Author Topic: -Mastery-, A Minimalist TableTop RPG Ruleset  (Read 3405 times)

sparkletwist

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-Mastery-, A Minimalist TableTop RPG Ruleset
« Reply #15 on: September 07, 2007, 04:31:52 PM »
Quote from: Raelifin
Part of the fun, for me at least, is tactically devising ways to defeat my foes, and I feel that freeform doesn't give me the structure needed to do this consistently. I love freeform, don't get me wrong, I just think that there's a lot to be gained from GM heavy gaming.

Perhaps these two aren't exactly mutually exclusive (or maybe I'm not understanding your meaning) ... it seems like you can still have a game that is "GM heavy" but not "rules heavy." You could still, concievably, have a rather freeform-ish game, though with a GM, as long as the GM is able to be logical and consistent-- so the mileage any particular group gets may vary.

Anyway, I do like this set of rules, though, I'll agree with the opinion that it seems pretty exhaustive to be "minimalist." It seems to be elegant, though, and free of a lot of inconsistent garbage that plagues some rule sets and confuses players and GMs.

Matt Larkin (author)

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« Reply #16 on: September 07, 2007, 05:31:59 PM »
It's certainly minimalist compared to most systems.

From my perspective, as a GM, having rules for common circumstances and situations helps to be consistent. Even with a good a memory, you won't remember every call you make about how every situation affects the game without writing it down. If it's going to need to be written down anyway, it's nice to have it in the book in the first place.

Of course, it is possible to carry such things too far. Take the 3.x grappling rules, for example ;)
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Raelifin

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« Reply #17 on: September 07, 2007, 08:07:46 PM »
I remember once making a flowchart for grapples. Any PnP ruleset that needs a flowchart is BAD.

------------------------[quote sparkles 'n twists]Perhaps these two aren't exactly mutually exclusive (or maybe I'm not understanding your meaning) ... it seems like you can still have a game that is "GM heavy" but not "rules heavy." You could still, concievably, have a rather freeform-ish game, though with a GM, as long as the GM is able to be logical and consistent-- so the mileage any particular group gets may vary.[/quote]You're missing the point, I was discussing how game-like a system is. If I define a game as something than can be won (and usually lost), than it's up to the player to make a series of decisions to guide them to the goal. Tabletop roleplaying is not usually a "game" by my definition because it lacks a fixed goal and is thus "playing," but this doesn't mean it's unrelated, as most players build up personal goals to reach (even if it's something like "get to level 20). Freeform roleplaying is a great thing, and I enjoy it, but because it lacks fixed rules, there's no basis to form strategy.

Yes, it's true that with freeform gaming strategy and challenge take the form of real-world logic and developing creative solutions to sticky situations, but things are so loose most times that it's difficult to be consistently difficult. By applying a ruleset, each situation becomes grounded (more or less) by the numbers assigned. The shared knowledge of what works also helps players understand how to tackle confusing scenarios or to guide newbies toward more interesting and fun courses of play (such as "parry, disarm, trust!" rather than "uh, I attack him").

(There are, of course, clear downsides to rules, but that's another matter.)

Raelifin

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« Reply #18 on: July 15, 2008, 11:06:42 AM »
Well, on Sunday I played my first game of Mastery. Here are the highlights:

    We were thinking about playing freeform, like we sometimes do, but I suggested Mastery, in order to be able to gauge the outcome of actions a little bit more.

    * I was able to educate the group on the rules within a five minute period. Building characters and general setup took longer. This was the first time they had ever seen it.

    * My friend was GM! This was huge! How many game systems do you know where someone who heard about the rules 5 minutes ago feels confident running a game instead of the system's creator?

    * The game world was thrown together on the spot, and we decided to play a pseudo-Victorian time period. There was no need to tweak the rules.

    * There were two players (me and a friend), and we both ended up spending one triumph too many on character creation. The GM just gave us the extra point. Eat that, class-based games!

    * I played an inventor/rifleman, while my friend played a prepubescent sorceress (my character's niece). The magic system was fun, because we were given the ability to brainstorm how it worked.

