Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The spaces between modifiers

The comments to the post about the rate at which stats scale got me thinking. The thrust of the comments was "what incentive do player's have to go above the minimum for any modifier?" and the recommendation was to use the stats as prerequisites.

The problem with prerequisites is that they tend to be a balance against access to powerful features. If your stat is high enough, you can take the powerful feature, and, as a result, are *extra* powerful. Not only do you have a super high stat related to this powerful feat, but you have this powerful feat as well which benefits from your super high stat. A double whammy that builds towards breaking the game.

Part of the problem is that when the player reaches that next modifier, they are greatly rewarded and compensated for the time until the mod increase. The real issue is making the incremental step not feel punitive. Maybe, all it takes is a modest bonus to say, "Here ya go, well done." Let's brainstorm some potential solutions. Each of these solutions would improve per point of ability score added. A second solution is to provide benefits for every point above 10 (although none of the benefits below make use of that stratagem).

  • Carrying capacity. If encumbrance were made fluid and simple enough that most groups didn't overlook it, the strength stat would remain important. To make encumbrance not overlooked, it'd also have to be less punitive than it is now.

  • Not sure. Everything I've come up with feels like it is probably too powerful.

  • Languages. Perhaps a more robust language system could be put in place that rewarded incremental investment in cunning. Characters receive points equal to their cunning and (unless they have an exceedingly low cunning) have to be fluent in at least one language.
    • Rank 1: I sort of understand it
    • Rank 2: I sort of speak it
    • Rank 3: I speak it
    • Rank 4: I speak it and read it/write it
    • Rank 5: I'm fluent (i.e. no accent)
    • (perhaps) Rank 6: I can mimic other native accents

  • Hit points. Vitality increases hit points at a 1:1 ratio. This also increases Bloodied.
So what additional mini-bonuses do you see? Is this enough? Does it miss the mark?


  1. Prerequisites
    There is potential for a double whammy if unchecked and not guarded against. However, there is also the potential for a lot of ways of controlling the system. I think there are a couple of things to guard against but there are also some benefits.

    1) In relation to powers/actions a key is to not make it a "hard" prerequisite but a "soft" one. You do not prevent access to the action but advanced powers/actions require either natural skill (the ability score) or they require training (the "skill" modifier). If a character does not have the natural skill, there is still a path to gaining a wanted power/action.

    2) Again using an economy of scale like you did with your points, you do exactly the same thing with the "restrictiveness" of your prerequisites. For example the majority of prerequisite ability scores are quite low. There are some that are higher and then much less at the top of the ability score prerequisite range. In other words the higher the ability score, the fewer bonus options you receive.

    3) You don't necessarily make those 19 ability score prerequisite powers/actions that powerful. For example, anyone can make opportunity attacks with a light weapon such as a dagger or club. Making opportunity attacks with a Double-Headed Greataxe however requires a modicum of skill or a damn good strength score. It is not that this power/action is super powerful (albeit somewhat impressive to be flinging around a greataxe like a toothpick), it is just that not everyone can do it.

    4) Perhaps most of all is that the system makes sense and it is a nice incentive/reward system. As long as it is carefully crafted and designed, it ensures a degree of fairness and the "feel" that you want.

    Carrying Capacity
    I don't mind accountancy stuff on a character sheet but there are many that cannot stand this. I've heard of visual methods that sound intriguing (although they do not relate to strength that well).

    I can envisage a list of slots on an adventurers body (turns into a single column "grid" on the character sheet). Some are so general and "light" that all adventurer's get them regardless of strength (Backpack; 8 fingers for rings; forearms; necklace etc.)

    However, then you have slots that can only be used by have a certain strength. For example Scabbard One is easy for most (STR 8). Scabbard Two requires more (STR 11) while Back Scabbard might be (STR 14). You then have a "box" underneath your body slot column-grid where you put things that won't fit into the column-grid either because you don't have room or you don't have the required strength. For each "thing" in this box, it contributes points to an encumbrance score. The size of this encumbrance score determines the penalties. An encumbrance score of 1 to 3 might mean a -1 penalty on all actions and a speed reduction; 4 to 5 might be a further loss of a "swift" action {this follows my system more so than yours but you get the idea} and increasing penalties.

    I think the trick of an encumbrance system is that it can be pre-calculated and that small changes have little effect. In the above, because most small items can go in a generic backpack, they will not affect encumbrance. Having to carry around an extra sword might.

