Thursday, 18 July 2013

Monitors: skilling with attributes

As I mentioned recently, I'm a bit stuck, but I don't see where I can go without a functional (not final, just functional) skill and injury system, so I'm going to try roughing out the two main models. Last time I looked at stats and traits; this time I'm having another go with the attribute-based model.

Attribute-based model

Attribute Summary Uses
Agility Avoiding physical dangers and perform dextrous feats Avoid falling rocks, dodge attacks, jump over chasm, roll under closing bulkhead, squeeze through vent, intercept frisbee, ride hoverboard, drive a boat through rapids
Bureaucracy Accounting, bureaucratic procedures, filing, loopholes, organisations, office politics, paperwork, law Spot corruption, exploit procedures, identify appropriate contacts, play officers against each other, apply for grants, forge permits, guess where documentation is kept, interpret jargon, conduct legal case, draw up contracts
Combat Hand-to-hand fighting, with or without weapons Punch, wrestle, kick, headbutt, bite, restrain, stab, bludgeon, disarm
Fettle Evaluate, fix, patch or sabotage structures or physical machinery Reroute plumbing, fix motor, repair fence, fettle engines, cannibalise machinery, patch hulls, reinforce viewports, pick locks, plan demolition, use explosives
Endurance Endure physical hardship and strenuous effort Hike long distances, swim lakes, tolerate thirst and hunger, withstand pain, remove objects from fire, resist disease
Guns Shooting, maintenance, identification Shoot an enemy, repair weapon, fit enhancements, remove sand, identify weapons fire
Knowledge Knowledge of current events and historical past, archaeology, anthropology Identify obsolete technology, recognise historical figures, identify heraldry, recall political scandal, evaluate ancient sites, identify artefacts, remember cultural taboo, memorise
Medicine Injury, illness, accident, epidemiology, disease, poisons, parasites, drugs Treat poison, treat disease, give vaccinations, stop bleeding, splint a limb, administer painkillers, diagnose insanity, identify medication
Occult Myths, artefacts, magical practices, tomes, sorcerers, spirits Recognise names, perform rituals, identify artefacts, identify a practitioner's traditions, guess intentions
Parley Befriend, bully, startle, bargain, overawe, disdain, bluster, fob off, charm, distress, bluff, empathise, psychoanalyse, impersonate Excuse trespass, impress a crowd, make friends in a pub, bluff past a guard, get a signature, obtain an invitation, avoid a fine, borrow a car, strike bargain, intimidate a thug, detect deceit
Perception See, hear, smell, taste, feel Find spots of blood, recognise repainted car, spot feet under bulging curtain, trace gas leak, detect alien, anticipate chloroform, notice drugged coffee, appreciate wine, detect an intruder, locate a songbird, pick out password, sense vibration, orient yourself
Science Biology, chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy, maths... Develop vaccine, identify creature, plot orbit, identify star system, predict volcanic eruption, find secret mine, synthesise chemical, crack code
Stealth Avoidance, discretion and surveillance Lurk in bushes, evade CCTV, disappear into a crowd, walk silently past guard, remove wheels from car full of mobsters without being heard, carry a weapon undetected, hide a vehicle, apply camo makeup, place a bug, make a hidden cache, stash incriminating evidence away from the cleaners, follow a car
Strength Climb, swim, lift, push, drag, wrestle, throw, run Climb a tree, shin along a beam, pull someone back to safety, bend bars, lift gates, escape from sharks
Tech Assembly, software, data, security, theory, personalities, equipment Build server, write program, follow data flows, track hacking attempt, hack system, manipulate photo, use robotic surgery bay, synch with battlecruiser, identify blogger, pilot mech, hotwire vehicle, disable droid
Will Concentration, independence, tenacity and strength of purpose Keep watch for long periods, ignore distractions, resist hypnosis, withstand fear


Particularly attentive readers may notice two additions to the table: Endurance and Will. Not especially original, but I couldn't think of more appropriate terms. These are basically holes I noticed in my existing system once combat comes into play - you need something to handle characters' resistance to incoming danger, as well as their own actions. While I'm not 100% sure about them, it seems to be either these two or bringing back stats. To be honest, I'm not hugely happy about Strength or Agility either, but those are at least active skills much of the time; the others really aren't, and that raises a red flag.

Injury, however, is going to require a whole subsystem. There's just no realistic way to use erosive damage with this many attributes.

