Systems That Model The World Rather Than The Story


Victoria Rules
I think what matters more than anything is internal consistency. It doesn't matter if you're going full Nintendo aesthetic or gritty grimsouls suffering sim; if theres an inconsistency, and in particular one severe enough to come up in play either regularly or in a pivotal moment, then it doesn't matter what your aesthetics or mechanics are like, the gameworld isn't going to be as effective as it could be.

This was something I had to tackle with my game's take on HP; I started out renaming it to Composure, and positoning it as not being any sort of actual, significant physical wounds. Composure, as the name implies, is simply your basic capability to defend yourself and keep up the fight.

While minor wounds can be a part of what happens as Composure dwindles, no character is considered to have taken a "true" wound just because they lost their Composure. As such, when one drops to 0CP mechanically, they are not dead and are still able to act...mostly.

Dropping to 0 will cut your speed down to 1 Hex per turn in Combat, and halve your party's Pacing (travel speed) if they can't carry you or put you on a mount. Additionally, you lose the ability to react, making it nearly impossible to defend yourself (there's actually a growing rigmarole you can go through if you're going hyper offensive, but thats pretty niche), which leads us into the next solution.

Now, while this nixes the whole HP=meat problem, as well as disincentivizes yoyo healing, it does leave open the question of how death is threatened and how actually getting hurt is represented; ie, that internal consistency where danger actually makes sense and correlates to how it would be in real life, if abstracted through mechanics.

Solving that conundrum actually came about as the confluence of solving a few different concurrent problems.

The initial root problem was weapon diversity. I was starting with the assumption of the 3 basic damage types that DND uses, and I needed a way to make weapons feel differentiated at a base level (I was already assuming my extensive Crafting mechanics, but I wanted something more core as a foundation). So what I came up with was expanding the damage types into damage type combos. Ie, Blunt/Slashing is its own damage type.

That started the ball rolling, and as I kept thinking on it I came to the conclusion that physical damage needed to, as Magic is going to do, enable different Status Conditions tied to the damage types. (Ala Pokemon basically)

With that, it became pretty easy to flesh out weapons at a core level, and now before Crafting is even taken into account Weapons have become about as indepth as spells (which to be clear are not the same kind of spells we see in DND; mine are much simpler).

The issue with this though was that, initially, I was having trouble coming up with different conditions I could tie to all these damage types. The solution there is what ended up looping in the Composure problem: Status Conditions are now called Wounds, and just by contextualizing them in that way, I not only opened up the design space for both weapons and magic, but also restored the necessary physical damage that the game had removed.

So now how it works essentially is that Wounds can potentially happen at any time depending on how a fight goes (they're primarily inflicted through my Momentum system, but some are saving throw based as well), and when one drops to 0CP, they automatically take a Wound if they get attacked, with the wound correlating to whatever kind of attack, weapon, or spell they got hit with. Most Wounds deal damage over time, in addition to their other effects, and those that don't usually have pretty big damage coming with them. If the character at this point takes an amount of damage equal to their normal max CP, they then die.

However, when a character has dropped to 0CP, any attacking individual has the option to take a Killing Blow against them, and kill them immediately. And with how its been run thus far, its proven good practice for the GM to, in general, never assume a monster will assume a Killing Blow as part of their attack, whereas PCs are assumed to unless they say otherwise, even after the fact.

Which all makes sense; my game is fast paced and can be pretty lethal (in both directions), so giving the PCs a reprieve against getting one-shotted against most enemies is just good sense, as by the time that glove comes off the PCs are presumably going to be on top of keeping themselves in fighting shape, and if they aren't, well, sucks to suck as the saying goes.

So long story short, while how my game models this isn't necessarily close to real life (or may be it is; i haven't really given it much thought), it is internally consistent.

Between the above, as well as the fact that Composure is a saving throw type in of itself, that characters use not just as a modifier to make throws, but as a sliding DC for any Composure throws they make other characters do, its never really going to feel like Composure is this abstracted thing that doesn't make sense, at least in the context of the gameworld.

And those are just the two big mechanical things that contribute to this. In a more meta design sense, Ive also got some useful symmetry going on. Composure and Stamina are already essentially paired; they make sense together, alongside Wounds, as a collective representation of how worn down and out a character has become physically.