    Best Regards
    Herremann the Wise

  2. Languages
    I like the idea that a character is "built" rather than chosen. Let's say a character is made up of a selection of feats. A Feat contains a lot of things such as an associated power/action, some sort of character feature, a number of hit points (and even occasionally an associated ability score increase but again that's another story). Feats are divided up into Race/Theme/"Source"/Class/"Special" {I use a different word to source and special but you get the gist) and of course background. It is your background feats that determine both the number of languages known and the literacy level with those languages. Learning new languages requires time, intelligence (or cunning) or both. I attach the acquisition of new languages to "theme" feats.

    Just a different perspective is all that may give you some ideas.

    Hit Points
    There is nothing in terms of game design that I am more passionate about than hit points/ physical damage/ and the restoration and healing of those things. Essentially, you need to separate physical damage (wounds) from hit points. Hit points in my view represent:
    - Skill
    - The capacity to take a knock and keep going
    - The capacity to turn a serious blow into a less serious one.
    - Divine providence
    - Inner strength and will
    - Luck
    - The ability to perform consistently at one's peak regardless.
    The more experienced a character, the more hit points they are likely to have.

    By separating physical damage from hit points; all the anomalies that have happened in EVERY single version of D&D go away.

    In terms of physical damage there are two limits. The deceased limit which is based primarily on race, size, strength and constitution (for you vitality) and thus does not change much at all. The incapacitated limit that is as much about a character's will to keep going as much as amount of physical damage received. This limit is a little more flexible. Imagine a novice wizard having a low incapacitated limit due to the fact that they are a ninny, compared to a high level fighter (Conan if you like), who's incapacitated limit is almost the same as their deceased limit. They are so tough that they will either keep going or they will be dead.

    Again, just some different thoughts for you.

    Best Regards
    Herremann the Wise

  3. Herremann-

    As always, the insights are greatly appreciated. I want to focus on your first point in your first comment because it seems to be a point you return to in a handful of comments. What I'm about to post is an abstraction and it doesn't work perfectly, but I think it is a platform capable of carrying our discussion.

    If you were to look at the sample Barbarian class I linked to in this thread (, are you basically recommending that I give stat requirements in addition to the Barbarian score requirements? (Again, I get that it isn't a direct comparison, but the gist of what you're implying).

    The result would be that more powerful abilities are achievable either via high stats or high character level, but they aren't necessarily more powerful despite which route is taken to get there.

    I think that is a really interesting route, but, honestly, I don't think I'm talented enough to design that level of balance into a game. So I'd either like (love) your recommendation for how that could be done (even a small sampling) or, if I'm mistaken, more clarity--because it sounds great.

  4. Disclaimer: I just woke up, so anything in this comment is likely to be nonsense.

    First of all, I agree that what Herremann mentioned sounds very interesting, if I understood it correctly. I think an example is the easiest for me:
    Initiate Grapple
    Requires: Barbarian class or Strength 17.

    So basically, the rules only allows the Barbarian class and high strength characters to initiate grapples. Is this close to what you meant Herremann?

    What I actually came here to post:
    I don't remember how you were going to do skills (similar to 4e I think?), but an option could be for the player to gain a +1 to a skill governed by the stat that was raised. Either on all levels (and the increased stat modifier is just gravy), or only when the stat modifier does not increase.
    Of course, this will create gaps in skill modifiers like we have seen in 4e, but I wanted to throw it out there.

    Another option would be to not have the "trained" system of 4e and simply give skill points when buying stats (like above), with the added restriction of a maximum number of skill points in one skill (this would be 5 in 4e's case).
    This is basically the point-buy system from 3e, but without getting skill points every level.

  5. In short... yes, sort of.


    Now this post is going to traipse across a few different topics but it is all relevant to your post above.

    You do not require talent, or at least any more than what you have already displayed and more than likely quite a bit less. You just need to make sure you have wiggle room in your mechanics. I mentioned levers before too. As long as you have enough fat in a particular mechanic, you have enough levers to switch up and down to get the balance reasonable if not entirely perfect. So my point is it does not require talent so much as an incredible amount of careful consistent work.

    For example, you and I have a similar idea of what a feat should be; a lot more to it than 4e and even 3e. In abstract, it represents a new or improved facet of a character. A character might have experienced something real tough and the character's player wishes to reflect this by making the character mechanically tougher by getting the "Toughness" feat.

    In 3e, the toughness feat was basically 3hp and that was it. In 4e it is 5hp per tier and in PF it is 1hp/level with a minimum of 3. Now while the following follows my system in relation to hit points/wounds, it should give you an idea of what I am talking about.

