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Core mechanic: need critique

Started by CleverUserName, December 12, 2006, 04:59:20 PM

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I need some help on the limitations/pitfalls of this core mechanic.  Also, please point out "this is exactly like X".  Any tweaks or improvements, obvious flaws, etc. would be helpful.

range of attributes: 1-5
range of skills/whatever:  1-5

Sharon is a register-monkey at the local grocery store.  She has a strength attribute of 2 and a jumping skill of 2.  She is secretly training as a ninja.  Her first test is to leap from one rooftop to another across a street;  a 30ft jump.

During training she has gained 2 stars in jumping.  For examples' sake, we'll say every point of jumping gives 2 feet of jumping distance.  So, she can jump 8 feet due to her strength(2) and skill at jumping(2).  However, since she can use "star power" through her secret ninja powers of jumping, she can enhance this.  Every point of "star power" used doubles the value.

So, if she used 1 star, she could jump 16feet, and if she used 2 stars (her maximum star power for jumping) she could jump a total of 32 feet.

Does this make sense so far?

This would be a simple Target Number system, with tasks that have randomness using a 1d6 + attribute + skill/whatever.

"Star Power" would be a managed resource.  The number of stars in a given skill/power/whatever would be the maximum amount of star power that could be used for tasks using it.  Regaining star power - dunno yet.

Goals are obviously to make it straightforward to understand how adding power works, and for it to scale quickly and smoothly.  Adding 1 point to a skill or attribute certainly is powerful once you get beyond 1 star power due to the exponential effect.

1 star power makes for regular people able to do things that a highly trained and talented person can do.  It could also make "just-beyond-human" feats possible for those highly trained/talented people.  More than 1 goes into the realm of the obviously supernatural.

Now...  tell me what's screwed up, what I haven't looked at, etc.


It might be worthwhile to give some thought to whether Star Power "belongs" to a particular attribute, or to a particular skill, or just to a particular character.

Your decision will have a fairly radical impact on these mechanics and your game as a whole, I would suggest.

(Also, the impression I get from your example is that you decided to go with a Karmic resolution system.  Could you talk a bit about why you decided to go in that direction?)



My thoughts aim in the direction of attaching "Star Level" to each individual skill/power/attribute and "Star Power" to the character as a whole.  Although I can see how it might radically change the landscape to have individual power amounts, or alternately to have different "pools" of power from which different groups of skills/powers could draw from.

You will have to define "Karmic resolution" in order for me to give a meaningful reply.  I'm certain it's unconscious on my part, but it shouldn't be.


Quote from: CleverUserName on December 12, 2006, 06:24:30 PM
My thoughts aim in the direction of attaching "Star Level" to each individual skill/power/attribute and "Star Power" to the character as a whole.  Although I can see how it might radically change the landscape to have individual power amounts, or alternately to have different "pools" of power from which different groups of skills/powers could draw from.

You will have to define "Karmic resolution" in order for me to give a meaningful reply.  I'm certain it's unconscious on my part, but it shouldn't be.

How about the 'level' of a given stat, skill, trait... whatever... how about that acts to modify the Power resource.  Say you have Jumping 3 with a 2 levels associated with it (from Ninja Training).  What this means is for 1 point of Star Power you get 2 points of effect.  With 3 levels, it would be 1 point to 3 points of effect.  With 1, it would be 1 per effect.  So it 'scales' making a single point of power more or less effective based on how much special mojo is associated with a given trait/skill.

Your basic resolution scheme die+stat+stat has been used be enough systems to be effectively generic, so no worries there.


Anders Larsen

Quote from: CleverUserName on December 12, 2006, 06:24:30 PM
My thoughts aim in the direction of attaching "Star Level" to each individual skill/power/attribute and "Star Power" to the character as a whole.  Although I can see how it might radically change the landscape to have individual power amounts, or alternately to have different "pools" of power from which different groups of skills/powers could draw from.

Why not attach Star Power to certain situations. So the character could have a number of points he can use in combat situations, and a number of points he can use in a (car) chase situation, and point he can use in a sneak/stealth situation, and so on. So every time the character is in such a situation, no matter which attributes/skills he use, he can get star power point related to that situation.

