Monday, June 22, 2009

The contest: Damage is not just for combat.

A mainstay in Role Playing Games is combat.  For the most part this is due to the nature of Role Playing Games, but to some extent it is due to the way these games were developed.  There are no tools in most games for settleing things without combat.

In this game combat is similar to any other contest of skills, the difference is that combat is when characters use skills to inflict bodily harm on each other and that is different from a game of poker or a tennis match.  But, like in combat, each player tries to control the environment to gain the upper hand in the contest.  The players use strategy to outwit and outmaneuver their opponent to achieve victory.  Many skill contests are like combat and therefore, in this game, combat is just a contest of skills.

Such contests have four phases that repeat; Initiative, Action, Reaction, Effect.  Initiative is the process of deciding who will act first, this is usually a dice roll with the highest roll acting first.  Action is when the winner of the Initiative phase (can be called the attacker) uses a skill to gain an advantage in the contest .  Reaction is when the looser of the initiative phase (can be called the defender) tries to avoid the actions of the attacker to lessen the effects of the attacker's actions.  Effect is when the overall actions and reactions are considered and any advantages or penalties are given out (can be called damage).

For example Albert and Betty are to appear on a reality television show called "Combat Cooking" - a "no holds barred" cooking contest where contestants lie, cheat and cook their way to the top.  Each is to cook a dish but can sabotage each other and only the judges decide who is the winner.  As the contest starts, Albert sneaks over to Betty's stove and alters the thermostat so that the stove is actually 75 degrees hotter than it should be.  While Albert is at Betty's station, Betty switches the sugar and salt on Albert's station and adds vinegar to Albert's Strawberry mixture.  Each uses their cooking skills to effect the other's stations and therefore limit how their dishes will turn out.

In this situation, initiative is not important since most of the action is happening at the same time.  Also the action is balanced and the important part is how well the contestants do after the sabotage.  Albert has a cooking skill of +5 and Betty has a cooking skill of +3.  For Albert's sabotage he rolls a 10 and gets a score of 15.  For Betty's reaction to Albert's sabotage, she rolls a 7 and gets a total of 10, Albert wins with difference of 5 points.  For Betty's sabotage she rolls a 4, plus her 3 for a total of 7.  Albert counters with a roll of 17, plus his skill of 5 and gets a total of 22.  Albert is the net winner by 20 points!

What happened is that Albert returns to his station and begins to cook.  Like a good chef, Albert tastes everything and catches the salt mix-up just in time.  He also smells the strawberry mixture and carefully just rinses it and uses the strawberries as garnish.  Betty on the other hand spent too much time watching Albert catch her tricks and does not pay attention while her cake is in the oven.  As her oven timer goes off she notices the smoke from the burnt cake.

There was no damage necessary in this scenario.  Normally damage is associated with skills and equipment specifically paid for at creation time to inflict damage.  In situations where a person wants to inflict damage but has not paid for the ability to do so, then extra effort would be involved and the attacker would receive damage as well - just under the name of "fatigue".  But even without damage a winner can be chosen by looking at the rolls.  In closer matches the players might opt to spend damage points as extra effort to ensure victory.  In real life it would be rare to see such extreme effort in a cooking contest but anything is possible.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The problem with dice and the casual gamer

There is a special group of people who always have dice with them.  Outside of specific areas, carrying dice is not acceptable.  If you are in Las Vegas then carrying two 6 sided dice is common, if you are in a Comic Book Shop, Hobby Store or convention (comic, anime, etc) then carrying a good 20 sided die might be common.  But how often have you been with friends who play RPGs and wanted to play but no one had the necessary materials?  

I first wanted to make my own RPG while a friend and I were no where near the required shelf of RPG books and bag full of dice.  We ended up playing what would now be a LARP style game that progressed awkwardly and no one was happy with the end result.  I decided that a good game system could accommodate the materials at hand and not require extensive books or equipment.

While a random number generator is easy to make on the computer (sample code to follow one day), but the dice assortment usually associated with RPGs is not as easy.  You can find a deck of cards and a pack of 6 sided dice at most convenience stores.  But what if you have a Orc with a battle axe that does 1d12 damage?  Or a Kobold with a dagger that does 1d4?

