Sunday, December 4, 2016

Abilities and Skills

I've been refining ideas for broad organization of character creation -- linked to a resolution system I like -- and really have it narrowed down to three broad COAs.

The core resolution system remains a dice pool mechanic:

  1. Roll a number of D6 equal to your Skill rank.  Typical pools range from 1 to 4.
  2. Retain the single best die.
  3. Add a modifier (ranging from +2 to -2) based on Attributes.
  4. Compare against a Target Number (typically 5) or opposed roll if contested.

With this system, the attributes are essentially "classes."  They are very important and define roles in the game.  You can think of them as "hardware" baked into a character -- tough to change during play and role-defining.

The skills allow focus and customization but with diminishing returns, thus making it inherently difficult to "min-max."  They are like "software" -- upgradeable in play and giving better, more consistent results with investments.


  • Three Attributes:  These are aligned with key skills and the astrological qualities
    • Speed ("Move") - Cardinal
    • Strength ("Shoot") - Fixed
    • Savvy ("Communicate") - Mutable
  • Four Broad Skill Areas:  These are aligned with domains of human knowledge and the astrological elements
    • Martial Arts - Fire
    • Mechanical Arts - Earth
    • Liberal Arts - Air
    • Ritual Arts - Water (aka "Sacraments")
  • "Survival" is independent of character statistics, based solely on something like "level" or "grittiness" of setting with few if any modifiers.
This option has several advantages:

  • The attributes -- or character roles -- apply across all domains.  Whether the scene is a fight, a race, a verbal sparring match, or a race against time to defuse a trap, someone with "speed" will find something useful to do.  Its easier to deal with a weak skill rank than with a weak attribute....  No player will be forced to sit out a scene because it isn't occurring in the setting their character has specialized in.
  • Alignment with the qualities and elements is reasonably straightforward.
  • No character will be abysmal at surviving.  It will be essentially impossible to create a dump stat in CON (never a good idea in any system).  All characters will have roughly equal "hit points" or robustness.  Linking survival skill strictly to general level is also true to the earliest roots of D&D and the Outdoor Survival board game.
The disadvantages include:
  • Each of the skill areas has a list of seven possible specializations.  That's 28 different sub-skills to manage.  All of them are tight too except for the rituals, which are admittedly somewhat weakly defined in practice.
  • Some players LIKE having fragile "glass cannons" or hard to kill "uber tanks" so making "survival" fixed solely on level with little variation between characters can be a bummer for some folks I suppose.


  • Three Attributes:  Aligned with elements of human experience
    • Body (Martial Arts)
    • Mind (Mechanical Arts)
    • Spirit (Liberal Arts)
  • Four Broad Skill Areas:  Aligned with broad activities
    • Strength ("Shoot")
    • Speed ("Move") 
    • Savvy ("Communicate..." and all C4ISR functions)
    • Survival ("Survive")

Pros of this option:
  • The skill specialization lists are tied down to the tightest three, with only 21 options linked to the three attributes.  Its tighter than the 28 sprawling specializations of the first option.
Cons of this options:

  • Based on ability score, some players may have little to do that's effective in a scene.  For example, in a physical altercation, the bookworm character with -2 Body is at a loss for effectiveness barring some weird mechanics.  This might be ok in a very storyteller-ish game where you can expect to have lots of different critical scenes involving the three areas, but even then I suspect most people will prioritize "body" as the consequences of losing a physical altercation are usually "death."
  • The nicely focused specialty lists are linked to attributes, not skill areas.  For example, someone who has strong "body" is by default good at all martial arts, regardless of their skill training.  This is likely to be counter intuitive to some players.
  • Survival can be a dump stat which can cause problems for balancing the game.


  • Four Attributes
    • Strength ("Shoot") - Fire
    • Speed ("Move")  - Air
    • Savvy ("Communicate..." and all C4ISR functions) - Water
    • Stamina or Survival ("Survive") - Earth
  • Three Broad Skill Areas:  Linked to Domains of Human Learning
    • Martial Arts - Fixed
    • Mechanical Arts - Cardinal
    • Liberal Arts - Mutable
This option basically flips the previous one around, turning skills into attributes.

