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New Game Mechanics for Custom RPG (is it Lame?)

Kuld

Villager
Hi all,

I guess I've decided to reinvent the wheel and create a new Game Mechanic for a custom RPG. However, in spite of trying to get the right "feel" for the genre , I'm not sure it "feels right" and need a good critique. The game is set in the future and is completely SciFi, with space travel, alien encounters, telepathic assault, etc. I'm creating this game primarily for my wife and kids to play (me as GM) but I am slowly posting it on a World Building website. I will copy and paste the game mechanics here (forgive me if it doesn't work):

Game Mechanic: Attributes

In this game there are three main tiers of attributes (called Prowess) that directly correspond to the the body, mind, and spirit. Within each are three further subcategories (Attributes listed below) that help refine Role Playing strategies and in-game outcomes and results (and are the main mechanism for rewarding experience points, i.e. "leveling up"). The total Prowess of each main tier will be determined by the average of the three Attributes of that tier, rounded up. This value represents the overall fitness of that tier, but also the number of Prowess Points a character can spend during the game to temporarily increase an ability modifier, access a special power, etc. that is associated with that tier. Finally, in this game each tier can be damaged or otherwise compromised. This is represented by a total amount of Heath Points (Physical Health, Mental Health, and Spiritual Health) that are determined by the sum of the respective Attributes of that tier.

Physical Attributes

Physical Attributes include Strength, Agility, and Endurance.

Strength is the ability to exert a physical force on an object. The higher your character's Strength value, the more physical force they can muster. Also, this includes how much physical force they can potentially withstand on their physical form (crushing, bludgeoning, etc.)

Agility is a measure of both swiftness and dexterity. This value will determine, for example, if your character will be swift enough to potentially avoid damage by a physical assault (or careening debris, etc.) or have the adequate manual dexterity to repair small devices with gloved hands on a pitching and rolling starship.

Endurance is the ability to endure physical exertion (exhaustion), the ability to withstand bodily injury (e.g. sudden or catastrophic changes in cabin pressurization), and higher levels of toxicity (chemical, radiation, biological, viral, etc.). For example, as your character increases their Endurance value, their ability to overcome a nasty virus will also increase, as will their ability to hike long distances, while encumbered and in the radiating heat of a desert planet.

The overall Physical Prowess of the character is the average value of all three Attributes (rounded up). This represents the synergistic value that can be used to determine how athletic a character is, and also the total number of Physical Prowess Points the character can spend. The Physical Health Points of the character are determined simply by the sum of all three attributes. For example, Joe has a Strength of 16 (pretty darn strong), an Agility of 11 (not too bad), and an Endurance of 12. His overall Physical Prowess is 13 (not too shabby) and his Physical HP are 39.

Mental Attributes

Mental Attributes include Acuity, Reason, and Intuition.

Acuity represents the sharpness of the mind. It includes memory, focus, concentration, and the capacity for understanding. Characters with a high Acuity value can, for example, memorize schematics or long strings of numbers. They might be able to recognize patterns in a series of unfamiliar code or learn the intricate inner-workings of unfamiliar technologies.

Reason is the ability to use facts, logic, science, math, etc. to find solutions to practical and intellectual problems. It is the primary attribute for troubleshooting, maintaining, or incorporating new technologies. As a character's Reason value increases, so does their ability to recognize fallacious arguments or the veracity of methods employed. While Acuity enables one to understand a concept, it is Reason that allows one to understand the implications.

Intuition is informed by experience. It is the capacity to use or gain accurate knowledge, insight, or understanding independent of observation or reason. It is the "gut feeling" you get before you make a high-risk decision. It 's knowing where the approximate center of a wall is and whether the painting you've just hung is straight without measuring. As characters increase their Intuition values, they may be more likely to accurately determine the number of enemy combatants in an area, or the number of credits they just stuffed into a briefcase. They might know where to apply pressure to open a hatch that is jammed without directly knowing the cause of the jam, or even how the hatch operates.