    * The GM chose not to deal with combat as outlined, but instead simply as a "series of challenges" which in practice became more like d20, but hey, more power to him!

    * The GM added a rule for "luck" which I really liked: Both of us were given 6 luck points, and whenever we wanted to change the story, or make a challenge easier for our characters, the GM would assign a cost and we would burn our luck. Luck typically came back when we reached a haven or gained a triumph. (Magic worked the same way, where the sorceress had MP, which she could spend based on the difficulty of a "spell")

    * Throughout the course of the game, both players used every single skill and ability purchased. I never felt like I wasted points on "tracking" or "loyalty."

    * There were many instances where I could have used skills or abilities which I didn't have. I found that I really could have used a "wrestling" ability, but I think that's largely just because of the foes we faced (giant birds).

    * Triumphs make a wonderful exp mechanic. Whenever we beat a boss, or survived a really nasty situation or met a personal goal, we each got one triumph. For the entire 7-hour (aprox.) session, we received 3 points, but better yet was the feeling that we really earned them.

    * I think the best thing was that we never bogged down on rules. I challenged the GM several times on things like which trait he was assigning, but it was always person-to-person interaction rather than person-to-book boredom. I feel like we stayed more engaged and alert than with other systems, and were able to stay in character more.


As soon as I can, I'll be posting suggested errata based on my experiences, new optional rules like "luck" to make the system more fun, and additional options for combat and magic.

Raelifin

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« Reply #19 on: July 15, 2008, 03:08:29 PM »
Mastery, 2nd Edition

[ic Rulebook]The GM is always right.

[spoiler Characters]Each character has a number of traits, abilities, and skills.

Traits represent the raw talent or power your character possesses in a field.
Example traits might include cunning, intelligence, fortitude, or agility.
Normally, traits can be -2 through +4.

Abilities represent general skill-sets which the character has learned.
Example abilities might include martial arts, stealth, acrobatics, or magical lore.
Normally, abilities can be +1 through +4.

Skills are more specific than abilities, and represent specific prowesses.
Example skills might include tracking, lock-picking, feinting, or swimming.
Normally, skills can be +1 through +5.[/spoiler][spoiler Challenges]Before playing, pick a kind of dice to use (I prefer d6) and stick with that for the rest of the game.

All challenges are made by rolling dice and counting the number of results that equal or exceed a Target Number.
Target Numbers are based on the inherent difficulty of an action. Jumping across a small gap would be easy, while jumping across a large gap would be hard. Don't even bother rolling trivial challenges.

Target Numbers:
[th]Difficulty[/th][th]d6[/th][th]d10[/th][th]d20[/th][/tr]
[tr][td]Easy[/td][td]3[/td][td]4[/td][td]7[/td][/tr]
[tr][td]Normal[/td][td]4[/td][td]6[/td][td]11[/td][/tr]
[tr][td]Difficult[/td][td]5[/td][td]8[/td][td]15[/td][/tr]
[tr][td]Extreme[/td][td]6[/td][td]10[/td][td]19[/td][/tr]
[/table]
For any solo challenge, the GM will require a certain number of successes for the character to succeed in their action. In many instances (such as music or athletics), more successes indicate a more impressive performance.

When characters oppose one another, treat it as though both characters were performing solo challenges where the victor is the one with the most successes. In this circumstance, the degree of success is equal to the difference, rather than the absolute number of successes.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

A player rolls a number of dice for a challenge depending on their character's attributes and the circumstances of the challenge.

Each challenge uses a trait, chosen by the GM. The player then chooses one ability and one skill. If the GM decides that either are unfit for the test at hand, the player cannot use them (and may not change their choice). The player then rolls a number of dice equal to:

1 + trait + ability (if any) + skill (if any) + circumstance modifiers (if any)

Unless a challenge is impossible, all characters get one base die, which cannot be removed due to modifiers.

Circumstantial modifiers can include assistance from others, low visibility, weariness, magic, or distraction.[/spoiler][spoiler Character Creation and Advancement]Before the game can begin, the GM must provide a list of traits. These traits should optimally cover all character archetypes that players want to use.

