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Author Topic: Hacking the Storyteller System  (Read 7601 times)

BoxCrayonTales

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Hacking the Storyteller System
« on: November 06, 2019, 01:44:46 PM »
As an experiment, something I wanted to do was devise a retroclone of the Storytelling System that addresses problems I perceive in the rules and settings of White Wolf's game materials. I received enough positive feedback on past snippets that I decided to make a thread here to further discuss my ideas.

This is based on Opening the Dark SRD (a retroclone of ST) [EDIT: Mirrored here if scribd is giving you trouble] with some influence from the unofficial WoD Point Buy Rules (which helpfully breaks down some recurring designs).

I don't have encyclopedic knowledge of every iteration of the ST rules, so if I make any mistakes then I appreciate being corrected or information on obscure rules that might be relevant.

I'll start with character traits. Most ST games have generally used some variation of attributes, skills, advantages/disadvantages, superpowers, and experience points. Your typical game design 101 stuff.

Attributes
I've seen essentially three methods of dealing with attributes: ST-er, ST-ing, and Everlasting.
  • ST-er pioneered the format of nine attributes divided into Mental, Physical, and Social. The format is basically this: Mental: Intelligence, Wits, Perception; Physical: Strength, Dexterity, Stamina; Social: Charisma, Manipulation, Appearance.
  • ST-ing adds a second axis of Power/Finesse/Resistance. This replaces Perception and Appearance with Resolve and Composure.
  • Everlasting divides attributes into Mind, Body, and Soul. Mind and Body are identical to ST-er Mental and Physical. Soul consists of Presence, Inspiration, and Spirit. The sum of Soul attributes is used to determine the character's magic point pool.

Attributes generally range from 1-5 for normal human beings. Characters normally can't have scores of 0, as that indicates automatic failure in most iterations of the rules. The ST rules almost never went into detail on what happens to characters with scores of 0, scores that negligible but not 0 (e.g. the attributes are human ranges, so Intelligence ratings fall apart when applied to animals), or lacked a score entirely; OtD helpfully provides some rules on this.



Abilities/Skills
The arrangement of skills is arbitrary so I don't really have much to say here. ST-er generally organizes skills by whether they are informal (talents), formal (skills), and technical (knowledge). ST-ing simply organizes them by mental, physical, and social like the attributes. The Trinity Universe games includes default pairs of attributes and skills to save time. Similar to Attributes, Skills are rated from 0-5 for normal humans; 0 indicates no training and 5 indicates you're a PhD, Olympic athlete, or whatever.

Some iterations introduced the concept of "specialties" for Attributes and/or Skills to simulate what other RPGs called sub-skills and similar.

Other Traits
This category includes most traits that aren't attributes or skills, as well as any traits derived from attributes. Examples include willpower, hit points, speed, size, etc. The specifics vary between different iterations.

Hit points are divided into several degrees of damage severity, with most ST games having at least two such degrees. Some iterations have three. Traditionally more severe damage displaces less severe damage, although OtD tracks them separately. Hit points may be fixed for all characters, or be derived from Stamina.

Soak is basically like armor and is derived from Stamina Attribute. If hit points are derived from Stamina, then Soak generally isn't used.

Willpower is used to boost the results of rolls, like similar mechanics in other games. How it is calculated and used varies immensely between different iterations. For example, V5 uses it as mental hit points.

Speed and Size generally aren't statistics in most iterations save CoD. In CoD, Speed is defined as walking rate in feet/second and is derived from the sum of Strength, Dexterity, and a "species factor" (an old periodical's optional rule adds Athletics to that equation). Size is added to Stamina to determine hit points, with the standard adult human being Size 5.

Advantages/Disadvantages
This category includes all the other miscellaneous ways that a character could be quantified. Examples include social connections, wealth, other personal quirks, etc. Advantages may be purchased with experience points or acquired/lost through roleplay.

At this point, the ranking system starts behaving differently since Advantages are not necessarily rated linearly from 0-5 like Attributes and Skills. It is common for Advantages to have "empty" ranks that serve only to increase experience costs.

Disadvantages may or may not be rated. Rated disadvantages are typically used to reduce the costs of advantages, and optionally may be bought off by paying experience points. Unrated disadvantages provide free experience points whenever they impede the character.

The CoD rules introduced rules for temporary advantages/disadvantages known as conditions/tilts. These represent the effects of, for example, poor weather, altered consciousness, broken legs, sudden realizations, etc. These cannot be purchased or removed with experience points, only roleplaying.

Emotional/Personality Traits
This category includes all the traits, rated or unrated, that were introduced to measure a character's personality, moral values, willpower refresh methods, sanity, blah blah blah. Examples include nature/demeanor, virtue/vice, humanity, aspirations, intimacies, etc. These traits have been inconsistently maligned by the fandom for years, and if you're familiar with ST games then I don't need to explain why.

The rated emotional traits were typically used to resist negative mental influences. If Resistance Attributes are being used, then those emotional traits aren't used.

I don't consider these traits remotely necessary. I do think a dark/light side mechanic would be a great way to get players to roleplay, but that's it.

Power Paths
The ST games devised several different ways to represent superpowers, such as Exalted's charms, Aberrant's enhancements, Scion's purviews, etc.

Perhaps the most common are the "power paths." These work a bit like supernatural equivalents of skills in that they are rated from 1-5, but unlike skills you cannot use them for general tasks related to the name of the path. Instead, each rank in a power path gives you one exception-based power like "give a one-word command" or "read auras."

A key problem with the power path mechanic is that it generally forces you to purchase exception-based powers linearly even if they're just a grab bag of tricks. The OtD rules point this out and state that characters may buy powers out of order if it fits their concept. Some games (like Werewolf) had rated powers but didn't place them into linear power paths.

Traditionally there is only one power per rank, but there could be any number of powers for each rank and those choices are arbitrary. The smarter implementations (like WoD Point Buy) let you purchase any number of powers if you have the prerequisite rank.

A key problem with the World of Darkness games is that every splat had to reinvent the wheel when it came to powers. I'm not remotely interested in that: like Nightlife, Everlasting, WitchCraft, or Godbound, I'm going to use universal guidelines for superpowers.

Arts and Praxis
This category is for Ars Magica-style syntactic magic. This grants you far more leeway in creating effects than power paths, with the drawback that it is much more difficult to use. Various ST games have introduced additional mechanics to make inconsiderate magic use excessively dangerous.

A Praxis may be defined however the GM wants, from narrow to broad. Like Ars Magica, a GM could decide to require two Praxis used for every effect: one to define what is being done (e.g. creation, destruction, perception, transformation) and another to define the target (e.g. birds, water, minds, death).

Syntactic magic could potentially be available to any character regardless of their build. If you're inventing a dedicated wizard splat, then it helps to either make syntactic magic unique to them or make them better at it then everyone else. I'll address this in more detail when I start brainstorming splats.

Essence
This category includes the innumerable magic point traits used over the years, often named "essence". It ranges from a simple measurement of how many power points you can hold all the way to several statistics independently measuring the potency of your powers, your resistance to others' powers, how many types of power point pools you can have, etc. The White Wolf school of design likes to be obtuse.

Experience Points
The ST rules let players accumulate experience points to spend on increasing the ranks of PCs' traits. Different iterations have used wildly different costs. Traditionally scaling costs are used, which leads to problems because character creation assigns ranks linearly. CoD introduced the concept of linear experience costs, although it introduced new problems.

