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"Knowledges" as primary statistics?

Started by Meadslosh, December 02, 2007, 05:14:32 AM

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to my first post on the Forge. I'm glad to be here.

I have been ruminating upon the desire to write an RPG for quite some time, and I believe that I may have found a basic principle behind character creation that satisfies my desires for role and roll playing.

I wish to keep the core mechanic mostly under wraps for the time being, not out of fear that it may be stolen but because it developed out of my participation in a web-community project that eventually fell through. Nothing was ever copy-written (the core rules were never officially completed for that matter) and I wrote most of those experimental rules, but I want to explore these legal issues more before I write much more about them on the Internet.

Onto the true nature of my post: I had found myself in a mire thinking about character statistics as being either "concrete" (the classics such as Strength, Intelligence, Agility) or "abstract" (with statistics like "ferocious", "kung-fu monk", or "devious gambler"). The first left me thinking of my game as being just another D&D clone, the second made me think of my game as being completely replaceable by games like Risus or FATE.

This changed when I remembered an idea for a strategic card game that I had made notes on years ago. The resource system was based upon what your character cards knew, with their knowledge divided up into Arcana, Divinity, Warfare, etc.

So, characters in my game will have several broad types of knowledge or training as their primary statistics. These statistics represent an inherent talent or proficiency within the field, while the individual skills that fall under each type of knowledge may differ greatly in aptitude. In the case of this game a skill check would be XdY, where X is the value of the knowledge field and Y is the expertise the character has with the skill. Raw talent times specific training = the dice pool.

I have the following seven "core knowledges" as the stats (and rough examples of what each might be used for) right now:

Arcane: for matters of wizardry, sorcery, alchemy, knowledge of strange creatures, knowledge of magical items, etc.
Divine: for religious services, faith healing, dealing with Outsiders, etc.
Athletic: for things such as riding horses, climbing walls, or sneaking.
Martial: for all matters of personal combat, whether it be by sword, bow, throwing dagger, fist, or any other weapon.
Tactical: for mass combat encounters, for inspiring or guiding your allies in battle, for planning a cunning robbery.
Social: for charming others (or at least getting them to put down the axe and talk things out), wheeling and dealing, performing on stage, or telling lies.
Professional: for engineering a city wall, performing surgery, researching the history of an unusual item, or cooking a meal fit for a king.

An example of a character: a wicked priest of Yog-Orgo, a feral beast god, would have these knowledges: slightly below average Arcane, excellent Divine, above average Athletic and Martial, average Tactical, below average Social, and terrible Professional.

For an example of a die pool, let's say that your spearman is trying to put some hurt upon an enemy soldier. Your Martial talent is 6, and your skill with a spear is rated at d8. You roll 6d8.

I'm fond of the number seven, and I think I have every major category covered without much overlap; I certainly expect some situations to involve multiple knowledges, and I have an idea of how to allow players benefit from that in a balanced manner.

So, I come to you with these questions:

1. I'm sure that other games have had similar ideas for statistics, but am I treading too much upon the heels of any existing games that you know of?

2. Do I have too many or too few core knowledges? Are there any you feel could be split or combined?

3. Would you enjoy playing a game where your concrete physical and mental prowess are just implied by the size and quality of an "abstract" die pool?
"Your bargaining posture is highly dubious." - Unicron

F. Scott Banks

Welcome to the Forge (I don't think I've ever had the chance to say that before) and congratulations.

Those are good, but if you're going to use them as your primary statistics then you're going to have to come up with a way to define the character's resources.  As abilities or skill classifications, they work and I can see you you could unify them into a working system, but we don't know anything about the characters besides the type of knowledge the character can obtain compared to other types of knowledge.  There's a huge potential for push and pull and counterbalances among skills here, but there's no metric for how good a character is or could be at doing any of these skills.

I'm a gambler and gamblers are better gamblers than magicians, but I don't know how good a gambler I am against other gamblers or under different circumstances.  Without that, there's no way of guessing this as a RPG system.  In a game where intellect is the only defining factor, then "knowledge" as a primary (and I'm assuming that these are the all of 'em) stat is fine.  If the character could, in gameplay, be fast, heavy, tall, fatigued, etc., then this will have to be amended to include not only what a character might be expected to know, but how fast they might be, how healthy they might be, etc.

So, if knowledges are primary statistics with regards to what a character knows and there are other statistics that define other aspects of the character essential to gameplay (health or strength or however your mechanic crunches the numbers) then these are solid.  If the game you're making defines characters by more than how smart they are, then you need the system to include those stats as well.


The rating for skills is by die size, and smaller dice represent greater levels of skill. Terrible skills are rated as d12, and perfected skills are rated at d4.

