common sense" but must subtract -1 from the result.  While success with "common sense" may be less likely, it mitigates the chance of a critical failure.

Critical Failure:  If all of your dice come up with a "one" showing ("snake eyes") your character suffers a critical failure.  If you are entirely untrained, any failure is considered critical.

As you can see with this mechanic, training reduces the odds of getting a poor roll and creates more predictable results.  Training does have diminishing returns though, particularly above three ranks. Some degree of natural ability is needed to get the best results.


In general, use Domain + Ability for all checks.
  • Speed:  Used to determine who acts fastest or first, and for rapid activity.
  • Stamina:  Used to resist the actions of others, or for sustained activity.
  • Strength:  Used to overpower obstacles or others.
The domains and training are self explanatory.  Here are some typical combinations:

Martial plus...
  • Speed:  Initiative in physical combat -- who acts first in combat?
  • Stamina:  Resist physical damage or attacks.  Use a martial skill over a long period of time ("aerobic"), such as swimming in calm water for a long duration.
  • Strength:  Hit someone, or surge aggressive use of a martial skill ("anaerobic"), such as swimming through a difficult obstacle.
Mechanical plus...
  • Speed:  Initiative in mental challenges, puzzles, or craftsmanship problems.
  • Stamina:  Resist mental fatigue.  Use a mechanical skill over a long period of time, such as focusing on making some sort of item.
  • Strength:  Solve a challenging problem or use a feat of skill, such as making an extraordinarily complex item.
Liberal plus...
  • Speed:  Initiative in social situations -- who acts first at a party?
  • Stamina:  Resist social or emotional fatigue.  Use a social skill over a long period of time, such as staying out through a long party or looking for recruits for an army.
  • Strength:  Solve a social problem, such as making a strong favorable impression at a party or rallying troops to your cause.
As discussed previously, common sense is a catch all; it can also be used to substitute for any of the other specialized skills at a -2 penalty.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

18th Century Musings

I've lately been on an 18th century kick.  The American Revolution, Napoleonic wars, etc.

There are a few basic problems of scale associated with this era, though, for man-to-man adventuring.  The most obvious is that of range.  Here are some typical ranges for 18th century arms, rounded off for easy usage:

  • Musket:  Point Blank 60 yards / Effective 120 yards / Max 240 yards
  • Rifle:  Point Blank 100 yards / Effective 200 yards / Max 400 yards
  • 3 lb light cannon:  Point Blank 200 yards / Effective 400 yards / Max 800 yards
Compare those to your typical medieval game.  Long bows vs. point targets are typically effective to about 100 yards.  Most hurled weapons are being used far closer, and with indoors scenes dominating, hand to hand melee is king.  Moving the action to larger outdoor venues with firearms definitely changes the necessary scale.

The other issue is the rate of fire of such arms.  A musket could be fired around 4 times a minute by a well trained regular.
Marshal Maurice de Saxe wrote: "Light infantry should be able to fire 6 shots a minute, but under the stress of battle 4 should be allowed for."
Finally, rates of march remain similar across the eras.  The quick time march is about 85 yards/min, and double quick is 150 yards/min.  This is actually fairly rapid; it is a 5 MPH pace or a 12 minute mile.  Obviously a dead run is faster, but sustaining a 12 minute mile while loaded with gear on battlefield terrain under fire in formation is pretty legit.

With that data in hand, here are some examples of scales that could be appropriate:

1 figure = 1 man, 1" = 10 yards, 1 round = 20 seconds

With this scale, a "quick time" march would cover 3" per round, and a "double quick" about 5" per round.
  • I really like this as if you wanted to add a bit of randomness to movement, you could determine move distances with the roll of a D6.  For example, at the quick march, roll 2d6 and retain the best; at the double quick, roll 3d6 and retain the best.  Double sixes equals a move rate of 7" (8.5 minute miles), and rare triple sixes equals 8" move.
  • There is also a happy coincidence that the number of inches of movement equals the rate of move in MPH, which allows for easy conversion to overland adventuring scale.  "Quick time" = 3 MPH.
  • Horses would cover about 8-10" per round at a trot or gallop, which again is easily derived by rolling a D6+5 and allows similar conversion to MPH.
Conversion of weapon ranges to tabletop distances is easy; divide by ten.  For example, musket range would be 6/12/24".  Ranges would fit fairly easy on a typical table.  A yardstick worth of play area could probably be sufficient for most engagements.

The problem here is granularity of action and reloading rate.  With each round being 20 seconds, you need to allow a proficient musket user to load and fire at least once each round. Even that only gets you three shots per minute, which we know is shy of the historical case of 4-6 shots per minute.  So clearly we need some sort of provision to allow well-drilled regulars to occasionally squeeze in an extra shot; say, a 1/3 chance per round.