All traits start out at +0. Each player has two points which can be spent increase a trait (+0 -> +1 or +1 -> +2). Traits may be reduced to -1 to gain an additional point. Normally, a trait cannot be increased above +2 or reduced below a -1.
If a player wants to play a specialist, however, they may opt to reduce a +0 to a -2 in order to increase a +2 trait to a +3. This specialization may only be done once.

Starting characters then gain 20 "triumphs" which they can use to buy up skills and abilities, described below. 20 triumphs is intended to represent a starting hero, and the GM is encouraged to allot more for creating "experienced" heroes.

"Triumphs" are the units used to keep track of character advancement. Whenever a player does something difficult and important, the GM is suggested to give them a triumph. When a character is in a situation where they have the opportunity to increase a trait, ability or skill, (such as when creating a character) they may burn triumphs to do so. The number of triumphs it takes to move from one number to another depends on what is being increased.
[th]Cost of increasing traits:[/th][/tr]
[tr][td] -2 -> -1 = 1[/td][/tr]
[tr][td] -1 -> +0 = 2[/td][/tr]
[tr][td] +0 -> +1 = 3[/td][/tr]
[tr][td] +1 -> +2 = 4[/td][/tr]
[tr][td] +2 -> +3 = 5[/td][/tr]
[tr][td] +3 -> +4 = 7[/td][/tr]
[/table]
[th]Cost of increasing abilities:[/th][/tr]
[tr][td] +0 -> +1 = 2 (Gaining a new ability)[/td][/tr]
[tr][td] +1 -> +2 = 3[/td][/tr]
[tr][td] +2 -> +3 = 4[/td][/tr]
[tr][td] +3 -> +4 = 6[/td][/tr]
[/table]
[th]Cost of increasing skills:[/th][/tr]
[tr][td] +0 -> +1 = 1 (Gaining a new skill)[/td][/tr]
[tr][td] +1 -> +2 = 2[/td][/tr]
[tr][td] +2 -> +3 = 2[/td][/tr]
[tr][td] +3 -> +4 = 4[/td][/tr]
[tr][td] +4 -> +5 = 6[/td][/tr]
[/table]If the task of learning is difficult (such as without a teacher) the GM may require a challenge to improve.

Characters start with whatever items or equipment are considered appropriate for the setting and the character. If in doubt, ask the GM.[/spoiler][spoiler Combat]Coming Soon[/spoiler][/ic]

Once I get the combat, etc. done, I'll be integrating this into the first post.

limetom

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« Reply #20 on: July 15, 2008, 03:54:40 PM »
I would first like to say that I love this system; if I had players, I'd use it tomorrow.

My only major concern is the distinction between abilities and skills.  To me, the distinction between the two is pretty arbitrary, and to have them not folded into one thing seems to go a little against the theme of minimalism.  That is, of course, unless I'm missing something important...

I was going to comment on traits as well, but I really can't come up with anything constructive, just that I think 10 traits is a little much.

Good work.

Raelifin

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« Reply #21 on: July 15, 2008, 04:48:48 PM »
Thanks.

The distinction between skills and abilities is primarily to distinguish between easy and difficult. I think that in a system where all "class" features are skills it is important for them to have different degrees of difficulty. It's not as perfectly minimalist as it might be, but I like the mechanic well enough to leave it be. If you have any suggestions, I'm open.

The new version removes the 10 fixed traits. Traits are now determined by each specific GM at the beginning of the game as a part of the setting.

Nomadic

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« Reply #22 on: July 15, 2008, 05:38:37 PM »
might I suggest changing Agility & Balance to Dexterity & Agility (at least I think that is what you were trying to get out here). Balancing skill actually falls under agility as agility is full body motion control while dexterity is fine movements (like crafting or aiming a bow, etc).

