Friday, 7 March 2014

Monitors: back to traits

While mulling over various things, I’ve gone back to a previous model for Monitors that I want to investigate again.

One of the niggling concerns I’ve had has been that the skill distribution doesn’t necessarily support the kind of game I want to make. While combat and direct conflict is supposed to be a significant aspect of the game, I also want there to be some depth to non-violent conflicts that troubleshooters might be sent to handle. Examples of these would be investigating serious fraud and corruption, intervening in political issues, tracking down interstellar criminals, assisting with scientific investigations, or looking into occult problems that aren’t just about demon-smashing. This is not intended to be Deathwatch for lizards. However, while I’ve got skills that help in dealing with all those situations, there’s only a couple that you’re likely to use for each given kind of situation. Investigating a complex fraud is likely to mean a lot of Bureaucracy rolls and maybe the odd bit of Parlay or Perception – unless, of course, you avoid using the actual skills that people apply to these cases, in favour of over-loading a handful of general Investigation skills.

(Not, of course, that I have any idea how to write a fraud-based scenario if I wanted to. But I’d like it to be an option that didn’t rapidly turn into a mere plot hook for another gun-based adventure)

In contrast, a combat situation calls on several attributes, including Ballistics, Perception, Agility, Combat and Endurance, and that’s before we get into creative approaches that might involve other skills.

I don’t particularly want to produce a large and complex set of mechanics for each of those types of interaction, but I have started wondering about taking a different approach to attributes.

The alternative model I’ve been considering would swap out the current attributes for a set of very general attributes: something like Physical, Social, and Mind (possibly more than three, the original suggestion featured five, but you get the idea). You would then model particular skill sets by taking a specialisation that grants a flat bonus.

For example, rather than rolling Ballistics to shoot a robot, you might roll Physical with a +5 bonus if you have Firearms. When investigating a crime scene, you would roll Mind with Firearms to do forensic ballistics. When trying to inveigle yourself into the local gun club, you would roll Social with Firearms. When a battle breaks out, you would use Mind with Firearms to analyse the enemy armament and plan accordingly.

Similarly, let’s take our fraud case. You might use Mind with Bureaucracy to spot suspicious patterns in a set of financial records, spot important files, analyse the procedures and filing system in an unfamiliar office, or guess the best places to start searching. Social plus Bureaucracy would help you talk shop with administrators, or bluff and charm your way to useful information. Physical plus Bureaucracy? Well, that might actually apply too, if you want to ransack an office in a hurry, save important files from a disaster, pull an all-nighter analysing the accounts so you can slip away before the staff arrive, or do the exhausting running around that large bureaucracies often require (ever tried to get a visa in a hurry?).

Obvious problems include that this would disrupt things like spells that I’ve worked on so far. However, having spells oppose Physical or Mind might be preferable to the somewhat artificial Will and Endurance I’ve got set up so far.

Considering I’ve already mentioned lineage and background traits, at this point we’d be basically looking at a trait-based system with a core of attributes that means you always have something to roll on.

What would this model do? Well, I think the advantage is that it would allow character specialisations to remain important across a wider scope. At the moment, for example, a character who’s an expert accountant with Bureaucracy 18 benefits from that expertise only as long as they can argue for a roll against Bureaucracy. This creates a tricky balance when doing things where that expertise would be helpful, but that more logically fall under another attribute – say, searching an office. Do you roll everything vaguely bureaucratic against Bureaucracy, in which case the character’s skill will get a moment in the spotlight, but making things very samey and perhaps illogical? Or do you aim for a more “logical” attribute use, in which case the character doesn’t always benefit from their skills, reinforcing the case for concentrating character points into attributes that will be used frequently?

Any comments? I know some of you have probably used similar systems before so I'd appreciate any thoughts about their strengths and weaknesses.

No comments:

Post a Comment