Injury systems

A few main models present themselves:

    HP - a tried and tested system that I'd rather avoid. Too chippy-away, just doesn't feel quite right.
  • Hit locations - too granular for Monitors, I think?
  • Erosive damage - as I mentioned, there's too many skills to apply it here
  • Selective erosive damage - possible
  • Wounding - possible

Selective erosive damage

Basically, this resolves around marking a few skills where erosive damage applies. The likely ones are Agility, Endurance, Perception, Strength and Will. While I love the idea of taking Bureaucracy damage, I just don't see it... It'd probably work more or less okay (with some issues that I'll discuss in future) but I'm not sold on it.


This system would have simple injury charts that track your current status, ranging from (say) Pinned to Winged to Battered to Unconscious. In theory, this could be adapted for soft attacks by having three or four trackers per character, adding more complication - but I'll look at injury models in more detail later.

Overall thoughts

While I do have a great fondness for this model, for some reason I don't particularly like the defence-type attributes. However, I think it could be got to work with completely detached injury systems that don't rely on attributes, and this is something I'll be considering. It may be that, eventually, I'll end up with a system based on discrete subsystems rather than the more-or-less-coherent one I was initially aiming for.


  1. For what it's worth, there might be an interesting bug/feature thing going on here as regards erosive damage, in that it might allow you to generalize your combat system into a broader resolution system (which I can't call a "conflict resolution" system because blah blah forge blah blah narrative conflict blah blah).

    It doesn't make much sense for physical injury to reduce your Bureaucracy skill, but you could use "Bureaucracy Damage" as a way of tracking a character's struggles with, well, a bureaucracy. So red tape could damage a character's bureaucracy skill, while alarms and searchlights could damage Stealth.

    I see what you mean about the "resistance" stats, but again I think you could do interesting things with that. One possibility (and I admit that this might go against your preferences for NPCs and PCs being built from the same rules) would be to have a "player always rolls" system (at least for interactions with minor NPCs), so you attack by rolling Combat (for example) and defend by rolling Agility, both against a fixed difficulty.

    1. That is indeed interesting. It also strikes me that, for example, getting drunk might damage your Parley. On the other hand, I suspect most problems might more appropriately affect task difficulty - offending local officials, say. Basically I think you either want to have difficulty levels, or to have generalised erosive damage, but not both? Although I suppose one could apply to one-off rolls and the other represent ongoing problems.

      In terms of resistance stats, I could perhaps try to make sure that things offer active uses, rather than coming over as passive traits. Agility is already used for various tasks; maybe Endurance is more you trying to push your boundaries than simply survive hardships, and Will allows you to overcome obstacles that would otherwise stop you. Although for Will I'd want to be careful that the system didn't end up blocking player options.

      Oh, pants, I forgot to change Guns. It occurred to me that while Guns has flavour, it'd probably make more sense to have Ballistics for all ranged attacks, and roll the technical stuff into Tech.

    2. Also, I've realised that this system isn't necessarily completely unwieldy if NPCs only used a heavily stripped-down version. So a cybercriminal might have something like:
      * Agility 8, Endurance 5, Will 12
      * Tech 16
      * Other 7
      * Armour 4, hand laser, mechadendrites

      This way the GM isn't wading through a mass of information to use NPCs. You've just got the info for combat, one key skill and a flat roll for other stuff.

    3. I think you'd still have variable difficulties (because otherwise all attempts to do anything would be equally hard/easy).

      The idea behind generalised erosive damage is that it could be a go-to for any kind of "extended" challenge. So rather than getting drunk damaging your Parley, it would be something like:

      - You are trying to get information out of an NPC by drinking with him in a bar.
      - You make some kind of combat-like roll perhaps matching your Parley against their Will.
      - If you lose the roll, you take Parley damage, which could be represented as you getting drunker than you intended.

      You could also use this kind of very open ended system to allow players to describe creative "attacks" in all kinds of opposed situations ("I'll go over his head", "I'll insult his mother", "I'll download ICEBreaker software" and so on.

    4. Ah, gotcha. In which case stripped-down NPCs would be somewhat less useful, but I kind of like it. Might be worth playing with. Of course, it would only be effective within a 'scene' as I'm looking to have damage heal quickly.

  2. The things you learn on this site. I hadn't even thought much about erosive damage.

    1. I think it's a really fun idea to play around with (with some potential Death Spiral issues to watch/encourage depending on your preferences), but not quite right here. Numenera seems to be using one with its three-pool system. I'd quite like to see what you could come up with for erosive damage, you always have fun ideas. It might actually be pretty good for some of your survival horror game conversions.