We also need to allow multiple actions per round (load and fire).  This is familiar to D&D players of 3E ("move & standard" actions) but I prefer simpler systems where everything is a full round action, personally.

One could do a variation on this for 1" = 10 yards, 1 round = 15 seconds.  This would change your march rate to 2-4" per round, but could solve the rate of fire issue.

1 figure = 1 man, 1" = 5 yards, 1 round = 10 seconds

With this scale, again a "quick time" march would cover 3" per round, and a "double quick" about 5" per round.  Conversion of weapon ranges to tabletop distances is a bit harder; divide by 20.  For example, musket range would be 12/24/48".

The shorter rounds helps solve our rate of fire problem.  If we allow load & fire each round, then we get six shots per round; if we throw in some sort of random "x" factor to occasionally mess up the process (say, loading requires passing a relatively easy skill check, but one which is failed from time to time) we can throttle that down to fewer shots per minute fairly easily.

With a more granular system of actions, you could require "load" and "fire" to each be full round actions.  That would still allow three shots per round.  We'd have to have some sort of "feat" or rules exception for well-drilled regulars that let them accelerate the load & fire process to get back up to our six-shots-per-minute best case, though.

The problem here is tabletop real estate required.  Now I need six feet of table to cover most probably scenarios.  Youch!

1 figure = 1 man, 1" = 10 yards, 1 round = 10 seconds

With this scale, again a "quick time" march would cover 1.5" per round, and a "double quick" about 2.5" per round.  Conversion of weapon ranges to tabletop distances is easy again.  Loading is easy too.

The problem here is the move rates are very slow and small.  It almost necessitates some sort of battle grid, and even then we'd probably have to either round up to 2"/3" moves, or have some sort of mechanic that allows an extra 1" space to be moved every other round.  It would also be very difficult to work in any sort of reduced move rates, say, from difficult terrain.

1 figure = 1 man, 1" = 5 feet, 1 round = 6 seconds

With this scale, again a "quick time" march would cover 5" per round, and a "double quick" about 9" per round.  Conversion of weapon ranges to tabletop distances is a bit tougher, as we're going from yards to feet, but you could round the weapon ranges off.  Musketry would be at 36"/72"/144" though, which is the fatal flaw of this scale:  you need the length of a room just use use muskets, much less rifles or cannons!

This scale does resolve the granularity of action issue in that you could have loading be a full round action, and firing be a full round action, and get about five shots per minute.

Rules Lite Abstraction

You could also dispense with such scales altogether and go rules lite with some sort of range abstraction.  Say that characters are either in range, or they're not. 

I can see why man-to-man action is not popular to model in the 18th century context, except perhaps for naval battles where these issues are easier to manage!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Interesting Post on the "Trinity" vs. RPS

In my previous post I explored some class/role ideas.  It turns out that Richard Bartle, of MUD fame, has a post reaching similar conclusions.

Now if, back in 1978, you'd told me that there were going to be three main character classes in future MMOs, I would probably have assumed some kind of rock/paper/scissors relationship among them for reasons of balance. Archers beat infantry, cavalry beat archers, infantry beat cavalry — that sort of thing. I don't believe for a moment I'd have gone with what we have, which is the "trinity" of tank, heals and dps....
He goes on to explain that the "tank" role came from MUDs (early online RPGs) that lacked positional systems.  Everyone was either in a room, or not in the room.  Therefore, there was a need for aggro management:  ergo, the tank.

D&D has traditionally handled this as wargames do, with pathfinding or keeping track of locations.  This requires greater granularity and fidelity, though, in that you need to track locations of pieces, usually with minis.  It also starts to break down in some scenarios.

I am reminded of G2, Gary Gygax's module about frost giants.  Maybe I am a huge jerk, but as DM I used a lot of missile fire (as the dungeon key suggests) from the giants, and I played the ogre magi to their maximum potential.  Heavy missile fire which can essentially ignore the strong "front line" tanks and the threat of flying invisible ogre magi with AOE spells like Cone of Frost made some sort of "taunt" ability necessary.  The player running a paladin role played this to the hilt and sought out a magic sword with the "Taunt" spell built in.  The other fighter went with the "whack giants with a two handed sword dealing 3d6 damage" route so they had to pay attention to him.

The point is that if the system allows enemies to ignore the tank for some reason then we're back in the early-MUD DPS-Tank-Healer trinity conundrum again.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Class Roles: Quartets, the Trinity, and Duality

One of the topics I brainstormed on was the idea of character classes.  A lot of my game design ideas are focused around character creation.  Classes are an integral part of that, obviously.

