Gaming Steampunk TTRPG

Dev Diaries – All About The Numbers

Now I have settled on the attributes in my steampunk system, I am now thinking about how players will use them.

At the end of the day, I want this to be a D20 system, with most player actions requiring a roll to meet or exceed a target number.

I’m fond of Paizo’s approach to this, where the ‘raw’ roll is augmented by a number of modifiers (positive and negative) that gives the end result.

To this end, I’m making the numerical values of my attributes range from -2 to +3, and have those as the ‘attribute modifier’ that players will use when they make an appropriate roll.

This leads me to think of the other types of modifiers that will exist in the system. Current thinking is along these lines:

  • Skill modifiers – situation-relevant modifiers based on the action and the character’s ‘level’ in the appropriate skill
  • Enhancement modifiers – ones that apply to rolls based on ‘enhancements’ that the characters have chosen once they gain experience
  • Gear modifiers – modifiers based on the type of weapon, equipment or gadget being used
  • Fleeting modifiers – ones granted by temporary effects (which could be tactical positioning in combat, bonuses granted by use of magic/weird science, etc)
  • Deck modifiers – more on this later, but these would be the modifiers granted by characters playing ‘tricks’ from their deck of cards

So, spitballing a hypothetical example of a character with a +1 in Dexterity, skilled in small firearms, using a precision pistol and benefitting from an ‘eyes of the hawk’ aether enhancement, a possible stacking modifier could be +4 to their ‘raw’ D20 roll. Against a target of 12 (say), this gives them close to a 60% chance of success.

So that would be a gun-savvy character. Imagining one at the opposite end of the spectrum (a bookish scientist, for example) attempting the same ranged combat style roll. They may have a -1 in Dexterity, be unskilled in small firearms, have a run-of-the-mill flintlock pistol and not be enjoying any enhancements from the aether. If they try to shoot their pistol against a target of 12, they would have a -1 modifier to their roll (or possibly -2, depending on how I end up implementing skills), giving them roughly a 30-40% chance of success.

Without having done the math or the probability curve analysis, that feels about right at this stage.

Starting out

With all of that in mind, I want the system to allow for character growth and development. I also want characters to start off relatively similar in abilities, with their choice of profession giving them active bonuses and abilities. Every character will also be human, meaning I don’t have to model any tricky ancestral bonuses or differences or the like.

As mentioned above, I want attributes to live in the -2 to +3 range. Anything lower feels punitive, anything higher feels overpowered (especially when stacked with skill, gear and other modifiers).

So, leaving characters with room to grow, I am considering having the allocation of starting character attributes to be simple. Very simple:

You start with 0 in all attributes (Fortitude, Dexterity, Wits and Charisma). You can choose one attribute and set it to +1.
You may set one other attribute to +1. If you choose to do this, you must set another attribute to -1.

What does this mean in practice? I hope what it means is that will allow players to quickly choose an archetype (the strong one, the quick one, the smart one, etc) and move on to the next step of character creation.

It also allows a little bit more tweaking. A character who is good (+1) at Fortitude and Dexterity must either be a little slow-witted (Wits -1) or less charismatic (Charisma -1). Or a smart ‘face’ type character with +1 in Wits and Charisma must choose to be a little less strong (Fortitude – 1) or quick (Dexterity -1) as a consequence.

Experience and weird science enhancements that players discover or earn will allow these starting values to change (up and down), but for now it feels like it strikes the balance between simple and flexible that I’m aiming for with character creation, and the system as a whole.

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