  • Neatly addresses the biggest cons of the above COA 2.
  • Puts nice focus on the specialization lists which are in turn linked with domains of learning in a very logical manner.
  • With four attributes, you are basically up from three classes to four character classes.  That means it requires more players to cover down on all the roles and the likelihood of a gap existing is higher.  Now, that's not a show-stopper:  D&D has four classes and is tremendously popular.  But one of my design goals is to create something that can be executed with fewer people at the table.
  • Linkages to astrological elements are a bit weaker but still somewhat reasonable.

Wow, its been awhile!

It has been forever since I updated this.  "Life" has gotten in the way.  I've done a little gaming over the past few years but not as much as I'd like...  Lots of theorizing though.  Some more to come.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A more coherent to-hit & damage system

This post builds upon this last one.  The combat system I threw out there was somewhat "off the top of my head."  This one is a bit more thought out.

In this system, the general procedure for "to hits" is:

  1. Determine if the attack hit the target.
  2. Determine where the attack hit the target (optional in some cases).
  3. Determine if the attack's Damage meets or exceeds the target's Soak.
    1. If so, then then the target is staggered.
    2. If so, and if the target was already staggered, it takes a wound.
    3. If the Damage does not exceed the Soak then there is no effect.

This is a "to hit" roll.
  • D20 Attacker:  Attacker rolls 1d20+Standard Attack modifiers
  • D20 Defender:  TN 10 + Dexterity Bonus + Shield Bonus + other Misc Modifiers (notice:  no armor here!)
  • D6 "Septimus" Attacker:  Attack rolls xd6+Savvy, where "x" equals their skill ranks in Martial Arts and Savvy equals their modifier (+2 to -2) for that ability score
  • D6 "Septimus" Defender:  Use Defender's Dodge score.  Typically "Dodge" is equal to 2+1/2 Martial Arts skill ranks+Savvy Modifier.  High encumbrance (typically caused by hearing heavy armors) can penalize Dodge.
If the attacker meets or exceeds the defender's target number, then proceed to step two.  If not, then the attack misses completely.

Sidebar:  Encumbrance and Dodge Effects
  • Load capacity = 4+/-Stamina measured in "stones" (~15 lbs)
  • < x1 Load:  12" move, -0 to Dodge
  • < x2 Load:  9" move, -1 to Dodge
  • < x3 Load:  6" move, -2 to Dodge
  • < x4 Load:  3" move, -3 to Dodge
  • < x5 Load:  1" move, -4 to dodge


Roll 1d6 and compare to the following table to determine the hit location and any effects that will occur if the Soak is exceeded in step 3.
  • 1:  Legs -- Target lower extremity armor (greaves, etc).  Instead of inflicting a Wound, attacker may opt to Cripple victim.  Cripple = drop prone, unable to move.  Penalty persists until target is no longer Staggered.
  • 2-3:  Torso -- Target torso armor (breastplates, jacks, etc).  No special effects.
  • 4:  Arms -- Target arm armor (gauntlets, bracers, etc).  Instead of inflicting a Wound, attacker may opt to Disarm victim.  Disarm = drop all carried items, unable to manipulate objects until no longer Staggered.
  • 5:  Head -- Target head armor.  Instead of inflicting a Wound, attacker may opt to Disorient victim.  Disoriented victims have a -1 penalty to throw off the Staggered condition.
  • 6:  Critical Hit -- Found a chink in the armor!  Ignore Armor Soak except for that from natural "Stamina."
Special:  For non-humanoids, build or modify the special table.  Typically, 5 is always a "head" shot if the creature has a head, and 6 is always a critical.

Special:  Targets who don't have names (i.e. "mooks") typically wear uniform armor all over and can take only one wound before being incapacitated.  Against mooks who have no, light, or medium armor, skip this entire procedure.  If a mook is wearing heavy plate mail then this procedure may be necessary to allow attackers to find chinks in armor.  Mooks in plate armor are rare in most settings.