I prefer linear experience costs, if only to reduce the amount of math involved.

Traits above 5
Attributes, Skills, and Advantages are traditionally capped at 5 ranks. Different variations of the ST rules have included different methods for adjudicating scores of 6 and beyond.

Commonly characters may be allowed to increase their traits to an ultimate max of 10, and/or purchase Power Paths or Epic/Mega-Attributes that boost the traits further. However, this leads to the common problem of unwieldy dice pools.

Task Resolution

Task resolution for all iterations of ST rules have involved some variation of rolling a number of dice equal to Attribute + Skill and counting all the dice that meet or exceed a value set by the GM. In my opinion, the cleanest implementation were the CoD1e rules. However, I do acknowledge minor critique of that method that is accounted for by the OtD rules. I will discuss that in more detail in future posts.


Conclusion
So the ST rules are serviceable on their own, but IMO White Wolf's writers have generally been poor at game design in general. In following posts I will outline my ideas for reform. In the mean time, I welcome any feedback, critique, advice, suggestions, etc.
« Last Edit: November 14, 2019, 07:34:25 AM by BoxCrayonTales »

trechriron

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Hacking the Storyteller System
« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2019, 07:26:48 PM »
First - this is single-handedly your BEST start to a thread like this with the BEST information. You are obviously getting more focused on what you want which can only lead to success.

Second - Another precursor to the new axis was the Action! System style attribute axis - power, finesse, defense (not sure who did it first...).
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BoxCrayonTales

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« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2019, 10:28:32 AM »
Quote from: trechriron;1113173
First - this is single-handedly your BEST start to a thread like this with the BEST information. You are obviously getting more focused on what you want which can only lead to success.

Second - Another precursor to the new axis was the Action! System style attribute axis - power, finesse, defense (not sure who did it first...).
Thank you. The Action! trivia is interesting. It helps me with regard to avoid copyright claims, since I hope to potentially release work under the OGL. (I refuse to give up any rights to Storyteller's Vault, since I don't like the WoD IP anyway.)


[/HR]

[STRIKE]Anyway, probably the most important topic to address is the task resolution. ST games use pass/fail dice pools to determine the result of actions. These consist of a few metrics: the Dice Pool itself (generally determined by the sum of a relevant Attribute, Skill, and Modifiers from un/favorable conditions), the Target Number (the minimum result a die needs to produce a pass), the Difficulty (the minimum number of passes required for an action to succeed), and others depending on the circumstances.

(The ST rules don't distinguish between a successful die and a successful action. For clarity, I refer to the former as "passes" to distinguish them.)

OtD uses a variation of the Revised STer mechanics from the Trinity Universe games. Basically: the Dice Pool's Modifiers range from +5 to -5, the Target Number is fixed at 7 (results of 10 count twice), and the Difficulty generally ranges from 1–5 (or potentially higher) as decided by the GM (sometimes by the GM or another player rolling an Opposed Pool). Additionally there is a Pass Threshold (the number of passes that meet or exceed the Difficulty), which is relevant for some actions (such as determining damage inflicted during combat). An optional rule is presented for Extended Tasks, in which the player rolls multiple times (each roll representing one time interval set by the GM) to accumulate passes until they meet the Difficulty (which is generally 8, 10, 15 or higher). Other rules are given but for simplicity I will be ignoring them. This gives two probability sliders: the Modifiers to the Dice Pool and the Difficulty.

The CoD1e rules from 2004 furthers adjust this in the interest of streamlining. The Difficulty is fixed at 1, except for Opposed and Extended actions. Modifiers now distinguish between sources: a modifier from a single source cannot exceed ±5, but modifiers are cumulative without limit; additionally, Modifiers operate on a "Mother May I" logic to emphasize/reward roleplaying/storytelling (e.g. the rulebook mentions wearing a purity ring provides a small bonus to resist seduction). Opposed actions with a Pass Threshold (e.g. combat) are replaced entirely: the attacker makes an unopposed roll which applies the defender's defense statistic as a penalty; this is an Automated Defense.

I personally prefer rules to start simple and provide the option of increasing complexity and alternating rules at the GM's whim. Thus, I prefer the CoD1e rules for task resolution. For comparison, STer generally requires four rolls to resolve one attack: opposed rolls between the attack roll and the defense roll, then opposed rolls between the damage roll and the soak roll (in OtD, Soak is applied as Automated Defense); STing abstracted all that into a single roll without changing the probabilities too much (at least until CoD2e introduced mandatory unnecessary complexity).

However, I do acknowledge that this approach has some flaws compared to the OtD rules. Gargling Goblin points out that it is common tendency for GMs to forget to apply Modifiers before a Dice Pool is rolled. While bonuses are easy to apply as extra dice, penalties cannot be applied without forcing a retroactive re-roll or effectively increasing the Difficulty (thereby breaking the streamlining). Additionally, the Automated Defense mechanic by nature gives the players metagame knowledge of their opponent's defense trait. There might be creative ways to deal with this without breaking the streamlining, and without resorting to apps, but I can't think of any right now.

The root of this problem is that, unlike systems that use a single die to resolve actions (thus generally limited to a single probability slider), Dice Pool and Difficulty are non-equivalent probability sliders. Translating modifiers between them requires probability math. What do we use to calculate translating between them that is easy for players? Under OtD, 1d10 has a 40% chance of rolling 1+ passes. For 2d10 64%, 3d10 78.4%, 4d10 87.04%, 5d10 92.22%, 6d10 95.33%, etc. Every 1d10 rolls an average of ½ pass. Does that mean we should count every ±1 modifier to a Dice Pool as a ±½ modifier to the Difficulty? What do you do with a ±½ modifier?

There are plenty of other potential issues to address, but I consider this the most important. What do you think? Should I treat modifiers differently based on whether they are positive or negative and whether the GM thinks the player deserves to know about it? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of trying to keep the basic rules streamlined?

EDIT: The Storypath System helpfully suggests that Dice Pools are (almost) never modified and that modifiers are represented with Difficulty and Complications. It clarifies that Difficulty instead subtracts from a character’s passes, essentially a combination of STerRev’s Difficulty and STing’s “only one pass needed to succeed” rule. I’ll try that out in following posts and see how things compare.

EDIT: So I decided that I’ll give groups the option to choose which task resolution to use, whether that’s Storytelling or Storypath in style. I’ll refer to these options as “modifiers applied to dice pool” and “modifiers applied to dice results”, respectively. The probability is messy but whatever. I’ll approximate the Storytelling System’s abstracted combat by simply providing the average result of opposed rolls a la BRP statistics blocks.

I’ll try to explain this in a following post.

Again, any feedback is appreciated.[/STRIKE]
« Last Edit: November 08, 2019, 09:46:55 AM by BoxCrayonTales »

BoxCrayonTales

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Hacking the Storyteller System
« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2019, 01:49:33 PM »
Anyway, the Story* Systems (S*Ss) uses "pass/fail dice pools" for task resolution and every iteration has felt the need to keep tinkering with this. Sometimes the task resolution is streamlined, other times it is made more complicated. Rather than just picking one iteration and telling everyone who picks up my rules to use that, I will instead provide a modular framework and give groups the option to tinker with it to their heart's content.


