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The Travels of Mendes Pinto: Team Game

It's Time For Combat

by Sergio Mascarenhas
Jan 31,2003



If you are new to The Travels of Mendes Pinto (TToMP from now on), this is for you. Otherwise, just skip this intro.

TToMP is a role-playing gamebook design column. As the column unfolds in a roughly monthly base, I'll be designing the core gamebook for a new role-playing game aptly titled "The Travels of Mendes Pinto".

TToMP is a game set in 16th century Asia. The characters are Europeans (mainly Portuguese) that travel to Asia in the fleets sent by the King of Portugal.

TToMP is based on a 16th century book called "Peregrinacao" (in Portuguese), meaning Pilgrimage written by a Portuguese adventurer called Fernao Mendes Pinto that reached Asia in 1539 and lived there for the next two decades. In his book Mendes Pinto narrates his travels and adventures from Etiopia in Africa to Japan, and from Tartary to Indonesia.

When the gamebook is over, you will get the rules that will allow you to play an adventurer in the vein of Mendes Pinto.

Each month you will find a development in the gamebook design. This will be in a separate file that can be accessed through the links below. The column proper will provide my notes and comments on the design effort of the month.

I hope you enjoy being part of this journey.


I sent my last column to RPGnet in the first week of December, too late for it to go live early that month. That's why RPGnet only published it in the last day of 2002. My excuses for the delay.

In the present column I present the first draft of the Combat Section. Putting down the combat rules has been harder than I expected. I have the ideas but turning these into workable rules is not a piece of cake. What's more, it has been forcing me to review the basic mechanics so I'm also presenting with the present column the third draft of Section 4. I'll start with this. Finally, I present a third sample character contributed by Balbinus.


I introduced two major changes in Section 4 [DOC (136K) - PDF (112K)]: The introduction of commitment ranks separated and previous to performance; the streamlining of performance with the formalization of Performance Points in place of the previous Commitment Grades.

To start off, I gave up with Commitment Grades as described in the previous version of the mechanics. I turned these into Performance Points (PP) and placed it after the performance description. Their mechanical function is the same, meaning that PP are a way to measure how successful the character is in realising his intended behaviour. I just separated this mechanic from commitment and included it in performance.

On the other hand, I provided a function to Commitment that is independent of performance, yet conditions it. Now commitment corresponds to how willing the character is to pursue his aims. It requires a commitment roll (if the player is using random determination). Its output determines the cost in PP of the course of action chosen by the player.

The revised mechanics include the next steps:

1. Context. Factors independent of the character that will condition his action.

2. Aims. What he wants to achieve with his action.

3. Commitment. How committed the character is to fulfil his aims. It goes from Opposed to the action where he does not do it, to Totally Committed where he dedicates all his resources and attention to do it. Commitment affects the cost in PP of the line of action described in the performance step. It may require a roll.

4. Performance. The player describes the line of action of his character, his intended performance. Next he isolates its components and assigns PP to these (up to 10). Finally he makes a performance roll to see how much of the intended performance is turned into an actual performance.

5. Outcome. If the performance generates an independent result it may require the determination of an outcome. This happens whenever there are factors into the performance that fall outside of the control of the character. It may require an outcome roll.

Further to this I would like to explain how I designed some of the more important tables, more precisely the Commitment Determination table, the Actual Performance Determination table and the Outcome Determination table. In all cases I started with the average value one can get with different dice pools:

    1p                         3.85
    BD                         5.50
    1b                         7.15
    2b                         7.98
    3b                         8.47
    4b                         8.79
    5b                         9.02
    6b                         9.19
    7b                         9.32
    8b                         9.43
    9b                         9.51

a) The Commitment Determination table is like this:

(1) Commitment    (2) Random Roll     (3) Deliberate arbitration
  Total                9 -10                      >=5b
  Committed            7 - 8                    2b - 4b
  Ambivalent           5 - 6                    1p - 1b
  Reticent             3 - 4                    4p - 2p
  Opposed              1 - 2                      <=5p

The first column corresponds to the final commitment. As I mentioned above, it can go from total to opposed.

The second column corresponds to the value in a commitment roll in the case the player opts for random determination of commitment. Basically, the character identifies the factors that influence his commitment, applies these as modifiers to the Basic Die and rolls. The result is mapped into the first column to get the final commitment.

The third column corresponds to the balance of factors that affect commitment to be mapped into the final commitment if the player is opting for deliberate determination.

As you can see, there is not an exact match between deliberate arbitration in the rounding of the fractions of the average values that can be rolled with the different mods. This is a necessary adjustment necessary to work with a good spread of mods.

b) The Actual Performance Determination table is this:

(1) Modifiers       (2) Deliberate PP
      >=9b                  10
    5b - 8b                  9
    3b - 4b                  8
       2b                    7
       1b                    6
       0                     5
       1p                    4
       2p                    3
    3p - 4p                  2
    5p - 8p                  1
      >=9p                No action

The first column corresponds to the balance of factors (positive and negative) that affect the performance. The second column corresponds to the number of Performance Points that corresponds to that balance in the case of deliberate determination.

As always, the player has two options, either he goes random or he goes deliberate.

If he goes random, he just rolls a dice pool based on Basic Die plus modifiers. The result of the roll is the Performance points he has for the action. If he goes deliberate, has I've just said he just gets as much PPs as the ones that correspond to his balance of modifiers.

Once more, there is not an exact match between deliberate arbitration in the rounding of the fractions of the average values that can be rolled with the different mods and once more this is a necessary adjustment necessary to work with a good spread of mods.

c) The Outcome Determination table works like the Commitment table.


