Wednesday, March 23, 2011

[Design] Replacing Abilities with Actions

Hi, my name is Doug, and I must confess that I don't like ability scores. They always seem to require a set of skills, bonuses, or derived stats to mechanically translate their numerical value into something immediate and useful. They are cozy and familiar and I know how to parse out their mechanical influence on what a character does in-game, but when I step outside that, and try to explain what they mean to a new player, especially one of perhaps six or seven winters, it gets confusing fast.

"I have Strength 14. Does that mean I can hit someone if I roll a 14 or higher, I can lift 14 pounds, and I do 14 points of damage if I hit someone?"

"Neither. It means [consults PHB] your weight allowance is 55 pounds, your max press is 170, and you open doors on a roll of 8 or less on a d20. You have a 7% chance to bend bars or lift gates. It has no effect on your chance to hit someone in a fight or how badly you hurt them. Write those stats down, and then we'll cover the other five and what they do for you."

Can I think of something more intuitive?

OK, here's what we've been doing instead when we game with the kids:

There are 10 actions: Battle, Magic, Make, Move, Muscle, Notice, Resist, Shoot, Sneak, and Talk. Kids, especially, little concrete thinkers that they are, find them easier to apply to actual play than the traditional STR/DEX/CON/INT/WIS/CHA abilities. All the abilities and skills are in there, just chunked into more useful containers.

Each character role starts with 0 or more dice for each action. Let's look at the paladin role:

Battle 4        
Magic 0       
Make 1         
Move 3
Muscle 4
Notice 2
Resist 5
Shoot 0
Sneak 1
Talk 4

[Yeah, your stats are predetermined, or as I prefer to say, pre-optimized for your roll. No rolling random attribute dice, but you can customize as you go.]

The basic mechanic goes like this. You want to try to convince some bandits to parley with you? Roll your 4 Talk dice, and count each 5 or 6 you get as a success. The GM decides what the result will be based on how many successes you roll. If a bad guy tries to hit you with a command spell, roll your 5 Resist dice against his Magic dice and see who racks up more successes. if you want to bend those bars, roll your Muscle dice. If you can roll, say, three successes in one turn, you can bend the bars enough to slip through.

I make it even simpler by using unnumbered dice with a different color on each face. You pick your two "lucky colors" at the start of the game session, and when they show face up, you count them as successes. Take that, math! Even five-year-olds have the counting skills to tally up their die rolls and to grok that more lucky colors mean your character did better.

I suppose it's a bit like FUDGE, except with no negatives. I think there's some RISUS love showing there, too. It's cute how RISUS chunks abilities into extremely player-friendly clichés (Hard-Drinking Barbarian 3, Pro Bowler 2), but in my experience with RISUS, there's a constant push by players to creatively expand the purview of their clichés, with attendant pushback from the GM who's trying to maintain balance. I'm seeking a middle way.

I can post a summary of what's covered in the 10 MBB actions from Battle to Talk, if anyone's interested.

'Night, all. If anyone wants me to do a Roslof tribute drawing, I'm in.

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