Friday, 8 March 2013

Monitors: a first draft

So, I got bored.

You know what's not boring? Spacefaring cyborg reptile secret agent wizards.

Introducing Monitors

I've already outlined this game, but let's recap:

In a vast universe of squabbling galaxies, trouble can erupt at any moment: calamities, rebellions, coups, trade disputes, accidental hyperevolution, accidental necromancy, dimensional fluxes, awakening the sleeping armies of the lost Ghkrat, dreams becoming real, enthusiastic postgraduate researchers carelessly building an unstoppable army of invincible robot armchairs – the possibilities are endless. No conventional task force can be assembled in time.

In this unimaginably distant future, heroic teams of spacefaring reptiles maintain the tenuous peace between squabbling mammalian empires. No drifting wreck is too sinister, no jungle world too unexplored, no asteroid belt too pirate-infested for these fearless trouble-shooters. With modern technology and ancient wizardry, they preserve the fragile web of intergalactic civilisation. Only their hardy poikilothermic bodies can survive nanotech implants, arcane infusions and the harshness of intergalactic deepjumps. They are the Monitors.

Our intrepid bands of anthropomorphic armoured cyborg warlock lizards will confront a wide range of troubles, many of them violent. They may have to battle anything from a million-strong sea of rock-grubs, through entire ships full of parasite-possessed parrotfolk, down to a gang of vicious pirate jellyfish or a single giant robot.

This is, as noted above, entirely a first draft of the thing. Any or all of it is subject to change.

Hypothetical Mechanics

I'm basing this game loosely on the BRP system. It's going to be skills-based, and generally involve rolling under your skill to achieve success. I've not yet decided whether to use d20, d100 or something else for success rolls.

I feel that inherent properties should have some bearing on competence, something which BRP doesn't especially do, so I'm looking at a Stats + Skills system for rolls. If I go with d20s, then it would probably be something like trying to roll under (Stat + Skill - Difficulty). While most skills will tend to be associated with particular stats, I want that to stay flexible to handle different sitations; a scientific skill might be rolled on Education to evaluate something, Coordination to perform a procedure or Mind to instruct someone else.


Stat Default Summary Uses
Agility 4 Sense of balance, flexibility and grace Dancing, weaving through laser beams, tightrope walking
Coordination 4 Manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination Defusing, massage, hitting, aiming, juggling, surgery
Education 4 Ability to recall trivia, facts, techniques, quotes and theories Pub quizzes, study, pop culture references, blagging, imposture
Mind 4 Reasoning ability, patience and strength of will Crosswords, debates, resisting con artists, not giving up, staring contests
Perception 4 Awareness of surroundings Spotting clues, overhearing gossip, realising you’re in a simulation
Reaction 4 Speed of mental or physical response to events Dodging attacks, blinking, catching a dropped plate, retorting, playing Snap
Strength 4 Ability to exert physical force Lifting, hauling, climbing, wrestling, breaking, pulling back over cliff edges
Toughness 4 Fitness, pain tolerance, immune system and physical resilience Hiking, holding breath, resisting drugs, taking a punch

I'm not sure yet how stats will be generated. The current default value of 4 (for Monitors and equivalent NPCs) is pretty much arbitrary, and based on d20. This would give PCs a 20% chance to succeed at an average task with no appropriate skills whatsoever, which seems pretty reasonable to me.

There's at least one other "stat", Speed, but I'm not expecting that to vary significantly between characters. My initial thought here is to just a have a few broad categories of relative speed, which cover anything from lumbering fungus-mounds to speeding hoverbikes. Something like: Glacial, Very Slow, Slow, Average, Fast, Very Fast, Supersonic.


