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Old January 17th, 2017, 01:47 AM
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TheDS TheDS is offline
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Default sources of abilities

Been doing some thinking lately about making a role-playing system (RPS) which can be powerful enough to allow for any kind of character in any kind of setting, but simple enough that you can make a character in 5 minutes with a modest amount of detail, and make use of a small number of selection points to do it with.

It occurred to me that there are three main things an RPS tells us about our characters:
1) What you can do (Abilities)
2) Why you can do it (Power sources)
3) Why you want to do it (Motivations)

(If you can think of something else it does, or something that invalidates this assumption, please enlighten me! But read on first.)

--Examples of what you can do--

Move boulders, move yourself from location to location, make breakfast for the party, make money, create fire, use fire against enemies, use fire to help friends, determine what someone else is thinking, rule a nation, transport resources from planet to planet, etc.

--Examples of why you can do it--

You are a human, you are strong, you are smart, you can convince other people to do it, you can use funky mind powers (psionics), you have magic, you have deities on your side, you are NOT a human, you have a car, you have a space ship, you were elected, you have a steamshovel, etc.

--Examples of why you want to do it--

It keeps you alive, it keeps someone you care about alive, it causes pain and suffering to someone you don't like, it agrees with your sense of order, it agrees with your sense of justice, it's worth money, it makes you feel good, it was there, etc.


The list of abilities is nearly endless. Abilities, and the abilities we can have access to, need limits, which is where sources of power come in. Power sources give us a basis for what we are allowed (or not allowed) to do. Motivations give us reasons to use (or not use) the abilities we have. Motivations are generally left in the background for most games, but in D&D and its ilk, Alignment is a fairly important set of limitations on why you would or would not want to do something, and in GURPS, Disadvantages do something similar.

So for that reason, I'm focusing on sources of Powers. Some of the sources of powers I've thought of include:

1) Innate/natural (abilities granted by nature/realism, eg physical strength, intelligence, charisma, skills, diplomacy, leadership, etc)
2) Supernatural (abilities granted by deities, personifications of natural powers (Gaia for Druids, Eternity, Death, etc), spiritual powers, evil/corruption, black magic, ghosts, undead, animal powers, unexplainable or irrational or impossible things, etc)
3) Magic (spells, artifacts of power, elementals and elemental magic, etc)
4) Super powers (radioactivity, alien physiology, "stretchy" physics, etc)
5) Mind powers (Psionics, indomitable will, rage powers, insanity powers, etc)
6) Science (devices (steamshovels, starships, calculators, torches, etc), industry, "indistinguishable from magic" tech, etc)

(Again, if you can think of others, or give me a good reason why one or more of these are not valid, or think of a better means of organizing, please enlighten me!)

So for example, let's say there's a boulder in your way.

- Natural/innate means of getting the boulder out of your way include applying your physical strength to move it, gathering together a bunch of people (people who are friends, those you've paid, those you've tricked, those you have power over) to move it, making use of levers to amplify your strength, or a number of other possible solutions.

- You might make use of supernatural means, such as calling upon a deity to move (or remove) it, or grant you the strength to move it, you might raise zombies to move it, call upon a weather goddess to smash it with lightning or an earth goddess to open a chasm and swallow it or a wood nymph to rapid-grow a tree to crack it, or tame an animal to carry you over it.

- You might make use of magic to cast any number of spells which could levitate it, smash it, turn it into an earth elemental, call up an elemental to move or smash it, turn it intangible, turn yourself intangible, teleport to the other side of it (or to your destination!), and so on.

- Super powers and Psionics offer roughly the same options as magic, but with slightly different means.

- Solutions based on science and superscience would include getting a steamshovel, a really big helicopter, making use of explosives, an anti-gravity device, a merchant spaceship might buy it and pick it up, a bunch of nanites might pick it up or break it down or bore a hole through it, you might have a means of teleporting past it, you might be wearing a power suit which can pick it up, and so on.

As you can see, there are a lot of potential ways to get the boulder out of your way! Any RPS has to decide which of these categories of powers are even usable - frex, a strictly realistic game would allow only innate/natural and science (sans superscience) powers, which still provides a considerable number of options. Traveller expands this to include some supersciences and some psionics. D&D and GURPS, depending on the source books you choose to use, may allow all of them, while still imposing some minor limits. After all, there are many different ways to view magic and the supernatural, to say nothing of far-futuristic technologies and alien technologies indistinguishable from magic.


Ok, so the above is more or less a good summary or starting point for what I've come up with so far. I've asked two questions so far, both about whether what I'm saying makes sense and if I have developed a sufficient organization for it.

The next step is to design the chargen system.

First, we need to know what power sources are available to us, and this depends on the genre or setting. Frex, Traveller, 2300, and Transhuman Space are all futuristic space fantasy games, but they all have significantly different assumptions about power sources and what those power sources make possible. So we pick our genre/setting in order to give us an idea of what power sources are available to us, and the limitations of those power sources.

Next, we are given a supply of points with which to buy our character's abilities (and other features). There are several options for how these points come about, from dice-rolling to GM assigning to a chargen-sequence minigame similar to Traveller. These points are used to purchase abilities. The abilities available will depend on genre/setting, but also theme. Frex, Megatraveller uses 18 different career paths, and D&D uses classes and levels, and GURPS just straight up uses character points and a long list of potential abilities.

Most RPGs give us a set of base stats which are used to derive certain abilities that everyone has. Frex a strength score which tells how much you can carry and how much damage you do if you punch someone. Then there is a set of skills which tell you how well you can perform certain tasks you're trained in. There are generally enough skills that you need an entire party to cover all the important ones. Then you have special abilities (like feats, advantages, powers/spells (with power levels) and possessions) of which there are usually so many to choose from that no party could possibly cover all the bases, and are often consumable (use it and you lose it) requiring a constant stream of effort to replace them.

But when you think about it, stats, derived stats, skills, feats, advantages, spells, powers, and items are all just different abilities, and each has a power source (most of which would be innate/natural or scientific, even in a fantasy game).

I guess ultimately I'm wondering, after I've set up whatever the system is for determining how many points we get, what themes do I need to design to in order to make interesting characters?Frex, as stated earlier, Traveller uses career paths, D&D uses classes. Not all of these things necessarily make sense, and having way too many choices of career/class really bogs you down, so I'd want maybe like a handful of basic "roles", each of which would allow a degree of customization so that you don't end up with a cookie-cutter feeling.

This, of course, gets me wondering about roles we play in the game. The fighters. The merchants. The spies. The providers. The combat support. The diplomats. The techies/magic men. The walking encyclopedias. The doctors/healers. Roles which typically transcend the genre/setting and character themes and are needed in virtually every game. What are those roles? What variations do they have? D&D4 started in this direction, but they only really looked at combat roles, while I'm looking more at roles which are filled in and out of combat. What roles can you think of which need to be filled? Frex, archers, swordsmen, spellcasters who throw fireballs, gunners, and fighter pilots all fit within the fighter role, but they all do their jobs differently and made use of different abilities and scientific equipment to do their job. What other roles do you see other than the 9 I just listed?

Ok, for a stream of consciousness, I think that's plenty to get your juices flowing. Remember, I can't promise there was a point to any of that, it's just kind of off the top of my head things I've been thinking about lately that I'm putting out there to maybe bounce a few ideas around with you. Thanks for enduring it this far.
Possessing a mind like a steel trap: very rusty and illegal in 37 states.
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