    Best Regards
    Herremann the Wise

    Prerequisites: Martial 3 and Constitution 15 {note again that like someone mentioned, you co-ordinate the number so it does not coincide with the modifier bump - the same as why ability score prerequisites in 3e/4e are always odd. Also note that in this case there is an "and" where as occasionally you will have an "or" between training/experience level and natural ability.}
    The character has recovered to good health from being incapacitated at least three times.
    [I also like the idea of having in-game prerequisites and in fact some of the "prestige" feats if you will have a certain in game experience as a hard prerequisite. With these feats there are a couple of patterns with the thrice-occurrence tick box the one used here. The player nominates that they are interested in a particular feat for their character and sets up a tracking box as suits.]
    Another typical prerequisite is of course another feat.

    Feature: The character's Deceased Limit increases by 3 (This is significant as a typical character's deceased limit is ranges in the 20 to 30 mark and it only rarely gets increased across an adventurer's entire lifetime.) The character's incapacitated limit also increases by 3 plus constitution modifier (maximum of deceased limit).

    Martial Exploit: A Toughness action that when a wound is taken, reduces the amount of damage by 2 or the character's constitution modifier whichever is higher (although it also costs a combat surge).

    Advanced Martial Exploit [8]: This is a further special action that is garnered when the character has achieved a particular level - in this case Martial 8.

    Hit Points: 5hp. This means that when this feat is required, the character gains 5 hit points. Every feat has a hit point value though! It is assumed that every feat assists in some way {see my hp list in the first post} even if it is only 1hp. I have 5hp at the top of the range at this point but that is assuming 10 levels like you, but a much more fattened range of feats at each level - I envisage a minimum of 5 feats at each level. The reason for this fattening is to a) reduce the numbers (as I said before, you want your best modifier to top out at +20 (or +22/+23 in the most extreme cases).

    Cost: Each feat has an XP cost. Effectively, it is the purchase price to acquire the feat and so some feats are more expensive than others. It should also be noted that a character does not get all their feats when they level; they only get their core feat and a racial feat if appropriate (short-lived races get racial feats at most of the ten levels. Long-lived races get less feats over the ten levels but their racial feats tend to be more significant. Also note, this means that since the Core and Racial feats are "free", their acquisition is determined as much by the DM/GM as the players. I think it important that meta-character advancement is set by the tempo of the campaign while regular character advancement is determined by XP gained and spent. Subtle and I most likely should explain further but best left for a different post.

    Feats may also have other features but the above are the standard ones common for all feats.

    What this means in terms of your last paragraph is that there are lots of things that can be tweaked up and down so as to make every feat feel like it is worth a standard amount. Importantly, the prerequisites are set, not so much to make a "powerful" feat exclusive (all the feats power-wise are hopefully even) so much as to ensure that it fits with the story of the character. Feats are earned and should always fit the character rather than as a menu for the optimizer.

    Does this make much sense? I've been sitting on these ideas for almost 6 years by the way, it's kind of weird to be discussing them with anyone aside from my group but heh... hopefully they get you thinking.

    Best Regards
    Herremann the Wise

  7. Herremann-

    That makes tons of sense. The example helped and I like the route you took a lot. I can tell that we have a lot of similar ideas or have decided similar things are issues in need of fixing and it is interesting to see a different route.

    I really like the pre-req idea and I can see a lot of usage out of it. I think it'd be harder under my system above because there are so many dead-attribute levels once you get towards higher modifiers.

    More importantly, though, I love the idea of the alt-requirements with the three check boxes. I think I'd only allow a character to pursue one alt-requirement at a time to input some measure of balance and make bookkeeping easier. So if Power Attack is "crit three times," toughness is "be knocked unconscious three times," and improved flank is "successfully attack while in flank three times" you couldn't check boxes on all three even if you had a really interesting combat.

    I'd probably further say that you can change which feat you are going after, but you'd lose any checks towards the other feat (i.e. have to start over later if you go back). Moreover, you can't begin a new alt-requirement until you took the feat from the old one. This way it is basically one alt-requirement/level and traditional requirements remain important.

  8. Neubert-

    So would the general idea be that you have a number of bonuses (max 5 to any skill) and you can assign stat points on a 1:1 relationship to skills of that stat? So a 17 dex character would have 17 points to divvy among Acrobatics, Stealth, and Thievery?

    I guess the quick issue is that you cap out pretty quick and right when dead zones start arriving you are already maxed.

    My current thoughts around skills are a bit different so it wouldn't work out, but it is an interesting proposal.