Skill Usual Stat Summary Uses
Administration Education Accounting, bureaucratic procedures, filing, loopholes, organisations, office politics, paperwork Spot corruption, exploit procedures, identify appropriate contacts, play officers against each other, apply for grants, forge permits, guess where documentation is kept, interpret jargon
Archaeology Education Excavation, artefacts, sites, papers, scholars, recent prehistory, patterns of use and change Spot likely sites, deduce routes and resources, identify buildings and artefacts, know relevant academics, explain abandonment, date materials, perform excavation
Art & Craft [type] Any Make, decorate, modify, arrange, perform Knitting, blacksmithing, painting, hairdressing, writing, dancing, singing, flower-arranging, carpentry
Artillery Coordination / Mind Vehicle-mounted or platform-mounted weaponry Coordination for manual, Mind for computer-assisted
Astronomy Education Constellations, eclipses, comets & meteors, star names, orbits, star science, life cycles Guess planetary properties, identify star systems, deduce origin of interstellar matter
AV Technology Education Photography, recording, manipulation Take clear photos, video events, record scandalous conversation, conceal message in song, fake photo
Bargain Mind Negotiating, haggling Barter services, hire a guide, sell equipment, buy cheap goods
Biology Education Botany, cytology, ecology, genetics, histology, microbiology, physiology, zoology, paleontology Develop vaccine, identify creature, understand food chain
Brawl Agility Hand-to-hand fighting Punch, wrestle, kick, headbutt, bite, restrain
Chemistry Education Substances, chemical interactions, synthesis, analysis Neutralize explosives, synthesise chemicals, identify unknown substances
Climb Strength / Agility Climb, balance Climb a tree, shin along a beam
Computing Education Assembly, software, data, security, theory and personalities Build server, write program, follow data flows, track hacking attempt, hack system
Conceal Perception Legerdemain, camouflage, covert placement Carry a weapon undetected, hide a vehicle, apply camo makeup, place a bug, make a hidden cache, stash incriminating evidence away from the cleaners
Cybernetics Education Identify, understand and use cybernetics and robotics Use robotic surgery bay, synch with battlecruiser, pilot scout mech
Disguise Perception Change appearance, posture, voice, costume, scent, bioreadings Impersonate an individual, adopt a persona, avoid recognition, theatrical effects, fancy dress, leave red herrings
Dodge Reaction Avoiding physical dangers Avoid falling rocks, attackers, grenades
Drive [type] Reaction Drive, evaluate and perform basic maintenance on vehicles; types at GM's discretion Tail a getaway car, drive a boat through rapids, get a tank out of soft sand, dock with an alien spacecraft
Electrician Mind / Coordination Evaluate, fix, patch or sabotage electrics and electronics Hotwire vehicle, fix motor, short-circuit machine, reroute burglar alarms, disable robot
Explosives Education / Coordination Assemble, prepare, identify, detonate, defuse, demolish Blow the bloody doors off, demolish bridge, spot suspicious package, disarm missile
Fast Talk Reaction / Mind Bluster, bully, startle, overawe, disdain, fob off, charm, distress, bluff Excuse trespass, bluff past a guard, get a signature, obtain an invitation, avoid a fine, borrow a car
First Aid Mind / Coordination Revive, splint, soothe, de-sting, bandage, resuscitate, Heimlichise Stop choking, treat burns, stop bleeding, splint a limb, administer painkillers
Geology Education Rock types, basic paleontology, minerals, mining, landscapes, seismology, vulcanism, terrain stability, water sources Locate mineral seams, predict eruption, find water, identify fossil
Gravity Education Cope with, manipulate and understand variable gravity Work effectively in high or low gravity, use gravity to pull off combat tricks