Special:  Sometimes players want to make a "called shot."  In that case, they must declare a desire to do so prior to attacking.  The called shot will hit the arms, legs, head, torso, or a chink in the armor as the player desires.  Impose a -1 penalty (D6 Septimus) or -4 penalty (D20) to the "to hit" roll for called shots targeting anything other than the Torso.

Rationale: This table is needed for two primary reasons:
  1. As you'll see with the Soak numbers of armor, most light weapons have no way to penetrate heavier armors.  Historically, this was dealt with by finding chinks in the armor, or targeting unarmored body parts.
  2. A desire to have an option for mix-and-match armor parts (less compelling).
If I could find a good way around problem #1 I would ditch this step in the name of simplicity.


This is a damage roll.

Damage:  Most weapons deal 1d6 damage modified by the attacker's strength and weigh 1/3 of a stone.
  • Two handed weapons to include heavy war bows deal 1d6+1 damage and all strength modifiers are doubled.  They weigh 1 stone.
  • Light weapons deal 1d6-1 damage.  They weigh 1/6 of a stone.
  • Bows deal 1d6 damage at point blank range, 1d6-1 damage at 200 yards, and 1d3 damage at 300 yards.
    • Heavy bows deal +1 damage at all ranges (and double strength modifier as 2H weapons)
    • Light bows deal -1 damage at all ranges.
  • Early modern black powder long guns (muskets) deal 1d6+16 damage (yes, 16) at the muzzle with no strength modifiers.  They deal 1d6+8 damage at 25+ yards, 1d6 at 50+ yards, and 1d3 at 100+ yards, and 1d2 at 150 yards.
  • Early modern black powder pistols ("handgonnes") deal 1d6+4 damage at the muzzle, 1d6+2 at 25+ yards, and 1d6 at 50+ yards.
  • Ranged weapons deal less damage at range:  Point Blank (full damage), 25 Yards (
Soak:  "Soak" is primarily based on a defender's armor, modified by their Stamina modifier.  These values should be pre-recorded and noted on the character sheet.  As mentioned above, "mooks" wear uniform armor and have only one "soak" value.  Special characters or monsters may have different soaks over different parts of their body.
  • Padded Armors:  Soak 1 (may be worn underneath and add to any other armor's soak; weighs 1 stone)
  • Leather:  Soak 1 (Weighs 1 Stone)
  • Light Plate:  Soak 2 (Weighs 3 Stone)
  • Chain:  Soak 3 (Weighs 2 Stone)
  • Standard Plate:  Soak 6 (Weighs 4 Stone)
  • Heavy Plate:  Soak 12 (Weighs 6 Stone)
Example:  Conan has great stamina (+2) and prefers to wear a standard steel breastplate over a padded jack.  He wears leather greaves and bracers, and dons a mail coif as a helm.  His Soak is:
  • Torso:  8 (6 steel plate + 1 padded + 2 stamina)
  • Legs:  3 (1 leather + 2 stamina)
  • Arms:  3 (1 leather + 2 stamina)
  • Head:  5 (3 mail + 2 stamina)
  • Critical Hits: 2 (0 + 2 stamina)
Example:  Joe Blow the Redshirt pro is an elite foot soldier.  He is equipped with a chain mail ensemble by his liege lord over a padded jack.  His soak is 4 (3 mail + 1 padded + 0 stamina).  There is no need to roll hit locations on him (which speeds combat) as his soak is always 4.

Compare:  Treat the soak as a Target Number for the damage roll.  If the damage roll meets or exceeds the Soak Target Number then the attack deals damage.
  • If the target is already staggered, then a wound is inflicted.
  • If the target is not staggered, then the target is staggered.
"Staggered:"  A creature which is staggered may move at 1/2 speed and suffers a -2 penalty on all checks.  As a full action, the creature can roll a skill check (Martial Arts + Stamina, minus the -2 penalty) against TN 5.  This attempt counts as the character's action for the round.  Success removes the staggered condition.  Failure indicates the creature remains staggered.  Staggered creatures return to normal after a scene is over (assuming they eventually make their check).