[/HR]

The Essentials

Pass/fail dice pools use some variation of these steps for task resolution:
  • Assemble a dice pool based on a character's traits.
  • Roll that dice pool and count the dice that pass a threshold.
  • Determine another value and subtract that from the passes.
  • Determine the result of an action based on the net passes.


[/HR]

The Breakdown

Below I will break these steps down in detail. Note that the jargon I am using is for this specific illustration and won't necessarily match S*S norms. The first instance of game jargon is italicized for clarity.

Step 1: A player assembles the dice pool, a set of dice (typically d6s or d10s), that will be rolled to determine the result of an action. In S*Ss this is generally the sum of two relevant statistics, such as two attributes or an attribute and a skill.

If the dice pool (or relevant attribute) is zero (0) or negative for whatever reason, then the action may automatically fail and/or roll a special dice pool depending on the iteration.

Step 2: The GM sets the target number of the task, ranging from two (2) to the maximum value of the die (6 for d6s, 10 for d10s). The player rolls the dice pool and each die that meets or exceeds TN is counted as a pass. Therefore, rolls of one (1) never count as passes and rolls of max always count as passes.

Note: If no passes are rolled in Step 2, then skip Step 3 and go straight to Step 4.

Step 3: The GM sets the difficulty class (DC) of the task, ranging from zero (0) to an arbitrary cap. This DC is subtracted from the player's passes to calculate the net passes.

If two characters are competing, then determine who is the aggressor and who is the defender. Both the aggressor and the defender roll their own dice pools. The DC set against the aggressor's passes is equal to the defender's net passes.

Note: The passes and net passes are not interchangeable. Certain systems or mechanics may rely on either/or.

Step 4: The net passes are used to calculate the degree of success or failure. If net passes are positive, then the action succeeds (possibly a critical success). If net passes are zero (0) or negative, or no passes were rolled in Step 2, then the action fails (possibly a critical failure).

The S*Ss have a bunch of different ways to adjudicate modifiers (e.g. conditions, tilts, enhancements, complications) and the degree of success (e.g. botches, dramatic failures, exceptional successes, conditions, stunts, consolations). More recent editions have introduced variations of a "nothing never happens" rule (as Qwixalted calls its) that says that events shouldn't come to a screeching halt whenever an action fails. Furthermore, the text reiterates that the games' design intends for players to roll only when sensible and "dramatically" appropriate but not for every single trivial or impossible task because the point of the game is to have fun. This approach should be common sense, but apparently it needs to be explicitly explained for some groups.


[/HR]

Probability Sliders

Anyway, this gives at least four "probability sliders" for groups to mess with: the dice pool, the difficulty class, the target number, and the passes.

Dice Pool: The size of dice pools always varies based on the PCs traits. In Storyteller and Storytelling further modifiers are applied, in Storypath modifiers are (almost) never applied.

Storytelling 2e introduces various "conditions" that modify dice pools, inspired by the "aspects" mechanic in FATE.

Allowing dice pools to be reduced to zero or negative values requires adding a second task resolution mechanic to account for such instances. In Storytelling, this simply forces a lone die roll against TN10 and DC0 with the risk of fumble pass (see below). In Opening the Dark, a scaling "faint hope" pool (equal to inverted value of original dice pool +2) is rolled against DC=((DC of original pool)+(faint hope dice pool -1)). EDIT: If you think that seems clunky, you aren't alone. Somehow a house rule for Storytelling is much simpler.

Difficulty Class: The difficulty class may be fixed or variable. In Storyteller and Storypath it scales with the "difficulty" of an action, whereas in Storytelling it is fixed at 0 for simple actions.

Target Number: The target number may be fixed or variable. In Storyteller it is variable, in Storytelling and Storypath it is (generally) fixed at 7 or 8.

Additional thresholds may be added to determine whether a die roll produces a special pass (see below).

Special Passes: The passes may be modified by introducing "exploding" passes, "double" passes, "negative" passes, and "fumble" passes.

A die that rolls the max value (6 for d6, 10 for d10) may produce an exploding pass or a double pass. An exploding pass counts as one pass and grants one bonus die for the player to roll (thus potentially increase their passes), while a double pass simply counts as two passes. Sub-systems may provide situations that lower the threshold for these bonus passes. Storytelling uses exploding passes ("#-again"), while Storypath uses double passes ("double-#s").

A negative pass occurs if a die rolls one (1), and each negative pass increases the difficulty class by one. In other words, negative passes are subtracted from passes to determine net passes. Storyteller applies negative passes to all rolls, whereas Storytelling only applies them under certain circumstances ("1s-subtract").  

A fumble pass occurs if a die rolls one (1). This has no effect on its own. However, a failure may be worsened to a critical failure if the player rolled any fumble passes. When combined with negative passes, this produces weird results; a typical revision is that this only occurs if the failure was due to a lack of passes, and not if net passes were reduced to zero or negative after subtracting difficulty class.

What's the difference? Each rule affects the results of rolls differently. Modifiers to dice pool or DC alter the average and maximum number of passes. Modifiers to TN alter the average number of passes but not the maximum possible passes. Exploding passes and double passes increase the average and maximum passes. Negative passes reduce the average passes but not the maximum passes.

Modifiers to dice pool or DC become increasingly irrelevant as a character's traits increase. By contrast, the effect of varying TN, bonus passes, and negative passes scale with character traits. However, I suspect that you can accomplish a similar effect by forcing characters to roll twice and take the lower roll.

Can this get clunky? Totally. The Story* Systems have a tendency to use more probability sliders than they really need, sometimes redundantly. The really annoying part is that they never explain the math behind the probabilities or their motivations for using any particular slider.

If your aim is to be as streamlined as possible and never worry about needing to introduce new probability sliders to cover oversights, then you will want to use a single probability slider that affects all characters equally regardless of how high their traits are. In my extremely unscientific estimation, and correct me if I'm wrong, the only single probability slider that does so is TN or the presence/absence of exploding/subtracting dice.


[/HR]

Roll Results
The Story* systems generally recognize around two to four degrees of success and failure. These include success ("yes"), failure ("no"), and critical versions thereof ("yes, and", "no, and"). More recent editions have tried to introduce other degrees ("yes, but", "no, but").

On a success ("yes"), multiple net passes are often used to boost the qualitative and/or quantitative effect. Typically the net passes affect severity, duration, range, area of effect, etc. In Storytelling, successful actions with binary outcomes count the passes (not just net passes) to determine whether the success is upgraded to a critical success ("yes, and").

Storypath introduces complications to cover situations where success comes at a cost ("yes, but"); net passes may be spent to produce stunts or counter complications.

A failure ("no") may be "upgraded" to a critical failure ("no, and") under certain circumstances. More recent editions add more detailed effects to failures, such as Storytelling's conditions or Storypath's consolations ("no, but").

Critical failures ("no, and") have varied noticeably between editions in terms how they happen and their effects. In Storyteller, a critical failure occurs if a roll fails and shows any fumbles (i.e. "botches"). In Storytelling, a critical failure occurs if a chance die fumbles; the problem with this was that players could simply decide not to attempt actions they knew could result in critical failure. In Storytelling 2e, players may upgrade a failure to a critical failure for free XP (and critical failures have been reduced in severity across the board compared to 1e).