Mana however didn't initially have a pairing, and while you can squint and see it make sense pairing with Composure, it doesn't really. At least not in a satisfying way.

Eventually, I came up with the new Energy Acuity, which was a result of needing to expand my Attribute list and give myself more room for Skills. This not only gave me a synergistic pairing for Mana, but also solved a bunch of neat problems. Acuity for instance is your Passive Perception, and also serves as your essential "power" to utilize your Charisma and Intuition (the new attribute) skills.

It also gave me a way to firmly root Summoner and Psionic characters (as opposed to Martials and Casters) in the same general character development loops as other character types.

And all of this together, among other things Im too tired to recall atm, all contribute to that internal consistency.

All of this incidentally is also a great big example of my design philosophy that focuses on integration. All of these things I described are pretty tightly bound together with the expectation that they'll be feeding back on each other as the gameplay loops kick in.

While it sounds convoluted to explain a greatly interwoven web of mechanics and aesthetics, in practice its been a dream, or so my playtesters say anyway, given its incredible they stick with it with how radically the system has diverged and diversified in scope from where I started.

This takes the root idea of a wounds-vitality or body-fatigue hit point system and adds on all sorts of cool details and layering.

A few questions:

How does natural healing and-or magical curing work when one has sustained Wounds? (I assume it's as normal with Composure)

If a character has sustained one or more Wounds but doesn't die, and yet isn't patched up, what happens? Does the character slowly bleed out, or is there a chance the character can recover on its own, or ... ?

When someone takes a Wound is there a table or chart etc. that determines where-what the actual injury is, or is it left up to GM and-or player narration to decide?

(note that I'm only interested in the damage system here, not the Mana-Acuity system; though it seems you've put a lot of thought into that as well)

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How does natural healing and-or magical curing work when one has sustained Wounds? (I assume it's as normal with Composure)

So there's two ways this can happen. But to explain that I need to give some background on how the Energies (like Composure and Stamina) are restored, as they're predictably integrated into each other.

So, what my system uses is a variant of Hit Dice that I aptly call Energy Dice. Each character will have some number of some size of generic Energy Dice, and these are what are used to restore the 4 Energies. Essentially, when you spend them you can nickel and dime where the total goes or you can drop it in one.

How you gain these is tied into Eating Food; this not only opened up the design space for Cooking and Taste mechanics, but it also in my opinion better represents reality and is much more flexible for adventuring reasons, as while the same timegating we see with DND style Rests is there, the times are much shorter and much more directly consequential. Scarfing down rations will keep you going but taking the time to eat a proper meal is more optimal.

Food in general, like the Poultices and Potions Ill get to in a moment, restore some base Energies, but are what give you some number of some size of Energy Dice (fantasy Coffee for example would give you a jolt of flat Stamina, as well as an Energy die).

But, in order to use those Energy dice, theres two methods. First is naturally; whenever you Rest at least 6 Hours, you will be allowed to spend one of your dice, without expending it, and can disseminate the value you roll on it as you wish. Depending on the types of lodging you've found, or indeed the types of bedding you've made for yourself, you can spend more and get other benefits.

This obviously isn't very efficient for fantasy adventurers that can regularly suplex dragons and go toe to toe with entire armies (my game is a little bonkers), and even with more luxurious lodgings or high level bedding, you'll still be spending a lot of time to recover, especially if your capacity to act is just as high level.

So what adventurers rely on is Poultices and Potions (PP). These let you access many of your Energy dice at any time, but come at the consequence of Toxicity if abused. (You only have a limited store of Energy dice to begin with, but if you have none to spend, the flat restoration these give you instead drain you. See my edit for a clarification)

So, after all that, how Wounds come in and be healed is primarily by receiving one of those PPs. Both can clear any wound in general, but you get bonus healing if you take the care to match up your healing apparatus with the Wound.

Physical wounds are typically better handled by Poultices, and having the right kind will be even better. (Such as, at a low level, a Poultice thats been applied to Stitches will clear a Laceration (the Wound of Blunt/Slashing damage, typically axes and the like) better than a Poultice applied directly or with some kind of Potion. Conversely, a Burn (Fire damage, regardless of whether it was magically conjured or not) is better healed by Potions and so on. There is cross pollination (Salves are the poultice equivalent to Potions; Elixirs the magical equivalent to poultices), but in general if you're trying to optimize you go for whats best.