  9. That is the basic idea, yes, except that I thought you were starting stats at 10, so 17 dex would only yield 7 skill points (possibly less, if no skill points are gained when gaining an attribute point, but that makes the rules a little more fiddly).

    Even if starting all attributes at 0, one could still argue that going up to 10 is its own reward (removing negative modifiers), so no skill points are gained. This does remove the option of having a clumsy person being trained in Thievery (unless the player takes a "skill training" feat).
    I'll admit I haven't looked at how many skills you have linked to each attribute, but with an attribute of 30, the player would have 20 points to deal out (possibly 15 with the more fiddly rules).
    And the cap wouldn't have to be 5 of course.

    Anyhow, just wanted to throw my idea out there.

  10. Yeah, it is definitely a neat idea.

    With regards to stats, I really haven't settled on much. I like the idea I presented, but I'm not sure I love it enough to break convention. I wouldn't be starting all stats at 10, though. I'd probably just give a pool of points varying by style of gameplay (i.e. 50 gritty, 60 standard, 70 high). You could also, of course, roll.

    For skills I still want to do a more abstract skill system like presented with affinities. Veritomancer argued some great weaknesses of that system though, so I feel it needs more work. I'll get back to it eventually--zones got me distracted for quite a while!

  11. Real quick-- anyone have input with regards to dexterity? My only thought so far is that since I've change tactical movement from squares, there is no benchmark for overland movement. Overland travel would be the weakest of the sub-system stat powers, but then dexterity is still looking like a pretty powerful stat (increasing Reflex which is the new AC, range atk and dmg, initiative, powerful skills, and movement checks).

  12. [I tried to post this last night from home but explorer does not play well with your blog/ Google Chrome at work for the win.]

    Just another quick follow-on point regarding the XP cost of a feat and my love of mathematics. There are a couple of things that really stand out for me mathematically in terms of games from when I was a kid... a little bit weird I know but follow me for a bit and hopefully you'll see where I'm coming from.

    Firstly was monopoly and buying that 3rd house. The first two houses didn't really get you much but that third one is when the big dollars started coming in. The 4th and hotel were just gravy; it was getting to that 3rd house on your sets that let you know you'd made it.

    Secondly (and with slightly more relevance) are the XP tables from the AD&D book. When I saw them and how some classes levelled quickly; others ridiculously slowly and others dynamically changing across the level spectrum, it was just one of those mathematical moments for me. It mathematically differentiated the classes.

    In terms of XP costs for "Feats", this is where a similar dynamic should be introduced. This is where you can once again differentiate between the classes to really make each "class" its own thing rather than being homogenized lumps of approximately equal measure (to use one of my 4e class expressions). The key is making sure that playing a wizard isn't the most obvious thing to do. Make sure that playing a fighter is something the "spike" player can be satisfied and enthused with... to borrow a little MtG terminology.

    And so, not only do you have a dynamic where feats become more expensive as you go up in level; but you have slight variance of cost between classes but importantly not within a class at that level. You don't want feats to be better than other feats within a class. That's the secret to making it mathematically work.

    Dexterity can relate to so many physical endeavours and in terms of RPGs, they happen to always be the important ones (and sometimes the subtle ones too). For me, dexterity, reflexes, initiative, armor class and "combat maneuver defense" are all tied together. Perhaps the bonuses for dexterity can be tied to these other concepts for the modifier dead spots. Again I lean towards acquisition of feats that enhance these features because then you have some measure of designer control over it rather than as a flat linear pattern.

    Perhaps the thing to do is just accept that dexterity is just damn powerful. Alternatively, look at the approach I suggest on my latest post to your Ability Scaling blogpost. It might provide you with some inspiration in tackling the power of dexterity.

    Best Regards
    Herremann the Wise

  13. How about you just make things what a whole lot less complex and just make it so that the attribute=the modifier? As it stands, there is literally no reason why you should keep attributes as "well the number doesn't really do anything for you, you've got to subtract 10 and divide it by two in order to get the modifier, which is what you're going to use 98% of the time".

    That concept is literally one of the most unintuitive rules for people new to D&D and d20 games in general-if I had a penny for every time I've had to explain it I'd be a very rich man. So instead of adjusting the rules in increasingly fiddly directions in order to solve the problem, just eliminate the problem by eliminating the problem rule and replacing it with something easier and more elegant?

    Another thing to consider, both for this rule and others like it is this test: show the rule to a non-gaming relative, significant other, etc. Explain it to them in plain English (or whatever your language of choice is). If they say "what the hell?" then you might want to revisit the rule. Likewise, if a rule requires another rule to make up for it's problems and deficiencies then it's probably a rule that deserves to be scrapped.

