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Author Topic: Ideas for defaults in classic skill-based systems  (Read 23669 times)
M. J. Young

Posts: 2198

« Reply #15 on: November 24, 2005, 06:45:29 PM »


To help address your problem, I'm going to point you to a free game, Legends of Alyria, that definitely supports narrativism, not only eliminates "defaults" but reduces "skills" to game color, and breaks probably ninety percent of the rest of the rules you've got tucked in your own personal "What is a Roleplaying Game" file.

To answer your question, let me put forward a couple more ideas.

First, if you want a "default" possibility for success, this can be the basis for using an Attribute+Skill system for chance of success. This can work best if the range for skills starts at something greater than one. For example, Multiverser uses a percentile system and gives human attributes a range from (effectively) eleven to thirty and skills from eleven to forty. That means that for the same attribute a person with skill would be at least eleven percent better at it than a person without skill, if the one without skill was relying on Attribute+Skill of 0. It would require substantially greater attribute scores to overcome the advantage of the most amateur skills.

Second, one way to eliminate "default" values for unskilled attempts is to replace such unskilled attempts with a skill learning system. Multiverser also does this, allowing a player character to attempt to teach himself a new skill at any moment, provided he has what is required to make the attempt. Certain numbers, including an attribute, are added, and others, including a value for the skill being attempted, are subtracted, and the dice are rolled. If it is successful, the character has succeeded in doing this and now has the skill at a low level of ability. Of course, Multiverser has no point systems of any sort to control skill acquisition or improvement, and provides no incentive for gamism, so players who want to create monster characters do so only because it pleases them to do so--they don't gain any advantage in the game, really, other than that it colors the kinds of adventures they will have.

Alyria eliminates defaults by eliminating the importance of skills. All contests are between characters, all characters are player characters, and all resolutions are based on what really amounts to personality versus personality. Skills then become color, so that if a character uses his "force" and defeats the character using his "insight", he can explain that the other character tried to outsmart him, but he pulled his gun and shot at him, wounding him and causing him to flee. In this, skill is just color, and explanation useful for how it was that one character defeated the other. If the die roll was reversed, the character using insight could say that when his opponent drew the gun, he made a comment so cutting that the gunman was too embarrassed even to think of pulling the trigger, and turned and left without another word. Whether or not the gun is involved is entirely within the prerogative of the side that wins the contest; "skill" with the gun is simply assumed. There are no "hit points", so there's no need to worry about how bad a wound is or anything like that.

There are other ways to eliminate the importance of skills, but in essence they all reduce to making the contest character-based instead of skill-based, going more for what we call event or outcome resolution instead of task resolution.

I'll also recommend a reading of articles here, particularly Applied Theory, which attempts to suggest ways in which what you want to accomplish changes how you think about the parts. I'm also tempted to suggest a look at the various Fantasy Heartbreakers articles, because they stand in part as cautionary tales relative to how to design games.

I hope this helps.

--M. J. Young


Posts: 21

« Reply #16 on: November 25, 2005, 08:45:50 PM »

Beautiful.  Alyria is a wonderful example of the opposite angle of game mechanics.  Just what I was looking for to give me more ideas.


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Steve Marsh (Ethesis)

Posts: 39

« Reply #17 on: November 27, 2005, 03:12:17 PM »

Ok... I've read a lot in the past 10 hours...

I've decided I'm definitely a narrativist, with a little bit of gamist in me too (I was always the one who found the loopholes to make the best character possible).  That being said, I don't really want to encourage gamism in my system, but I don't want my system to be off-the-wall free acting either.

I guess I thought you had to have defaults to handle people trying something that they haven't developed...  Right now in my recently modified rules, we have no "defaults" per se, (Every skill starts at 0) but that's still a 20% chance of success at most things. 

What else can you do?  Is there any other way to get rid of them?  Is there any other way to have them besides fixed values or some derived default based on the attributes?

