Character Oriented Systems and Statistics
One completely novel concept that comes from the RPG Fate, is what they call the “Fate Fractal” or the “Bronze Rule”. The Fate fractal states that “Everything that can be described in play can be modeled as a Fate Character. Want to introduce an Earthquake? Make the Earthquake a character. Want to set a house on Fire, make the Fire a character.
Fred Hicks outlined this concepts pretty well in a series of blog posts on the Fate RPG website, though Fate Core Rulebook didn’t delve into the concept as thoroughly as it could. One of the best and easiest to understand illustration of this concept is a post called It’s On Fire!.
While the concept of Character Oriented Systems can be applies to other systems (it’s really a modeling paradigm), Fate is particularly adepts at doing so.
For example, we could model a Fire as a D&D monster, we give it special abilities like “Spread”, and “Burn”, and we give it some physical attributes, etc… however, it is a best a painful process. With Fate there is actually little effort in Characterizing anything in play. You simply define what it does, and go.
So what is it about Fate that allows Character Oriented System so readily? If you are familiar with Fate you might be inclined to say Aspects, but I’m here to tell you it’s not aspects. What makes it work is that Fate “Skills” are a single set of stats that defines what a character does. Fate without Aspects would work almost as well for Characterizing Anything.
The flexibility to a certain extend comes from not nesting abstractions. In other systems the Skill List is dependent on other things, and there are lots of derived stats. In Fate you simply need a Set of Skills, Aspects, and a Stress Track and you have something that can be modeled as a Character in Play.
Where do we go from here
The easiest way to ensure that the system will support modeling in this way is to keep the mechanics flat. Rather than Attributes and Skills, we’ll just have “Abilities”. What is an ability? An Ability is a move, or set of moves, your character can take. Previously I described the things an attribute can represent, namely:
- How much you do (Damage)
- How likely you are to do it (Attack)
- How well you avoid things (Defense)
- How much you can take (Soak)
If we assume that those are the four basic uses of a skill, we can then define things in terms of those. A door might have two abilities “Solidness”, and “Lock”… perhaps depending we might also want things like “Airtightness”. Now a door doesn’t “act”, so the first two ability uses are not relevant. However the “Solidness” clearly has a soak function, and the “Lock” clearly has a defense function as well as possibly a soak function.
Similarly we could define a fire as having the following Abilities “Burn”, “Spread”, and “Smoke”. In this case “Spread” clearly has an Attack function, “Burn” has all four, so does “Smoke”.
To be clear, I’m not trying to completely replicate what Fate is doing. Skills in Fate are abstract and based upon overcoming narrative challenges. In this case I’m looking instead to actually model things. The fact that Abilities are expressible in terms of Standard Deviations means that I can likely use a system like this and still have the crunchy modeling I’m looking for.
To be entirely honest, losing attributes comes with a certain amount of sadness. Let’s face it Attributes are fun! Their utility in Dungeons & Dragons is actually considerably smaller than most other statistics, yet players focus heavily on them because they directly reflect narrative characterization. Ridding ourselves of Attributes disrupts the concise characterization. Fate handles this by using Aspects, and while I like Aspects, I’m not yet convinced they are right for Living Myth.
However, there is still going to be need for other characteristic than just Abilities. In additions to Feats/Powers or whatever we’re going to call them, there is also a need for measuring the Timing Mechanic using physical and mental “Action Points” or whatever we’re going to call them. We’ll also need to track physical and mental “health” and “conditions”. These could be their own thing, or they could be derived from abilities.
So, unless I figure out a compelling reason not to, all character actions will be modeled by a flat set of Abilities. I haven’t yet figured out whether to have them be simple scores, or instead break them into components (the four Attribute Things). Finally, there will probably be some sort of system for specializing with regard to a given ability, though it’s not entirely obvious how that will work either.
What do you think needs to be included in a character?