Monday, 8 July 2013

Monitors: skilling with stats and traits

So as I mentioned last time, 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. This time

Stats and Traits

Characters each have five stats:

  • Learning: how much information the character has memorised and can apply.
  • Wits: how good the character is at analysing, resolving and reacting to situations.
  • Health: how physically strong, fit and healthy the character is.
  • Finesse: how good the character is at deft, fine movements, awareness of their movements and hand-eye coordination.
  • Perception: how keen the character's senses are and how well they attend to them.

Stats are on a numeric scale that tends to be in the 1-5 range for civilians, in the 5-15 range for Monitors and potentially anywhere for bizarre alien beasties. Hostile NPCs will have stats appropriate to their nature: low for petty criminals, moderate for guards and mercenaries, high for henchmen and major foes. Note that even civilians may have high specific stats, such as Learning 15 for an academic. Success is measured with a 1d20 roll-under mechanic; both auto-pass and auto-fail apply but here are no critical rolls.

Traits typically grant a bonus on skill rolls whever they would apply, and trait synergy is permitted. There will be a number of trait categories for players to pick from. I need to be reasonably careful about determining the scope of a trait, and so will probably need a description for each one explaining broadly what it covers. For example, "Military background" would help when dealing with the military, assessing an army's tactics, impersonating a general or fighting alongside regular troops, but shouldn't boost combat abilities as well - all Monitors are trained in combat, after all.

Lineage traits

These are derived from the character's species. They include such things as Chameleonic, Adhesive Grip, Keen Eyesight and Aquatic. However, I don't know that all lineage abilities can be covered nicely under this system so I'll need to think about that one - I don't really see Extensible Tongue as something a trait can model, for example!

Homeworld traits

These are based on the kind of world the character grew up on. They include such things as Low-Grav, Ultratech, Desert World, and the like. Maybe they should be something separate from traits? Not sure yet.

Background traits

These are derived from upbringing, education and working life. They include such things as Rich, Military, Law Enforcement, Explorer, Scholar and so on.

Personal traits

These are about character, interests and other things that don't quite fit elsewhere: things like Agreeable, Obsessive, Historian, Theorist, Field Mechanic, Observant, Graceful, Intimidating or Methodical.

Other stuff

Characters will also need a few oddball attributes: physical size, movement speed, languages spoken and so on.


In this system, injury is modelled through stat damage (as discussed previously). Different attacks will target different stats, sometimes more than one. This means that a creature's abilities deteriorate when it's injured, affected by drugs or exhausted, without needing a separate mechanism to model these things.

Creatures can be reduced to helplessness by eroding their Wits or Health. At zero Wits, they are completely befuddled or catatonic, unable to process events or respond usefully. At zero Health, they are utterly exhausted, unconscious or overwhelmed with pain. Eroding Learning to zero means the creature cannot recall information, and is largely reliant on instinct and muscle memory - they may be able to defend themselves, play the piano or field-strip a rifle, but can't hack a computer or make complex tactical analyses, and they won't generally be able to remember their objectives, or reliably identify people. Eroding Finesse to zero means the creature cannot control their movements with any degree of accuracy, but stumbles and flails ineffectually - travel is slow, combat is hopeless. Eroding Perception to zero leaves the creature without useful primary senses (sight, hearing, scent, taste and touch), though they may still be able to feel pain and vaguely sense movement or pressure.

Perception is a little tricky because the various senses are so distinct, but it's either this handwave, or having as many stats for senses as for everything else put together. Not impossible, but I'd rather not start off that way.


Let's say a Monitor PC has 5 points in each stat by default, granting them a 25% shot at succeeding on any average task. They also have 20 points to distribute as they choose; this allows them to bump up each to 9 (45% chance), or have a couple on 15 (75% chance). Note that this is for average tasks, and ignores any trait or equipment modifiers.

They also gain two traits each from Homeworld, Background and Personal. For now, let's say a trait will grant a bonus to applicable rolls. Bonuses and penalties are discussed briefly elsewhere but here's a summary: there are no static modifiers in the game, just cumulative bonuses and penalties which shift the difficulty rank of a task from Average. The final difficulty rank determines the overall modifier.

Total Difficulty Skill Modifier
4+ bonuses Elementary +15
3 bonuses Easy +10
2 bonuses Simple +5
1 bonus Straightforward +2
- Average -
1 penalty Tricky -2
2 penalties Challenging -5
3 penalties Formidable -10
4+ penalties Herculean -15

You will note that a highly-skilled character still has about a 25% chance of succeeding at a Formidable task, and anyone has at least a 75% chance of succeeding at an Elementary task. Because auto-success applies, a Monitor will succeed automatically on Elementary tasks, since they have 5 in their stats.


A character has two actions per round. They can use these to move, attack, interact with the environment, talk extensively, use spells and so on. They can also do trivial things without spending an action.

Attacks are resolved like any other activity, rolling an appropriate stat (typically Finesse or Health, depending on the attack) with any applicable traits. Equipment and circumstances may also modify the roll.

I'd rather avoid having active defences, as it just increases the number of rolls - but it does make some sense for (say) very agile targets to be a harder target than sluggish ones. What I may do is allow evasion as an action, so there'll be fewer rolls most of the time but it remains an option. This might be a case of spending an action to evade during your own turn, then rolling Finesse when attacked, with a success increasing the difficulty of the attack roll. This gives a benefit for high Finesse, without letting it override good marksmanship.

Alternatively, I could allow spending an action to evade firearms, but permit it freely against anticipated melee attacks. This way you're actively ducking and covering against laser fire, while in melee parries and dodges are part of the flow of combat. It also helps to keep melee combat as viable option.

