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01 May 2013 @ 08:54 pm
Dungeons & Design 3: Base Mechanics  
Note: Lately, I've been tempted to mash together Exalted 3rd Edition (when it comes out) and some of the parts of the previous two editions with nWoD Revised for the gritty, low fantasy, Avernum-esque sword-and-sorcery game I'm thinking about (and will talk about later as the unification of all these goals).

Nonetheless, this series is based on D&D, and I'll continue it! I might use it to run Elder Scrolls, though. I can adapt True20 and True20 Tamriel for it. Or Dark Sun...

Anyway!

Dice Mechanics
So, if I'm interested in gritty, low-powered combat, limited magic, challenges remaining relevant at all levels of play, and mechanically interesting social interaction, why don't I just run e6 or True20 with a few tweaks? Well, my big problem is that I hate d20s.

I guess that's not entirely true. I don't have any problems with icosahedrons, and I actually prefer them numbered with two sets of 0-9 to regular d10s because at least they're Platonic solids, but I hate using a single d20 as a resolution mechanic because I don't like flat distributions.

The big problem with by-the-book d20 is that at low levels, whether the character succeeds is almost entirely random, and at higher levels, it's entirely determined (other than the 5% inherent chance of always failing). Also, modifier climbing means that it's entirely possible for two characters to be unable to meaningfully interact with each other, because one gets +1 to their rolls and the other gets +21 (or +96 like this guy) to their rolls, the second guy will always beat the first guy on any opposed roll, and anything challenging for the first guy is trivial for the second guy--and conversely, anything challenging for the second guy is impossible for the first guy.

There are two ways to deal with this that I know of. The first is bounded accuracy. If the maximum possible bonus is +18 then it's still possible for the rank n00b to beat the grizzled veteran if they get lucky, and possible for environmental or situational modifiers to make it easier or impossible.

The second is dice pools, which leads into the main point I'm making with this part of the post: I'd much rather use 2d10 instead of 1d20 as the basic mechanic. 2d10 has a nice curve to the results that you don't get from a d20's result. Using d10s means it's possible to build dice pools out of them too without skewing the results too much, about which more when I write about skills.

The benefit of mixing these is that there are two axes to improvement. Characters can have both a static bonus capped at +10, where +5 is inherent and the remaining +5 comes from magic, situational modifiers, and so on, and additional dice of which the highest two are chosen during the roll. That lets me set a range of difficulties in 5-step increments. Something like--Easy 5, Average 10, Challenging 15, Hard 20, Very Hard 25, Legendary 30, and keep everything within that range. A very skilled character will hit Average and Challenging difficulties nearly every time, should hit Hard difficulties with a minimum of fuss, but might need to stack the deck a bit to hit Very Hard and definitely will for Legendary.

My other idea is to make as many rolls opposed as I can. Mechanically, 2d10 + bonus is the same as 10 (well, 11) + bonus on average, but one thing I've learned from playing nWod is the opposed rolls feel better during play. It's more fun to roll to resist something when someone else is affecting you than to hope the other guy doesn't beat a difficulty. It makes it easier to deal with bounded accuracy if most of the rolls are against each other on the same scale, too.

I suppose it would be possible to map the difficulties to GM rolls for everything, so that Average is 2d10, etc., etc., but that would probably take even more time and require extra calculations to make sure the averages line up. I'm not sure it'd be worth it.

With opposition in mind, I can steal d20's Fortitude/Reflex/Will saving throws and use those as opposed rolls/defenses as appropriate. More about that later in the Combat and Skills posts.

Ability Scores
The standard list of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma are perfectly serviceable, and I'd probably use them except there are a couple things that bother me about them. The breakdown isn't even--three physical attributes, two mental, and one social--and it's always been unclear exactly what Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma really measure, or why Strength and Constitution are separate attributes, or why Dexterity isn't called "Agility" or something.

Anyway, if I really wanted to break it down I'd just use Fuzion, which is more granular. The Sengoku version of the rules has Intelligence, Aesthetics, Willpower, Piety, Presence, Kao, Strength, Constitution, Body, Reflex, Dexterity, Technique, and Movement, all as separate attributes. That may be "realistic," but it's getting pretty ridiculous.

What I'm thinking now is changing Wisdom to Willpower, and adding Perception. That doesn't expand the social part of the system at all on the attribute level, but being D&D, it's all about killing things and taking their stuff anyway. Well, that and resource-based survival horror, which admittedly does have some social elements, but I think I can make social skills work well enough that I won't need multiple attributes.

Changing the attributes like that gets rid of the mushy problem about what Wisdom represents exactly (it's your knowledge about the world! It's your mental fortitude! It's your sensory perceptions, except when that's Intelligence! etc.). It does mean that Willpower is more of a resistance attribute instead of an active one, but I can also make the attribute that governs the practice of magic so that sages aren't automatically amazing at magic. Perception then becomes about noticing various things, tracking, seeing magical energies, telling if people are lying to you, and so on.

I was thinking about splitting Charisma into something like Charisma and Manipulation, where Charisma is about flattery and convincing and Manipulation is about being underhanded, but I now think that's better handled through a split in skills--Persuade vs. Lie or whatever. Or Bluff vs. Diplomacy, to use the d20 terms, though I don't like them for no reason other than personal preference.

Adding Perception does mean I'd have to do some monster conversion, but I'd have to do that anyway for reasons that'll become clear as I go on.

Thoughts are appreciated, since this is the first post with real rules content!
 
 
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