I've actually been reading for a couple weeks here ... it is interesting, isn't it.

Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #18 on: November 28, 2005, 11:52:32 AM »

If you're looking for free, then check out here: http://www.darkshire.net/~jhkim/rpg/freerpgs/

Literally hundreds of RPGs for free. So there's no dearth of reading material. Of course I wouldn't recommend reading them all - lots of them are absolutely terrible designs (though, like MJ says, read the Heartbreaker essays) Anyhow, what's best is to continue to post your ideas here, and ask for more free games that have something to say about what you want. Or do your own research to find them. There are so many free games, that it's unlikely that you'll come up with some subject that can't be elucidated by looking at some appropriate example.


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Posts: 21

« Reply #19 on: November 28, 2005, 12:47:40 PM »

My First Experiment.

I've spent the last few days reading everything I can.  I read the heartbreaker articles, Mike's eye-opening rants, and everything else I could get my hands on.  I read FATE and Legends of Alyria, and the overviews of a few other systems.  The way I look at role-playing will be forever changed. 

So... instead of trying to play one of those fine systems, I of course tried to make my own :)  I kept one basic concept from the system I had been developing: defeat, and created a resolution system very similar to Alyria and FATE.  I'd never used a die pool, so I threw one in for good measure. 

The system we ended up using lists character Strengths and Weaknesses, with all strengths being gauges, starting at 0, with no cap (but a way to set limits during character creation).  A character simply states what he wishes to happen, rolls a number of dice equal to the strength, and checks the number of dice 4 or greater (6 sided). 

The contests worked very similar to FATE... One character states his goal, which can be opposed by another's strength ( any way he can explain it). 
The first rolls, counts successes, then marks them off his opponents strength.  Once the strength reaches 0, the first char wins and decides how it happened.  The other character will be trying to defeat the first to achieve another goal, usually. 

I had been reading about Polaris and Universalis, and I decided since this was already way different than other role-playing I'd done in the past, we might as well throw out the GM and try something really crazy.  We rotated GMs in a way similar to Polaris, with a main character in each scene, and the player to his left taking the background (with his char) and controlling the environment like a traditional GM.  All other characters played normally, but we centered each scene around one or more of the main character's "keys" (yes, I stole the word from FATE), which are just important sources of conflict, choices, or whatever, or around his weaknesses.  Then we went around and added elements to the scene before it began, including random details about the NPCs, the bad guys, the weather, whatever we felt like would make it better. 

We decided to try out a simple, silly supers campaign, with a telekinetic villain who controlled furniture, and lots of action.  It turned out wonderfully well!  I've seriously never had more fun playing...

 It was amazing to see how mechanics didn't seem to matter, since all strengths were equal.  For example, my character could teleport, but we didn't have to make up rules for teleporting, because all contests of strengths were resolved with the same defeat mechanic.  Each character was equally powerful, but how cinematic they were entirely depended on how they wanted their character to feel.  Some fought with guns, some with powers (neither of which needed any special rules), and it just worked.  It was the simplest purest form of playing I've ever experienced.

So... We're very excited to try it again (might be another week).  Thanks so much for all the good advice!  Thanks for pointing out that bit about color and resolution in Alyria, and for everything. 

(More coming soon)



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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #20 on: November 29, 2005, 02:15:13 PM »

It was amazing to see how mechanics didn't seem to matter, since all strengths were equal.
Ooh. Hit a nerve there sorta. That is, I'd like to propose a semantic change to what you have above. Instead I think what you're saying is how amazing it was that the proper mechanics aided your game so well by being less about what you weren't interested in, and more about what you were. Less about physics and tactics, and more about getting a narrative told, if I read you right.

In the articles section above is the Forge manifesto called "System Does Matter."

Nice job.


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Steve Marsh (Ethesis)

Posts: 39

« Reply #21 on: November 29, 2005, 06:46:04 PM »

Have you thought of handling the default a bit differently.