"Wounds:"  Most characters can take a number of wounds equal to 2 + 1/2 Martial Skill + Stamina.
  • A character whose wound track is full suffers a -1 penalty on all actions.
  • A character whose wound track is full and who is also staggered is incapacitated.  This means they have been knocked out and are out of the scene.  An incapacitated character may be slain by any foe with a weapon, and is at the mercy of the victors.
  • Mooks (like Joe Blow, the Red Shirt Pro we introduced earlier) have only one wound.
Massive Damage:   Most strikes only inflict either a staggered condition or a wound.  If the damage roll exceeds the soak by 5, then an extra wound is inflicted.  This massive damage threshold can also be precalculated and written on character sheets.

Example:  Joe Blow the Redshirt pro has Soak 4 from his mail armor over padded jack.  Conan hits him with a two handed greatsword.  Conan has great strength (+2 modifier).  He rolls 1d6+1 for the sword; rolling maximum damage, his player shouts "7 damage!"  The GM reminds Conan's player to add double his strength bonus (+2x2) for a total of 11 damage.  This exceeds Joe Blow's Soak of 4 by seven!  Joe Blow is staggered and then suffers an extra wound, taking him instantly out of the fight.

System Note:  Massive damage can occur against unarmored characters occasionally using any one-handed or two-handed weapon.  If targets have just medium armor like Joe Blow above (Soak of 3 or 4), then massive damage will typically only be inflicted by those with above-average strength wielding two handed weapons or on a critical hit which ignores Soak.


For those who dislike tracking hit locations and different types of armor, this alternative is provided as a faster, simpler option.
  • Do not check for hit location.
  • All characters have uniform "soak" all over (Padded, Leather, Chain, or Plate) based on their armor type.  There are no partial suits of armor.
  • Heavy Plate gives only 6 points of Soak (as Standard Plate) but grants +1 Dodge.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Kinetic Energy of Strikes vs. Armor

I want to capture some data here about kinetic energy (Mass * Velocity ^ 2) of various strikes as well as armors.  This is important data about wounding and penetration capability.



* For different irons/steels, you can multiply these energies by: 
Munition quality iron: 0.5 
Low-carbon steel: 0.75 
Medium-carbon steel (Milanese): 1.1 
Hardened steel: 1.5 


So...  How is all this useful?

It informs a discussion of damage and armor systems.  We know that strikes inflict between 20J (average person with a knife) and ~350J (professional baseball player with two handed grip, world record boxer) of kinetic energy.  Typical break points include:
  • Light Knife, Underhand:  20-50J
  • Punches and Overhanded Strikes by strong people:  100-121J
  • One handed Weapons:  On order of 40-130J
  • Two Handed Weapons:  On order of 100-305J
  • Light Bows:  50J
  • Long Bows:  100J
  • Heavy Long Bows:  140J
Armors likewise protect against varying penetrating blows:
  • Padded:  20-50J (stacks with other armors)
  • Leather:  30J
  • Chain Mail:  80J
  • 1mm Plate:  55J (reasonable typical for lightly armored areas)
  • 2mm Plate:  175J (minimum for breastplates, helms)
  • Signficant Flesh Penetration:  ~30J
Slashing blows are about half as effective when defeating armor.

Those numbers are all rather large, so let's divide them by a common denominator, say, 25J, to get something more usable.

Modified numbers for strikes:
  • Light Knife, Underhand:  1-2
  • Punches and Overhanded Strikes by strong people:  4-5 (each standard deviation is +/- 1)
  • One handed Weapons:  ~2-5
  • Two Handed Weapons:  ~4-12
  • Light Bows:  2
  • Long Bows:  4
  • Heavy Long Bows:  6
Modified numbers for armors:
  • Padded:  1-2 (stacks with other armors)
  • Leather:  1
  • Chain Mail:  3
  • 1mm Plate:  2 (reasonable typical for lightly armored areas)*
  • 2mm Plate:  7 (minimum for breastplates, helms)*
  • 3mm Plate:  12 (not unreasonable for breastplates)*
  • Significant Flesh Penetration:  1+
*Cut plate defenses by 1/2 for cheap pot metal.  Increase by +50% for high-grade metal.