RPGs in general seemingly train us to fear failures, but I think that adopting a pass/pass philosophy over a pass/fail philosophy helps a lot. If you're going to put so much thought into detailing degrees of success, then it makes sense to me to put the same amount of detail into degrees of failure.


[/HR]

Conclusion
I've been writing this for several hours, so I'm forcing myself to stop now.

There's various other minor stuff I haven't mentioned, but that's the gist of it.

I personally prefer simplicity and streamlining. I do acknowledge that others might prefer clunky rules or that streamlined rules may introduce their own flaws.

What do you think? Any feedback is appreciated.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2019, 02:11:57 PM by BoxCrayonTales »

Stephen Tannhauser

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Hacking the Storyteller System
« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2019, 11:14:14 AM »
Quote from: BoxCrayonTales;1113341
What do you think? Any feedback is appreciated.

I think you've done a very useful analysis/breakdown of the various systems here.  In terms of managing the number of probability-adjustment gauges, I myself have always favoured the basic three with a fixed definition of their "role" in the process:

1) Dice Pool size always reflects PC ability.  Any modifiers that specifically alter the individual character's capacity to perform a task are applied here.  These are mostly applied by the referee, but some rules might allow players to deliberately take a penalty or bonus in return for a countereffect of some other type (e.g. a die bonus for taking extra time on an action, or a die pool penalty on an attack in return for gaining a bonus on defense).

2) Target Number (TN) always reflects innate task difficulty.  Any modifiers that affect or determine how difficult the task is to perform for any relevant attempting character are applied here.  These are almost always applied by the referee, although the effects of one roll might allow players to modify the TN of a follow-up roll.

3) Number of "Passes" (to use your terminology, although I prefer "successes" myself) always reflects degree of outcome. A single pass on a roll allows the attempted action to accomplish its absolute minimum possible effect; whether this outcome is adequate for the character's purposes is a different measure.  I generally prefer a mechanic where a single pass will usually get you the absolute minimum to get by with (if the player is willing to settle for that) and passes beyond that improve your results, rather than a "second difficulty rating" where you have to beat not only a given TN but beat it a given number of times.  (In practice, the effect works out much the same, but the difference between a target chosen by the player as a bonus and a requirement imposed by the referee as a minimum does have a significant psychological effect, I think.)

In general, one key probability note I find useful for die-pool systems with floating TNs is this:
-- When TN is in the middle of its range, modifiers to die pools make more difference.  In a d6 pool, gaining +4d at the price of going from TN 3 to TN 4 is well worth it.
-- When TN is near the high or low end of its range, modifiers to TN make more difference.  Reducing TN 10 to TN 9 in a d10 pool literally doubles your success chances per die.
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BoxCrayonTales

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Hacking the Storyteller System
« Reply #5 on: November 12, 2019, 08:33:44 AM »
Quote from: Stephen Tannhauser;1113550
I think you've done a very useful analysis/breakdown of the various systems here.  In terms of managing the number of probability-adjustment gauges, I myself have always favoured the basic three with a fixed definition of their "role" in the process:

1) Dice Pool size always reflects PC ability.  Any modifiers that specifically alter the individual character's capacity to perform a task are applied here.  These are mostly applied by the referee, but some rules might allow players to deliberately take a penalty or bonus in return for a countereffect of some other type (e.g. a die bonus for taking extra time on an action, or a die pool penalty on an attack in return for gaining a bonus on defense).

2) Target Number (TN) always reflects innate task difficulty.  Any modifiers that affect or determine how difficult the task is to perform for any relevant attempting character are applied here.  These are almost always applied by the referee, although the effects of one roll might allow players to modify the TN of a follow-up roll.

3) Number of "Passes" (to use your terminology, although I prefer "successes" myself) always reflects degree of outcome. A single pass on a roll allows the attempted action to accomplish its absolute minimum possible effect; whether this outcome is adequate for the character's purposes is a different measure.  I generally prefer a mechanic where a single pass will usually get you the absolute minimum to get by with (if the player is willing to settle for that) and passes beyond that improve your results, rather than a "second difficulty rating" where you have to beat not only a given TN but beat it a given number of times.  (In practice, the effect works out much the same, but the difference between a target chosen by the player as a bonus and a requirement imposed by the referee as a minimum does have a significant psychological effect, I think.)

In general, one key probability note I find useful for die-pool systems with floating TNs is this:
-- When TN is in the middle of its range, modifiers to die pools make more difference.  In a d6 pool, gaining +4d at the price of going from TN 3 to TN 4 is well worth it.
-- When TN is near the high or low end of its range, modifiers to TN make more difference.  Reducing TN 10 to TN 9 in a d10 pool literally doubles your success chances per die.


Insightful. Thank you.

I personally don't see a need to have a bunch of different probability sliders, at least initially. I know some people like them as options. However, the fluff-based logic behind distinguishing them always seemed like splitting hairs to me.

YMMV.

Quote
1) Dice Pool size always reflects PC ability.  Any modifiers that specifically alter the individual character's capacity to perform a task are applied here.  These are mostly applied by the referee, but some rules might allow players to deliberately take a penalty or bonus in return for a countereffect of some other type (e.g. a die bonus for taking extra time on an action, or a die pool penalty on an attack in return for gaining a bonus on defense).
Quote
3) Number of "Passes" (to use your terminology, although I prefer "successes" myself) always reflects degree of outcome. A single pass on a roll allows the attempted action to accomplish its absolute minimum possible effect; whether this outcome is adequate for the character's purposes is a different measure.  I generally prefer a mechanic where a single pass will usually get you the absolute minimum to get by with (if the player is willing to settle for that) and passes beyond that improve your results, rather than a "second difficulty rating" where you have to beat not only a given TN but beat it a given number of times.  (In practice, the effect works out much the same, but the difference between a target chosen by the player as a bonus and a requirement imposed by the referee as a minimum does have a significant psychological effect, I think.)

Nice ideas. Thank you.

An interesting mechanic I saw in Mage: The Awakening was that spellcasting rolls could be performed as instant or extended actions. The player determined the various factors of the effect. On instant actions, these factors applied as penalties to the roll. On extended actions, factors increased the number of passes that had to be rolled.

I think that kind of mechanic could be applied to rolling in general, at least in a heavily simplified form.

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Number of "Passes" (to use your terminology, although I prefer "successes" myself)
I do this in order to distinguish a die that pass the target number from an action that succeeds, as the two are not equivalent. Most games that use dice pools make this distinction. For example, Shadowrun refers to dice that meet/pass the TN (5) as "hits."

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(In practice, the effect works out much the same, but the difference between a target chosen by the player as a bonus and a requirement imposed by the referee as a minimum does have a significant psychological effect, I think.)
Good observation. Several of the differences in task resolution between different iterations of the S* rules don't change probability, but do have a psychological effect. By the same token, cosmetic or clunky rules are introduced for their psychological effect.

For example, the advantage that SP style difficulty class has over STing style dice pool modifiers is that it is easy to apply modifiers after the roll is already made and you can argue it is easier to conceal the opponent's defense stat in combat. The problem is the "whiff factor,"  which STing avoids by offering the chance die. SP introduces "consolations" for failure. (IMO, this is just a band-aid fix because the concept of pass/fail needs to be re-contextualized as I said before.)

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« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2019, 10:12:28 AM »
Quote from: BoxCrayonTales;1113628
I personally don't see a need to have a bunch of different probability sliders, at least initially. I know some people like them as options. However, the fluff-based logic behind distinguishing them always seemed like splitting hairs to me.

