Saturday, January 31, 2015

Plotting a Meta-System for some Core-Rules (LSotN design post)

I wanted to be somewhere else right now. Like talking about how combat will work in Lost Songs of the Nibelungs, for instance. Alas, I looked at my reference sheet after I had been occupied by other things for a few days and was like: "WTF ... ?!". Not that there is much wrong with it, but (I guess) it just didn't help me getting right back into it. Or I just, as the proverb goes, didn't see the forest because of all the trees overtime can do that to a brain ...).

Anyhow I needed something a good friend of mine described as "a meta-system for the core rules". Here you'll see me (finally!) getting somewhere solid with this. As in: the core mechanisms seem to work!

This post sums up my efforts so far. I'm serious, LSotN is happening ...

And it really is like building a car

The more I weasel my way into this, the more I believe that analogy fits describing the process: I feel like someone building his own car from scratch. It's not even about getting it done, it's also about getting there.

Funny story right there about my grandfather, who really went and build a boat from scratch. Took him months. I saw pictures of it and it was a thing of beauty. In my eyes, anyway. He was proud of it, too. So much, in fact, that he even invited friends and the press to the launch in the harbor. Everyone had been very excited, I've been told. They even had a little ceremony.

Well, that boat sunk right then and there.

True story. Sure, it must have been an embarrassing situation (and entertaining, really) but my grandfather took it with the right attitude and humor. Didn't stop him getting back on doing the next project, too. Because, as I stated above, getting there is as important as the thing itself. Maybe even more so.

Anyway, that's what I'm doing here and I must say, I'm having a good time fiddling with the rules, finding out what is where and why.

Where to start with writing a complete system?

This is, of course, a really subjective matter and depends hugely on what floats your boat [ha!] as it mostly is about what one wants to achieve. For me it's as much about understanding D&D as it is about finding out if I'm able to transfer this understanding into my very own D&D Frankenclone. One proves the other, so to say.

It's not so much about taking what's already there and re-labeling it, but about making informed decisions to get to a concise variant of the game. A game (but that should go without saying) I'd really like to play myself.

Over the course of the last few weeks I kept looking for a perfect point of entry and collected ideas. Some of it I wrote, some of it is still on scattered notes all over my place. To bundle all of this (or as much as possible) in a way that allows me to build upon, I need to outline what I got on a meta-level to make sure I didn't miss something crucial. Here is another attempt (and the one I will expand on in the future):

Start with "Quality". Circles define the function,
squares elaborate on that.
How it works

There are, just like the attributes in D&D, 6 qualities (Muscle, Finesse, Grit, Wits, Nerve and Wyrd). Those qualities are divided in two categories (terms might change): Physical (Muscle, Finesse, Grit) and Mystical (Wits, Nerve, Wyrd). For each of them 3d6 are rolled to define them (again, just like D&D).

The results of these rolls have several functions true for all qualities:

(1) The sum of the 3d6 constitutes the main value of a quality (check value). Instead of being a fixed number, it is considered a pool or potential of a quality and might either be actively drained by the player or suffer from damage from external sources (could be anything from straining a muscle to the character being victim of some intrigues).

(2) To see how a quality reacts to damage, the 3d6 need to be separated even further. So the three results (A, B, C) are grouped as A (Lowest Die) and B + C. B + C constitute the drain a quality can get without any other effect than resulting in a low check value. Below that it's either a save to avoid permanent scars (A) or permanent damage to the main value (below zero).

(3) To compensate the changing nature of the qualities, a second interpretation of A, B and C helps formulating some fixed values that correspond with the original value but also allow for constants that are needed for several sub-systems called "defences" (yeah, British English here, might change that ...). (B + C) provide those constants. This has two benefits. For one, the target numbers are lower and in fact work in a way that allows the use of a d20 for task resolution. the second benefit is that the average result of "roll 3d6, drop lowest" is 8 or 9 (8,5) instead of the 7 for just rolling 2d6, which, again, is far more suitable for the use of a d20 in the game.


A roll for Muscle comes up with 3, 4 and 6. The main value (pool relates to a character's endurance) is 13 (3/10). The "defence" value (10) is a character's ability to use excessive force without harming oneself (like bashing doors in D&D and I'm aware that "defence" is not quite the right word for that, for now it's for the lack of a better term ...).