Interestingly, those numbers look a lot like usable numbers for damage rolls in a gaming context, do they not?  As a caveat, most of those damage numbers are high-end maximums (if only one number is given).  Most are also for penetrating force.  A slashing blow can do a more damage, but is less effective against armor by about half.

Strength Modifiers:  From the data on olympic boxers, we also have the data that each standard deviation adds or subtracts +1 (25J).  Now, olympic boxers are already above the bell curve, likely at least two standard deviations, but it is a reasonable modifier.


So now we start to get to a usable system.

Weapon Damage (average adult male):
  • Punch, Unarmed:  1d3
  • Light Weapon (Dagger):  1d6-1
  • One Handed Weapon:  1d6
  • Two Handed Weapons:  2d6
  • Light Bow:  1d6-1
  • Long Bow:  1d6
  • Heavy War Bow:  1d6+3 or 2d6-1 (or just 2d6 for simplicity's sake)
Strength bonuses:  Each standard deviation +/- 1 to above figures.
0-1 (-3), 3-5 (-2), 6-8 (-1), 9-12 (0), 13-15 (+1), 16-18 (+2), 19-21 (+3)

*As an optional rule, two handed weapons deal 1d6 (perhaps 1d6+1) damage as well but all strength modifiers are doubled.

Slashing weapons and strikes:  Roll one extra damage die and retain best against unarmored targets; roll one extra die and retain the worst against targets in chain or plate mail.

Bludgeoning weapons and strikes:  Bludgeons always do "bruising" damage, not lethal damage, but ignore the "soak" of armor.


Armor mitigates incoming damage.  Characters select either to wear a helmet and either full or half armor.  Full armor protects the torso and extremities.  Half armor protects only the torso, like a breastplate or coat of mail.

Characters may layer lighter protection for extremities (such as greaves for legs and gauntlets for hands) as desired with half armor.  For example, you could choose a steel breastplate for the torso and leather gauntlets/leggings for the extremities.

Cloth padded armor may be layered with any other type for more protection.
  • Cloth:  Soak 1
  • Leather:  Soak 1
  • Light Plate:  Soak 2
  • Chain Mail:  Soak 3
  • Medium Plate:  Soak 7
  • Heavy Plate:  Soak 12
With this system there are several checks:
  • Attacker checks "to hit."  This is based on defender's agility.
  • If there is a hit, defender gets to "save" and see if their armor helped out.  Roll 1d6:
    • 1:  Head (Helm)
    • 2:  Arms (Gauntlets)
    • 3-5:  Torso (Armor)
    • 6:  Legs (Greaves/Chausses)
  • Attacker rolls damage.  Armor, if present in the targeted area, "soaks" incoming damage.
    • If the damage roll is less than the "soak," the defender takes a bruising hit.
    • If the damage roll is greater than the "soak," the defender takes a lethal wound.
    • Extra Damage:
      • Hits against the head and torso result in +1 Wound (i.e. two wounds).
      • If no armor is worn, a damage roll of >=5 also results in +1 Wound.
      • If armor is worn, a damage roll that exceeds the soak value of the armor by >=5 also results in +1 Wound.
  • Cover:  The "save" system above also factors cover into effect.  Decide what part of the body is protected by cover and negate hits to that area.  For example, a low stone wall covering half of a warrior's body would protect against any roll of 4-6.
Wounds & Damage:
  • Lethal vs. Bruising:
    • Most weapons deal lethal damage.  Bludgeons as well as unarmed strikes deal "bruising" damage; armor can also "soak" incoming damage, converting potentially lethal strikes into bruises.
    • Bruises recover rapidly.  Enough bruises stack up to lethal damage.
    • Lethal wounds recover slowly.
  •  Characters have the following hit points:
    • 6+/-CON Bruises
    • 4+/-CON Lethal Wounds
    • If a character can no longer take bruising hits, then all future "bruises" become lethal wounds.  This represents a badly battered character having ribs cracked, suffering concussion, and other serious and life-threatening wounds.
The wounds and damage system needs some work, but it could be ok.  As an alternative, you could simply use the damage and soak values as is, subtract the "soak" rating from the incoming damage, and use normal D&D hit points.

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!