However, if you're attempting to recover naturally, you still need to neutralize the Wound (happens automatically with PP if you've had a Wound applied multiple times; otherwise you have first aid checks you can make) to not just die from it, and you can only clear a Wound when you've spent at least 2 Energy Dice, so you need to insure that you're keeping up with that if you expect to heal. If you've neutralized a Wound but haven't healed it, you'll basically rip your stitches and start taking damage from it again.

So, overall its still pretty quick insofar as healing goes, but its consistent given the sheer power characters have. If you can casually suplex dragons being thrown out of commission by a stabbing would be a bit silly. But having all this Survival stuff is important for the general vibe Im going for, as Im seeking to build a game where you can become the legendary heroes that other games use as background details, and so the game needs that juxtaposition to emphasize that what PCs accomplish is truly extraordinary, and isn't just a trite and arbitrary power fantasy.

If a character has sustained one or more Wounds but doesn't die, and yet isn't patched up, what happens? Does the character slowly bleed out, or is there a chance the character can recover on its own, or ... ?

Yep so if a Wound is just left to fester, the character will eventually succumb to their Wounds (clever how the language works out there). When you take your max CP twice over, you die.

When someone takes a Wound is there a table or chart etc. that determines where-what the actual injury is, or is it left up to GM and-or player narration to decide?

The latter. My game does model hit locations for the purpose of Durability (players actually have first say in what gets hit depending on how they defend themselves (Shield vs gauntlet for example) and if they can't or choose not to defend themselves then hits will land on the Body, or alternatively be chosen by the Enemy), but I don't personally find much worth in doing hit locations for injuries. (Though to be fair, my take on the Warrior has a move system thats basically doing that, but thats an intentional exception that only comes off that way narratively)

I could though, and I could see myself introducing that as a variant for those who have the extra overhead to run and enjoy them.

Edit: also wanted to note that I resolved Hunger tracking with Energy dice. If you run out, you're starving. Ezpz.

However, when using PP when you're hungry you also begin to accrue Toxicity; the flat amounts they give drain you, but still allow you to roll an Energy die (noted alongside the flat amount the PP restores). So if you get lucky you can push it, but eventually you'll poison yourself to death.
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I like the idea of systems that model the world rather than the story. When I understand conceptually how things work, then I can better decide how my story will interact with the model, and how I want to change or tweak things (because I can't stop myself from doing that). If the world model says "flames ignite things", then I expect fireballs and dragon breath to ignite things. Maybe I decide that "belief is more powerful than anything", and then I tweak the model to show how that breaks the otherwise solid and reliable model.

One of the things I liked about Dark Sun - and there were many - was the underlying constraint of the model that said "magic costs life". Then the rules provided supported that concept - killing vegetation, maybe sapping the stamina of nearby creatures, etc. And "it's a desert" had the completely understandable "don't wander the desert encased in metal armor". Logically consistent.

I do hate where game balance and logic come into conflict - especially, egregiously, with D&D economy. In 4e, plate armor was cheap (compared to other armors) because only one class could wear it, and it wasn't "fair" to keep them from it. In all the other editions, gold becomes meaningless after a couple levels. Doesn't make sense.

aramis erak

EABA is a universal system created by the owner of BTRC. Its derived in part from both GURPS and Hero, though its a dice pool system of sorts.
Funny, but Greg never mentioned GURPS influences during the playtest of 1E... tho' he did for the earlier CORPS VDS. He also flat out denies any influence from d6 system, despite the fact that attributes scale the same, and dice pools are generally the same size.

Thomas Shey

Funny, but Greg never mentioned GURPS influences during the playtest of 1E... tho' he did for the earlier CORPS VDS. He also flat out denies any influence from d6 system, despite the fact that attributes scale the same, and dice pools are generally the same size.

It could be parallel development, given the rather idiosyncratic way EABA uses its die pool. (I seem to recall hitting one or two other games that take a not-dissimilar approach, but its thin on the ground).


I actually preferred Greg Porter's original TimeLords (not to be confused with EABA TImeLords) and SpaceTime to EABA (1e or 2e). IMHO, SpaceTime had the best damage modelling of any game I have seen. Sadly, he doesn't make those editions available in PDF. The above two system even predate his CORPS system (the predecessor to EABA). Only the EABA based Timelords is available as a PDF now.

