Monday, October 28, 2013

Horrors: Attributes & Derived Statistics

Roleplaying games are interesting creatures. While you can most assuredly play any kind of game using any kind of system, there's no doubt that certain systems lend themselves more readily to different genres and play styles. This means that a good developer needs to ensure that the whole system supports the type of game chosen in order to assist the Game Master with running it. This means that any fiction, mechanics, examples and, ideally, even pictures should all be tightly focused on the type of game concerned.

I've certainly found the difficulties inherent in doing this while determining the skills and, to a lesser extent, the attributes involved in the game.

My attributes include the tried and tested: Strength (physical might), Agility (dexterity and physical precision), Resilience (capacity to withstand injuries, toxins), Perception (sensory information and interpretation), Charisma (persuasion and charm) and Intelligence (knowledge and mental processing power). I've also added two others that aren't so common. Intuition (subconscious mind, psychic resistance and Extra Sensory Perception) and Tenacity (conscious will and ability to continue despite adversity).

Now attributes are still a bit tricky. They all need to be useful so that none of them become the automatic 'dump stat' which rarely comes up no matter the character concept. You also want to keep from privileging one stat above all others. Tenacity was that privileged stat for me for awhile but I've wrangled it down. They also need to be broader than skills and not just because attributes are something we all have a little bit of while skills are things we can be clueless about. It's nice to be able to make a range of pairings beyond the usual Charisma + Deception range, if you get my drift. Okay, sure, the pairing range isn't necessary in a game but I kind of like it.

I'm also including Derived Statistics which is where a particular aspect of the character is defined by their attributes. In some cases this is easy to define. My health points are based off doubling your Resilience + 3 for the battered range and then equal to your Tenacity for the Misery and the Critical health range. The latter two both include rather simple blood loss mechanics but that's a subject of another post.

Resilience represents how much damage your character can take before things start going wrong. Tenacity represents how much damage your character can take while their body is in a whole lot of pain before you pass out or are otherwise incapacitated.

Some derived statistics are a little trickier to determine.

Just look at Initiative.

I could justify Initiative in several ways:

Perception + Intelligence (ability to see and interpret the threat before anybody else) Perception + Intuition (snap decisions based off subconscious processing of visual / auditory data) Perception + Agility (ability to interpret sensory information and then physically react to it) Intuition + Agility (subconscious aware of danger before it hits coupled with speed of physical reaction)

The tricky is to determine which derived statistics make the most sense in the context of the game.

At present I have:

Intuition + Agility. Intuition represents your ability to realise what is about to happen so that you can react accordingly and Agility represents your ability to actually respond to such threats. This allows for situations where the Game Master suddenly declares that everyone should roll Initiative before describing the danger in front of them. In a game of exploding bombs, sudden assaults in the black out, and imperceptible temperature drops that herald the approach of *something*, this makes a lot of sense to me.

Is this the only derived statistic possible?


But at present it works for me.

What do you guys think?


  1. I've only just thought of it but i think initiative should include experience also. Veterans are likely to react earlier - a kind of learned intuition is this context.

    In a level-based game you could simply add the level to the stat score in some form. I'm not sure how you'd do that in a skill-based game. I've been reading Warhammer 40K RPG stuff recently and that is skills but they also have careers with ranks which could be used the same as levels.

    Now you've made me think of it in Cthulhu i'd be inclined to keep a tally of "adventures" i.e. each completed adventure adds a bonus to initiative. Each character could have a starting value based on their assumed previous experience of surviving high-stress life threatening situations e.g. an ex-cop might start with a starting adventure score of 3, a journalist 1, an ex-gangster 4, an academic 0 etc.

    Thinking about it i'd almost be inclined to make your intuition score a mixture of that - previous experience of life-threatening situations - mixed with latent or actual supernatural abilities plus maybe an intelligence bonus etc.

    Something like:


    Base Value = Number of Adventures (past career + game life)

    Agility Bonus
    7- = 0
    8-9 = 1
    10-12 = 2
    13-14 = 3
    15-16 = 4
    17 = 5
    18 = 6

    Intelligence Bonus
    13+ = 1
    15+ = 2
    17 = 3
    18 = 4

    Minor 6th Sense +3
    Major 6th Sense +6
    Guardian Spirit = +1 for each rank (max 6)
    Azathoth's Eyes (Spell or Enchanted Item) = +2

    I like stuff that could lead a player suggesting campaign hooks themselves like asking after getting repeatedly punched first by a 60 year old shaman "how can i get one of these guardian spirits?"

