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A science fantasy RPG inspired by Dune and Jodorowsky's Metabarons
A science fantasy RPG inspired by Dune and Jodorowsky's Metabarons
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Mechanics Update #1 - Characteristics and Skills

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This is the first in a series of updates where we will be discussing and explaining the game mechanics of our Shrike Roleplaying System and how they apply to Emissary, along with any unique mechanics and features of the setting. This first update will focus on the core characteristics and stats of a Player Character in Emissary, as well as how they are able to use these to interact with the game world through the use of skills. Future updates will cover topics such as damage and injury, Emissary powers, equipment and augments, and vehicles.

In the Shrike Roleplaying System, a character has eight primary characteristics, three physical, three mental and two social. These are strength, dexterity, endurance, composure, intelligence, awareness, presence and charisma respectively. Movement speed and resistances (such as willpower and toughness) are further derived from these. For a baseline character, characteristics will take a value between 1 and 5, though equipment, augments, power or other bonuses may allow this range to be exceeded.

Developer note: Originally we experimented with a smaller number of primary characteristics, but found that dexterity would often be dominant. By creating the awareness characteristic and splitting off some of the skills, traits and uses of the original dexterity into this new characteristic, we were able to create a better balance between them.

In Emissary, the characteristics of a starting character all begin at 2 and a player is given 10 points to distribute amongst them as they want. Increasing a characteristic by 1 costs 1 point, except that going from 4 to 5 requires an additional point for a total of 2. Racial modifiers are applied after this step, allowing some Emissary characters to potentially begin the game with a score of 6 in one of their characteristics. Races may also grant access to unique racial abilities or a number of traits (similar to Merits in World of Darkness or Feats in d20) chosen from a list that is only available during character creation.

Developer note: One of our main reasons for adopting the 1 to 5 range was that we wanted any increase in characteristic to provide a clear and immediate benefit to the character, something which also informed our choice of dice. When all else is equal, a character with a higher characteristic should perform better at a relevant task in a statistically significant way. This also applies to skills.

Each characteristic also has an associated block of skills and an associated list of traits. Similarly to characteristics, skills are rated from a rank of 0 to 5. In Emissary, all skills start at 0 and a beginning character is given 48 points to distribute between them. As with characteristics, increasing a skill rank costs 1 point, except that going from 4 to 5 requires an additional point for a total of 2. For each skill that is raised to a rank of 4, the character may choose to gain a trait with the matching characteristic. For each skill that is raised to a rank of 5, the character gains access to the mastery bonus of a trait with the matching characteristic. The mastery bonus of a trait is effectively a more powerful version of that trait, or a unique Emissary specific ability.

The primary way for a character to interact with the world or another character is through the use of a skill check. To perform a skill check, the character must first select an appropriate skill for the task they are attempting. They roll 2d10 and add their skill ranks and associated characteristic score to the result of this roll. The total result is compared to a Target Result and the character succeeds at their action if they match or better this result. The target for a task of average difficulty (defined as a task that an untrained character should succeed just under half of the time) is 14. Any circumstances which would make the task more difficult increase the target by 2, while any which would make it easier decrease the target by 2. Examples of common tasks and circumstance modifiers are provided for every skill.

Developer note: The skill check system we ended up with is fairly easy to explain and should be immediately familiar to anyone who has played Traveller or d20. However, a lot of careful thought, statistical analysis and playtesting went into it. Originally we trialled using 3d6, 2d10 and 1d20 as the random component of the skill check. Each of these produces a quite different distribution of results. For example, 1d20 produces a flat distribution, with a result of 1, 10 or 20 all being equally likely. We wanted to avoid this situation, as it would have meant that the result of the dice roll was relatively more important than the modifiers being added to it and larger modifiers would be needed to produce more significant results. 3d6 was attractive as it produces something approximating a bell curve, with very low and very high results being less likely. Ultimately 2d10 (which produces a triangular distribution) turned out to be the best compromise after analysis and playtesting.

We also wanted a system where it would be easy even for an inexperienced GM to assign a skill target to tasks or situation on the fly, without having to have an extensive background of experience from which to call on when selecting an appropriate value. The circumstance modifier system has been effective at doing this in testing, whilst also reducing the amount of book-checking that needs to be done by a GM who is still learning the system.

An automatic success is achieved whenever a character rolls double evens on the 2d10 roll, if the total also surpasses the required target then it becomes a critical success. Similarly, the skill check is automatically failed if double odds are rolled, with it becoming a critical failure if the result also fails to match or exceed the required target.

Developer note: This gives the chance of automatic success and failure fixed values of 5% (the same as rolling a natural 1 or 20 in d20), whilst also making it more likely that a skilled character will critically succeed and an unskilled character will critically fail.

Each section of the rulebook also ends with several examples of play, demonstrating the mechanics introduced in that chapter and framing them within the context of a story about the Emissary, Idra Kane, and his companions (who are also all provided as pre-gen characters for new players). One of these examples (out of three found in the Skills chapter) is provided below:

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Slow Days

Fa Shenhui walks through the doorway into the common room of the ship and dumps two massive piles of paperwork onto the table Idra is sitting at.

“You can at least try to make yourself useful and help us out with this,” she says. “We're trying to find evidence of fraud or embezzlement in the local branch of the Church of the Economicon, I have a hunch that they're the ones funding the terrorists we've been dealing with.”

Idra looks down at the piles of paperwork with something resembling confusion or possibly disgust, then looks up at Fa. “Ok. What am I actually supposed to do though? Read all this?”

Fa sighs and rubs her fingers against her temple, as if they've been through all this before. “Basically you need to cross-reference their financial records and look for things that... ok, look, more basically. You know how much a multikogan costs on the black market, right?”

“Sure, about a hundred and fifty thousand credits, in local currency,” Idra replies cautiously, like he's not quite sure where this is going.

“Then you're looking for desks, lamps or office stationary in their expense claims that cost as much as a multikogan, get it?”

Unfortunately for Idra, doing something like this requires the academics skill, which he doesn't have. Starting from a base TR of 14, we need to consider how many circumstance penalties apply. In this case, its information outside his specialist field (he has none), he's untrained in the skill, the contradictions aren't obvious and he's looking for something specific. Four circumstance penalties means that the TR for this check is 22. Idra rolls 2d10 (4,3) and adds only his intelligence (2), as he has no skill ranks in academics, for a total of 9. Predictably, he fails.

An hour later, Fa bursts back into the room and looks over at Idra.

“Er, hey Fa. Look, I don't think I'm going to find what you're looking for here.”

“Oh, forget about that! I found a new lead. You ready to kick some doors in?”

“I have never been more ready.”

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We also have an update on some of the art being made for the Vehicles chapter, with this Light Infantry Mech by Tan Ho Sim:

brant eckett, John W Raney, and 2 more people like this update.

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