Alternative you can relate the Star Power to different motives of the of the character: Want to be a good ninja, Want to stop the bad guy, Want to rescue my brother and so on.

Quote from: CleverUserName on December 12, 2006, 06:24:30 PM
You will have to define "Karmic resolution" in order for me to give a meaningful reply.  I'm certain it's unconscious on my part, but it shouldn't be.

I think Roger have misunderstood something in your post, I can not see that you use a karma resolution system, so you do not have to be concerned about this.

- Anders

Simon C

At first blush, the major problem I see here is that you have two ways of ranking how good a character is - stats, and star power.  What's the difference between someone with a good stat, and someone with lots of star power? (I like that name, by the way).  For example, why does the ninja training increase Sharon's star power, but not her jumping skill? I can see this system making sense for a character who "powers up" their ability in an obviously supernatural way, so someone could look weak, but by spending star power they can become strong.  But why does Sharon "forget" her ninja training when she's out of stars? Why does special ninja training give her star power, but, say, an olympic long jumper gets only normal jumping skill? Why would anyone improve their normal stats when "star" stats are so much more important?

These are questions I'd ask as a player, and I'd expect pretty good answers, if I was gonna feel like the game modeled any kind of coherant reality.  You can, of course, say that "that's just the way the world works", but you'll at least need to explain that in your game text.

As people have already said "stat+stat+dice roll" is a pretty common way to resolve tasks.  D&D is a good example of this system.  That's not a criticism, but it does mean you're gonna have to work hard to make your game stand out in other areas.  That's more a marketing than a design issue though.  It seems that you've gone for a pretty high importance on stats over randomness.  A character doesn't have to be very good before they're automatically beating a less skilled opponent.

Also, it seems like you need to pin down when you're using "fortune" (a dice roll) to help resolve a task, and when you're using "karma" (comparing the straight ability to the number required with no dice rolling).  The jumping task seems to be a "karma" mechanic (you have a table that tells you, based on your jumping skill, how far you jump), but you mention using a d6 for "tasks that have randomness".  I think you need to be very specific about what to do in each case.  This could mean writing up how each skill is used in various situations, or telling the players how to decide which system to use, or something else.  In general, I preferr a "core mechanic" approach, where everything is handled the same way (so, for example, everything is rolled on a d6, or everything is straight compared to a difficulty).  Your jumping rules strike me as a system that would be hard to play with.  A player would have to remember how normal skills convert to distance jumped, then remember the different conversion rate for "star power".  The GM would have to set the distances very carefully, or risk making things either impossible or effortless without intending to.   

Consider this as an alternative mechanic, similar to what you've suggested: roll skill+stat+1d6.  Compare to a difficulty.  Difficulty 7 or so is what a normal human could usually hope to achieve.  Double that for feats that are at the limit of what's humanly possible, difficulty 14.  For feats that are clearly beyond the power of a human, triple it. If it seems like it's harder than that, increase the difficulty. Jumping 6 feet, with a run up? That sounds like difficulty 7.  Jumping 12 feet? That's an olympic feat.  We'll make that 14.  Jumping 30 feet? that's a prime candidate for difficulty 21.  A normal human has zero chance.  However, "star power" lets you double your stats (and your dice roll?) for every star you spend.  Sharon can spend two stars.  the first one takes her from +4 to plus +8.  The second one takes her from +8 to +16.  She still needs to roll a 5 or better. 

This system makes both stars and natural stats very important.  It puts a lot of onus on the GM to come up with good difficulty ratings, and to be consistent.   

The alternativ is a straight Karma mechanic.  This could look exactly the same, but without the d6.  This makes it much more important for the GM to come up with good difficulties, and to be absolutely consistent with them.  As a designer, you'd have to be a lot more explicit with your guidelines, and do a lot more work.

A last word: If you're making a list of skills that the players can buy, please, please think very carefully about each skill, and how important it will be in the game.  Redundant skills hurt games.  Instead of "Jumping", consider "Athletics" as a skill.  Instead of "Melee" "Brawl" and "Martial Arts", consider "Fighting".  This punishes players less for wanting to play a well rounded character.  If I have to buy ten different skills just to be able to do all the stealth ninja stuff I want, I'm that much more likely just to take more "Kill Things" instead. 