The overall Mental Prowess of the character is the average value of all three Attributes (rounded up). This represents the synergistic value that can be used to determine the mental health or sanity of a character, and also the total number of Mental Prowess Points the character can spend. The Mental Health Points of the character are determined simply by the sum of all three attributes. Joe's Acuity is 14, his Reason is 18 (Wow! Philosophy professor), and his Intuition is 13. His overall Mental Prowess is 15 and his Mental HP are 45.

Spiritual Attributes

Spiritual Attributes include Presence, Will, and Empathy.

Presence is best described as the state of being. It includes a strong element of self-awareness and the capacity for self-reflection. It allows for an intimate sense of one's place and orientation within the immediate environment and possibly the greater cosmos as well. Characters with a high Presence value tend to have stronger telepathic abilities (including neural links) and are far more difficult to telepathically invade. They also tend to be highly charismatic and make great leaders, the more insidious of who can learn to impose their will on others.

Will is primarily defined by determination and tenacity and the sense of one's trajectory within a framework of moral and ethical values (which are not necessarily consistent or shared). Characters with a high Will value are far more difficult to intimidate or telepathically influence. They are also more capable of enduring psychological assault, with the ability, for example, to send their mind elsewhere to endure torture, etc.

Empathy describes the capacity to experience, understand, or otherwise connect to other individuals, objects, and elements of the environment, independent of personal perspectives. For example, it allows one to experience another being's thoughts and feelings, from their point of view, usually from a variety of expressions or cues that are not necessarily verbal. This also extends into elements that are not sentient, like certain technology or places (particularly after great tragedy or prosperity, etc.). While usually associated with good, the more nefarious can use their capacity for empathy to maximize the amount of anguish and suffering they cause by knowing exactly what to do, and how and when to do it.

The overall Spiritual Prowess of the character is the average value of all three Attributes (rounded up). This represents the synergistic value that can be used to determine how powerful and/or spiritually sound a character is, and also the total number of Spiritual Prowess Points the character can spend. The Spiritual Health Points of the character are determined simply by the sum of all three attributes. Joe has a Presence of 13, a Will of 12, and an Empathy of 13. His overall Spiritual Prowess is therefore 13 (rounded up), and Spiritual HP are 38.

Game Mechanics: Attributes Continued

There are a total of 9 attributes as mentioned above. There are two primary methods for determining these scores:

Point buy:

Begin with 90, 99, 108, etc. points, depending on how difficult you want your game to be. This, of course represents an average of 10, 11, 12, etc. (respectively) within each attribute. Then distribute them as appropriate to achieve the character build you envision.

Or, you can roll:

4d6 or 5d6, and take the highest three. If you are really brave, you can roll 3d6 and take what you get. Again, depending on how difficult you want your game to be.


Disciplines:

Each character begins with 4 discipline points which they can spend into a number of discipline tracks, earning 1 additional point for every level of character advancement. Each track consists of 4 stages that correspond to higher levels of education, training, or depth of understanding in that discipline. Stage one is equivalent to “basic training” in that discipline—whereas Stage 4 represents the highest level of achievement in that discipline. At this level, the character is considered proficient enough to discover new frontiers and contribute to the advancement of that discipline.

Disciplines may include:

Engineering
Science
Medicine
Warfare
Operations
Metaphysics
Archaeology/Anthropology

Each Stage’s cost goes up by double: 1, 2, 4, and 8 (not cumulative, i.e. Stage 4 costs 8 points from the beginning). As a character ascends the Stages in a discipline, they receive bonuses to attributes associated with that Discipline (e.g. +1 to Endurance Attribute, +2 to any Mental Attribute, etc.) and Discipline Dice that increase in value as they increase in stages within that discipline.