All the qualities and their defences:

  • Muscle (pool: Endurance - defence: save vs. harm when using excessive force)
  • Finesse (pool: Speed - defence: base armor class)
  • Grit (pool: hp-buffer - defence: save vs. paralyzing pain)
  • Wits (pool: Sanity/mana-buffer - defence: save vs. magic)
  • Nerve (pool: Patience/Concentration - defence: save vs. provocation)
  • Wyrd (pool: Fate - defence: base reputation)

Permanent damage on qualities as result of the narrative

Every permanent damage a quality receives is always somehow connected to the narrative. If, for instance, a characters Wits is damaged below zero, it not only reduces the main value, but also produces a drawback directly connected to the event that caused it. The defence for Wits being Sanity, it most likely will be, depending on the severity of the damage, a quirk or mental illness related to similar situations happening in the future (nervous ticks, etc.). Damage on Wyrd could result in ill repute, to give another example.

This way a character will, with time, collect an assortment of scars and disadvantages that tell a story and give a character more depth. System and narrative have a strong connection.

Check difficulty with Endurance, Skills and Echo

To do the changing character of quality values some justice, the difficulties of tasks will be oriented on a range of a  3d6 average (10) plus d20 for easy tasks (higher difficulties for more difficult tasks, etc.). Skills will be fixed bonuses on specific tasks and are added to the result, allowing a higher possibility of success. The active use of Endurance will allow a player to bridge the result of an unsuccessful check to the difficulty.

This way it's for the player to decide if his character is "not making it" or if he's willing to deplete a resource (Endurance) to make something happen. Bad luck with the dice does not necessarily mean failure, but is a threat to the resources a character has.

Furthermore there is the use of an "echo" rule, allowing for an additional roll with the next lower die if the initial die shows his maximum result (hierarchy: d20, d12, d10, d8, d6, d4). The beauty of it is that it allows a slighter higher base difficulty, while leaving room for exceptional successes every now and then.

Character advancement and qualities

The last two aspects connected with the qualities are related to character advancement. One is the player's decision for core qualities, the other are Fractional Quality Points. With the core qualities LSotN becomes a hybrid between class-based games and classless games. Since all class-related abilities in D&D are connected to abilities one way or another, it's easy enough to associate them with qualities to begin with (those will be called "traits") and let the player decide which development his character should make level by level with the points he gets to buy those traits.

So with every new level a player gets 1 core point to distribute among his qualities (those core points are basically the bonuses a character gets in D&D for high ability scores, they also work pretty much the same way) and trait points equal to the new level to buy traits in the qualities he focused on (Grit might give more hit points, Wits might buy a character the ability to cast magic, stuff like that). For humans there will be one leading core quality (primary core), other core qualities he chose and those he decided not to choose ...

Specifics will follow (and are partially already established in older posts ...). For now it's just important to point out that a steady development of qualities is not connected to how high a main value is, but with how the player chose his focus. Sure, a higher pool is a benefit, but it's not that a character with a set of low qualities is doomed to be stupid or weak or whatever. It's just a low pool, how this pool is to be managed is for the player to decide.

Fractional Quality Points are just a little system that allows a steady (if partial) growth of all qualities. Primary core qualities will grow the fastest, core qualities after that and normal qualities will be pretty slow, all things considered. But echo applies here, so a few lucky rolls can go a long way in this.

There is more, but not today

What I described above is the core system of Lost Songs of the Nibelungs as I have it right now. All following sub-systems will be somehow connected to how the qualities work. There are lots of fiddly bits and especially combat will be quite the challenge, but I'm up to it. I won't promise when to do what (a mistake I make far to often ...), but instead say all this will happen in the next few weeks. I hope this managed to give a good impression what happened this month in developing LSotN.

Ideas and questions are very welcome, of course. Feel free to share your thoughts!


  1. I like the general idea of the breakdown dased on original die rolls. It provides for a wider range of characters with the same die rolls. mediocre and bad scores are an across the board set of hinderances and a high score doesn't seem to stretch results in favor of the high roller too much.

    1. Thanks! That's exactly what I'm trying to do here. Handling qualities like point pools and having a second line of "fixed" values that approach an average of 8.5 for the 2d6 sub-set should work favorable (I hope) and encourage playing characters 3d6 straight without feeling a disadvantage too much. Everybody should have reason and possibility to develop his character how he sees fit. Combat is going to be harder nut to crack (which I bring up because I try to apply some of the same logic ...). We'll see if it holds up in testing :)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.


Recent developments made it necessary to moderate posts again. Sorry about that, folks.