Another issue is the casual RPG player.  Someone who is trying it for the first time might not like the strange dice RPG gamers use or how to read them.  Many people don't know a d8 from a d10, but do they have to in order to play a game?

Some games avoid these issues by using fist-fulls of dice  where you roll under a number a proper number of times to be successful.  This is also confusing to the casual gamer who might be more used to board games or card games.

In this system all rolls are base upon an average roll.  This might be mathmatically and statically unsound but if you suspend calculation and accept the premise it all makes sense.  A six sided die rolled an infinite number of times will give values from 1 to 6, and the average is 3 (actually 3.5 but we can round down.)  In the same way a four sided die is 2, 8 sided is 4, 10 sided is 5, 12 sided is 6 and 20 sided is 10.  

These average rolls allow for two important things.  The first is that a power/weapon/whatever has an effect (usually damage) which can be paid for with a set number of points.  So a sword might cost 10 points because it does 10 points of damage.  The second feature of using average rolls for dice is dice substitution.  When the character does the damage they can take those 10 points or they can roll.  When they roll for damage, it is based on the average roll of the dice.  For 10, they can roll 3, six sided dice and add one point (3*3=9 + 1 = 10), one 20 sided die or even 5 four sided dice.

Dice substitution is good because it gives players flexibility with what dice they have to use or if they have to use dice at all.  Also, different dice combinations give different ranges of results.  While 3 six sided dice plus 1 is the same average roll as rolling one 20 sided die, the ranges are 4 to 19 for the 3d6+1 and 1-20 for the 1d20.  The 20 sided die can give a higher result as well as a much lower result, ask someone who just rolled a 1 about which way they would have rather rolled.  But if you roll both ways you might end up with a 1 or a 4, had the roll not been chosen then the player would automatically get 10.  It is up to the player as to how much they are willing to give up to chance.


A skill is a task the character knows how to do.  Skills are the basis for all actions a character  takes in the game.  All actions have an associated skill, from using weapons to cooking food.  Even the characters attributes are used as skills.

A character uses a task on a regular basis to practice it, they have trained on this task with an instructor of some sort.  In training and practice they learn to do this task better than someone trying the task for the first time.  But training and practice do not prevent the character from trying to use a skill, they just do so at the default level.

Skills are written with just the bonus the skill provides to a roll, such as "Cooking +3".  An attribute when used as a skill will be a bonus or penalty depending on if it is above or below 10.  So a BS (Bodily Skill or dexterity) of 12 will be a +2 when used as a skill, but a BS of 9 is -1.

Skills are used two ways, in contest and non-contest situations.  Contest situations is where a skill is directly used against another character's skill.  This can be in combat, in a contest or just to compete with another character.  In a contest roll the goal is to roll with a combined amount higher than the other character.

In a non-contest situation, the character is trying to achieve a goal.  Depending on difficulty, the player must roll below half the controlling attribute plus the skill bonus and attribute modifier (amount above or below 10).  So if a player has a skill of "Whip +3" and is going to use the whip to hit a target and the "Whip" skill is controlled by the BS attribute of 12, then the player must roll below 10 (12/2 = 6, +3skill = 8 +2attribute = 10).  If the target is rather large and the character is very close then the difficulty modifier might be +4 or to roll under 14.

If a character needs to use an attribute as a skill in a non-contest situation then they use half the attribute plus the modifier (amount above or below 10).  So, if a character must try to use their MI (Mental Influence or charisma) to persuade and their MI is 13 then they must roll under 10 (13/2 = 6.5, round up to 7, +3 = 10).

Skills are effected by injury because if a character takes damage, the damage can come directly from a skill or can come from a controlling attribute.  A very high skill will not help if the controlling attribute gets too low.

A character can also use extra effort to make a skill successful.  The character spends attribute points (the attribute points are subtracted just like the character had taken damage and must be healed back) and the points they spend can be used to raise a skill for a roll.

If a player wishes they can simply spend points at creation time to raise a controlling attribute and use their default skill for all rolls.  This is permissible, but not encouraged.  The issue is that a person must practice or be trained to perform some actions at some levels.  A person who never went to school might be very intelligent, but if they were never taught to read then they might have a harder time reading than a less intelligent person who had been taught to read.  So the difficulty  modifier depends on the character's exposure to the situation.

