So what about combat?

September 16, 2009

So I have a simple system from which gnomes can resolve tasks and challenges.  Simply roll the relevant attribute plus any relevant traits and compare them to the challenge number.  Straightforward, easy, no fuss, anyone can figure it out within seconds of seeing it done.  I’ve considered adding a bit of a stunt system in order to further add to the experience but I feel that may make this particular aspect perhaps a little too complex.  The simpler we are the less writing I do and the fewer potential mistakes I can make.

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In my last post I brought up a term that was probably a little unfamiliar to some of you: mechanical personality. This, and abstract personality are terms I use to describe the set of tools that a game designer gives the player and game master in order to give their character flavor.

Abstract personality is flavor given to a character that has no bearing or root within the games mechanics.  In other words it’s bits of character history, personality, distinguishing marks, and in some games even a characters height and weight.  The key to abstract personality is that no matter which extreme a player takes these aspects they have no bearing on the physical and mechanical aspects of the game.  Just what these aspects are vary from game to game.  Those that include morality systems as a mechanical function of their game hammer that aspect down into the concreteness of mechanics and lose any abstract possibilities gained by leaving that aspect of the character out of the game mechanics.  This si not necessarily good or bad it’s simply whatever the game designer feels the need to have portrayed.  To me there has to be some physical reason for such systems to exist outside of an abstract set up where the player can make stuff up.

Designers provide the tools for characters to build on their characters abstract personality by providing what is commonly known as fluff.  Fluff, for those unfamiliar with the term, is simply the parts of the game that never directly influence any physical mechanics.  Setting information, racial information, info given about the personality of a npc, the systems of government in the world, if it’s something that’s not point bought, rolled for, or otherwise fleshed out in the big world of successes, failures, and fate points then it belongs to the realm of fluff.  Fluff isn’t always long paragraphs about the histories of some fictional world.  It can also be a simple chart illustrating the average weight and heights of a specific race of beings, or the religious customs contained within a game.  In short if you can change it on your character with zero effect on the games rules but still redefine your character in some fashion then that is abstract personality.

MEchanical personality is the characters flavor that is derived purely from mechanics.  A characters class, morality systems, attributes, virtually everything on a characters sheet that can be measured is an aspect of its mechanical personality.  It’s because of this concept that designers must take great care in the design of their rules because in deciding on how something works directly impacts the personality of the characters the players make.  Most of you are probably going, “Well no shit, Tark, what’s the point?”

The point is that a lot of new designers, eager to try out interesting new combinations of mechanics or copy old ones find out that as players without their form of enthusiasm pick up the game they form characters and stories very different from the visions of the creator.

Let’s consider DnD.  In 3.5 edition it is statistically superior to be wearing full plate or a breastplate then any other form of heavier armor.  The result?  Virtually no one in existence willingly purchases the other armor choices.  Sure, in the fluff you might say one army issues out one of the other armor types, but why would they do that?  According to the laws of the universe set out in the players handbook fullplate is better and according to the dungeon masters guide just as readily available as anything else.  So let’s face it if a fluff writer says everyone wears banded mail without giving a very compelling reason as to why then he is deliberately ignoring the games mechanical personality.

I take this philosophy seriously even when making characters I play.  I tend to make balanced characters with some emphasis in an area or two.  Why?  Because I believe that roleplaying and ignoring what’s on the sheet is simply the wrong way to go about it.  If you’re ignoring the laws that dictate how smart, how evil, how strong, or how skilled you are then you might as well just not be playing that game, pick up something else, put away the rules, do anything because you are not playing that game.

Anyway, I felt that needed explanation.  In other news I’m still desperately looking for an artist or two to do work for Gnome.  I’m not offering money, but I am offering as much exposure as I can give which is almost always at least a lot better than a deviant art page.  I’m also very easy to work with as I think an artist is an artist for their creativity not for their ability to draw halfway decent, so I give a lot of freedom.

Apprentice had a very simple system in which challenges were resolved.  The first step compared the relevant attribute to the task at hand to see if a roll was even required.  If not the player rolled a d6 to see if they could exceed the challenge number and move on or used a hand waving mechanism, “casting a spell”, in order to bypass the challenge and continue with the game.
Gnome will use a similar system of roll and compare but the character will not have a hand waving mechanism nor a base number with which to bypass challenges completely.   Instead a gnome has a higher or lower base die with which to complete the challenge.  Higher dice represent a better base capability in that attribute while lower represented a weaker capability.

Since Gnome does not have a hand waving mechanism to make up for the lack of a way to boost ones stats a system had to be devised that could both give a character a measure of mechanical personality to go along wit the characters history and attitude.