For me the game value of multiple probability sliders is in the challenge of balancing how changing one affects the other, and what this does to the final result -- e.g. the art of judging, as noted above, how much of a bump in TN you can take in return for bonus dice.  The Riddle of Steel is a particularly good example of this, as the TN of a given manoeuvre in combat is a key factor in deciding how many Combat Pool dice to commit to it.

This gives (to me anyway) the feel of a more complex, convincing, and consistent simulation, as does ensuring that modifiers of X type always reflect fluff factors of Y type -- it does make a difference, both in probability and (I think) in the feel to the players, whether a penalty for the "same" disadvantage is applied as a die pool reduction in one situation and a TN bump in another.

In terms of simply determining a final probability and checking it, fixed-TN pools are definitely simpler (cf. Burning Wheel), but if multiple sliders aren't needed then it seems to me there's no need for a dice pool to begin with -- flat ability value + roll vs. target number would do.

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An interesting mechanic I saw in Mage: The Awakening was that spellcasting rolls could be performed as instant or extended actions. The player determined the various factors of the effect. On instant actions, these factors applied as penalties to the roll. On extended actions, factors increased the number of passes that had to be rolled. I think that kind of mechanic could be applied to rolling in general, at least in a heavily simplified form.

The trick on that kind of mechanic is knowing how many dice are, in practice, worth how many passes.  At TN 6 in a d10 pool, for example, you are basically going to get on average 1 pass for every 2 dice you roll, which means that a +1 pass requirement after the roll is probabilistically equal to a -2d penalty before the roll.  At TN 5 in a d6 pool, by contrast (cf. Shadowrun 4E), you'll get on average 1 hit per 3 dice, so every extra hit required is equal to a -3d pre-roll penalty -- which is why in Shadowrun, minimum hits required generally top out around 3 or 4.

One of the things I always found annoying about Burning Wheel is that, at the normal human level of ability in any given area, achieving a better than 50% chance of success at any given task requires your exponent (die pool) to be at least twice your Obstacle (required passes). However, BW quite regularly sets its Obstacles insanely high to begin with (Ob 4 or Ob 5 are described as tasks of "middling" difficulty!), and it's incredibly easy to bump them up even further. The designer did this deliberately with the intent of forcing players to have to continually spend Artha (drama points) as well as find any kind of advantage, support dice and cooperative assistance they could -- and to make them cope with failures on a regular basis, and while this does make skill rolls more interesting in the short term, I think it becomes rather grindingly exhausting as a constant requirement.

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I do this in order to distinguish a die that pass the target number from an action that succeeds, as the two are not equivalent. Most games that use dice pools make this distinction.

Fair enough. I've never had a problem telling the contexts apart (I'm an old-school D&D grognard who regularly used "level" in multiple contexts without hiccups), but when in Slobovia, do like the other Slobs do, as Bugs Bunny used to say. :)

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For example, the advantage that SP style difficulty class has over STing style dice pool modifiers is that it is easy to apply modifiers after the roll is already made and you can argue it is easier to conceal the opponent's defense stat in combat. The problem is the "whiff factor," which STing avoids by offering the chance die. SP introduces "consolations" for failure. (IMO, this is just a band-aid fix because the concept of pass/fail needs to be re-contextualized as I said before.)

That sounds like a basic difference in philosophical approach. For me, I always played by the guideline of "all modifiers are final once the dice hit the table, no exchanges, substitutions or refunds" -- if you forgot to call it before the roll you didn't get to retroactively apply it afterwards once you remembered, so this was an option I never needed.

As for the "whiff factor", that's another thing that die pool systems by their nature tend to veer away from, as the probabilities always cluster in the middle of the range.  Going by the oldest of old-school mechanics, the basic d20 to hit roll, the most popular tolerance for "wild" results seems to be about one in every ten rolls on average (natural 1s and natural 20s).  It's very difficult to get this kind of frequency distribution on a dice pool without a variant patched-in mechanic -- WEG's Star Wars game did it with the introduction of the Wild Die, which gave bonuses on 6 and penalties on 1, but Star Wars as a genre has a much higher tolerance for fluky wonkiness.  Dark urban fantasy needs a very different feel.
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« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2019, 11:05:22 AM »
I'll come back to Task Resolution mechanics in the future. For now I'll skip to Attributes and Skills.

Attributes
The arrangement of Attributes is essentially arbitrary, though STing, V5, and SP use two axes similarly to Action! System (and other games, such as DC Heroes). As Action! System has an OGL SRD I will be using it as a reference for my own efforts.

Under Action! System, all Attributes are one of Power, Aptitude, or Resistance. Action! provides an example second axis of Mind and Body. The S* games all use a second axis of Mental, Physical, and Social. These axes don't always have names themselves, but for reference I will refer to the first axis as "Function" and the second as "Form."

Each Attribute is a combination of Form and Function: Physical Power, Mental Aptitude, Social Resistance, etc. These Attributes have unique names too: Strength, Senses, Charisma, etc. (I can't use the ST names in any clone due to copyright.)

Opening the Dark doesn't have this two axis mechanic, but it does pair up Attributes with Emotional Traits and that can be used as a shorthand:
  • Physical Power = Strength (STR)
  • Physical Aptitude = Dexterity (DEX)
  • Physical Resistance = Constitution (CON)
  • Mental Power = Intelligence (INT)
  • Mental Aptitude = Senses (SEN)
  • Mental Resistance = Wisdom (WIS)
  • Social Power = Attractiveness (ATT)
  • Social Aptitude = Grace (GRA)
  • Social Resistance = Charisma (CHA)


The task resolution generally relies on Attributes to determine dice pools. Sometimes deciding which Attribute to use may be contentious. To get that out of the way, I'm going to say that in this system sometimes more than one Attribute may be used for a roll because they compensate for one another. For example, realizing whether someone is manipulating you may involve rolling Mental Aptitude (SEN) or Social Aptitude (GRA).

Humans are generally limited to ranks of 1-5. According to Opening the Dark: If any of a character's attributes drop to zero for whatever reason (negative values aren't possible), then they automatically fail roles that rely on that attribute. They are either dead (or soon will be), paralyzed, comatose, catatonic, etc. However, I generally prefer to use hit points to represent that instead; when I get to it, I will address mental/social hit points.

STing uses 0 INT scores for animals, though Opening the Dark doesn't seem to allow normal scores of 0. Instead, it provides scores of "none" (see below).

Tangent: Non-human attributes

The Attribute mechanic is intended to model adult humans, so it breaks down when applied to animals or children.

Opening the Dark provides brief mechanics for scores of "none," similar to d20 v3.5. This isn't the same as having a score of 0, save that a score of none auto-fails on rolls. A creature with no STR can't exert force, perhaps because it lacks a physical body (like a ghost) or can't move (like a tree). If it can't move, then it also has no DEX. If it has no body, or no metabolism, then it also has no CON.

Null scores in the Mental and Social attributes are pretty weird and I am having difficulty imagining NPCs with null scores other than automatons. For reference, in 3.5 anything without Wisdom/Charisma was considered terrain.

I don't see null attributes as appropriate for most animals either. (Animal statistics are vital for any animal handler characters and all superpowers involving animals.)