It's a great learning experience, writing a game, as I'm discovering myself.  Good luck!


Hey clever,

What's your name?

The star reference in terms of points, scale, etc. gave me a visual regarding the character stats.

You could easily use a pool and target number combination that scales well.

The character has abilities with a star theme. The abilities each take position of a 5-pointed star in this order with Spectra at the top. They range from 1 to 5 in power.

Spectra - Knowledge and experience
Kinematics - Motion and agility
Mass - Size and relative resistance
Equilibrium - Inner-balance and recovery
Luminosity - Influence and charisma

Skills can be mundane but its preferable to have grandiose and extraordinary descriptions.
Normal people have 1 in each ability and 1 in all skills. Very bright or accomplished people have 2 in a few choice skills. Some extraordinary people have 3 in one skill. A few rare instances gives rise to a person with 2 in one ability.

The characters are exceptional. They often have 2 or 3 in abilities and multiple skill areas of 2 or 3 (max). Characters are proficient in several skill areas (2 points). Specialty skills are esoteric and unusual for which they may have 4 or 5 points in several.

Die rolls:
The skill points plus the power in the affecting ability determines how many six-sided dice to roll. The number of points in a skill determines which dice are valid: any die face equal to or less than the skill point is a success. Most tasks require only 1 or 2 successes, while contested rolls compare successes.
Example: Naomi wants to jump over the wall. She needs 2 successes. She has 3 in jump and 2 in Kinematics. She rolls 5 dice generating the following: 1,2,3,4,5. Since she has 3 points in Jump she acquires 3 successes. She not only clears the wall, but does it in style.

Some situations have magnitudes that determine the relative difficulty. It is the upper limit when determining which dice are valid. If the magnitude of Naomi's jump situation was 2 (very tall wall) then only the 1 and 2 would have been valid. She still gets to roll 5 dice but they only count when 2 or lower.

Star power comes in two flavors: Core and radiance.

Core is the renewable energy within you. It is your life force and a potential for altering your actions. You can expend up to two points per adventure to increase an ability by that same amount for the rest of the scene. The point is permanently lost until renewed through fusion. Naomi encounters multiple obstacles in her path. She burns 2 core points and increases her Kinematics by 2 affecting all skills governed by that ability. She has more power for the rest of the scene to overcome the physical challenges.

Radiance is the energy captured by each ability through focused actions. Each ability has a radiance total. Radiance is expended during an action to increase effectiveness and ease situation magnitude. For each point expended (up to 2) the chosen action increases the skill point by one and the magnitude is increased by one. Example: Naomi wants to jump over the chasm with a magnitude of 1 (extremely tough). She burns a point of radiance, rolls 6 dice (Jump 4 instead of 3) generating 1,2,2,3,5,6 and the magnitude is now 2. She has 3 successes and leaps with ease.

So, core makes you more powerful in an overall way while radiance really makes you shine.

Radiance is gained when a character performs an action that is attuned to their stellar path. When they do something spectacular, heroic or grand then they gain a radiance point in the appropriate ability used during that action. A character can gain several radiance points per adventure. A character's stellar path may be "Uphold family honor and defend the weak."

When you take damage, your core is temporarily reduced by the number of damage successes received. You regain one point of core at the end of each scene or through proper rest and renewal. Once you reach 1 core point, you are in flux and are unconscious. More damage reduces your core to zero, places you in decay and you now have 5 turns before you burn out. You can expend all your radiance at this point and return to 2 core points and become conscious.

At the end of the adventure you can pick one of three choices:
1. Increase core by one point.
2. Increase one ability by one point.
3. Increase skill points.
  a. Increase specialty skills by one point.
  b. Increase one skill group by one point.

Core and abilities are gained through fusion of radiance. When a character has one or more points of radiance in every ability at the end of the adventure, he can choose to reduce all radiance points to zero and increase his core or one ability by one. As the fusion is performed, evolution takes place. The character must enhance or transform his stellar path to match his new outlook or motives. If Naomi's sister was captured during the last adventure, then she can evolve and take "Rescue sister and reunite family" as her stellar path for the next adventure.