The system revolves around a series of Traits and Failings.  Traits are specific circumstances and actions that the gnome is exceptional at that gives a bonus dice with which they can roll.  This increases both the minimum and maximum number they can roll to defeat a challenge and move on.  Failings represent tasks and circumstances that the character cannot handle to the full potential of their attribute and have a penalty die to roll in addition to their attribute dice.  Now unlike apprentice where characters were limited by what stats they could derive from the points they spread in character creation, it is dice that determine a gnomes stats.  They are given a spread of dice that can be assigned to an attribute. Depending on the spread that a player chooses determines the number and ratio of Traits/Failings a character has.  Naturally characters who choose a high dice spread are going to have almost no traits but plenty of failings in exchange for overall power.  While those who choose a weak spread will have lots of options for traits while few failings to worry over.  The following table indicates the varieties of spreads available to characters in Gnome:

1d12,1d6,1d6,1d4||5 Traits, 1Failings

1d12,1d8,1d6,1d4||4 Traits, 1 Failings

1d12,1d10,1d6,1d4||4 Traits, 2 Failings

1d12,1d10,1d8,1d4||3 Traits, 2 Failings

1d12,1d10,1d8,1d6||3 Traits, 3 Failings

1d12,1d12,1d8,1d6||2 Traits, 3 Failings

1d12,1d12,1d10,1d6||2 Traits, 4 Failings

1d12,1d12,1d10,1d8||1 Traits, 4 Failings

1d12,1d12,1d10,1d10||4 Failings

1d12,1d12,1d12,1d10||5 Failings

1d12,1d12,1d12,1d12||6 Failings

Now each trait and failing selected by the player will have a rating assigned to them (1d4-1d10)  this rating determines the die rolled in addition to the attribute that will contribute or cause detriment to the roll.  This rating is determined by the specificness and rarity of the challenge or circumstance that comes up. Broader situations that can come up often are rated the lowest while specific and rare situations are given the highest rating.

For example if a player selects “good at fighting” for a trait then they would receive a very low rating as they would receive the bonus from that trait every time combat ensues.  However if the character selects “good at fighting rats while barehanded” then the player can expect to reap a much greater benefit from the specialization of the trait.  Now while there is always some concern considering min/maxing of traits and failings these aspects of the character are always chosen before the game begins and thus unless a character has specific knowledge as to the nature of the challenges and situations a GM has planned for the character such ideas are moot and a character who over specializes to gain the maximum numbers can easily find themselves with a pile of useless traits.  Traits and Failings are there to give mechanical personality to a character and give them a flavor to help them specialize and find a niche within the group.  Those that choose high numbers of broad traits will find that although they rarely roll low numbers they are really not much better off then a character who has opted to not bother with traits completely in favor of having a good number of high base attributes.

Gnome Attributes:
Characters in Gnome have four basic attributes from which there challenges are rolled.  These attributes are Athleticism, Cleverness, Toughness, and Shrewdness.

Athleticism represents a gnomes physical prowess.  The typical gnome can lift around five to seven times their own body and move at about forty body lengths a second.  So compared to humans gnomes are extremely athletic for their size.  While they can’t ever hope to lift a human or outrun a cheetah it’s not a question of capability but relativity of size.  A gnome the size of a human would mop the floor of any gold medalist in track and field.  That being said a group of gnomes or even a single gnome can take on creatures much bigger then themselves when necessary.   Athleticism is the dice rolled whenever a Gnome is actually physically challenged either through combat or physical exertion.

Cleverness represents a gnomes problem solving capability and knowledge base.  While it’s easy to say that a Dweller gnome with access to human books and the ability to read human language is smarter then a Wild Gnome without access to either they can both be equally clever in their own ways.  Gnomes tend to think extremely quick thoughts compared to humans as a result of their drastically different metabolisms and short lives.  As such compared to a human a gnome might seem very quick witted.

Toughness represents a gnomes physical fortitude and ability to handle tough situations.  Gnomes are by nature very tough nuts to crack.  Their stout bodies and sometimes cheery look hides thick cords of muscle and flexible, tough cartilage (gnomes do not have a true skeleton). Toughness also represents a gnomes psychological and mental fortitude.  Life is tough when it seems like the world considers you an interesting curiosity to capture and study or chew and digest.  It’s easy to think that some gnomes are quite depressed and suicide a constant.  However gnomes are nothing else if not stubborn and willing to press on in even the most hopeless situations.  Toughness is the roll that comes up when a gnome faces a dire physical or mental challenge that can cause them harm.  So far I haven’t really figured out yet how I want to derive damage (mental and physical) from these stats though I think some Combination of Toughness + Another attribute to build a sort of HP base (Mental, Physical, Emotional) or perhaps a death spiral system based on this combination.  We’ll see.  Opinions are welcome here.

Shrewdness represents a characters instinctual ability or natural caution.  Shrewd gnomes can sense storms by the sweat in their palms, feel food in the way local birds are circling above, or no that humans are close by the shaking in the ground.  Shrewd gnomes are natural survivors and can sense things in another gnomes speech that gives way motives and treachery the other gnome might think that they’re hiding.  Shrewdness is the attribute rolled when instinct, common sense, and wisdom will reveal things to the gnome that his cleverness might keep hidden.