Stage 1: Cost 1; +1 to an Attribute; Discipline Die 1d4

Stage 2: Cost 2: +2, distribution chosen by the player; Discipline Die 1d6

Stage 3: Cost 4: +3, distribution chosen by the player; Discipline Dice 2d4

Stage 4: Cost 8: +4, distribution chosen by the player; Discipline Dice 2d6

Discipline Dice are added to the normal d20 roll (plus any Attribute Bonuses, etc.) to perform an action--complete a difficult task, make an attack, etc.--at a cost of a Discipline’s associated Prowess Points. The value of the die is determined by the level of achievement (Stage) of the character in that Discipline (d4, d6, 2d4, or 2d6) the cost of which is determined as follows:

Characters can elect to add their Discipline die to their d20 roll before rolling for any action (d20) for 1 PP. If they did not elect to add the discipline dice before the roll, they may do so after the roll (if they fail) for double the cost, plus the initial cost of the dice (3 Prowess points). Additionally, if a character is of a higher stage in a discipline, they may add subsequent dice of lower stages for additional PP if needed (doubling the cost for each).

For example, Joe attempts to shoot an assailant with a class 9 shield. Joe’s agility is 16, giving him a +3 to the roll, and Joe is also an Expert (Stage 4) in Tactical Warfare which gives him (if he so chooses) and additional 2d6 to his roll for the cost of 1 Physical Prowess Point.

Joe needs a 19 to hit (10 +9 for the super crazy powerful shield) so he elects to spend 1 PP to use his Disc Dice before the roll (rather than 3 after the roll), and he rolls 1d20 and 2d6, and adds their totals together. He rolls a 6, 4, and a 3 (+3 bonus) totaling 16, which would miss his target. However, he may now spend additional PP to “panic” or "focus" and roll additional dice for the lower stages of that discipline, +2 for an additional 2d4,+ 4 for an additional 1d6, and +8 for the 1d4 (for a total cost of 15 PP, if he has that many).

If he had not elected to buy the disc die before the roll, the cost for his “panic” or “focus” dice would have shifted one degree (+3 for the 2d6, +4 for the 2d4, etc.). A character can only buy Discipline Dice if they have the adequate amount of prowess points available that are associated with that discipline. If he were only at stage 1 for that discipline, he would only be able to buy the one d4.

If a character is reduced to 0 Prowess Points in any tier (Physical, Mental, or Spiritual), they are exhausted and must make an endurance or will save (whichever is higher or more appropriate) to remain standing and capable of moving, and no further action can be made in that tier until the prowess has been recovered to above zero (movement is not an action in this sense).

The character recovers half their total Prowess Points after a "short rest" and all of their Prowess Points after a "long rest."


Attacking:

Every target at close range is difficulty 10 to hit (from a person, to the barn door). However, most targets are equipped with some sort of shielding that covers them entirely (think Star Trek shields). Light, medium, heavy, or “Industry” armor only indicates the amount of damage the armor can withstand before failing and wounding the wearer—and is indicated by its DMG rating (e.g. light armor has 50 DMG, medium ~75, etc.). Shielding, on the other hand, is rated by Class (Class 1, 2, 3 etc.) that indicates its power/rating which physically decreases the ability of successfully hit the target (i.e. Armor Class). In essence, the shield can deflect or diffuse attacks (or radiation, debris, etc.) and the armor absorbs what gets through, though also becoming damaged in the process (shields cannot be damaged). Also, the character’s agility modifier can be used with light to medium armor.

So, if Joe has Light Armor (50 DMG) with a personal protective shield (wrist worn) that is Class 3, and an Agility score of 13 (+1), his effective AC is 14, with or without his armor (10, +3 for the shield, +1 for Agility).