  14. That has pretty obvious strengths and I agree with your litmus test. I think the change loses three things, two when compared against D&D and an additional when compared to the system presented above:
    (1) History. The 3-18, 3d6, whatever is dead if you move to straight modifier. Perhaps not a big deal, but with noting its loss.
    (2) Modifiers are important. By having modifiers derived from the stat, it opens up design space between modifiers. To a certain extent it is ironic that I'd list this as a strength since this post is about filling the dead-spots of abilities, but there are some neat things that can be done. It also lets people invest in stats and pursue rewards without the modifier too quickly ballooning too high.
    (3) Specific to this proposal, it makes the higher attribute modifier cost incrementally more. This reflects its utility in the game and will encourage more balanced characters with out a contrivance like MAD.

  15. I agree with Veritomancer, but forgot to post it earlier. Modifiers are all you need.

    To address your latest points in order:

    1)This whole project is based on the assumption that D&D's way of doing things can be improved. In other words, history isn't much of a reason to keep the status quo.

    2)You have sort of admitted that you are struggling to fill the dead spot, but argue that there are neat things that can be done with it. But that goes full circle because you only need those neat things because you have otherwise meaningless increments.

    3)Here's a system, with only modifiers, giving identical results to your Modifier/Minimum stat table in the previous post:
    "To increase a stat costs points equal to the new modifier plus one."

    That's my take on it, anyway.


  16. All great points and well taken.
    (3) Let's say we kept my example above with gaining a stat raise every level. Would you just record it +3.1, then +3.2, +3.3, +4, etc? Or did you have something else in mind?

  17. You would have 4 modifiers and a number of stat points that increases each level, not 4 modifiers and 4 progress counters as you have been suggesting.

    It's basically a stat-specific currency. You gain a stat point every level, you record the total you currently have, and you may spend any number at any level up, as long as you have enough for each purchase.

    Honestly, the +1 was contrived was to match the maths in the table in your other post. It might be better to just make the cost equal to the modifier you want to raise it to with minimum 1. It still has diminishing returns like you want.

    Say I have Str +0, Dex +1, Cun +2, Vit +3.
    I also have 3 stat points, perhaps left over from character generation.
    If I want to raise Vit to 4, it costs 4 points. I can't afford it at the moment, but if Vit is that important to me I can wait till next level and buy it anyway.
    What I could do instead is raise my Cun to 3.
    But then, for the same number of points, I could buy Str 1 and Dex 2.

    The reason I prefer this is that it is simple to understand because everyone understands how currency works, and it only requires you to record a single extra number.

    Does that explain it?


  18. John--
    I like it and that explains it perfectly.

    This is another one of those little things that make me really glad I made this site. That is the kind of idea that a new set of eyes thinks is super obvious but someone who has been waist deep in the system probably would never see. So thanks for it.

  19. I wish I could take credit for the idea. I actually have seen this mechanic used in other systems that take the point-buy approach instead of levels. That's why I'm confident it works.

    One caution though: The scheme will make remedial advances (i.e. negative or zero modifiers) all cost 1 point. If you plan to have rules (e.g. racial features) trade -1 modifier in one stat for +1 modifier in another, make sure the low remedial costs are taken into account.

    e.g. Stat default is -1, 9 points to spend at char creation. Assume Orc has racial modifiers +1 Str, -1 Cun; and Human has no racial modifiers.

    Situation A (buy stats then apply racial modifier):
    Raise Cun to 1 (costs 2 points). Raise Str to 3 (costs 7 points). Apply Orc racial modifiers. Result is Str+4, Cun+0. The same stats would have cost a Human 13 points instead of 9.

    Situation B (apply racial modifier then buy stats):
    Apply Orc racial modifiers: Str 0, Cun -2. Then buy stats: Cun 0 (costs 2 points), Str+3 (costs 6 points). 1 point is left over, and the cost to the Orc is identical to the cost to a Human.

    Neither of these situations is implicitly bad, but it's worth thinking about if you are going to have racial modifiers to stats.


  20. It seems like Situation B makes racial bonuses moot because the 1:1 tradeoff is, well, 1:1. In fact, the only time it matter would be if a character *wanted* a -2 ability to benefit elsewhere.

    Situation A is much more interesting. If we think about the Orc (+1 str), you are basically guaranteeing that any player who takes Orc will have at least a +2 str because otherwise they are gaining no benefit from their racial bonus (i.e. we are back in the 1:1 zone). This could be a good or bad thing as well.