Nothing ground breaking. Just a description and discussion of some creative ideas I’ve had. Its currently for a kitchen-sink open-world fantasy setting but that may change. Selling points are speed and simplicity, a game-y, non-deadly, theatre-of-mind combat system. Should work well for dungeon delving, epic quests, or political intrigue plots.
The system is classless for now which puts the emphasis on attributes to distinguish PCs. I’m going with four attributes because I think there is a nice double symmetry in having two physical attributes and two mental attributes. With only four stats, each attribute has a lot more weight than the usual six. The decision to make a dump stat is more significant, and there are other benefits to having four which will come up as I explain combat and contests. The attributes are:
BRawn: Physical strength, size, weight.
AGility: Balance, speed, co-ordination.
WIsdom: Scholastic knowledge, social and physical awareness, investigation skills.
CHarm: Social prowess, persuasion and performance skills, arts and crafts, good fortune.
Each attribute has a value between 1 and 6, discovered by rolling 2d6 (re-rolling if <= 4) for the PC’s two physical attributes and splitting the result between them. The same goes for the two mental attributes. For instance, if the sum of your 2d6 is 6, you can break this into 1 and 5; 2 and 4; or 3 and 3. Its recommended that at least one of the two attributes in the case of both mental and physical, is a 4 since 4 generally represents 50% chance of success. 2 represents 25%; 3 represents 3/8; 5 is 5/8; 6 is 75%.
As a slight caveat, putting 6 points into one attribute costs 7 points. Its a minor penalty for maxing out one stat.
This character creation step is a nice halfway house between point allocation and rolling down the line. It also makes some kind of sense in TV trope logic: you’re either small and agile, or big and strong. This system simulates that trade off. The same goes for mental stats: book-smart and asocial, or artsy and charismatic.
The first thing to note is that resolution doesn’t always need dice rolls. GMs can be pretty good judges of what works and what doesn’t and can get a long way just using ‘yes and…’. This is fine and encouraged in most circumstances. But, sometimes, the way the GM imagines a situation doesn’t match up with what the players are experiencing. We can help bridge that gap using the PC attributes.
Can I fit through that gap? – Only if your Brawn is 2 or less.
Can I make that jump? – Only if your Agility is 3 or more.
The thing is, the rule of cool can be a bit power-trippy. Its good to have systems in place to give some semblance of impartiality. But real impartiality is also real fun for the GM. They can stop being the judge of what’s cool and what’s not and they can start interpreting chaos.
Just roll a d8. If the result is equal to or less than your attribute, you succeed. If it should be easier, make it a d6. If it should be harder, make it a d10. But 9/10 times, leave it as a d8.
If two characters would both take actions that contradict one another, there is a contest. Both characters roll d6 and add on their relevant attribute. The higher total wins and draws favour PCs.
When a simple contest occurs within the structure of a complex contest (see below), both characters roll d6 openly so the other can see. Both then make a blind bid of energy points from their remaining energy point pool, revealing that amount at the same time and adding their bid onto the result of their die and their relevant attribute. The higher total wins and draws favour PCs.
When two or more parties are likely to repeatedly want contradictory actions, they are in a complex contest. This could be a protracted negotiation, a fight, a race, a heist, or any number of other things.
A complex contest is made of lots of simple contests. All characters involved are given an initial 12 energy points which are used for the blind bid phase of those simple contests. Once every character in a single party is out of energy points, that party has failed, lost the fight, been routed or discovered, or else suffers whatever negative consequences they were hoping to avoid.
Complex contests take place over a series of rounds. Each round, all contestants roll initiative with d6+AG. The highest total has an initiative of 1, the second highest has 2, etc. Ties favour PCs and allies. At the start of a round, all characters have one action.
Play continues with the character with the highest initiative acting first, the character with an initiative of 1 gets to go last. Going last is the most advantageous. The round continues until all characters have acted. Once a character announces their action, any character may contest that action, pronouncing an action of their own which is intended to interrupt or disturb the former action. If multiple characters would interrupt, the character with the lowest initiative gets the honours.
But, the proposed action to contest the first can itself be contested in the same way. Thus, if A would shoot B with their bow and B wants to contest that attack with a dodge, C can contest B’s dodge by tackling them to the ground. But, before that, D can contest C’s tackle by pushing B out of the way to aid them.
This is how playground games work, it’s silly and dramatic and imaginative. A fairly substantial departure from PCs and enemies essentially being reduced to rock’em sock’em robots statically punching each other with no other options. Yet, it still has a easily discernable structure.
Uncontested actions should be assumed to be successful in most circumstances. An attack will hit unless another character intervenes or the target dodges or blocks. The point here is that contests are how the game intends PCs to win. This forces players to invent. They can’t just stand there, they must think about what they can do to deal with the situation. All this is true in negotiations as well. Let’s say the PCs are at a trial and an NPC opponent proposes that the criminal the PCs are fond of should be flayed for his crimes. Unless the PCs contest this with their own proposal, that’s exactly what the jury is going to agree to.
Contesting an action costs the character their action for that round. When it is a character’s turn to act, they cannot hold onto their action after that point. In this way, the higher your initiative, the fewer characters there are to interrupt you. This turns contests into very tactical situations, where players need to account for how much energy their foes have, how much their allies have, and where they all stand in terms of initiative. Every action is an opportunity window and so players are constantly making little decisions about what they value.
Combat works in exactly the way described above. It is just one kind of complex contest. However, instead of rolling d6 for attacks in simple contests, weapons determine what dice are rolled. A successful hit does deals the weapon’s static damage. Armour is a static addition to health. Health without armour is 12.
All attributes are useful in combat.
Brawn is used for heavy weapons that have low contest dice (they’re slow) but high damage output. Brawn is also used for shoving characters over and blocking.
Agility is used for light weapons which have high contest dice but low damage output. Agility is used to stay on your feet and dodge attacks.
Wisdom is used for bows as they require accuracy more than anything else to be effective. Bows vary in contest dice and damage output. Wisdom is also used for scholastic magic and avoiding surprises – however the GM choses to simulate that.
Charm is used for supporting teammates and taunting foes. Supported teammates may reroll their contest dice in the hope of getting a better result. Taunted foes are distracted from their attack and have to reroll and take a lower total in their next contest. Charm is also used for folk magic.
And that’s it so far. So, it’s obviously a bit generic and needs some theme and content to flesh it out but I like it’s simplicity. I like the four attributes which seem to me to cover a lot of human behaviour and I like that they can all be useful in combat. We’ve got a good outline of the different resolution systems available. There needs to be some thought on how complex contests would work in stealthy situations. But, what I really like is that it’s actually a game. It involves risk and reward and resource management. I like that combat isn’t super deadly and that losing energy rather than health resolves matters first and foremost. Being routed is a great way to deal with losing combat and allows for loses to occur without it ruining the story. Some thought needs to go into how foes would be designed – what stats do they have and can they be generated on the fly?
Phew! That’s my first blog post. Hope you enjoyed.