Much like we talked about a few weeks ago and the week before this week, we’ll be talking about homebrew game systems. Specifically, about a system I’m designing myself. Last time, I figured out more or less what I want a basic combat cycle to look like.
However, I have no way to test if it’s any good without some dice to roll and stats to roll then against. So that’s what I’ll be trying to figure out today. In my system, what makes a wizard smart, what makes a fighter strong, what makes my fighter stronger than your fighter.
That’s right, we’re talking stats today, gentlefolk. Strap in, it’s going to be a wild ride.
First, let’s hash out exactly what stats are, what they’re used for and why I should want them in my game. When I use the word stats in this post, I mean it in the broadest way possible. Different systems have different names, from attributes, aptitudes to skills, ability scores and even more esoteric names. All of these are stats.
Stats are a numerical indication of a character’s capabilities. They can be dots, a rating out of five, a score and associated modifier and more. What it looks like exactly is irrelevant. What matters is what they’re used for. A character’s stats indicate how good that particular character is at a particular thing, be it lifting heavy objects or smooth-talking courtiers.
However, stats are entirely irrelevant without a way to test against them. So let’s talk about those. The way I see it, there are three big options.
Option one: Some systems use the traditional dice roll + modifier, where stats are included in the modifier in some way. These sort of systems often have a problem with progression and unbounded accuracy. What I mean by that is a problem exemplified in games like Anima: Beyond Fantasy or D&D 3.5 at higher levels. At some point, a player will be rolling dice and adding a modifier that’s so large, the roll serves mostly as flavor, not so much as an actual result. In anima, I’ve seen rolls of 1d100+500, at which point, why bother rolling. But you want your character’s abilities to progress so players feel like their characters are getting better.
So either you cap your characters’ stats at some arbitrary number like D&D 5e does; capping the attribute bonus to +6, the proficiency bonus to +6 and miscellaneous bonuses to +5 in the best case scenario.
Or alternatively you run the risk of getting absurd numbers added to your dice to the point where the dice barely matter anymore.
I like this method as a backup but it wouldn’t be my method of choice.
There’s the pool of dice versus a target number method that’s often used in games like White Wolf’s storyteller system or Shadowrun where a pile of dice are rolled and compared to a specific value. Players roll dice equal to their stat and every die above a specific number is counted as a success. A certain number of successes are needed to achieve a specific goal.
These sorts of systems tend to have very significant progression as each increase in a stat translates directly to both a better chance at success and a chance at a better success.
I like the lovely curve that a dice-pool produces which is something that this kind of rolling does really well. I like the idea that this system provides but it does have an issue where if you want to have really high attributes, you end up rolling entire buckets full of dice like in Exalted (second edition) where mid to high level characters routinely roll 20-30 dice.
The last big option is the roll-under method where a character has to roll under a specific value, usually determined by a combination of skills and attributes. Rolling under this number means the character succeeded. Rolling over means failure. Modifiers are usually provided to the final number, increasing or decreasing the number that needs to be rolled under.
Often these systems use the d100, though I have seen d20 and 3d6 versions. These systems have the advantage of strictly bounded accuracy and an innately understanding of the odds, especially in the d100 system. Roll under 65? well, I have a 65% chance of getting this. I like these systems because they’re usually fairly simple and don’t get in the way of the game too much.
Unfortunately, none of these three really hit all the marks for me. I like the idea of a roll-under system but I like my rolls to be more than a binary pass-fail. Similarly, I like the idea of a dice-pool but I’m not too fond of the way they’re usually implemented.
With that in mind, here’s what I’ve come up with so far. A character’s stat will come in three different flavors: Mundane, Heroic and Divine. Functionally these will act identical but Heroic and Divine-rated character will be able to affect a much bigger change and get much more success on their test. I’m not sure how I’ll deal with the Attribute/Skill separation but that’s for later.
The absolute maximum for a character’s stat will be 11 Divine, which corresponds with the character having a total score of 33 in their stat. However, since I’ll be using a roll under system, I can’t very well have characters trying to roll under 33 with a d12; that makes no sense.
So instead, when a character reaches 12 in a stat, they shift up a rank, going from Mundane to Heroic or Heroic to Divine. Simultaneously, their stat will drop to 6 in that particular rank. What’s the difference, you ask? Simple, for every rank above Mundane, a character rolls an additional die when making a test. This gives Heroic and Divine characters a powerful edge against lower ranked characters but doesn’t make them entirely unbeatable.
But I hear you say: if you can get more successes than your opponent, wouldn’t you automatically win? You would, except that the way I envision it, in an opposed test, a higher roll cancels out a lower roll, even if both were successful. So an 8-mundane character opposed by a 6-divine character can still beat them. They have a narrow margin but it’s possible.
In addition, especially in stressful situations, characters will be able to use abilities and limited resources to increase the number of dice they roll, effectively raising their rank for that specific action.
I’ll have to playtest it and perhaps write it out in a comprehensive way, but I think this will work nicely.