A dog isn't going to be able to make INT rolls like a human being, but that doesn't mean they're stupid or an automaton. A spider won't be able to exert force on a human being or deal any damage by biting alone, but that doesn't mean it has STR 0. A house cat might be able to give you a nasty scratch or even disfigure your face, but it will generally be unable to kill you with its claws and teeth.

Arthropods (which are given null INT in 3.5) aren't immune to mental influence, since many parasites on arthropods use pheromones, drugs and viruses to alter their host's behavior. Obviously most arthropods will run away from perceived danger and if that isn't a fear response than I don't know what is.

My rule of thumb is that this would be represented with a score of "negligible" (negl.), which doesn't provide any dice but doesn't auto-fail ALL tasks either. A dog with negligible INT won't be able to perform math problems, but it can determine if a kid fell into a well and go get help. A house cat won't be a direct threat in combat, but it could definitely provide a distraction.

Alternately, these animals would be treated as non-combatants or environmental hazards rather than NPCs with full statistic blocks.

Skills
That brings us to Skills. Attributes represent general areas of competence available to all characters, whereas Skills reflect more specific areas of training. Skills are typically categorized into three groups, which Opening the Dark names "informal," "formal", and "technical." These names aren't cosmetic: different groups may have slightly different mechanics.

Actions typically involve rolling an Attribute plus a Skill. If the character doesn't have ranks in the relevant skill, then they take a penalty depending on the type of skill. For example, "technical" skills inflict a greater penalty than "informal" skills. This penalty, I assume, is intended to reflect how much specific learning goes into the skill and how much may be compensated by the more general learning represented by attributes.

The skill list is essentially arbitrary and varies according to the historical period the characters live in. For example, there is no Driving skill because typical characters in a modern setting are generally assumed to know how to drive (and not knowing would be considered a Disadvantage), but Stunt Driving is still a skill that inflicts a penalty for attempting without ranks.

If no skill applies to action (that is, there is no skill that would apply, not that the character lacks it), then the character generally rolls the sum of two attributes. For example, unskilled manual labor might roll STR+CON or STR+DEX depending on the task.

Some iterations of ST automatically paired skills with attributes. No jargon was given to this mechanic, but for reference I will do so. Burrowing a term from the Vampire: Bloodlines video game, I would refer to standard combinations of Attributes and Skills for specific categories of actions as "Feats." For example, the common actions "Persuade", "Seduce", and "Intimidate" are Feats. Feats would be useful for adjudication.

Anyway, the list of Skills is essentially arbitrary and more so than Attributes. The S* systems use heavily abstracted and simplified skill lists compared to real life. "Science", "Politics," "Firearms," etc. Real life is much more complicated, but we're not trying to be realistic here.

Not only that, but you can apply mechanics from other systems like Broad Skills, Narrow Skills, Sub-Skills, Background Skills, etc. I don't recommend having all those at once, but if so then the only way to remotely balance them is by varying the XP costs.

Specialties
These are basically what other systems call sub-skills. These don't appear in Opening the Dark, but they do appear in various ST iterations. STer allows specialties for Attributes and Skills, whereas STing only allows them for Skills. In order for Specialties to be justified as traits then they need to extremely cheap.

The Everlasting makes far more extensive use of broad skills and sub-skills than the S* systems did. Just a comparison in case anyone cares.

Personally, I would categorize Specialties under Advantages rather than their own trait. YMMV.

[EDIT: Opening the Dark already classifies these under the Background Trait of "Focus."]

Other Traits

As I said, this category includes secondary attributes, derived traits, and hit points.

A Secondary Attribute would be Size. This is considered a primary Attribute in BRP, but in S* it's either absent or only present in some iterations. Size is used to calculate physical hit points, which makes it more regular than editions where this is arbitrary. In STing, the average adult human is Size 5; Size 6 indicates a degree of gigantism that is treated as an Advantage. It becomes increasingly abstract: Size 1 applies to both infants and all insects.

The derived traits include Speed, Hit Points, and Defense Values.

Speed is typically ignored by most S* systems. In STing, it is derived from STR+DEX+"species factor" (5 for humans). In an old periodical, a house rule was introduced that changed this to STR+DEX+Athletics skill+species factor; species factor was 0 for adult humans and could presumably be negative.

Hit Points are what they sound like. The default rules in S* systems always include physical hit points. These are typically divided into two, sometimes three degrees of severity. Other systems, like Alternity, used similar mechanics. In typical S* these damage types displace one another in the hit point pool, whereas Opening the Dark (and Alternity) tracks them separately. In STing, the least severe type doubled as fatigue. The basic purpose of these multiple types of hit points is to determine how quickly a given attack will kill you or recover from. Taking a page from Alternity, I was planning on having the different types vary in amount rather than being the same amount as typical.

Some variants include mental and/or social hit points. The most common is what Opening the Dark labels "Will." This is typically used as what other systems might call "kicker", providing a bonus to your chances of success on a roll. In some variants, other effects may damage Will similarly to physical hit points. There are several variants of such "social combat" mechanics, with varying degrees of sensibility since social interaction metaphorically doesn't work like punching people in the pace. I haven't refined it, but I had this idea to use different types of mental hit points to represent damage to the character's reserve of mental stamina, their sanity, and their soul.

Defense Values are used to reduce or avoid damage before applying it to hit points, as well as resist non-damaging effects like mind control. That is, they are applied as modifiers to the attacker's dice pools or difficulty class depending on the edition. Which Attributes and Skills are used depends on the nature of the attack: physical blow, psychic assault, or biological. For the purposes of streamlining I decided to call these out as derived traits. For example, Psychic Defense Value is WIS+CHA, Bodily Defense Value is CON+WIS, and Attack Defense Value is a more complicated mix of Reflexes, Toughness, Armor, and Block/Dodge/Parry.

A more detailed analysis will follow in future posts.
« Last Edit: November 15, 2019, 12:11:30 PM by BoxCrayonTales »

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« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2019, 02:31:39 PM »
Physical Hit Points

Physical Hit Points are a potentially contentious mechanic. They aren't intended to be realistic or abstracted, but a lot of heated arguments hinge on realism. For example, CoD2e altered the damage mechanic because the writers thought the healing rate after being hit with a baseball bat was unrealistic or something.

I don't care too much for arguments based on realism. I prefer to just let the GM decide what is appropriate for their campaigns.

Anyway, hit points basically just denote how much damage your PC can take before they die and how long they need to recover. You can fluff that however. As I said, S* systems divide damage into two or more degrees. The names for these are variable, but Opening the Dark uses Stun and Health. It doesn't have a third type, but for future reference I will call that Mortal.

EDIT: Recovery is highly variable. In Opening the Dark, Stun recovers at a rate of one per hour. Health recovers at a rate of one per week or month. Other S* systems have their own rates.

EDIT: Additionally, HP loss inflicts cumulative penalties to actions. This presumably represents the effects of pain and mechanical damage. These also vary by edition: STing only has the last three HP inflict wound penalties, whereas STer sometimes has every two or three lost HP inflict a penalty.

Opening the Dark has another trait called Toughness, derived from CON, which reduces damage before applying it to hit points. Similar mechanics ("Soak") appear in S* games, except for STing which removes it in favor of variable hit points (in other editions, HP is fixed at 7 or so). One STing book, Mirrors, introduced an optional rule for Soak (Toughness) that was derived from Physical Resistance and Mental Resistance (it equaled the lowest of either); I thought that was a bit clever.

