Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Focus and the Power of Stats

An example of Strength vs. Dexterity.
If you don't know who they are, shame on you.
I am the Warden!!

I've said it before and I'll say it again. One of my goals for the Optional System is to create a D&D-level of mechanics with the tone of an independent RPG. Disagree with this statement all you want, but the majority of major RPGs (meaning those released by big companies like Paizo, WotC, and Fantasy Flight) consist of locked rules, loads of charts, and enough pages to club your GM to death with. Independent games are built using minimal concepts, loose interpretations, and an emphasis on narrative rather than action. Fans of independent games love how they can "do more of what they want" without being bogged down by rules, while fans of major RPGs (man, I'm really hating that term) praise them for their clarity and precision. And here I'm looking to make some kind of hybrid. Good luck to me, right?

Flexibility seems the greatest difference between these types of games. There are elements to the Optional System I need to make clear and defined with no room for error, most of them relating to action and combat, but then there are others which should have room to twist, turn, and go nuts with. The player should be able to take their current selection of stats, skills, powers, and circumstance dice to describe their own actions in whatever original fashion they like. It is this ability for players to describe their own actions and participate in their environment to create mechanical benefits where I want this system to excel.

My original design has always been to use stats as the best representative of that principle. Rather than have every character share the same group of stats, traits, ability scores, or whatever, each character simply lists those which define him. Work off a principle where you are not remembered for the areas where you are average and instead push those excelled by your character. The only problem was making stats work as both a mechanical and descriptive design.

In The Beginning...
The original drafts of the OSRPG had stats as nothing more than descriptors for why you rolled base dice. Two characters rolling Strength and Dexterity are truly no different at the table, their choice of stat simply describes how they are attempting the option. Half penalties could reduce a character's ability to compete and so players were encouraged to take additional stats to account for such moments. It didn't really fly and this idea was always a quick fix.

In the past couple of months, I've been toying with them. So many other concepts were working so well, it was clearly time to fix the stat issue to work with all the other dice groups. Converting all stats to work like master stats and grant master dice (which had always worked) quickly became a device that met all criteria.

Focus Dice Are The New Master Dice
Before we get into the changes to stats, you need to learn about another change to the game. Master dice are now called "focus dice." Players found it slightly confusing to understand the new role of stats when master stats and master dice were used together but regular stats still added master dice. Point taken and now all d12s are called focus dice.

The New Stats
All characters roll a 1d20 base die to attempt a dice option - stats have nothing to do with it anymore. You make either a Body, Sense, or Mind roll, just as before. From there, you can add a single stat from the appropriate category (Body, Sense, or Mind) to your roll. Not all characters have the same stats, just like before, but now that stats add at least +1d12 focus dice to your action, they describe how you attempt to succeed. A character adding Strength to their attack applies brute force and anger, while another using Dexterity makes rapid-fire, fluid attacks.

All stats have limitations, moments where you cannot add their focus dice. You cannot use Alertness, for example, to find a vase in the middle of a pitch-black room while standing in the doorway; you must send your character into the room to investigate and feel around for evidence of the vase. Characters cannot use Dexterity to pull their friend up from the edge of a cliff, as another example. Hence the ability for characters to learn more stats and expand their repertoire. You don't have to, but it certainly comes in handy when you find yourself unable to apply +3d12 Strength focus dice to shoot a gun.

Oh Wait, There's More
Each chapter will have an optional rule to enhance these basic implementations. Focus dice will be no exception. Next time, I'll tell you about enhanced abilities.