Instead of moving the default, make all defaults zero.


            Some  problems regenerate, some have  initial  difficulties. 
       Many tasks can have help from tools.  Let me give some examples.
       Piloting a ship
            Wavestalker has an enchantment worth +15% on a superior ship
       worth 10% and a skill of 30%.  Leaving the harbor in his ship  is
       a 3 point a round task.
            That means, that to successfully leave the harbor Starstrid-
       er must earn 3 points each round of play.
            On  take-off without any trouble he does 6+3+1  (10)  points
       per  round  on a 3 point task.  He has a good margin  of  safety. 
       Each round he gets 7 points ahead.
            Two  rounds  into the channel he  encounters  minor  weather
       trouble -- a mild squall.  That is a 20% level task/problem.   He
       now  does (55% + d20%) - 20% points per round.  He is still  safe
       and  still getting ahead.  That is, he does 35% + d20% (or  7+d4)
       points per round into solving the task.
            This  is  the way that a normal harbor exit should  go  even
       with minor weather problems.  However . . .
            Suddenly  the spell is dampened as the ship breaks the  spar
       the  spell was enchanted to (wood rot that he did not  check  for
       after  the winter ended).  Wavestalker is now in a (30% + d20)  -
       20% situation.  (or 2 + d4) 
            As  the weather worsens with rain(+30% to his  problems)  he
       slips  into a (30% + d50%) - 50% situation.  He is now at d50%  -
       20%  every  round  and could be losing ground.   Add  a  variable
       strong  wind  for a storm and he is at (30% + d100%) -  100%  (or
       d100% - 70% per round).
            He is going to start losing that comfortable margin he built
       up.   Luckily for him he makes it back to the dock before  things
       get too sticky.
       Reading a foriegn language
            Starstrider gets everything fixed and docks at Helvitia.  He
       speaks  15%  of Helvitian.  With his skill he goes into  a  cheap
       restuarant and takes a menu. 
            A  simple menu will take d6-0 points to read.  It will  (due
       to  formating) have d3 points of "armor" (Starstrider will  never
       read  some  difficult menus).  As long as  his  dinner  companion
       doesn't  stress him (10% as a level one stress) he will do his  3
       points a round until the menu is read (or he gives up and  guess-
       es).   He reads the menu (which took 3 points to understand,  and
       which had 1 point of armor) in two rounds.
       Climbing a cliff
            Later he is climbing a bit of cliff.  He's in a hurry  since
       he dropped his sword and the wolves are getting closer.  He has a
       skill of 20% and climbing equipment worth 20% points.  The  cliff
       w' wolves is a 20% problem and because of the shale he has to  do
       2  points before it starts to count (2 points armor on the  prob-
            This cliff takes two points per meter to climb. 
            Lets put the numbers together.  (20% + {tools} 20% + d20%) -
       20 every round.   He does 4 + d4 points every round.  He rolls  a
       10  on  d20% resulting in 6 points earned (less the 2  points  of
       armor  the cliff has from the shale problem).  This  gets  Waves-
       talker 2 meters up the cliff before the wolves arrive. 
            Had  he been a bit more rushed this would have made  a  good
       100%  problem with him at (20 + 20 +d100%) -100% per  round.   At
       d100% - 60 he would have probably been caught by the wolves.
            He'll need to continue to be careful as he climbs higher  so
       that he doesn't earn negative points, but at 2 meters he is  safe
       until help arrives.
            Note that the armor idea solves many theoretical of problems
       where  low-skilled types can't solve that kind of problem at  all
       but  high skill types can do it quickly and easily.  Take a  task
       with  10 points of armor and 1 task point.  If your skill is  45%
       you'll  never  succeed.  With a skill of 55% you'll do  it  every
       time when not under pressure and eventually even with pressure.
            These kinds of situations and results are relatively  common
       in real life.

There are some flaws in the system, as presented, but, it does allow for targets not to be an issue, only distractions..

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