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.