You can find with this column the first draft of Section 6., Combat [DOC (256K) - PDF (328K)]. As you can see, it is based on the basic mechanics presented in Section 4. Now, let me explain how I got at these rules.

As always in TToMP the departing point is Fernao Mendes Pinto's book. I am trying to design rules that reflect his work. If there is no support in the book to the rules, they should not be there. That's why you will find all those quotations of combat action taken from his book.

Second, I want rules that reflect a lot of variables that affect combat. Needless to say, these variables are mentioned in Mendes Pinto's book. I'm thinking about:

- Psychological factors;

- Different weapons, both offensive and defensive, and with several traits they require to be taken into consideration;

- Different manoeuvres;

- Damage;

- Circumstantial factors;

- etc.

Usually the more variables one attempts to incorporate the more complex the rules become. How can I handle all those variables without turning the game into a nightmare of factors to handle? Well, my answer is simple: Simplify in-game accounting; streamline and reduce dice rolls; don't forget about the mindset. Let's look at it one after the other.

From my point of view one of the things that leads to complex games is too much accounting to do in-game. By this I mean the number of things you have to record or compute while playing. If we have a lot of variables but these are computed into a reduced set of key values to use in the course of the game before playing actually starts, the course of play will be much simpler. For instance, the rules have provision for different types of damage from weapons that match different types of armour. It is recorded before the game. While playing you just need to find the right information (type of damage for the given weapon as compared to the armour carried).

Simplify values to those that are relevant. There are four types of damage and you don't need to make calculations on damage since these four types correspond to different qualitative effects. There are no hit points or equivalents.

Better still, don't use computations you can live without. For instance, in a pre-draft of this first draft I had a more complex combat positioning system where there were four weapon ranges and a player could attack at a different range from the optimal with a penalty. I realized it was too cumbersome. So I reduced the weapon ranges to 3 and you can only attack when the enemy is within the weapon range of your weapon.

There are three dice rolls: commitment, performance, outcome. They all use the same dice-pool convention - a convention that has been designed to reduce the number of dice needed to be rolled. And for each of these rolls there is always the alternative to pick a direct value, without the need to make a roll at all.

Don't forget about the mindset. Combat is driven by psychological factors more than anything. In fact, this is a main issue in Mendes Pinto's book. For a game to overlook this is to commit a major blunder: If you forget about those factors you usually end with psychopaths that fight to death. This means that combats take a lot more time than they should - and have a less varied set of possible outcomes (there's no surrender, no escape, only death).

TToMP works on the opposite assumption. Characters want to save their asses first and foremost. One of the sides will eventually give up, long before getting into the brink of death.

All in all, I hope to be in the path to get at a detailed system for combat that incorporates a lot of variables but that is still highly playable and enjoyable. In any case, I may break up the current rules into separate sub-sections for standard and advanced.


Thanks to Balbinus, I have a third sample character this month [DOC (52K) - PDF (60K)]. His name is Rodrigo Vasques and I hope you enjoy it. As you can see, the character sheet comes with the extended description and with the character development notes from my interchange of emails with Balbinus [DOC (56K) - PDF (40K)].




- DOC (48K)
- PDF (16K)

- DOC (224K)
- PDF (272K)

Fast play

Character creation
- DOC (196K)
- PDF (128K)

The basics of action or the action resolution system
- DOC (136K)
- PDF (112K)

Descriptors and activities

- DOC (256K)
- PDF (328K)



Character advancement and development



- DOC (44K)
- PDF (32K)

Fernao Mendes Pinto 
- DOC (44K)
- PDF (40K)
Alvaro Pires
- DOC (52K)
- PDF (48K)
Rodrigo Vasques
- DOC (52K)
- PDF (60K)
(notes on R. Vasques)
- DOC (56K)
- PDF (40K)

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All The Travels of Mendes Pinto columns by Sergio Mascarenhas

  • Not Dead Yet by Sergio Mascarenhas, 18jul03
  • Still Struggling With Section 4 by Sergio Mascarenhas, 07mar03
  • It's Time For Combat by Sergio Mascarenhas, 31jan03
  • The Criminal Always Comes Back to the Scene of the Crim by Sergio Mascarenhas, 31dec02
  • Tahahahahime Is On My Sahide! Yes It Isn't! by Sergio Mascarenhas, 07nov02
  • Character Creation for Dummies by Sergio Mascarenhas, 08aug02
  • Thus Do We Start by Sergio Mascarenhas, 01jul02
  • Can You Give Us a Descriptor of the Subject? (Part II) February 21, 2002
  • Can You Give Us a Descriptor of the Subject? (Part I) December 6, 2001
  • Time for a Hiatus October 23, 2001
  • System as Language September 27, 2001
  • Don't Forget the Damn Index! August 30, 2001
  • R-O-L-E-P-L-A-Y-I-N-G  G-A-M-E  C-O-R-E  R-U-L-E-B-O-O-K.&nb\ sp; UFF! July 26, 2001
  • Who is this Mendes Pinto, Anyway? June 28, 2001
  • Once Upon A Time ... (How It All Started) April 25, 2001

    All Ruleslawyer For Free columns by Sergio Mascarenhas

  • Experience: From Fiction to Roleplaying Games September 11, 2000
  • The Applied Experience Curve Concept June 26, 2000
  • Experience Curves May 30, 2000
  • Trait Curves March 28, 2000
  • A Change of Course November 28, 1999
  • Spotlight on Alternacy, A Roleplaying System October 26, 1999
  • Introduction September 21, 1999

    Other columns at RPGnet

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