Right up front, I want to acknowledge that it is possible to have fun games with class-less systems, or systems which have loosely defined roles such as World of Darkness.  However, for the lighter sorts of games I am enjoying these days, a class system is helpful because it helps everyone find their role in the game quickly, speeds character creation, and generally helps everyone "grok" what is going on.


D&D 4E was an interesting example of a lot of ideas.  One of the core character creation rules in 4E was character roles.  Each class filled one of four niches:  Striker (DPS), Defender (Tank), Leader (Healer/Support), and Controller (debuffer/crowd control).  Characters could generally "lean" towards a second role, in effect "majoring" in one and "minoring" in a second.

One problem that becomes apparent rapidly though is that if you have four roles, and each are considered vital, then you need more players to fill them all.  At a minimum, you need two players and they must each Major and Minor in different roles:  for example, a Paladin (Defender/Leader) could pair up with a striker that minors in controller (or vice versa).  Really, most typical groups will need five folks to cover each of the core four roles adequately.

1E AD&D was similar in that the core four roles were cleric, fighter, magic-user, and thief.  In reality, you could often dispense with several of those, though, as there were more ways to skin a cat.  For example, if you were short on fighters it was usually possible to hire men-at-arms as bodyguards.

Personally, I play RPGs rarely these days and often with a small group.  I would prefer a mechanical system with fewer roles so that two or three players can cover down on everything.  That means that the classes need to be less rigid, or you need fewer of them.


MMOs like WoW have popularized what has come to be known as the "holy trinity" of DPS, Tank, and Healer.  This allows a smaller group to cover all the roles, in theory.  In practice, it seems like the average group size in WoW still tended towards five, with a common line up being three strikers, a healer, and a tank.

The Holy Trinity has a few strengths.  As mentioned, you need fewer players for a viable group (more on that later).  Due to recent popularity, it is easily understood by players and GMs alike, and players know immediately what they are "supposed" to do.  Even players who don't do MMOs can figure it out rapidly:  I personally think immediately of American football, which has an offensive team, a defensive team, and a special team.

Some downsides include:

  • These roles don't really match historical combat lineups.  For example, in ancient combat you had heavy infantry (like pike formations), medium infantry (Roman legions with swordsmen), light infantry (velites), cavalry (of various types), archers, and so on.  In the Napoleonic era you had light infantry skirmishers, line or medium/heavy infantry, artillery, and cavalry.  They don't necessarily fit neatly into a trio.  The trio is entirely based on game rules, not reality.
  • The roles fall apart in a PvP environment, or if the "enemy" uses the same system.  I'm not a big WoW player, but as I understand it, healers and tanks are fairly useless in PvP.  You'd have to balance the trio more like "Rock Paper Scissors" for it to work in a PvP setting.
  • The "tank" role only makes sense with an artificial aggro mechanism to force foes to attack the target which is hardest to kill.  Traditional D&D uses minis and battlefield positioning to allow tanks to block an enemy; MMOs used aggro due to poor pathfinding algorithms and latency issues.

Two classes would be the minimum to have a non-trivial choice in character creation.  EVE Online does this, with basically choices between tank (defense) and spank (offense).

I find such a system to be a bit too simple, personally.

I've got a few more thoughts on this front but my wrists are killing me, so I'm calling it quits for now.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Back -- a little!

I just wanted to announce that the blog is back.  A little.

It has been a busy year.  I traveled out of the country on business for months, moved into a new position at work, and got some carpal tunnel syndrome which is really cutting into computer time.  I was able to manage a rocking summer road trip though and did a lot of talking with old friends and brainstorming on game stuff.  I'll see what I can put down onto useful paper here, if my wrists allow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I don't normally intrude into the real world on this blog as that is not the intent.

The events at Newtown elementary were shocking and obviously terrible.  They hit close to home as I have close family members who work in elementary schools.  I want more than anything to see effective solutions that reduce the threat of violence to kids and people who work in schools.

I know that many people are asking a lot of questions and wanting solutions and dialogue.  I am professionally in the risk assessment and threat mitigation business, have qualified on and carried bona fide "assault rifles" for work, and personally know about losing friends and coworkers to violence.  My wife works with children, but on the weekends she is a certified firearms safety instructor (and a better marksman than me and many badge toting professionals, I might add).  We are familiar with the legal environment in Connecticut.  Please email me if you want facts or information that you feel the media are not providing accurately or clearly.

I won't ask you to join the NRA or donate to the Brady Campaign; I won't tell you how to vote or what to tell your Senators.  I can answer questions like, "What's the difference between an automatic assault rifle and a semiautomatic assault weapon?" or "how do you as a risk management professional mitigate the threat of random mass violence?" or "what is the likely risk impact/effect of proposal X?"

Post a comment with your email address and I'll be happy to have a private dialogue to answer  questions.

Back to your regularly scheduled intermittent gaming posts.