I'm no longer worried about any legal issues surrounding the project, as the old one has been all but abandoned and won't ever be complete enough to receive Creative Commons or any other copyright protection, so I shall explain how this works:

You create your pool of dice. Let's say that it happens to be 6d8, as in my earlier example.

You roll, and then you try to find as many matching numbers as possible, finally choosing the best three of these dice to represent your final result. Pairs are a success, and triples are often critical successes. In matters where multiple successes are necessary, a set of 4s earn you double successes, a set of 3s earn you triple successes, a set of 2s earn you quadruple successes, and a set of 1s earn you quintuple successes. This is why skills are rated in reverse order of die size: you become more likely to match within smaller ranges of numbers and you are more likely to earn multiple successes.

For example, I just rolled 6d8 right in front of me and got 3, 3, 3, 5, 6, and 6. The set of three threes is obviously the best choice. It may be a critical success (depends on the opposing roll or nature of the task at hand), and it earns 9 successes (which is important when you are rolling against a target number rather than an opposed roll).

Now, if it had been 3, 3, 5, 6, 6, and 6, I might be hard pressed of which set to choose (3, 3, 5) or (6, 6, 6). In an unopposed check, the (3. 3. 5) will earn me six successes, so it would be best. In an opposed check, I might choose either; my opponent has less of a chance of rolling a better set than the (3, 3, 5), but I stand to seriously outdo them if I choose the (6, 6, 6) and they roll a pair or triple above a value of six (or have no matches at all). They could still negate my critical success with a pair or triple equal to or below a value of 6, however.

Obviously, it isn't 100% realistic that someone who is great at fighting with a foil should roll the same number of dice when she is forced to fight with her bare hands, but this is brought closer to reality when you consider that she probably has a meager rating of d10 (novice) for her Brawl skill and a rating of d6 (expert) for her Fence skill. The dice pool size is based upon raw potential talent as represented by the seven Knowledges.

When it comes to measuring the influence of a character's physical abilities, it simply doesn't matter except for large and small species or magically strong creatures. Such creatures receive a Strength bonus (or penalty) to the size of their die pool when performing select Athletic and Martial skills such as Climb, Lift, Bludgeon, or Block. Most standard player races (probably the old classics of humans, elves, and dwarves, along with cross-breeds) won't have such a modifier.

So, it is inferred that if your character has decent or excellent Athletic and/or Martial talent and good ratings for skills like Bludgeon, Block, Lift, Climb, Swim, or Wrestle that they are very physically strong. If Ride, Throw, Aim, and Sneak are rated well, then it is also assumed that they are agile. No need to actually assign a number to a physical ability, save for a racial modifier.

To extend the theory, a character with great talent with Divine and Social matters can be assumed to be wise and charasmatic, and a character with great talent in Arcane and Professional fields can be assumed to be very intelligent and observant. The final assessment, however, is based upon their skill ratings.

I plan on writing a complete list of skills that fall under each core talent (I have just decided to permanently refer to them as talents rather than knowledges, as one doesn't just LEARN to be physically strong), with each talent having a nearly equal number of skills associated with it (as not to designate any talent as being a dump stat).

Characters also add to or modify their skill lists by purchasing Affiliations, Accolades, and Attributes, which are similar to classes, prestige classes, and feats (to borrow some easily recognized terms from d20). Experience that you would normally spend on increasing your talents or skill ratings can instead be spent upon the triple As to modify your abilities.

For example, you are playing a tough, savage barbarian warrior, so you decide to spend your starting experience (a small pool meant for these kinds of modifications, though you could certainly save it and achieve more expensive improvements later) on the Frenzy attribute. You gain a new skill, Frenzy (an Athletic skill), and assign points to it to achieve a desired skill rating.

The special rules for Frenzy are (and I'm just making these up as I go):

1. It may be used once without penalty during any combat scene when you have a full round to whip yourself into a frenzy.
2. After spending a full round biting a shield, cutting yourself, howling, stomping, chewing on a bone, or doing some other wild, feral action, you make a Frenzy skill roll.

(Let's say you have an Athletic talent of 7 and a Frenzy rating of d6. You roll 7d6 and get 1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.)

3. You make the best possible set of three as usual, and count your successes.

(2 and 2, your only pair, earns you eight successes. Good for you! Go get 'em, killer!)

4. Throughout the combat scene, you may add these successes to your attack rolls, using them one at a time, or using up to a number equal to your Athletic talent. You burn up a success each time you apply one.
5. You remain in a nearly uncontrollable rage as long as you have successes left from your Frenzy roll.
6. Once you run out of Frenzy successes or can locate no more opponents for more rounds than you have successes left, you fall out of your frenzied state and into a fatigue in which you take a penalty of two to your Athletic or Martial talents until you take at least half an hour to rest and refresh yourself.
7. You may, while you are still in a Frenzy, make another Frenzy skill check to add to your pool of successes, but each time you do so you receive a non-lethal wound as your system overloads on adrenaline and your blood pressure skyrockets, and your post-frenzy fatigue penalty to Athletic and Martial talents increases by one. You accrue these same penalties for making a Frenzy skill check while fatigued.

