Thursday, January 13, 2011

Homebrew '82: Using the Ability Scores

Over the next few months, I'll be making some posts that describe various pieces of the Homebrew '82 RPG. The main goal is to convey what differentiates this set of rules from the dozens (hundreds?) of other variants out there. In other words, why should RPG fans bother to look at yet another new set of rules for their favorite pastime?

My starting point was the 1st edition of AD&D, with simplifications inspired by the scope of the 1977 "Basic Set" by J. Eric Holmes. In these blog posts, I'll assume the reader has basic knowledge of these rules, so I can get right to the things that are different. (The full Homebrew '82 rules will be more complete, I assure you.)

Okay, the first thing that's often done when sitting down to play is for the players to create their characters. I'm sticking with the classic 6 ability scores, generated randomly. In D&D, some of the scores don't matter too much at the time of character creation, and are sometimes called "dump stats." I wanted each score to have more teeth, so that players won't be able to handily dismiss any of them without consequences. Here's what I'm thinking about for each one:

Strength: Gives bonuses to damage done with melee weapons. Affects maximum encumbrance. Determines what "weight class" of weapons and armor can be used. (A low-strength character can TRY to use a two-handed sword, or wear plate armor, but there will be penalties...)

Intelligence: Determines the maximum spell level that a magic-user will ever be able to use. Also determines number of other languages known and PC's ability to read/write.

Wisdom: Determines the maximum "miracle" level that a cleric will ever be able to use. Also determines how many random quirks/flaws of personality the PC has. A low wisdom means multiple rolls on the quirk/flaw table, and you're stuck with what you get. Medium wisdom means just one or two rolls, and you keep only one of your choice. High wisdom means one or more rolls, and you can choose whether you keep any or none. Nonetheless, the quirks/flaws aren't linked to any specific game mechanics and can be acted out any way the player wants.

Dexterity: Standard modifiers to AC and missile to-hit. Only high-dexterity PCs can fight while mounted on a horse, or fight with one weapon in each hand. Only DEX > 9 characters can use a shield in melee.

Constitution: Will be used a lot later as basis for saving throws. Standard modifiers to hp/level. Also determines minimum number of hours of sleep needed per night, with penalties to many actions being incurred if the PC is habitually sleep-deprived. Also affects total number of spell/miracle points per day that a magic-user or cleric can access. (Violating the laws of physics is taxing!)

Charisma: Standard modifiers for hirelings and reaction rolls. Determines the number of useful "contacts" the PC has in their home town (inspired by trollsmyth). Also, since PCs are starting their adventuring "life" mid-course, they've lived with the benefits (or penalties) of their charisma for many years. Thus, charisma determines starting money -- essentially 3d6 x CHA gp.

The other main use of the 6 ability scores is in performing ability checks. I like the so-called Xd6, or ESDVAN system, discussed online recently in the blogosphere (e.g., here and here) but also used in older games such as The Fantasy Trip, 4th edition Traveller, and I Cavalieri del Tempio. The nice thing about it is that it doesn't require look-up tables. Just roll a handful of d6 and it's a success if the total is less than or equal to the ability score in question. How many d6? It depends on the difficulty of the task:

2d6: Easy
3d6: Standard
4d6: Difficult
5d6: Very Difficult
6d6: Arduous
7d6: Nigh-Impossible
8d6: Hopeless
9d6: Ridiculous

The last two are probably hardly ever used! :)

Saving throws are just constitution ability checks. Thief/rogue abilities use this system, too, but for their "specialty skills" they use a modified DEX-like ability score that starts high at level 1 and increases one point with each new experience level. This way, non-thief characters can attempt to scale walls, hide in shadows, pick pockets, etc., but these tasks are usually "Very Difficult" at least. Non-thieves just use their plain, unmodified DEX, and thus have a very low probability of success. Thieves use their higher SAS (specialist ability score) and their probabilities of success scale similarly to the percentages in the classic D&D rules.


  1. Neat!

    As a suggestion for the "contacts" thing, if you know the game is going to involve a lot of traveling far from home base, you might allow players to keep a few "contacts" in their back pocket, that they can pull out later as needed, to mimic the Indiana Jones effect of having friends all over the world.

  2. Thanks, trollsmyth! I like the vibe that generates. (Thanks also for breaking the ice with the first comment on this blog!) :)

  3. Instead of using 3d6 X Charisma for starting gold, I humbly submit that there is another 3d6 mechanic that could be used instead: Wisdom X Charisma.

    That both are often treated as a dump stat, makes using them together to determine starting resources is full of irony, and has the bonus of making sense: Your charisma may influence how successful your dealings with people are, but your wisdom will determine how wisely you spend and save.

    1. Great point, Nate! I'm hoping to finish up these rules this year, and I'll keep this in mind.