Alternatives to the standard character attributes in adventure games...

edited April 2009 in Story Games
So, I'm looking for alternate attributes from the standard Str, Int, Wis, etc. for characters in D&D/T&T-ish adveture games that meet the following criteria:

1) They can all be used for interesting T&T-style saving throws (or "stunt checks").

2) "Flavored" for specific settings.

With regard to 2), the specific settings I'm looking for are:

A - Post-apocalyptic Gamma World science fantasy.

B - Psychedelicized Jules Verne/19th C science fiction (like Philip José Farmer's Phileas Fogg book).

(But I'm also interested in alternatives for a more straightforward D&D-fantasy set up.)

Any suggestions (or pointers to prior discussions of the topic) would be greatly appreciated.

Comments

  • Do they have to map directly to particular physical or mental features? What's the range of things they need to cover, and the granularity of individual challenges and tasks? Is there a desirable number of these attributes you are looking for? Must they be the same for each character?
  • I've been wrangling with the fantasy thing for a while now due to how I can't stand the standard D&D attribute set. The set I've been using for the last year is Body, Wits, Will, Charisma and Schooling. I'm pretty happy with this set for several reasons:
    • They don't cause weird character visualizations for me - I can pretty much understand how a given randomized combination comes about in your average fantasy society without imagining the character as some sort of idiot savant. All of the abilities are similar in how people in the setting learn and improve them, and they are all things the characters in the setting can recognize and name in the setting as well, while also being general enough to be culture-independent. These are not genetic qualities that "just happen", each ability is solidly rooted in life experience as well as accident of birth.
    • This set is easy to use, most typical fantasy situations fall neatly under one or other ability. The abilities are also important enough to matter for most characters, so there are no dump-stats. All abilities are easy and sensible to use in ability checks, so there is no ingrained need to derive secondary statistics such as hit points or whatever from them unless I want to.
    • A big plus for me is that this set has less body-mind duality than the D&D set. It's also great that the set supports and focuses on social and intellectual challenges in a more balanced manner. For example, a good fighter won't now be all about three physical abilities - there's just one physical ability, so we can also focus on things like courage under fire (willpower) and quick decision-making (wits). Those latter abilities, on the other hand, are also important for your average wizard (typical magic in my D&D homebrew is a concern of schooling and willpower, while you might also need wits when improvising under pressure) or scoundrel - really, all of those abilities are useful to some degree to all characters, I think, which is just great for me.
    I'm of course not entirely certain that having abilities is even a good idea for an adventure game, but that's my current take on what I use if I have to. I'm not entirely happy with the somewhat ambiguous function of willpower vs. charisma in social context, as it's somewhat arbitrary which a player describes his character using in a given situation. Mostly I think that this is because I've been running social situations with a something of a bastard system that draws on too many sources of implementation logic; one of those abilities will probably be redefined or dropped once I figure out what I'm doing, exactly.

    (I should also note that I could easily go for a sixth ability, luck/fate, if I decided to take away arbitrary randomization from the system in favour of making random encounters and whatnot into ability checks. I haven't done this because it doesn't seem very interesting in the fiction when a character "exercises his luck" - things just happen, and by definition it's not because the character did anything interesting.)

    For powerfully genrified work my first instinct is to discard the D&D-style ability paradigm altogether and build a different rules system. I also might use the exact same ability set if I decided that the actual contents of the game are sufficiently similar and the genre is just color. The D&D ability paradigm is a very mechanized, layered view on how characters and the world function, so it's easy to transport from setting to setting as long as you're willing to concern yourself with the details of how personal strengths derive from first principles.
  • Jason -
    What's the range of things they need to cover, and the granularity of individual challenges and tasks?
    So, it seems to me the big "challenge" areas in the kind of adventure game I am thinking of are: combat (broken down into "actual fighting" and "using clever tactics"), social conflict (persuasion, fast-talking), skullduggery (getting into places without being seen), figuring out how various "magical" artifacts/features/creatures "work". I'm looking for relatively corase granularity, so that any given challenge can be broken down into a just a couple of rolls/checks.
    Is there a desirable number of these attributes you are looking for? Must they be the same for each character?
    I'm looking for them to be mostly the same from character to character (although certain characters might have some "extra" stat if necessary like Wizards with "Power" in some versions of T&T) and want between 4 and 7.

    Eero -

    Thanks - that all makes sense! This is all for D&D-style adventuring, so the alternate genres are "mostly color". I still want characters to be doing the same kind of thing: exploring ruins, encountering creatures, solving puzzles, etc.
  • (I should probably add that I'm working off of T&T as a "base" system).
  • So you fight, talk, sneak, and appraise? Combine any two for a more nuanced approach to a problem.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarSo you fight, talk, sneak, and appraise? Combine any two for a more nuanced approach to a problem.
    I like it: nice and elegant - thanks!
  • (First off, I don't know much about T&T, so I can't say how well this might fit.)