Similar rules would apply to an Affiliation such as War-Priests of Grantian (a god of divine justice and enemy of demonic forces), giving you a Smite the Wicked skill. Another priest, affiliated with Phanmyd (a goddess of healing and nurturing) would earn a Heal with a Touch skill. A wizard who studied at an academy of conjurers would earn an appropriate skill for that school of magic.

A War-Priest of Grantian might later qualify for an Accolade called Unstoppable Servant of Grantian (which lets you make a skill check to pull yourself together after a blow that should have been fatal).

You're not ever required to take a single one of the triple As, but it is assumed that you will in order to create a character capable of epic acts of heroism, casting spells, or ascending to positions of power and prestige. I think it is an excellent compromise between a class-based and class-less system. The game should encourage the acquisition of the triple As by being less expensive than a boost in skill rating and far, far less expensive than a boost in talent.

And that is the nature of the game:

An abstract-statistic, skill-focused, variable-size, variable-die-quality, roll-low-against-target-numbers-and-opposed-rolls dice pool system with optional classes and role-played physical and mental ability.

*Sits back, breathes*

So, am I stepping on anyone's heels with this?
"Your bargaining posture is highly dubious." - Unicron


Godlike and its follow-ons, such as Reign, use the One Roll Engine (ORE) that has the idea of matching up sets of the same number from dice pools, but it is done with a fixed die size (d10).  Legend of the Five Rings has a roll X keep Y type mechanic similar to the way in which you only keep three of the rolled dice.  However, this is the first idea I have seen that makes both the number AND the size of the dice mutable, as well as adding in the keeping a limited number.

Which brings me to my biggest concern.  This mechanic has five different places where it varies:
1) the number of dice rolled
2) the sides of the dice rolled
3) the point at which the multipliers start to kick in (current set at 4 or less)
4) the number of dice selected to keep (currently set at 3)
5) the number of successes needed to actually succeed (implied that it varies by the context)

This leads to a probability distribution that is quite complicated and not really predictable for a player.  Does it really need all of that complication?  What does having all five of those things above included in the mechanic add that couldn't be achieved by a simpler system?  I am especially skeptical of lines 3 and 4 above, and whether they add anything useful.  The system would seem to me to be perfectly reasonable and less complicated if you removed those two elements.

I highly suggest that you make a little die rolling program in Excel, or similar, and roll a bunch of these dice pools and see how the probabilities actually work.  You may find unintended consequences in the system.  If you have already done this, and understand how the probabilities in the system work and are comfortable with that, then great!  Ignore me, please.
* Want to know what your fair share of paying to feed the hungry is?
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I was aware that the system had an extreme level of statistical complexity, but I hadn't thought of it from the perspective of predictable success, which is important.

The truth of the matter is that the system works with any number or style of statistics, as long as each skill falls under one. My desire to use an unconventionally large number of talent-themed statistics for a fantasy setting is to encourage role playing rather than number crunching, but more accessible "behind-the-scenes" access is probably needed. Hell, I might be forcing players to crunch a ridiculous amount of numbers by going too far with this.

I do want to defend the multipliers and the best-of-three system, however.

The multipliers really come into play only for unusual skills such as Frenzy or Spellcasting; the default target number for success on most actions is two (and you don't outright fail if you can at least roll a single number with a multiplier), with heroic challenges set to three or four and epic challenges set to five or more. In the case of something like casting a spell, you continue to roll each round until you achieve the minimum number of successes to power the spell. So, a novice (using d10s) might need several rounds to gather the juice to blast a foe, while the dean of the college of wizardry (using d4s) probably needs to a single roll or two.

The best-of-three can be expanded to any number, but it was specifically chosen because a human average stat is four. You can at least pick and choose from your dice at this point, and if your stats are somehow lowered to three, you're a little phased, but not crippled. Plus, I feel that it is the most logical "constant" part of the mechanic; when two characters fight, one may be wildly more talented and/or more trained, but both are getting one shot per round to put forth their best effort. So, limit them to the same number of dice, base it upon allowing average characters a little choice in their final hand, and let it roll.

(A character with a statistic of 2 or lower cannot critically succeed, as you might imagine. But I digress...)

I will take the remainder of your suggestions into consideration and see if I cannot come up with a way of making successes more predictable. I am loathe to remove the variable stat sizes and variable skill qualities, as it allows for a tremendous level of freedom in character design, but if it doesn't make the game stronger, then it has to go, I suppose.
"Your bargaining posture is highly dubious." - Unicron