--That's all I have at the moment.. and I've already spent a lot of time on it (both thinking about it and writing about it). However, I keep thinking that I should just crib another gaming system. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
That's a lot to process. I must admit that I don't fully see how the base mechanics works, and how the die (or dice) interact with the attribute values. Just a few observations:

1) Your stats are ambiguous. I'm not sure what the difference between Acuity and Intuition is supposed to be. If someone has a 16 in one stat, and a 6 in the other stat, then that seems like it should mean something significant about the character; but no matter how extreme that difference is, its meaning is dwarfed by the GM's decision over which stat to call for.

2) The idea of mental and spiritual HP is kind of weird. I'm not sure what it's supposed to look like when someone has full mental HP but zero mental PP, or vice versa. Likewise for spiritual. Unless you're planning to have a lot of things that deal mental or spiritual damage, it would probably make more sense to just roll those all into a single pool. I know that symmetry is appealing, but it's easy for that to get out of hand, and the result is rarely fun.

3) In a sci-fi setting, Presence and Will are mental attributes. They are characteristics of your brain configuration. You have six mental attributes, and only three physical ones. I know I said that you shouldn't be a slave to symmetry, but this exact split has always seemed very off to me. It's weird to have twice as much differentiation in one category than you have in the other.
 
That's all I have at the moment.. and I've already spent a lot of time on it (both thinking about it and writing about it). However, I keep thinking that I should just crib another gaming system. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
From what you describe, it seems that you're looking for a sci-fi system that has pretty granular mechanics with flexible PC building and an ability for players to spend resources to influence resolution outcomes.

You might want to check out HARP SF - I've never played it but know it's fantasy cousin HARP, which is itself a cousin of Rolemaster. HARP uses 8 stats (STR, Quickeness, Agility, CON, Presence, Reasoning, Self-Discipline and Insight), point-buy PC build with some costs being generic and some costs being class-determined, and uses Fate Points as the currency for players to modify resolution outcomes.

It's d100 based but most (not all) mods are multiples of 5. You can divide everything by 5 and do it on d20 and it won't break, although you'll have to do some rounding in a few places. Combat is like RM - a mix of hit points and specific injuries, determined by reading of a chart each time an attack is resolved.

I don't know how HARP SF does psionics but if it's like HARP fantasy does spells then it will be skill-based (one skill per "discipline") with a separate pool of psionic power points.

It's not identical to what you've sketched in your OP but I think it might give you at least some of what you're looking for, and someone else has already done all the design work . . .
 

Kuld

Villager
That's a lot to process. I must admit that I don't fully see how the base mechanics works, and how the die (or dice) interact with the attribute values. Just a few observations:

1) Your stats are ambiguous. I'm not sure what the difference between Acuity and Intuition is supposed to be. If someone has a 16 in one stat, and a 6 in the other stat, then that seems like it should mean something significant about the character; but no matter how extreme that difference is, its meaning is dwarfed by the GM's decision over which stat to call for.

2) The idea of mental and spiritual HP is kind of weird. I'm not sure what it's supposed to look like when someone has full mental HP but zero mental PP, or vice versa. Likewise for spiritual. Unless you're planning to have a lot of things that deal mental or spiritual damage, it would probably make more sense to just roll those all into a single pool. I know that symmetry is appealing, but it's easy for that to get out of hand, and the result is rarely fun.

3) In a sci-fi setting, Presence and Will are mental attributes. They are characteristics of your brain configuration. You have six mental attributes, and only three physical ones. I know I said that you shouldn't be a slave to symmetry, but this exact split has always seemed very off to me. It's weird to have twice as much differentiation in one category than you have in the other.
Thank you very much. That was exactly what I was looking for.

The ambiguity of the stats did stem from my trying to make everything symmetrical, and make all three tiers of attributes equal in importance, i.e. valuable and vulnerable (necessary and at risk). The idea for this system is pretty much equal parts Star Trek, Ancient Aliens, New-Age Mysticism, intrigue and espionage, and contemporary extraterrestrial conspiracy theories (and all this pretty much because my son unequivocally refuses to play Star Trek Adventures).