If a character is in a contest situation but does not have the same skill as the other contestants, or has a higher skill they would like to substitute they may if they make a proper argument with the Game Master.  A character in a cooking contest might have a low cooking skill but a high knife skill, they could use the knife skill to cut the food in a decorative way to participate in the contest.

A skill is not just the simple knowledge and practice to perform an action.  An accomplished practitioner of a skill gains a reputation from fellow practicioners as well as customers/friends and the like.  This reputation give the character another way to apply their skill because the skill has value beyond it's actual action.  A skilled cook might be attacked by a gang of criminals, but the cook can use their reputation to scare the criminals or at least offer to cook for them.

Some skills are common to all characters in a given game world, if a skill is assumed to be known to "everyone" then it is part of the controlling attribute.  If the character does not know that skill then it is a disadvantage and the character gets points at creation time to spend elsewhere.  For example, in the modern USA it is assumed that all residents know how to speak and read English, if a resident can't then they get a penalty to read or speak English and can use those points to increase another skill or attribute.  Usually these points will be used to speak or read a different language, but speaking or reading might not be required.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


A constant in Role Playing Games is the use of attributes.  An attribute is a common skill that all characters have.  It is recorded differently than other skills, it is written in a range of 0 (basically dead or useless) to 10 (average or normal) and on upward to infinity.  The typical range for normal games is 0 to 20, super hero comic book type games might be up to 40 for some attributes.  

Attributes are the basis for skills or provide a bonus to the effect of some skills.  A normal attribute provides no bonus but also no penalty.  A low attribute penalizes the character per point below 10, so a 9 would be a -1 penalty and a 5 would be a -5 penalty.  A high attribute gives a bonus per point above 10, so 12 gives a +2 and 20 gives a +10.

The attributes for this game are modular and can be swapped or changed depending on the game world.  In a typical game world (such as fantasy, modern or even wild west) the characters have attributes for their body and mind (more on that later). But in a high fantasy world were everyone could perform magic there might be additional attributes for a character's magical abilities.  Or a high science fiction world were everyone used computers in a virtual world, there might be attributes associated with that virtual world.

While it is possible to arrange attributes in different and perhaps more concise ways, the attributes for this game (in a normal, realistic game setting) is as follows:

Body Attributes:
     Body Power (BP): Aka Strength.  Gives a bonus to damage by manual attacks as well as distance of thrown objects and weight to lift and carry.
     Body Skill (BS): Aka Dexterity.  This is the basis for most physical skills and therefore rates the natural ability to perform physical tasks.  A character with high BS might do well at physical skills despite lack of training.
     Body Endurance (BE):  Aka Constitution.  This is the basis for a character's ability to heal their body as well as endure physical stresses.
     Body Influence (BI): Aka Beauty.  This is the character's physical appearance and how it might influence others.  This is not just to the opposite gender, many leaders have been chosen by their looks in the past as well as ugly people are often not trusted or considered inferior.

Mind Attributes:
     Mental Power (MP): Aka Wisdom.  Mental Power is the raw ability to memorize facts.  MP might be used from time to time when a character needs to recall something from memory.
     Mental Skill (MS): Aka Intelligence.  Mental Skill is how well the character can think to approach a problem.  MS is used in planning as well as to determine if small details are noticed (including the ability to hear, see or smell).
     Mental Endurance (ME): Aka Temper.  Mental Endurance is the character's ability to withstand mental stress.  ME is used when a character is trying to maintain their temper, resist mental stress (torture and questioning) and healing from mental injury.
     Mental Influence (MI): Aka Charisma.  Mental Influence is the character's ability to influence others through persuasion, speaking or direct coercion.

This might seem like a lot of attributes, but the system is built for modularity and to have a universal approach to attributes.  Any attribute is assumed to be 10, less than 10 awards the character points to be used elsewhere, more than 10 costs points from elsewhere.  If a game requires a quickly generated "average" person, then the person has attributes of all 10s.  Further, if a character from one game world is played in another world where there are additional attributes, the new attributes can be assumed to be all 10s.

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