Raelifin

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« Reply #23 on: July 15, 2008, 05:43:05 PM »
[ic Combat]In addition to traits, abilities, skills and gear, characters have a number of health boxes which are an abstract representation of their physical condition. The number of health boxes a character has will depend on the style of game that the GM is running and the physical toughness of the character. GMs are encouraged to tie a trait, like "Health" or "Fortitude" to the number of Health Boxes a character receives (minimum 1). I suggest using a base of 10 boxes. Gritty games may go for 5 or even 3. When a character takes damage, mark off a number of health boxes. When the last one is marked, the character typically goes into a coma or dies, depending on the circumstances. A character's health should always be taken into account when determining the "circumstances" of a challenge.

Combat can also vary, depending on GM. Presented below are three ways that I suggest handling combat.
[spoiler Fearsome Challenges]Perhaps the simplest way to deal with combat is simply to make it a series of deadly challenges.

Imagine a group of explorers venturing through a forgotten tomb. They come upon a spike-laden pit trap. Jumping across the pit might take two successes against a difficult target number, with failure dealing 4 health boxes of damage, and the extra problem of getting out. Now imagine the explorers come across an ancient tomb guardian. The guardian is slow, and all the players can take actions before the guardian acts. When it does, it swings it's hammer at a single character, forcing a challenge to either block or move with failure meaning the victim takes 4 health boxes of damage. Under this system of combat, there is no difference between an environmental hazard and an intelligent opponent, except that opponents are generally deadlier and more adaptable.

This system allows the GM to avoid rolling dice, which lets them stay focused on the group. To determine the number of successes to dodge the attack of a humanoid opponent, just assume that they roll all average. That is, if they are looking for a "normal" target number, just make their degree of success = half their dice pool.

Using this system, determine if enemies act first, then take turns where the whole party acts in whatever order they want (though only within reason).[/spoiler][spoiler Single-Action Roundtable]Good for dueling, this system breaks combat down into a number of rounds, where each player takes a single action.

Each character, at the beginning of combat, performs a challenge to act first, comparing degrees of success. In the case of a tie, the character with the highest "agility" trait (or equivalent) acts first, or the GM simply decides. Each character then acts in turn, taking a single action. Typical actions involve directly attacking the opponent, or modifying circumstances to get more dice on a future attack.

Attacks are handled as contested challenges with the defender. Stunned or surprised characters cannot defend. If the attacker wins, he or she deals damage equal to their degree of success (plus any modifier from weapon or armor). If the defender wins, they gain a counter-attack advantage on their next turn of a single die.[/spoiler][spoiler Bloodbath]This system is good for games that favor violent, or unpredictable combat. In Bloodbath, all characters decide on their actions in secret and act simultaneously. The results of a round of combat depend on the nature of the actions involved.

Independent Non-Challenge: An example of this is two characters that run away from each other. No rolls are made, and both characters successfully withdraw.

Independent Challenge: An example of this is two characters that attack each other. Each character rolls a solo challenge to hit and deals their raw successes as damage to their opponent (plus any modifier from weapon or armor). This can mean that both characters kill each other, if they roll high enough.

Conflicting Challenge: An example of this is a character that attacks a defending or fleeing character. The action is made as an opposed challenge, where the victor is the only one to have their action take effect, and their degree of success is the difference between the rolls.

Asynchronous: An example of this is a character that attacks a character trying to focus on something. In instances where one action (like attacking) is unaffected by another action (like focusing), but not vice-versa, the action that is not effected works and the other is disrupted.

Bloodbath can become unwieldy in non-one-on-one situations, and favors power in numbers.[/spoiler][/ic]

Raelifin

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« Reply #24 on: July 15, 2008, 05:44:12 PM »
As I said to limetom: "Traits are now determined by each specific GM at the beginning of the game as a part of the setting."

You can do whatever you want with agility and dexterity. :)

Eladris

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« Reply #25 on: July 16, 2008, 10:29:31 AM »
I like the idea!  Your skill examples are pretty broad given your minimalist mindset, though.  Just looking at the list combat skills:
Quote
    * Lance, Flail, Blade, Axe, Spear, Hammer, of Staff Training
    * Fencing
    * Knife Fighting
    * Archery
    * Knife Throwing
    * A Martial Art
    *  Blocking
    * Parrying
    * Dodging
    * Feinting

* Archery Bows, crossbows
* Athletics Dodging, running, jumping, throwing, horse-back riding
* Melee Fencing, knife-fighting, martial arts, parrying, blocking
* Subterfuge Lying, feinting
[/list]
4 skills that can apply to a broader range of situations.  If you want to play the best flail wielder in the world the specifics could be served by a GM- or player-introduced bonus while using the flail or penalty while using non-flails.

