Fiddly to the Rescueby
We've examined some fiddly appearing in the granddaddy of role playing games, and showed how the State of the Art at the beginning possessed some solid engineering in a major area. This month we'll continue looking at old games and major areas, but show how the application of Fiddly can improve even the tried-and-true designs.
Our examination of D&D/AD&D showed the basic strength of using archetypes in guiding character generation. In a game that concentrates on larger-than-life heroes (which all PCs become in short order), archetypes work well. They work even better when supported by other major parts of the game design, and it is here where D&D slips.
D&D uses archetypes as one fashion with which to define characters. The system also uses a set of six characteristics with which to define characters. I find two problems with this. First, the larger-than-life, pulpy, four-color flavor of the game is not served as well with six characteristics as it would be with four. Next, the characteristics used don't work to support all of the archetypes equally. It is important for all parts of a system to work to support the same vision (well, at least for us persnickety folks.)
D&D uses four archetypes: a warrior, a rogue, a magician, and a priest. The clear area of strength of each can be described as follows: the warrior uses physical power; the rogue uses physical cunning; the magician requires intellectual learning; and the priest requires intuitive understanding. These general strengths should be supported by the characteristics.
To great extent they are. Fighters do tend to have high strength, thieves are usually dextrous, priests wise, and mages intelligent. The characteristics of Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom, and Intelligence reflect the strengths of the archetypes well. The system would be stronger if those were the only four characteristics used.
The addition the other two characteristics, particularly that of Constitution, weakens the design. There is no archetype that clearly uses Constitution as the defining strength, nor are any presented in the realm of Charisma (although I point to the bard as a possible candidate--but that's for another day.) The inclusion of two characteristics that fail to directly support an archetype is inelegant.
The inclusion of Constitution, a clearly physical characteristic, also serves to unbalance the design. Which archetype most is most clearly served by the Constitution characteristic? The warrior. Constitution plays directly into the warrior's focus of physical power. No other archetype is served as well as the warrior, and that serves to unbalance the design in favor of warriors.
Conversely, why isn't a characteristic for memory provided? Wouldn't this work to support magicians in the same fashion in which Constitution supports warriors? Why isn't Agility offered alongside Dexterity for those of truly nimble roguish bent?
Gettin' Fiddly Wit' It
Cleaning up the system can be done in straightforward fashion, however. There are a few options available and we'll examine the strongest.
First option: Offer the other archetypes each another supporting characteristic. This option doesn't retain the flavor of the system as presented. Using two characteristics for each archetype would remove the system from focusing on larger-than-life pulp-style characters and have it feel much grittier--something that would clash with the grand archetype scheme used. We'll not do this.
Second option: Offer two more archetypes to correspond with Constitution and Charisma. This is easily done in the case of charisma, but offering an archetype based on Constitution primarily strains the imagination (Falstaff--the beersman.) We'll not do this.
Third option: Remove the excess characteristics. Constitution and Charisma get chucked. This keeps with the grand archetype scheme already in place and keeps the level of grit the same. Each of the archetypes has a well-defined area of strength to draw on, without the siren song of a high Constitution distracting players. We'll run with this one.
This requires that the effects of Constitution be reflected elsewhere in the process. Constitution governs general hardiness of the character, so using Strength as a catch-all for this can work. Drop the bonus to hit points per level that Con provides; we can work a basic bonus structure of +1 per level for strong non-warriors (Strength over 12, say) and two or three for warriors (so the big, strong guy IS really tough.)
The resulting system has four grand archetypes, each with the support of a single characteristic. Warriors can be mighty, rogues tricky, magicians intelligent, and priests wise. The system, post-Fiddly, is stronger and more elegant than the original.
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All Fiddly Bits columns by Larry D. Hols
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