Speaking of Greg reminded me of his extremely excellent Guns! Guns! Guns! for designing firearms. If you want physics, you just got it :) It requires a calculator or a spreadsheet, and it is 146 pages of rules (with a wee-bit of background) about designing firearms with a section on energy weapons too.

It considers things like muzzle energy vs. propellant energy and its Damage Value game metric is a matter of (muzzle energy * the diameter of the round). It also considers the basics of ballistics like the length/width ratio and that lighter rounds lose their velocity more quickly. The action of a weapon (eg, lever action, bolt action, revolver, etc) also factors into how much muzzle energy is lost. It also considers firearm reliability, and things like the length of the barrel to impart more of the potential energy of ammunition. It's quite an excellent read, and for gamers who have no real world experience with firearms, will bring them light years into a better understanding.

Not all the way mind you. But at least you'll understand why certain rounds have different weights and why they have different amounts of grains of powder. He doesn't go into the minutiae of say, boat tail or other ogive, tangent or secant style cross-sectional ballistics. And one of the things I didn't like about the system is that its Damage Value conflates damage and penetration in one metric. In my own design, I would separate out the two. One of the reasons the US military is finally ditching the 5.56mm round was its experience in the all the fighting in the Middle East, and how it's not a very lethal round even without modern body armor.

When the Vietnam War happened, America's original round was the much heavier 7.62mm NATO round (which has a fascinating history in itself, as basically America tricked its allies into using this round) and the much heavier battle rifle the M14. In jungle warfare, where firefights often happened at 100m or less, the need for long range but heavier rounds was found to be impractical. Also America created a war doctrine that it was better to wound your enemy and have his comrades rescue him than outright killing him.

However, more recent experience fighting in other environments has shown that long range, high penetration ammunition are often what is needed. Many people don't realize how powerful modern 6mm+ rounds are (like the 6.5 creedmoor, the 7.62 NATO, or Lapua 338 are). I kind of laugh in video games or TV shows where someone hides behind a dry wall, car, or couch as cover. A 7.62 will easily go through a car door and have plenty of energy left to kill someone. A single 7.62 can crack a cinder block at 50m. Multiple shots will destroy a cinder block. And despite that amazing feat, modern Level IV body armor will stop even very powerful rounds like .30-06 or 338 Lapua rounds. Hence, the decision of the US Military to go to a hyper velocity round to defeat modern body armor.

So why explain all that ammunition trivia? Because...reality modelling. I want games with this level of consideration. I want a game where your character better not hide behind a car door thinking he's immune from being shot at. And better yet, I want the players to know this bit of information as well. In this crazy world today, who knows, it may even save your life.

Part of the reason I got into martial arts when I was younger and took fencing in college, was I wanted to know the answer to the age old TTRPG'er (and HEMA/SCA) question "who would win in a fight, a Samurai or a 17th century european fencer" (short answer, much to the chagrin of Samurai/Kendo/Bokken/Iaido fans is; don't underestimate a fencer either with a rapier or a sabre)? As for the concern that "reality" is just something players agree upon, that's only a workable compromise when no one in the group knows otherwise. Imagine for example, a GM rules that while adventuring underwater, you can use a bluetooth earphones to communicate with your scuba diving buddies. cant, because the water will block the signal. If no one in the group realizes that fact, fine, move along. But what if a player knows that's impossible and challenges the GM's ruling? I actually have deep concerns about "reality as a consensus".

I remember a long time ago, when I was in my teens, we had an older guy in our group who had served in the military. One of the guys just a year younger than me said he didn't like the WW2 movie, A Bridge Too Far, because the explosions weren't fiery enough to be "real" to him (remember, my generation was weaned on the A-Team). The veteran quickly chimed in, "that's how real explosions are". Or I recall hearing how Peter Jackson wanted Christoper Lee to make this sound when Wormtongue stabbed him in the back and Christopher told him "Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody is stabbed in the back? Because I do".

While models aren't perfect, they can try to be internally consistent. And the less they deviate from our real-world experience, the less denial of plausibility we have to do.

EDIT: fixed a typo and unclear sentences
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