Handgun Agility Shooting, maintenance, identification ...
Heavy Weapons Strength Bulky and unwieldy weapons, often mounted or gyro-supported Autocannon, missiles, flamethrowers
Hide Perception Avoid pursuit, surveillance or patrols Lurk in bushes, evade CCTV, disappear into a crowd
History Education Knowledge of current events and historical past Identify obsolete technology, recognise historical figures, identify heraldry, recall political scandal
Jump Strength ... ...
Language [type] Education / Perception Listen, speak, read, write, analyse Converse, understand gossip, read inscriptions, appreciate poetry, impress crowd
Law Education Legal systems, emergency services, cases, personalities, institutions Conduct a case, impersonate police, avoid charges, recall criminal cases, draw up contracts
Light Weapons Coordination Infantry weapons Rifles, blasters, sniper rifles, grenade launchers
Listen Perception Hearing, listening, eavesdropping Detect an intruder, locate a songbird, pick out password
Locksmith Coordination Locks, clockwork, hotwiring, doors and windows, puzzle boxes, physical traps Open doors, copy keys, disassemble items, hotwire cars
Mechanical Repair Coordination Evaluate, fix, patch or sabotage structures or physical machinery Reroute plumbing, repair fence, fettle engines, cannibalise machinery, patch hulls, reinforce viewports
Medicine Education Preventative care, surgery, medication, epidemiology, disease, poisons, parasites Treat poison, treat disease, give vaccinations
Melée Weapons Agility Knives, swords, clubs, flails, lightsabres, gauntlets ...
Navigate Mind Positioning, route-finding, memorising, map and chart use Pinpoint your location, find your way, memorise turns made by your kidnappers' vehicle, map an area
Occult Education Myths, artefacts, magical practices, tomes, sorcerers, spirits Recognise names, perform rituals, identify artefacts, identify a practitioner's traditions, guess intentions
Operate Heavy Machinery Mind Understand, drive and maintain construction equipment, engines, boilers, large machinery Operate jump engines, repair a heating system, use a crane
Perform [type] Perception Music, drama, oratory, dance, mime, web design, flower arranging Show off, put on a performance, evaluate a performance, earn a living
Persuade Mind Convince someone to accept a particular idea or stance Reconciliate enemies, get long-term asssistance, successfully plead innocence
Physics Education Forces, materials, electromagnetism, optics, radiation, space-time Design devices, predict flows in hydraulic system, understand experiments, baffle laser alarms
Psychology Perception Reactions, motives, character and intentions Sense suspicion, anxiety, concealment, over-eagerness
Research Mind Archives, references, fact-finding, googling, online tracking Find a document, track a person's online activity, locate relevant references
Ride Agility / Reaction Any riding beasts, cycles, hoverdiscs, or similar light vehicles Control a frightened animal, weave through trees
Scent / Taste Perception ... Trace gas leak, detect alien, anticipate chloroform, notice drugged coffee, appreciate wine
Sneak Agility Move, work or talk without undue noise Slip past guards, talk in class, quietly remove wheels from car full of mobsters
Spot Hidden Perception Secret doors, ambushers, tripwires, clues, disguises, concealed weapons Find spots of blood, recognise repainted car, spot feet under bulging curtain
Swim Strength / Toughness .... Escape from sharks, swim against a current, rescue drowning person
Throw Agility / Strength .... Agility for accuracy, Strength for distance
Track Perception Locating, following, identifying tracks, concealing tracks Incorporates use of trackers, IR trails and other physical tracing technologies
Xenology Education Knowledge of cultures, linguistics and artefacts Guess use of bizarre artefact, know taboos, identify obscure species

