Cinemechanix: Attribute Rules

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Friday, 18 January 2019 Written by Steve

After pondering things for a week, I’ve decided that the “Resolve” stat needs to go. In a game with no magic/psionics/supernatural weird stuff, it’s almost purely a dump stat, especially since I’d already decided that Strength would be used to resist stuff like poison and massive damage. It seems like the better plan is to roll the Resolve attribute into others. The purely physical stuff is resisted by Strength, attacks on the self (mind control and such) are resisted by Charisma, and something like Illusion that’s trying to trick you is resisted by Instinct. Of course “Strength” and “Charisma” no longer work as names. I think “Brawn” works well to mean “strong and solidly built” (and therefore resistant to physical damage). For Charisma, the leading contenders are currently Ego and Nerve. Also, I finally found the word I was looking for that’s better than Dexterity: Precision. That works for fine motor skills, aim, focus, attention to detail, and generally being good at doing stuff with your hands/tools. Using Brawn and Ego or Nerve also opens things up for less clinical-sounding names for the other attributes. In fact, changing Strength to Brawn practically requires changing Intelligence to Brain. So I might end up using different names for the attributes, but other than rolling Resolve into Brawn and Nerve (or Ego), the basic list is still the same: Brawn (Strength), Agility, Precision (Dexterity), Brains (Intelligence), Instincts, and Nerve or Ego (Charisma).

But how do they work? That’s the big question. My initial thought, which seemed right for a few weeks, was that it would make sense for the Attributes to be dice (d2, d4, etc) and that the Edges would be dice bonuses to that die (Instead of Hero Die). So, for example, if you had Agility d4 and Acrobatics of 2, the Acrobatics die would raise your Agility die to a d8 rather than increasing your Hero Die. If you made an Agility roll for something you didn’t have an Edge for, you’d just roll the d4. There were several problems with this method:

  • Since you’re still rolling your Hero Die and presumably the free d12, the typical number ranges go up by the average of the typical Attribute die, which may mean significantly higher roll range than I’ve been dealing with so far. That could cause other basic assumptions about the system to break down. 
  • Any attempt to remedy the above problem (for example, getting rid of the free d12) results in characters who don’t have good Attributes + Edge combos rolling dice that are too low. You’re either good at something or completely useless. 
  • Assigning a die type to Attribute means that you either need a minimum die or a special rule for characters who have, say 1 Edge, but that isn’t enough to give them a die rating in the Attribute (even if you bring back the d2).
  • Even if you bring back the d2 and make every point of Edge increase the Attribute die, you end up needing a lot more points worth of Edges for characters to have a significantly different Attribute numbers. It also devalues Edges and makes Attributes the most important stat (since you get a die bump for every Ege, but rarely get to add all the Edges, Attribute is the one that’s really changing your die rolls).
  • Attributes and Edges quickly overshadow Hero Factor for most games, which kind of breaks one of the core ideas of the game (Heroes don’t succeed because they’re the best, they succeed because they’re the heroes). 
  • It feels more complicated, even though if you compare it to the old system it really isn’t. 

More recently, I’ve thought of a possible solution, based in part from an observation from the Specializations experiment about the difference between a dice bonus (raises your die type) and a roll bonus (raises your roll). Under this system, the Attribute would bump up your Hero Die and the Edge would give you a roll bonus. So a Hero Factor 4 character with an Agility of 2 and an Acrobatics Edge of 2 would roll d12 (free die) +d8 (d4 Hero Die with two die bonuses for Agility) +2 (Acrobatics edge). This feels a lot better. 

  • Since the Hero Die is once again your base die instead of a random extra die you have to remember to roll, Hero Factor seems more important (even if the mathematical difference between having Attributes modify Hero Die and having a separate Attribute Die is relatively small; I haven’t done the math yet, so I’m not sure if that’s the case).  
  • Since each stat has a specific and unique role in the basic die mechanic, they feel more distinct. Hero Factor is your basis, Attributes increase that range, and Edges raise your final roll. 
  • Since all the operations are happening to a single die, building the roll seems simpler and more straightforward (even if it’s not). 
  • Since Attributes have a set die bonus that won’t change from roll to roll, you can do the die-bump math on the character sheet instead of having to figure it at the table. If you’ve got a Brawn of 2 and a Hero Die of d4, you roll a d12 + d8 for all Brawn rolls. The only thing to worry about the table are the straightforward roll bonuses for Edges. 
  • I believe that this kind of set-up will result in a system where skill trumps raw talent. A higher Attribute may give you a higher potential maximum, but a high Edge gives you a guaranteed increase across the board. So the brute with the high Strength (higher maximum roll but wider distribution of typical rolls) is basically throwing wild punches until he lands a lucky blow, while the trained fighter (higher typical roll) is steadily wearing down his opponent from one round to the next. I don’t know if “realism” is necessarily the right word, but this feels right. 
  • I think the roll ranges will land closer to the range I’ve been working with so far. They might be a little higher, but I don’t think the change will be as noticeable or potentially system-breaking as with the other system. 

Obviously I still need to do the fucking math to see if my feels are anywhere near statistical probability, but over the last however-damn-many years of re-writing and playtesting thing my instincts for how the numbers are going to work have improved greatly. Unless the numbers fail me, I think d12+ Hero Die + Die Modifier for Attributes + Roll Modifier for Edges is the way to go. Of course, that could all change between now and next week, so stay tuned! 



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Cinemechanix: Attribute Rules.
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