My own idea for replacing Toughness is that Stun, Health, and Mortal damage wouldn't have the same amount. For example: a character would have half the number of mortal point they have health points, and maybe twice the stun points that they have health points.

GMs can use whatever version of the rules they'd like, and I encourage them to customize the rules to reflect the gameplay they desire. Gritty? Cinematic? Need mooks who go down in one hit?


[/HR]

I'm running out of time. Next planned subjects: Defense Values, Dump Stats, and Mental/Social Hit Points.
« Last Edit: November 12, 2019, 02:38:20 PM by BoxCrayonTales »

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« Reply #9 on: November 12, 2019, 02:50:29 PM »
Quote from: BoxCrayonTales;1113670
Physical Hit Points are a potentially contentious mechanic. They aren't intended to be realistic or abstracted, but a lot of heated arguments hinge on realism.

In a combat-system design discussion thread I had once on TBP, another poster pointed out a paradox about RPG combat that I have always remembered: The challenge of designing a combat system is to incorporate two things the target market strongly likes: i) frequent, exciting combat, and ii) plausibly realistic combat -- while somehow avoiding the logical result of putting i) and ii) together, which the target market strongly dis-likes: iii) frequent character death, or injury to the point of adventuring nonviability.

In my experience most games handle this by cheating on 2), in that what they create is something that appears realistic but in practice doesn't deliver crippling or fatal results nearly as often as real life would.  I generally think a viable combat system has to be able to do the following things:
1) It has to be mechanically possible for he heaviest possible weapon to do only grazing damage, i.e. there shouldn't be any kind of attack that amounts to "any hit at all = total instant kill".
2) It has to be mechanically possible for the smallest possible weapon to do significant damage with a sufficiently successful attack, i.e. even if all your opponent has is a hatpin, you should still worry at least a little;
3) It has to make sure that both these results are rare enough that pace of decision -- basically, the speed with which you can lose -- is still predictable.
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« Reply #10 on: November 12, 2019, 03:16:32 PM »
Quote from: Stephen Tannhauser;1113674
In a combat-system design discussion thread I had once on TBP, another poster pointed out a paradox about RPG combat that I have always remembered: The challenge of designing a combat system is to incorporate two things the target market strongly likes: i) frequent, exciting combat, and ii) plausibly realistic combat -- while somehow avoiding the logical result of putting i) and ii) together, which the target market strongly dis-likes: iii) frequent character death, or injury to the point of adventuring nonviability.

In my experience most games handle this by cheating on 2), in that what they create is something that appears realistic but in practice doesn't deliver crippling or fatal results nearly as often as real life would.  I generally think a viable combat system has to be able to do the following things:
1) It has to be mechanically possible for he heaviest possible weapon to do only grazing damage, i.e. there shouldn't be any kind of attack that amounts to "any hit at all = total instant kill".
2) It has to be mechanically possible for the smallest possible weapon to do significant damage with a sufficiently successful attack, i.e. even if all your opponent has is a hatpin, you should still worry at least a little;
3) It has to make sure that both these results are rare enough that pace of decision -- basically, the speed with which you can lose -- is still predictable.
Thank you.

The STing 1e combat system tried to do all three by abstracting the combat. The attacker just rolls once and adds weapon damage as a bonus to his dice pool, but since this only affects the chance of success it means there are situations where a high damage weapon deals little damage and a low damage weapon deals a lot of damage. This was discarded in 2e by making damage automatic on a successful attack, so weapons with higher damage are automatically more damaging than those with lower damage.

That is one of the reasons why I prefer task resolution that modifies the dice pools rather than the difficulty class as I mentioned previous.

As you said, I'd probably be better off with another mechanic like Night Shift's percentile task resolution. The point of this thread is an S* retroclone so I don't have a choice if I want to continue in that vein specifically.

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« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2019, 07:14:52 AM »
Dump stats

To talk about dump stats for a moment...

The S* systems have often had problems with dump stats. DEX is king in combat. INT is almost useless. Etc.

STing tried a few ways to address this. For example, Defense was the lowest of Mental and Physical Aptitude.

I think another way to address this would be to more clearly define the Functions of Attributes.  Power is a sledgehammer, Aptitude is a scalpel, Resistance is a shield.

For example, Mental Power isn't necessarily just Intelligence. It could very well be the primary attacking statistic in psychic combat. (I'll address psychic combat in more detail in posts on mental/social combat.) It could be used for mind control; I never understood why mind control relied on mundane social skills.

Previously I also mentioned allowing multiple attributes to apply to a roll if it made sense. For example, melee combat could easily rely on either DEX or STR depending on the PC's combat style.

Introducing Mega/Epic-Attributes would be another way to make the dump stats more appealing.

Generally, addressing dump stats requires tweaking the rest of the rules in a conscious attempt to give every Attribute uses.

As always, feedback welcomed.
« Last Edit: November 13, 2019, 07:38:15 AM by BoxCrayonTales »

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« Reply #12 on: November 13, 2019, 10:16:32 AM »
Defense Values and Social/Mental Combat

As I said before, Defense Values (DV) are a simple and consistent way of explaining what a character uses to resist attacks, physical or otherwise. IIRC, they were first formalized in Exalted; although similar mechanics have long appeared in other games (e.g. armor class, saving throws, etc). The name "Value" comes from Exalted which uses "Static Values" to refer to what I previously called "derived traits."

For simplicity and purposes of illustration, I will be using three values burrowed from 13th Age: Armor Class, Physical Defense, and Mental Defense.
  • If the PC is resisting a physical attack, then they use their Armor Class. This is a combination of reflexes (Physical and Mental Aptitude), skills (e.g. Unarmed Combat, Melee Weapons, Dodge), and equipment (e.g. armor).
  • If the PC is resisting a biological attack, then they use their Physical Defense. This is a combination of Physical and Mental Resistance, plus any miscellanies such as Advantages.
  • If the PC is resisting a psychological attack, then they use their Mental Defense. This is a combination of Mental and Social Resistance, plus any miscellanies such as Advantages.

For example, if a character is subject to mind control or mental trickery then they use their Mental Defense to resist. If we're using STing-style modifiers, then for accumulative effects the Mental Defense is applied as a penalty to the attacker's roll and for binary effects the Mental Defense is rolled in an opposed roll.

But those are just examples. What Defense Values your game uses depends on how the social/mental combat works. The STing System alone has several such systems:
  • Debates, Requiem for Rome p178
  • Sway, Anticipation, Setup, and Declaration, Mirrors p102
  • Social Combat and Mental Combat, Danse Macabre p127
  • Doors, God-Machine Chronicle Rules Update p192
A key problem with most of these social combat systems is that they are either unnecessary complications (e.g. "Doors" are redundant since Extended Actions already cover the same ground) or treat all forms of socializing as inherently destructive.

For example, Danse Macabre just reskinned the physical combat rules: Initiative/Defense/Health became Social Dominance/Guile/Nerve and Mental Acumen/Aptitude/Grey Matter. Long story short, you basically browbeat someone until they either relent, are mentally exhausted, or just leave. To add insult to injury, the book even tells you that you're better off not using the (comparatively sparser) mental combat rules.

On the bright side, these systems can be hacked for use in psychic combat or spiritual combat that otherwise isn't represented. Assuming you care.