    1. That's a pretty nifty Initiative mechanic. Not sure how it would work in my Horrors game as I'm trying to keep the math simplified and the game is geared toward a more fluid style of campaigns rather than discrete adventures (more on gearing later) but I am now tempted to do something similar in Call of Cthulhu.

      That game is all about that kinda panic and fear and giving the players the initiative gives them more time to at least have one action before they flee or die. Tee hee....

      I could introduce occupational perks that provide Initiative benefits. Thus far I've just incorporate some pre-Initiative stuff for Bomb Disposal Units and Army soldiers. More on that later, as well. It's simpler than it sounds.

    2. From what you've said of the mechanics so far, I'd be inclined to keep it fairly loose and maybe apply background case-by-case to whatever situation you're throwing at them. So soldiers might react faster to signs of hostility, a police officer to suspicious behaviour, someone with a more social bent might pick up really fast on things people say (or don't say) and so have a moment's warning that things are about to go bad, a miner or construction worker is very good at not getting buried in collapses...

    3. Good guess, Shimmin Beg. You're actually spot on there. Bomb Disposal Squads get to roll Intuition + Perception to get a single action before a bomb goes off as they suddenly get a baaaad feeling.

      Soldiers may always choose to hit the deck to avoid an explosion to reduce damage by 1d4, no matter where their initiative currently stands. They end up either prone or right behind cover, depending on where they sit. They can also choose to throw themselves onto someone else, knocking them prone and helping reduce damage a bit for them instead.

    4. Victory!

      Ahem. That sounds like a very nice touch.

    5. "Soldiers may always choose to hit the deck to avoid an explosion"

      neat idea

  2. "Not sure how it would work in my Horrors game as I'm trying to keep the math simplified"

    Yes i agree about all the numbers. That's the trouble when you try to think of everything that *might* influence it you end up with huge lists that end up killing the flow. I'm currently thinking of having a simple and full system for all the combat stuff so fights with boss npcs can use the full system with an ultra simple system for all the standard fights.

    I really want some character classes that completely revolve around the whole spirit thing and one idea i particularly like is that of a newbie warrior with a summoned ancestor warrior spirit whispering in his ear:
    "step left!!!
    "left dammit!"
    "he's feinting - step back!"
    "parry right!"
    "are you ****ing deaf i said right!"
    "are you sure you weren't adopted?"

    Trouble is once you have initiative modifiers for things like that then you feel you should have a list for all of them.


    "and the game is geared toward a more fluid style of campaigns rather than discrete adventures"

    Yes. Although another way i'm toying with - on the assumption that "experience" in this sense has diminishing returns - is that a character rolls for experience after each seriously life-threatening incident. I'd imagine an average person in that kind of context would either snap early on or rapidly improve to a semi-veteran level and then slowly progress after that - so for example say it started at 0 and went up to 12 and increased on a 2d6 roll above its current level after each such incident.


    "That game is all about that kinda panic and fear and giving the players the initiative gives them more time to at least have one action before they flee or die. Tee hee...."

    Yes, exactly. It gives them another opportunity to run away before the tentacle storm arrives and they become food for space-crabs.

  3. "Now attributes are still a bit tricky. They all need to be useful so that none of them become the automatic 'dump stat' which rarely comes up no matter the character concept."

    Something I've been wondering about with this problem is when i have my list of attributes but they're not all equally useful or at least some of them are the kind of stat which could conceivably be a dump stat in the way charisma often was in D&D and other "social" type stats often are then instead of having them as an attribute have them as a trait choice instead.

    For example a choice of "social" or "aloof" traits where aloof gets a bonus to something straightforwardly min-maxy like combat - on the basis that they practice more and go out drinking less - while the social trait would be the prerequisite for all the social type skills so a character that wanted to do all the charm, fast talk, barter type stuff would pick that trait and unlock all those skills while other players could ignore it completely.

    On the main question though yes - derived skills and abilities help to get round the problem of attributes that don't do anything.