Problem: a glaring issue with this scheme is that a single stat controls combat skill. Of course, the same is true in, say, Mind Body Spirit systems. As yet, not sure how much of a problem this actually is, but it needs bearing in mind.

An attack will cause stat damage depending on the weapon. Defences (armour, magic shielding and so on) will subtract from damage but never reduce it below 1.

This should help avoid the armour subtraction issue. An alternative would be to allow reduction to zero, but then roll a die to see if a point of damage gets through anyway - giving a way to model very ineffective attacks without rendering them entirely useless.

Sample Traits

Traits are supposed to be played fairly loosely, and I'm not attempting to strictly describe or limit their effects. The descriptions below give a sample of the trait's intention. The majority of traits will be beneficial most of the time, but occasionally inconvenient. In some situations, they may not act quite as described: for example, on a low-grav world there may be a penalty to precision jumping because it's hard to aim yourself correctly, but a character with the Low-Gravver trait can ignore this penalty.

Trait Description Effect Category
Carrier's Constraint You can't breathe and run at the same time, because of your anatomy. You suffer a penalty on rolls to continue prolonged running or swimming. Lineage
Chamaeleonic You can shift your skin colour to blend in or stand out. Bonus to applicable rolls, such as avoiding detection or intimidation. Lineage
Toe Pads Your adhesive digits help you cling on to surfaces. Bonus to rolls concerning climbing and gripping, unless materials are unsuitable. Characters with toe pads often wear fingerless gloves and toeless shoes, but survival gear does not allow this. Lineage
Low-Gravver You grew up on a world with very low gravity. Bonus to rolls concerning low-gravity activity. Homeworld
Toxic Homeworld You grew up on a world with dangerous atmospheres, reliant on life-support. Bonus to rolls concerning survival gear or toxin treatment. Homeworld
Ultratech Upbringing You grew up on a world with a massive technological bias, leaving you unusually familiar with cutting-edge technology. Bonus to rolls concerning high technology. Homeworld
Desert Worlder You grew up on a very dry world, and know how to manage water shortages. Bonus on rolls concerning desert survival, desert ecology, water conservation, desert medicine and enduring thirst. Homeworld
Water Worlder You grew up on a world of boundless oceans and titanic rivers. Bonus on rolls concerning aquatic navigation, sealife, swimming, sailing and associated medicine. Homeworld
Spaceer You grew up on spaceships and starports, rarely touching solid ground. Bonus on rolls concerning spaceship culture, spaceport engineering and layout, space survival. Homeworld
Hiveworlder You grew up on a world filled to the bursting with cities and people. Bonus on rolls concerning urban navigation, urban planning, urban society or blending into crowds. Homeworld
Aristocratic You grew up as a privileged member of a world's elite, which often serves you well but occasionally complicates matters. Bonus to rolls concerning high society, or appropriate social interactions. Penalty to appropriate social interactions unless concealed. Background
Military You served time in the uniformed services, learning protocols, practices and culture. Bonus to rolls concerning military practice, knowledge or behaviour. Background
Explorer You've spent time surveying unknown lands and surviving in strange places. Bonus on rolls concerning outdoor survival, surveying, navigation or first contact. Background
Theorist You excel at factual learning and theorising. Bonus to rolls on theoretical matters. Personal
Graceful You move smoothly and elegantly, and have excellent poise. Bonus to rolls on balance, performing arts and appropriate social interactions. Personal
Occult Enthusiast You have a strong interest in magic and the supernatural, and have studied them intently. Bonus on rolls concerning spells, runes, magical artefacts and the supernatural. Does not apply to spellcasting. Personal
Sharp Nose Your sense of smell is unusually good. Bonus to rolls concerning scents and tastes; penalty against some chemical effects. Personal
Field Mechanic You can make quick, functional repairs in extremis, however ugly they may look. Bonus to patch up or cannibalize tech, but repairs are obvious if this trait is applied. Personal
Historian You're an expert in past events and historical theories. Bonus on rolls concerning history. Personal
Observant You have sharp eyes and a good memory for detail. Bonus on rolls concerning vision. Personal
Methodical You work patiently through possibilities, testing and analysing systematically. Bonus on appropriate rolls where time is available. Personal
Intimidating Your physique, manner or speech is imposing. Your presence reassures allies, rattles enemies and unsettles strangers. Bonus on appropriate social rolls (intimidate, reassure allies); penalty on appropriate social rolls (befriend, calm strangers). Personal
Agreeable You have a naturally pleasing manner, fitting in well and making friends easily. Bonus on appropriate social rolls. Personal

Another possibility that occurs to me is to have a set of background traits that all Monitors receive. These would give them (for example) combat skills over and above what they receive from their stats, making them more effective than another creature that has the same Health stat but no military training. So for example, they might have a Marksman trait that gives them a bonus to firearms use, effectively giving them a starting score of 7 before any further training is taken into account.

On the plus side, this would be a neat way to model the difference between physical ability and actual training. On the downside, it complicates things by adding another layer of modifiers that affects all Monitors, all the time, which players have to remember. On top of that, it makes it messier to define specific characters as even better shots, because then you're getting (say) Marksman plus Crack Shot - both of which apply whenever you're firing a weapon.

I suppose an alternative is actually to impose a penalty for lack of training, rather than the reverse, though at that point civilians would be completely ineffectual. Is that a problem? Perhaps not.

That's all I've got for now. Downsides that I'm seeing include the need to define traits, and the fact that some naturally have positives and negatives while others are basically positive. Some traits are harder to pin down than I realised - Methodical is still dodgy, and I didn't think of a way to handle Obsessive, which may simply mean it's not appropriate for a mechanical trait.

There's also the pondering of how to handle Monitor training.

Mechanically, I'm still wondering how to handle dodging in combat, and whether Health should influence the damage inflicted by a weapon.

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