Skills with a [type] category I'm thinking will be used with specialities. The exact breadth of the specialities are up to the GM; they might decide to ignore specialities entirely. As an example, the Drive skill might have very broad specialities, like Space, Air, Land, Sea and Burrowing; or alternatively Sail, Steam, Draught (animal-drawn), Motor and Gravitic. You could also break it down further: Automobile, Train, Sailing Boat, Powered Boat, Submarine, Tunneller, Draught Vehicle, Aeroplane, Balloon. For very large vessels (battleships and the like) this skill alone wouldn't be enough to control them; you might combine them with leadership-type skills to direct a crew, rely on Computing to have the ship pilot itself, and so on.

It is, at first glance, a very long list of skills, but in my defence, it's not as long as the BRP list than inspired it. In particular, I've decided to forego skills for individual weapons, and create broad skill groups instead. To some extent that's weird because this game will probably be rather more combat-heavy than, say, Call of Cthulhu. Looked at another way, it makes sense for that reason: the adventure genre gives people rather more leeway with adapting to different weapon types without worrying about exactly how good you are with a particular size of club.

To Do

Obviously there's loads I haven't done yet, not least coming up with some version of a magic system. Expand skills to include some magical options? Have specific, esoteric spells that can be learned? Some combination of the two? I dunno.

I'll also need to think about things like more detailed mechanics, likely stat and skill ranges, how stats and skills balance, whether I want skills to be comprehensive or a nice bonus, progression (if any), injury... at the moment I'm slightly inclined to just have Bad Things reduce stats directly, which would impair associated skills and eventually leave someone ineffective. It would also avoid having secondary stats. We'll see.

At the moment this is a very skills-heavy system, but there's always the niggling thought that I could go entirely the other way and cut things down to a small number of broad skills. I miiiight end up trying that, just to see what happens. Anyway, it's late.

Opinions, comments and suggestions would be much appreciated.


  1. Interesting.

    Just out of interest, what made you lean towards "Stat + Skill - Difficulty, Roll Under" rather than "Stat + Skill, roll over Difficulty". Interestingly these two systems (which should be statistically identical) are likely to work out rather differently in practice.

    My own very, very prejudiced position is that I don't like "Stat + Skill" systems because it feels wrong to me that somebody with Stat 4 Skill 10 is mechanically identical to somebody with Stat 10 Skill 4.

    For what it's worth, under the system currently described, you need quite a lot of points in a skill to be able to succeed appreciably better than normal people. To get to a fifty percent chance of doing something that a normal person could do one time in five you need six points in the skill. This seems particularly odd for technical skills where in BRP the average person would be defaulting to 5% or 1%. Adding 20% to a technical skill in BRP means you succeed between five and twenty-one times as often as an untrained person. Adding 4 points to a skill here only makes you twice as effective as somebody completely untrained. That's not necessarily a problem if you want /Monitors/ characters to be very multitalented but it's a feature you'll probably want to think about.

  2. Soz for any late posting incoherence...

    Dice mechanics: I *think* that was an arbitrary decision rather than a considered choice, but as I remember it was on the assumption that Difficulty isn't necessarily a penalty. So 4 Str + 10 Shoot + 5 Easy means you're rolling under 19. It should also tend to mean relatively static arithmetic to do. The other version is actually "Stat + Skill + d20, roll over Difficulty" if I understand you correctly, which is fractionally more fiddly and requires tiered positive Difficulties rather than +/-s. But I can't pretend to have done exhaustive (or indeed any) analysis of that; it comes directly from the very first appearance of Monitors where I picked d20-basing out of a hat, and here I just decided it was good enough to run with for now. This is exactly the kind of thing where your mechanics-fu would be handy. What do you think are the different ways the two would work out?

    (in theory, it's just replicating BRP skill mechanics in d20, but with stats rather than fixed numbers for the base skill values)

    I went for Stats + Skills in general, because:
    a) it's the go-to RPG mechanic
    b) it covers stuff you don't have skills for
    c) it means people are better at stuff they should be better at
    d) it was salient at the time because I'd recently been doing the Arthurfier
    e) stats are the only way I immediately thought of to handle things like injury and damage, although I did briefly consider trying a purely skill-based system

    That being said, your point about stats and skills feeling shapeless is fair enough, and I think Arthur said something similar, so it's definitely something to look at. As a matter of interest, what other models do you prefer?

    Broadly speaking, Monitors PCs are supposed to be generally pretty competent, and also objectively better at stuff than civilians - that's part of the elite warlock cyborg lizard secret agent shtick. So PCs will end up having better skills than most people (most people won't have skills in most things), if not necessarily better individual stats, and they will have a lot of skill points to spend. Exact numbers and so on are definitely going to have to wait.

    To some extent, as you said, the low unskilled/skilled threshold is supposed to be a feature rather than a bug, so that PCs can stand a reasonable chance of succeeding at things unskilled - bear in mind this is without any difficulty modifiers, too. I'm hoping for a fairly easy-going game where people are reasonably successful at things.

  3. The reply to this got long, so I stuck it on my own blog.

    It will be in multiple parts...