You can increase skills with two methods at the end of an adventure. If you have at least one point of radiance in each ability you can burn them all and increase one skill group by one point. You can increase any number of specialty skills by burning a number of radiance points (from the primary ability) equal to the new point total. Example: Its the end of the adventure and Naomi has 5 points of radiance in Kinematics, 4 in Equilibrium and 1 point in each of the other abilities. She burns 4 points of Kinematics radiance and increases her Jump to 4 (from 3). She burns 3 points of Equilibrium radiance and increases her Meditation to 3 (from 2). She now has one point of radiance in every ability. She expends all radiance points and increases her Athletics skill group to 3 (max).



Wow... thanks for all the suggestions.  That helps a lot. (I really, really like the idea of theme-ing the game around the "star power" idiom)

A few more of my thoughts with a night's sleep and reading the replies.

In the balance between stats and stars, it seems that once you go beyond 1 star it makes a lot of sense to increase a stat point, depending on what the "cost" of doing so is.  That is, increasing a stat by 1 if you already have 3 stars would give you a huge increase in the maximum star-powered stat, assuming that stats are "cheaper" than high-level stars.

But this brings me to a part of the design I'm not ready for yet, which is advancement.  I'm very certain that I want sort of a "story-driven" advancement scheme, rather than just handing out points/whatever.  I'm imagining an advancement system where the group decides which stat/star an individual PC gets an extra point in.  I'm not sure how that would work.  Another idea in my head is a random advancement.  These different ideas work, obviously, in different types of games...  That is, in a comic-book/after-the-bomb game, the random advancement makes sense, at least in the area of "mutant powers".

On the sample jumping thing, none of the details of that are necessarily part of the game.  Likely, it will make more sense to make every task a Target Number task so that the game is easier to use.  I used the sample the way I did so that it was obvious what the math of the system was.  I'm math-challenged so I wanted to make sure there weren't any weird or unintended statistical consequences to my choices.  (It's why I'm not fond of dice-pool games... the math is just bizarre to me)

My main concern with the mechanic is that it is very easy for a skilled/talented person to outdo an average person in a given task, and that it scale almost infinitely from the grocery store clerk with no star power, to superman who seems to have unlimited star power (that apparently comes from the literal sun).

I like Troy's idea for two sources of power, an overall one and individual ones.

I think I lean more toward "motivation-based" pools of power.  That is, you have an overall source of power, but you also get motivation specific power.  Dividing up the motives would be an interesting exercise, if nothing else.  They could even be free-form, generally, such as "Protect my family" or they could be limited/generic (kinda like Exalted) with "Compassion" or "Revenge" or some such.

Anders Larsen

About story driven advancement:

Where I see this work best, is in games that use the concept of "kickers". Kickers are motivations, the players describe for their characters, which can be resolved. For example the motivation: "Want to rescue my brother", is something that will drive the character and it can be resolved, when (or if) the character rescue his brother. The point is, that reward can be given when the player resolve one of his kickers. (properly not very well explained, ask me if you don't understand what I am going for here).

Of course if you use motivations both for star power and advancement it may be to much that depend on them. Maybe you can have resolvable motivations for advancement and unresolvable motivations (like "compassion" or "protect family") as a source for star power.

Anyway. As it is now it is hard for me to give any good advise because I really don't know anything about what you want with this game, so I can only come with random suggestions. So if you want to help me help you, I will ask you to answer some (or all) of the following questions:

* First, what is the game about? What would you say if you should "sell" this game to a gaming group?

* What style is the game: Action, adventure, hard-core realistic thriller, etc.

* What element in the game do you want to have the most focus on: The story, the character development, the action, having the players facing moral dilemmas, etc.

* what kind of stories do you want to tell with this game?

* What do the characters do - What roles can they take in the game?

* How do you want the control of the story to be parted between the GM and players?

I hope I can be of more help if you answer this, though, I can not promise anything.

- Anders


The main problem I'm trying to solve... or the main game-point I'm trying to reach... is the problem of character "advancement".

This is a digression, so I apologize if this doesn't make as much sense as it should.