Physical attributes need little consideration due to how common-sense and ubiquitous they tend to be. But I was trying to create similar mental capacities and of course spiritual ones (difficult to even define, let alone quantify). But I do now see the difficulty with acuity and intuition. I do personally see them as different, based on my experience, but it may be too difficult for me to articulate, let alone expect others to be able to distinguish between them in a game.
The same goes for what qualifies as a 'spiritual' attribute. I definitely agree that presence and will, and even empathy are often considered mental capacities, often directly associated with agency, and can also be both learned and unlearned to a degree.. So, it definitely makes sense to see them that way (and as you said, I think they are also identifiable morph. regions of the brain).

But if you did want to somehow distinguish between mental and spiritual capacities--mainly because of story or narrative reasons--how would you accomplish it? The best I could come up with, I guess, was distinguishing them essentially between the "smarts" and the "feels." This does seem to be a convention of the "new-age" thought (which I was actually trying to capture) at least how it is largely presented. The difference between intellect and personality, between rationality and psychology, are perhaps impossible to quantify in any meaningful way for the purposes of a game mechanic. But what is acceptable? If it rarely results in fun, then I will definitely need to avoid it. :)

I did "intuitively' know that something was wrong with these mechanics. ;-)

They just didn't feel quite right. Thank you much for your reply. I have a lot to think about!
 

Kuld

Villager
From what you describe, it seems that you're looking for a sci-fi system that has pretty granular mechanics with flexible PC building and an ability for players to spend resources to influence resolution outcomes.

You might want to check out HARP SF - I've never played it but know it's fantasy cousin HARP, which is itself a cousin of Rolemaster. HARP uses 8 stats (STR, Quickeness, Agility, CON, Presence, Reasoning, Self-Discipline and Insight), point-buy PC build with some costs being generic and some costs being class-determined, and uses Fate Points as the currency for players to modify resolution outcomes.

It's d100 based but most (not all) mods are multiples of 5. You can divide everything by 5 and do it on d20 and it won't break, although you'll have to do some rounding in a few places. Combat is like RM - a mix of hit points and specific injuries, determined by reading of a chart each time an attack is resolved.

I don't know how HARP SF does psionics but if it's like HARP fantasy does spells then it will be skill-based (one skill per "discipline") with a separate pool of psionic power points.

It's not identical to what you've sketched in your OP but I think it might give you at least some of what you're looking for, and someone else has already done all the design work . . .
I will definitely check it out! Maybe I will get a lot if insight, if not crib it completely. Thank you very much! This is what I was looking for too.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
I was drawn to this by the headline of new mechanics. In many ways though it's the same mechanic that D&D 3.0 brought: d20 + bonuses >= target. I have to admit I was hoping for something like a non-dice randomization method, or some interesting spin on dice pools or other unusual resolution method.

You have an interesting way to add bonuses, more in-depth then hero points which would just add a d6 to the roll - I like the cost to add, or double cost after you roll. Makes it a real choice - a push when it might be the difference cheaply, or push only when you suspect it will make a difference after the roll- not needed on a success and probably not worth it on many failures.

The doubling going down is also nifty - really rewards higher Diciplines.

Minor comment - I see that prowess is the average. Just taking the middle value discourages the "I'm going to be amazingly at X" and dumping all your points into it, counting on it to bring up your average to provide the Prowess to power your extra dice. Plus it's easy to calculate.

I'm a fan of the system supporting the setting. What type of SF campaign are you planning on running? What makes it unusual and stand out, and how can you reflect that in your system? A good system needs allow one to play the archetypes of the setting. A great system rewards it.

Finally, have you looked at N.E.W., by our very own Morrus? Not sure where you are located but for me the digest format is only $9.99 on Amazon and it's a pretty interesting SF system.
 

Kuld

Villager
Thanks Blue. In this setting, the humans of earth have learned or evolved to manipulate consciousness to interface with technology (and other beings, and to an extent, other dimensions). Space suites (armor), weapons, smaller craft (larger craft requires a large crew), an many other technologies are both manually manipulated and interfaced telepathically. They are linked but not permanently so, and there are limits to what and how many such links can be made (based largely on Prowess).