Just a thought. :)  I mulled over several systems and created a few, but lacked interested players.    

Raelifin

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« Reply #26 on: July 16, 2008, 11:19:09 AM »
1. You've clumped together skills and abilities without discussing the ramifications of removing the distinction.

2. Abilities are exactly "skills that can apply to a broader range of situations."

3. None of my examples are actually part of the rules, and the complexity of the rules is not increased by having a large number of examples. To illustrate, lets say we're playing the game 20 Questions. This game can be played with just about any Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, but the game itself is very simple, despite being able to generate 1,000 examples off the top of one's head.

3a. Because there are no hard and fast rules on what skills or abilities are acceptable, feel free to reduce the options into condensed groups. Be aware that doing so will make your players stronger, as they won't have to spend as many points to get a wide-range of abilities.

4. Simplifying horseback riding into athletics actually makes playing the game more complex, as a player who wants to be a knight needs to explore new rules for being good at horseback riding, but not cartwheels.

snakefing

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« Reply #27 on: July 16, 2008, 12:10:36 PM »
Somehow lots of people have missed the point of skills vs. abilities, so I wanted to make sure I've got it right myself.

An ability should be applicable to broad categories of actions. This allows the character to achieve a certain level of basic competence across the board without getting bogged down in a dozen different skills.

A skill should be quite specific and apply to a fairly narrow category of actions. This allows the character to specialize in a specific area at lower cost than buying up the corresponding ability.

The only issue I have here is one that would best be answered by extended playtesting: Is the point cost (sorry, triumph cost) of an ability enough larger to make it worth buying skills? From your example, Stealth is an ability, and Hide or Camouflage is a skill. But it seems like you'd want to buy up Stealth to the max first, because it applies to pretty much anything Hide does, but also applies to situations that Hide doesn't.

Of course, you might reply that such min-maxing is antithetical to the whole concept of this system, and if people are going to do that, they should play a different game.
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Raelifin

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« Reply #28 on: July 16, 2008, 01:04:49 PM »
Thanks, you've brought up an important question, and one that I'm not sure about.

When playing, it's easier to notice the cost difference of a skill and an ability. I gained three triumphs in my session, which would be enough to buy one level in three new skills, two levels in one new skill, or one level in one new ability. Based on my experiences during that game, I'd want my character to either take one level in brawling (ability) or take several new skills (camping, leadership, climbing). I'm honestly not sure which would be "better," but it occurs to me that it depends heavily on what other skills or abilities the character has.

A rogue, for instance, might have an acrobatics ability at level 2. If the rogue wants to be better at acrobatics, they can either spend the 4 points to go up to level 3, or they can spend 3 points on a two-level skill, such as climbing. If they buy the skill, it's cheaper, and in some circumstances will grant more dice.

You may be right in thinking that abilities are superior. I'll keep my eye on it. At the very least I've fallen on the right side of the line, as I think having more well-rounded characters helps avoid weird inconsistencies.

snakefing

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« Reply #29 on: July 16, 2008, 01:29:28 PM »
Three observations:

What do you mean "in some circumstances [the skill] will grant more dice?" Unless I missed something, it seems to me that dice from abilities and skills are the same.

In most point buy games it really matters how points are doled out. If you get them in small bits, like three per session, there will be a fairly strong tendency to spend them now for an advantage, rather than save them for a six point buy later. So after five sessions, you'd have accumulated a number of one-, two-, and three- point buys. If I waited and gave you all fifteen points at the end, you'd probably spend them differently.

There is another factor at play here - to get maximally good at some particular thing, you'll eventually need both skills and abilities. Since you can't go higher than +4 in abilities, or +5 in skills, at some level it makes sense to buy both, at least for those skills that you are aiming to excel in. Just a question of what order you buy them in. (And how many dice is enough.)
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