    How's about action verbs, rather than nouns? I suggested these in Marshall Burns' "dungeon fever" thread. Something like Hit, Think, Sneak, React, Endure, Charm, etc. They can be fairly flavourful, if you tweak them to fit your setting. Also, they emphasize how good you are at doing something, but not how you go about doing it, so you can flavour your character in many ways.
  • I'd go for Weapons, Tactics, Persuasion, Thievery and Majjjycqua (the ability to figure out magical stuff).

    If the genres made a difference, I'd add in Survival, for the post-apocalyptic one, and Science, for the Jules Verne one.

    Graham
  • Majjjycqua is already used in Magestrike: Ultimus, and I believe they patented it.
  • Mike - I definitely like Endure (it gets those evil-DM juices going). And I like some of the other ideas from that thread. (I'm also (now) tempted by the idea that as an alternative to classes, players pick 5 out of (say) 8 attributes for their characters.)
  • I like the niche-protection aspect of that - if you are the thief you are going to sneak, because you cannot fight. Does it say somewhere on your sheet that you can fight? No? Then shut up and sneak somewhere.
  • Posted By: Jon Hastings(I'm also (now) tempted by the idea that as an alternative to classes, players pick 5 out of (say) 8 attributes for their characters.)
    That might work, but you might want to use something more along the lines of aspects or cliches, in that case. Or at least verbs that can be used in a variety of ways. What if I choose not to take Hit, then? Can I use my Sneak to somehow do damage in combat? You've got to make sure that each character is able to be effective despite which attributes they take.
  • I like Cold City's breakdown of Action, Influence, and Reason. When I fiddle around making my own systems I use those as the base stats and add specialties or traits to further refine them - i.e. Sneaky or Hammefists for Action, Friendly or Manipulative for Influence, Insightful, Meticulous or Well Schooled for Reason.

    I rather like Jason's recommendation of fight, talk sneak and appraise as well.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarI like the niche-protection aspect of that - if you are the thief you are going to sneak, because you cannot fight. Does it say somewhere on your sheet that you can fight? No? Then shut up and sneak somewhere.
    There's niche-protection, and then there's being bored to hell because you don't have the Fight ability and the rest of the group is busy beating up on some monster. Seems to me that there should be some way to mitigate that.
  • "Does it say somewhere on your sheet that you can fight? No? Then shut up and sneak somewhere."

    This is comedy. I thank you for the chuckle.

    One thing to think about for this though, as Mike suggests, is whether or not there are attributes which will always be chosen, and others which are rarely, if ever, chosen, and whether all of them open fun options and ensure that all characters have something to do in any given scene. Obviously, not every character should shine all the time, but in the big group scenes, everyone should have a part.

  • Posted By: veritascitorthere's being bored to hell because you don't have the Fight ability
    It's not an ability, it's just not part of who you are. Who you are is a guy who sneaks, so sneak awesomely. As a player, either that's really interesting or it really isn't.
  • edited April 2009
    Posted By: veritascitorI like the niche-protection aspect of that - if you are the thief you are going to sneak, because you cannot fight.
    But seriously - why is the group fighting? Surely, if you are an awesome sneaker, you can find some way to make that matter to your party's ultimate success. You may not stab the monster, but perhaps you can sneak around to the back and find the trigger on the trap door that will dump the monster into the bottomless pit while your fightier friends maneuver it into position? Or, at a bare minimum, you can hide in shadows, yield the spotlight, cheer on your friends, and then provide comic relief at the end when you re-emerge?

    Edit: Crossed with Jason. He said it better.
  • In T&T terms, not having the Fighting ability would mean:

    1) You can't use it as the basis for a Saving Thrown/Stunt Check (i.e. no fancy fighting manuevers).

    2) You don't have access to any bonus it might give to your combat dice, which would then be determined solely on the basis of weapon choice, and

    3) "Better" weapons would require a Minimum Fighting score, so you'd have access to only simple/basic ones.

    So, you aren't precluded from fighting, but you'd be better off finding a way to make Sneaking around work for you. (Which can definitely be fun! I spent a recent session of OD&D having my assassin-y, sneaky magic-user skulk around: he never actually did any fighting and had already burned through his spells, but I still found lots of stuff to do to keep him busy during combat).

    (None of which means I shouldn't keep the general principle in mind.)
  • Think you got the wrong quote in there. Anywho, all I'm saying is that there should be a way for everyone to be useful, even if they don't have a specific ability on your sheet. Of course, if you can find a way to make Sneak useful in a fight, then the problem is solved.
  • Sounds like you've got my concern in mind, so I'm content.

  • if I'm ever to make a heart breaker I'm likely to just steal the 3:16 ability naming scheme.

    Fighting Ability, Not Fighting Ability

    Maybe throw in a psychic or magic ability if it makes sense ( for a dnd style game i would probably have Fighting Ability, Magic Ability, and Not Fighting/Magic Ability, which lines up pretty well with the fighting man, theif, and magic user that i rather enjoyed from the original)
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