Therefore there is an element of "losing" oneself if proper precautions are not exercised (think collective vs. individual consciousness) and some things are not meant to be attempted by some individuals. Extra-dimensional travel is also possible but only temporarily and is currently very limited (though other beings may have no such limitations) but it may also be required in some instances.. Which is why I thought of using a three tier system--normal physical and mental capacities to manipulate and operate in the "Newtonian" environment (for lack of better words), and a third element, that is just as important, to help regulate this new relationship with the environment. And a character who reaches zero health points in any tier (Physical, Mental, or Spiritual) dies, regardless of how many Health Points they have in other tiers.

The system is populated by countless other beings. Some are good, some are bad, and many are so different that they are currently unrelatable culturally or technologically. There are many allies and enemies, and these will sometimes shift, but our current "worst" enemies are ourselves (various factions, agenda, etc.).

For the most part, it is a tale of transition--humans learning to take the stage which has been occupied for countless millennia, by countless beings. It is understood that most newcomers who attempt to take the stage, fail and are lost forever. Pretty much, what makes humanity so special? Will they they survive?

I will definitely take a look at N.E.W system. :)
 

LostSoul

Villager
1. The game must push the PCs so that players have to really wonder if now is the time to spend prowess points.
2. Thus recovery of PP should be a big deal.
3. How do the PCs change? (It should be tied into their decision making, so probably based on how they spend their PP.)

You might want to incorporate "losing" oneself into the PP mechanics - when PCs spend PP they risk losing themselves and change as a result. Perhaps you could tie that into how they get them back. Different methods for recovering PP lead to different changes to the PC. Fast recovery is risky, slow recovery is safe.

All of this should feed back into your game loop, whatever that might be. So it might be: PCs interface with tech -> find new dimensions of adventure -> adventure in those dimensions, spending PP -> recover PP in ways that change them -> changed, they seek new dimensions of adventure. (A break to a new loop is good at some point, like high-level D&D breaking locality and morality when those were paramount to low-level.)
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
Thanks Blue. In this setting, the humans of earth have learned or evolved to manipulate consciousness to interface with technology (and other beings, and to an extent, other dimensions). Space suites (armor), weapons, smaller craft (larger craft requires a large crew), an many other technologies are both manually manipulated and interfaced telepathically. They are linked but not permanently so, and there are limits to what and how many such links can be made (based largely on Prowess).

Therefore there is an element of "losing" oneself if proper precautions are not exercised (think collective vs. individual consciousness) and some things are not meant to be attempted by some individuals.
This is great inspiration for your system. Okay, if pushing yourself too far that you lose yourself, then capitalize on it.

Right now you have your abilities powered by PP. Keep that, since everyone can do some things, but allow that once your PP for a category is used up, you can keep going spending your actual ability scores. And they come back much slower. I'd suggest reducing the PP you get quite a bit and how much comes back so this becomes a real choice in play. (The alternative of increasing the costs might hurt too much when coming off your actual ability scores.)

Prowess is your reserves, your focus, your ability to get something done. (Your "spoons" if you are familiar with that way of describing someone with longer term illness that impacts their ability to do things.) You can rest and it comes back. Your ability scores are long term, wearing yourself down.

Now, some types of technology interaction also use prowess. Telepathy, etc.

Then, roll damage into the same pools. So getting shot comes from your physical, with spending Prowess Points being like a graze, a sprain, getting worn down by dodging and ability spends being longer term. But telepathy damage is to you mental, and things that impact your will to continue damage your spiritual.

So you now have a system to represent your one ability to push yourself beyond, what you are feeding into the various linked and telepathic technologies, and it also can be worn down by external influences. With real choices about taking long-term impact to push when you are already worn down.
 

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