Master Mines

We’re digging RPGs

Schedules, Attributes and Damage

I’m back. Sorry for the delay, but with a sick family, trying to get our game ready to announce, and playing with my new iPhone, I got lazy on the game design. That’s the Schedules bit.

When I originally came up with the idea to unify a character’s traits into resources, I wanted to avoid numbers (like skill ranks and especially like attributes). This was to help me explore the use of more nebulous mechanics. I’ve come back to the idea of attributes however (in fact it was in the last 15 minutes), though not as they are usually seen. My attributes also serve as broad classifications for resources, and together they form the game’s core mechanic. I currently have 4 of them: Mental, Physical, Self and Socioeconomic (need a shorter word for this one).

Mental resources are trained skills, experience, etc. that can be called upon in appropriate situations to your advantage. Physical resources are physical skills (athletics, sports, dancing, etc.) and feats. Self resources are related to self-esteem, confidence, willpower and self-definition. Socioeconomic resources (the most common ones) involve equipment, finances and connections throughout the galaxy.

The core mechanic involves a dice pool of any even-sided die. Even numbers are successes, odd numbers are failures (or Ubiquity dice for optimized rolls). The dice pool size is the attribute rating plus the resource rating. The number of successes rolled must meet or exceed a target difficulty.

Now the Damage part. Human Events is not about survival. I’m going for a pulp feel, and as we all know, pulp is not about whether or not the hero survives or even succeeds. It’s about how he does it. Will Indiana Jones find the Holy Grail? Of course he will, but what happens along the way and what happens when he finds it? Will Luke Skywalker escape the Emperor’s clutches? Of course he will, but can he redeem his father and stop the emperor in time to save his friends?

The inspiration for the damage mechanic in Human Events comes from Chad Underkoffler’s Prose Descriptive Qualities System. In that system, when you fail in a conflict, your quality ratings go down. I like this idea, though the PDQ system allows the damaged quality to be chosen in such a way that it doesn’t relate to the conflict itself, and this works well for the fast-play nature of that system.

In Human Events, a character’s resources define him completely, so when a resource is used, that resource is at risk in that situation. Some resources may be automatically damaged by their use (finances depleted by a large purchase, for example), some can be temporarily strained (using a black market source too often may spook the contact), and some may be one-time resources (calling in a favor on a contact). Generally, though, a story situation can cause a resource to become damaged. Even an attribute can become damaged, affecting all the resources in its class.

The trick I’m working on now is how to use this concept of resource damage:

  1. as a means of conflict resolution,
  2. without trivializing the character’s peril, and
  3. without trivializing the success/failure mechanic in the shadow of narrative control.

October 24, 2007 - Posted by | Human Events


  1. I’m curious how we as players know what things “will happen.” Is that explicitly defined at some point?

    (Sorry if this is a little off-topic, but you seem to have a good grasp of what needs to happen on the resource front.)

    Comment by ptevis | October 24, 2007 | Reply

  2. Wow, I think you have severely overestimated my skills here. These concepts are still fairly nebulous in my mind.

    Though thinking about your question has sparked an interesting kind of synergy. I’m going to take a concept from NGHB: Risking passions.

    What I’m thinking is that every resource (up front) provides a tiered benefits. So being wealthy means that I generally don’t have to go without food or shelter (automatic success) and can use conspicuous consumption as a tool (drawing attention, etc., requiring a roll), but I can risk that resource to make a major purchase or use my wealth in some other way (causing damage to that resource). These benefits can be decided up front, but not so specifically that the resource becomes restricted in its uses.

    Though this doesn’t cover the cases where resources become damaged by outside influence (failure in a conflict).

    Comment by btaggart | October 24, 2007 | Reply

  3. Stop Thief!!! 🙂

    Actually, mechanically I think we are writing very similar games. I was thinking about conflict resolution in my game yesterday and it sounds pretty much exactly what you are writing.

    I’m thinking about ways to create dramatic tension without the game being left to dice. I am acutally thinking about having most rolls be “You want this, fine. Roll to determine how well you succeed.” The only time this would change is in contested rolls in which case there is a winner/loser.

    Comment by commondialog | October 25, 2007 | Reply

  4. I don’t understand the difference between mental and physical. You say mental resources are trained skills, experiences, etc that can be called on in appropriate situations for that resource. How is this different from Dancing or Sports? Those are trained skills that I call on in appropriate situations.

    Secondly, I’m curious by what you gain from dividing things this way. I believe every bit of complexity should have some form of gain, the rule is there for a purpose. It seems you could just define resources as something you call on in appropriate situations, and do away with the mental, physical, self, stuff (socio-economic *grins*) division.

    What do you think the benefit is of dividing this way? Is it because you feel this is a good model, aka the game physics we discussed before? Is it a hold over from most every other game written that divides the body from the mind? Something else entirely?

    I think before we can try to move on to those other things we need to understand the division first, or maybe that’s just my damage.

    Comment by iamclyde | October 29, 2007 | Reply

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