There is a large divide between rp-gaming and television/movies.  I keep wanting to say, "Like Heroes" or "Like Smallville", except that it doesn't quite fit, because the way the characters in the stories "move" is driven by a completely different need than the needs of an rpg.

There is an element, that if I could excise it/separate it from the examples would be useful.  That of "Normal person becomes more than normal".  The literature, however, is full of all the wrong examples of what I'm after.  What I want to achieve is a way to "game" self-discovery, so that it is playable and satisfying over more than one or two sessions.  The problem is that the needs of the "story" in a serial or movie format define the discovery process in such genres.  In an RPG, the needs of the story are often half or less of the needs that drive satisfying gaming in the area of discovery.  Not only are the players part of the action, but they are also witness to the action.  That is, they are simultaneously the audience and the actors and the writers.

For example, in a post-apocalypse game I ran one night, the players played normal people sitting at a Starbuck's when "it" happened, and suddenly there were zombies everywhere.  The satisfaction with the game stemmed completely from discovery and resolution.  Discovering things about the characters, discovering the mystery of the single session, discovering "what's around that corner", and resolving situations.

One of the guys played a cheerleader.  As he started to describe his character, other players joined in with tidbits about his character.  Including that his girlfriend worked at the Starbuck's, and that she was an overweight goth/hot topic girl.  There was a flurry of activity and enjoyment and satisfaction at "discovering" things about one of the characters.  This was repeated throughout the night.  (the game, btw, was AFMBE which has no mechanics for this kind of thing, it was just spontaneous).

So, in the area of character development/advancement I want to have a set of mechanics that encourages and stimulates that kind of thing, and in a way that doesn't lose its "joy" after the first couple of sessions with a character.  That is, the game can continue to be driven by character development on down the line.  And resolution in the game should be simple and predictable.  There shouldn't be lots of randomness, although there should be tension through the possibility of failure.

Advancement aside, I'm still not settled on how characters regen power....   I'm thinking of trying out different possibilities and seeing how well they play out.  In fact, I know I'm going to have to try at least 2 or 3 different versions before getting a feel for the general direction to take that.

Anders Larsen

I have tried to filter out some important concepts from your description.

It seems to me that you want a game that focus on character development. It is about normal people that changes and grows, and due to circumstances discover abilities in themselves that they did not know they had.

You seem to want the process of character development to partly be collaborative, which I find very interesting.

My guess is that you want the Star Power to be the mechanic that enable the characters to perform these more than normal feats if the situation is right.

The first thing I think you should do is to stop thinking about "advancement", but focus more on how the characters changes and develops through the story. If the character just keep getting better at some ability it will be hard to keep it interesting, but if the character changes on a more personal level there will always be some new thing about the character to discover.

I think that you should make the concept of collaborative character development a main idea in the game, where at some points in the game the players can add stuff to the different characters. Of course the player of that character should have the final word of what will become a part of the game. In this way new and unexpected thing can happen to the character, that can then be explored. Much of what is added to a character in this process could suggest interesting situations that have to be resolved.

Much the the same thing could be done with the setting. The player could suggest elements they want to see in the setting or situations they would like there characters to take part of. It will then be easier for the GM to present the players with situations the really want to engage in and work hard to resolve.

Much of this is now just guesswork on my part. I need you to tell me if I have the right idea, and if I am wrong please correct me. After that I can try to come with suggestions for some more concrete mechanics.

- Anders


Quote from: CleverUserName on December 14, 2006, 03:58:59 PM
The main problem I'm trying to solve... or the main game-point I'm trying to reach... is the problem of character "advancement".

Ignore it.  No really.

The problem of character advancement arises becuase it has no equivelent in linear media.  We THINK it does in the Heroes Journey - Luke training to use the force for example - but that is not what is actually going on.  Whats goin on is character exposition.

To extend the example, Han does not advance.  Leia does not advance.  Lukes advancement is not there for the benefit of Luke, but for the benefit of the viewer.  To tell the viewer something about the character.

A technique I have used and seen used succesfully is to ask a player to describe a seen from the characters past.  This was conceptualised as the character ID sting you get at the start of a TV series, a brief image of the character doing something typical, identifying.  In play, this means that players think about and expand upon their characters history as a means of delivering these vignettes.  So everyone learns more about each characters conceptualisatin than they would have if the everyone stuck to in game conversation.

