Friday, March 23, 2012

The Intrepid Score and Ability Modifiers

From last I spoke I was extolling the virtues of the Intrepid Score.  A seventh stat that allowed hero's to save their bacon from time to time without being an infallible safety net, my take on the oft reviled hero points of many a system.  This time I want to come back to Ability Modifiers and how the Intrepid Score may have solved my problem with Ability Score Inflation.

As I mentioned previously, Ability Mods and the eternal pining for great numbers and thus greater advantages has caused the ability scores of players characters to systemically increase through edition changes.  Essentially, by only allowing high scores to have a crucial advantage (an ability modifier) it makes the players desire a higher score.  The problem is exaggerated when the highest ability score generates the biggest advantage that sometimes dwarfs the lower scores in comparison.  Later edition tried to low the bar to entry by having modifiers starting at 12 and increase linearly, although the math behind the game was geared for this so that even a +2 or +3 modifier was either necessary (expected in the case of 4e Math on skill challenges) or not simply not good enough.  It also meant you would be seeing a lot more 14's and a lot less arbitrary low scores and odd numbers.

A lot of the fun I had in my youth was playing a character that had an arbitrary low stat that had no obvious penalty (negative ability mod).  He may not have been the brightest or most sociable but he wasn't actively penalized for it and that's where a lot of the fun and early roleplaying (for me) came from.  Playing a guy that wasn't all that great but no so pitiably inept he couldn't accomplish much of anything because he ended up on the wrong side of the bell curve.  I wanted ability modifiers to be a nice oomph but certainly no where near necessary.

When I was designing the specifics for the Intrepid Score I had an epiphany on how to handle ability mods.  In the past I was currently using Ability Score/3, there were no penalties and modifiers ranged from 2-6.  Not bad but not perfect.  Here is what I propose using the Intrepid Score.

After you have determined your Intrepid Score you may assign those dice {the nomenclature of intrepid points will likely be changed to intrepid dice to avoid in text confusion} to your primary ability scores.  For each die assigned to an ability score it receives a commensurate modifier.  So if a player assigns three dice to their Perception they have a Perception modifier of three; anytime their Perception is used to influence a roll of the dice they add three to the roll.  The dice assigned are not meant to represent inherent qualities but instead the effort the character is putting towards those aspects.  A character may be lacking in wits but the dice assigned to his Perception merely represents that he is consciously taking the time to examine and be wary, which he would not be otherwise.  The maximum dice assigned to an ability score cannot exceed one third the ability score (round to the nearest integer).  It should also be noted the rule of three still applies so no matter how many dice you have assigned you may only benefit from 3 of those dice, meaning no modifier may exceed three.

As you may have already surmised there doesn't seem to be a reason to allocate more than three dice to any one stat, if you can only benefit from three of those dice.  Here are a few ideas I had as to why you want to go above three.  First, you can have it so that you may only add Intrepid Dice (bonus dice added to your standard 3d6) to Perception if you already have those dice assigned to Perception as ability modifiers.  In this way you may want 5 dice assigned that way you can comfortably burn off two of them and retain your modifier of three.  The problem with this approach is that you may have some players that dump all or most of their Intrepid Score into one stat.  That may not necessarily be a bad thing in a party of specialists, but could potentially break down the game system.

Another approach is that unassigned dice, dice in your Intrepid Score and not assigned as an ability modifier may be used for die rolls that do not have a relevant ability associated with them; Hit Points, Damage, and Initiative fall under this category.  I've actually been considering having any dice assigned as an ability modifier to return to the Intrepid Score when used but I'll have to investigate that further.  The last approach was that dice assigned to an ability score could be used to attempt a combat maneuver associated with that ability score such as trip, disarm, wrestling, etc.  There are a lot of ways to explore this particular flaw and I'll likely devote a post to it later.

In the meantime here are a few other issues I jotted down in my notes that became apparent in playtesting.
  • An Ability modifier of +1 to +3 simply isn't enough when you are attempting to exceed target numbers of 16 and higher on 3d6 routinely. 
    • This is counterproductive since I do not want modifiers to be intrinsically necessary so the fundamentally elegant math may have to be revised.
      • Another point of contention is that the previous ability mod system, score/3, plays incredibly well with the current math.
    • The current fix is to continue adding level to rolls.
      • I've become a fan of level-less D&D so I prefer all level related benefits to stay with the Intrepid Score so I'll have to see about a more permanent solution.
      •  Adding level to ability checks also means that you will rarely ever fail at higher levels, this is also to be avoided.
  •  One player consistently wanted to use their own Intrepid Points to counter his opponents failed maneuver (and wasted intrepid die).
    • Working a counter-stunt into the system has been a long time coming.  The Intrepid Score makes it a bit more fluid.
  •  By allowing the Intrepid Score to also be an ability modifier player's are less likely to spend their Intrepid Dice.  
    • When they do they typically spend it from Stats they perceive they are less likely to use.
    • Perhaps dice assigned can only be spent on die rolls relevant to the ability score they are assigned to.
    • Another option is that combat maneuvers were more commonly used than called shots, so you may only use, say a Perception based maneuver (Striking a chink in their armor) if you spend a die assigned to Perception.
  • They are also much much less likely to keep points unassigned.
    • In fact there is no obvious reason not to assign them.
  • At higher levels and lucky die rolls you may end up with players with Intrepid Dice assigned to every score making the Jack-of-all-Trades the standard rather than the exception.
    • At level 5 your Intrepid Score is 6-11 with an average of 8-9.  That's easily two dice assigned to four stats.