On the other end of the spectrum, the "Sway" rules involve non-destructive relationship building. Otherwise, the rules generally don't have any systems to represent positive/negative reputation with different parties; a strange oversight if you ask me.

(EDIT: None of these are a one-size-fits-all solution. Rome's Debate rules are only good for formal debates with witnesses and nothing else. Mirror's Sway rules are only good for getting people to do things for you, not embarrassing them in front of their peers. Danse Macabre's Social Combat is only really good at modeling high school mean girls and not really anything else; the Mental Combat works for any games of wits, though. GMC's Doors aren't useful except as variation of the Extended Action rules and even then it is questionable whether they offer any utility over the Extended Action rules alone. But there's really no reason why you couldn't use them all in the same campaign to represent different kinds of interactions.)

As always, I would allow GMs to decide what is best for them. All types of combat can be abstracted or granular. If you're going to include a combat system, then that probably means you're going to emphasize it. If you wanted to, then you could abstract away physical combat in favor of focusing on social and/or mental combat. If you want social politics to play a role, then you need some kind of explicit reputation mechanic (at it's simplest this would provide bonuses/penalties to socializing), tracking favors, etc.

Feedback welcomed.
« Last Edit: November 13, 2019, 11:50:42 AM by BoxCrayonTales »

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« Reply #13 on: November 13, 2019, 12:26:32 PM »
Advantages and Disadvantages

The STer, STing, and SP systems have a bunch of different variations of advantages and disadvantages. These represent things that aren't covered by Attributes and Skills, such as social connections, personal quirks, wealth, etc. Generally they are rated from 0-5 (sometimes with "empty" ranks), sometimes 6+. Advantages/disadvantages general come in flavors of mental, physical, social, and supernatural (only available to supernatural characters).

STer has backgrounds, merits, flaws, backgrounds above 5 ranks in War of Ages, "negative backgrounds" in a Mage Storytellers Handbook, and combined backgrounds/merits/flaws in V5.

The first edition of Adventure! has "background enhancements" to represent backgrounds above 5 ranks, as well as backgrounds that are double-edged swords (like "nemesis").

STing has combined backgrounds/merits and all flaws are only ranked at 0. Rather than providing a cost break on other traits, these flaws provide free XP whenever they impede a character. STing 2e introduced Conditions/Tilts as basically rank 0 merits/flaws.

I suppose you could consider Power Paths a subset of Advantages/Disadvantages, if not for the different XP costs in most cases. I don't really find it sensible that supernatural advantages and power paths are separate, but I'll address that in detail when I get to power paths.

Rather than try to cover all the corner cases, I'll just use a rule of thumb. In general, a (dis)advantage may be purely advantageous, purely disadvantageous, or a mix thereof. For example, a character with the gigantism advantage is Size 6 and therefore has increased hit points, but the drawback is that they need to buy clothes in their size from special vendors (as well at whatever else the GM decides).

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« Reply #14 on: November 13, 2019, 02:57:00 PM »
Personality Traits

Here we come to one of the most maligned aspects of the S* systems.

In Opening the Dark, we are given three "emotional traits" (passion, prudence, stoicism), an "ethos" trait (humane compassion or dark enlightenment), and a "madness" trait. This covers the traditional manifestation fairly well, but there are plenty of others.

The concept of three (sometimes four, sometimes more) emotional traits was present in numerous editions, including Vampire, Mummy, Exalted, Scion, etc. V5 and Exalted 3e have dropped them entirely, although they do use something more free-form to represent personality traits (e.g. touchstones, anchors, intimacies).

The purpose of these emotional traits was generally to resist mental influence, losing control, and for moral support. This overlaps with the Will mechanic, and as such it they were often treated interchangeably even though this wasn't the intent of the rules. Go figure. STing introduced resistance attributes, and as such it removed the emotional traits entirely. In Exalted, the intimacies play a key role in social combat.

Which brings us to ethos and madness. Opening the Dark adds madness as a distinct trait (each point inflicts one mental illness, unplayable once maxed out), but other S* systems didn't. Basically, the more your PC acted like a jerk, the more likely they were to lose ethos and go crazy (pejoratively derided as "steal a candy bar and develop schizophrenia"). It is a pointless stick mechanic, so naturally other ethos options were provided (pejoratively derided as "the path of whatever I was going to do anyway"). This remains a problem in STer and STing to this day.

Something I thought was funny about the human compassion ethos is that it works the opposite of how reality works. In reality, normal sane compassionate people develop mental illness as a result of doing bad things because they feel guilty even if their actions were justified by circumstances (e.g. mentally healthy people still feel guilty for killing in self-defense). In S* systems, the rules say that the character develops mental illness as a result of not feeling guilty.

STing 2e tries to play around with some of the ethos mechanics to do more of a light side/dark side thing or remove any moral component, but naturally the execution is clumsy. You can see examples in Werewolf's harmony and Changeling's clarity, which are now supposed to provide drawbacks the further they are from ~5. Considering how numbers are traditionally supposed to work in RPGs, IMO it would have made more sense to use an axis ranging from -5 to +5; maybe each side could be a different trait.

(EDIT: Mage Storytellers Handbook in 2002 introduced ideas for axes in this vein, with the example being seasons: winter/summer, autumn/spring.)

Exalted didn't have ethos, but instead has limit. Basically it was mental stress: once your character accumulated too much limit, then they suffered a temporary psychotic break ("limit break"). This was based on a variety of similar psychotic break mechanics that commonly appeared in the STer games (e.g. vampire frenzy, werewolf rage, mage bedlam, etc). That mechanic might be useful to port over to represent psychotic breaks in association with a mental/social hit point mechanic, assuming you care.

The Everlasting did all this tinkering years before White Wolf did. It allowed characters to have any number of personality traits that would IIRC provide modifiers to certain actions, and highly stressful events would change the PC's personality traits (one example given is the transformation into a vampire, which is so unpleasant that it causes severe personality changes). It's equivalent of ethos was "torment," and every character type had their own torment and this wasn't related to compassion or anything of the sort. Torment was an ascending trait with increasingly unpleasant consequences as it rose. Some character types had a secondary stat that worked in opposition to torment.

I'm not particularly interested in having any ethos traits. The non-stupid reason you'd need them would be for some kind of light side/dark side mechanic, but that doesn't look like a good fit for S* mechanics. Or at least White Wolf's writers haven't been able to make it work. I can't think of any approach that wouldn't be extremely clumsy. Vampires with humanity can't roll greater social interaction with humans than their humanity trait, but a reverse statistic that limits their vampire powers feels like it would be unpopular.

By comparison, something like Whistlepunk's Feed game implements the light side/dark side idea in a much more elegant fashion. It describes character traits in freeform rather than using universal attributes/skills. As a vampire loses humanity, they replace human traits with vampiric traits. For example, a vampire alienates a close friend and thus loses that friend from their social trait list, but replaces that trait with a new vampiric trait rated at the same level.

As always, feedback welcomed.

EDIT: Mike McConnell, author of Strands of Power, wrote "character trait" mechanics for the STing system. Might be a decent source of ideas.

EDIT: I didn’t mentioned the Persona/Being rules from Opening the Dark. That’s because I don’t see any problem with them, other than the idea being more than a bit paranoid.
« Last Edit: November 13, 2019, 03:37:54 PM by BoxCrayonTales »