So, could it be that you have conflated "advancement" with "exposition"?  What is it precisely that you want to achieve, and is the idea of "characters increase in power" useful towards that goal?
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci


Yeah.  I think I choose the word "advancement" for a reason, because it's more than just telling something about the character.  It "moves the character forward".

Your description is very accurate, Anders.  I think it's more than "develop" and certainly more than "just keep getting better".  Every step along the path should be an interesting step.  That is, if a character develops telekinesis, it's interesting no matter what.  But if they develop telekinesis and aren't very good with it, then it *is* interesting when they make a significant jump ( sort of an "Aha!" moment of how to use their power ) at a later time.  That's classic advancement, but it shouldn't be and isn't interesting if it is, a small step.  It needs to be a significant step.

Of course it's more than just that, it also touches those things you touch, things that may have nothing to do with "power" in an overt sense.  Maybe a character becomes more compassionate, or falls in love, or gains an enemy, a phobia, a passion for art, etc....  these are "advancements" for the character as much as anything else, and these kinds of things ought to also drive the game.  And the game "gears" are the way the star power interfaces with the stats/powers/skills.

Now, as an aside, this game is for my players.  That is, I have a target audience of very specific people who have very specific likes and dislikes.  They have a huge range, and they have enjoyed playing D&D as much as FATE as much as Nemesis.

I say that, to say this.  They need a way to have their choices for each other have game mechanical impact.  This is reason I say I'd like to have a mechanic for collaborative advancement.  They need to be able to suggest two or three ideas for advancement of a particular character, with a mechanical benefit to doing so.  I'm just not sure what that would look like.

Back on the core mechanic, I'm going to have to write up a one page description, make some initial decisions regarding stats and skills, and run a small test.  See where the holes are.

Anders Larsen

I think that you have some really interesting concepts for a game here, but I am not sure you actually realise that yourself.

Anyway here are some ideas:

I think you need to have on the character sheet a lot of descriptions (lets call them descriptors) that goes a lot further that basic abilities. These descriptors can include relations to people and places, the character's personal traits, the character's principles, and so on. The descriptors should have some mechanical effect; they could be numbered, depending on how important they are for the character, and be used instead of skills - maybe?

The basic resolution mechanic will then be: attribute + descriptor + 2d6 (maybe it could be possible to use more than one descriptor at a time)

The reason I suggest this, is that these descriptors can be much closer to what you want the characters to advance in, than skills are. A descriptor can be "new girlfriend", "afraid of thunder", "outsider", "like cats", "love driving around in my car", and lot of other personal stuff that skill can not describe.

My though on a possible advancement process is:

1) Each of the players suggest a new descriptor for a character, or maybe suggest an reinforcement of an existent descriptor. These suggested descriptors are not active yet, they have to be realised through play. an example descriptor could be: "An ex-girlfriend have moved back in town".

2) The player of that character define some motivations which tells how the character will go about realising the new descriptors through play. A motivation could be: "Will get back with my ex-girlfriend".

3) When the player have realised the descriptor through play, it will become an active descriptor he can use in the system. When the descriptor is realised it will possible be transformed a bit. The ex-girlfriend will be to the descriptor "girlfriend", and will get a value that tells how important it is, and which then can be used in the resolution mechanic.

When all the suggested descriptors are realised, there can be a new round of suggestions.

Well, tell me if you can use any of this. And also tell me if I have completely missed the point, or if you want something clarified.

- Anders


Wow.  I like that a lot.  It reminds me a bit of the FATE thing, except during the game.

I think, "Yes, I like how that emphasizes that development is what happens during the game."  Consciously, I am aware that this sort of "flips" old-school gaming, by placing what is normally considered "background" and "character advancement" and making it what happens *in* game sessions rather than what happens *between* game sessions, sort of in the meta-game, so to speak.  If that makes any sense.

Hopefully, Christmas break will allow me some time to flesh this out a bit.  I'll try to work up some examples and maybe try some out with the game group.

I'll post something interesting once I get that sorted out.  Thanks for the help.