Saturday, March 31, 2012

Player Chosen Stats: Courage

Last time I spoke about High and Low ability scores and how I used them in my games.  In addition to the four primary ability scores players could choose two ability scores that best reflected their character's quirks and virtues.    The most noteworthy aspect was that a low score was not necessarily a punishing score, instead a low score functioned in a complementary fashion to the boons of a high score.  In this series I'm going to take a look at each of these optional stats, how I want them to operate and how they were originally represented mechanically.  This time we're going to look at Courage.

This is a measure of your bravery in the face of danger, your ability to overcome fear and to boldly lead loyal follows where few have gone before.  Courageous characters are better able to defeat powerful legendary beasts and even the odds when outnumbered.
Characters with very low Courage are Cowardly.  While they perform very poorly in a standup fight against renowned men and beasts they are very adept at striking fear into the hearts of men and exploiting that in their prey.
When we think of the archetypal courageous warriors we think of the exploits of Perseus who ventured into the Gorgon's cave, St. George who slew the Dragon, Jason and the Argonauts who squared off against creatures of myth as they sailed the treacherous seas in search of the golden fleece.  From these we can draw a common element, Courageous heroes are frequently called upon to slay mythical beasts that would make an ordinary man shudder in fear.  Not only should they be resistant to the fear these myths command but they should be capable of sustaining their own legend through great acts.  Put simply, a courageous hero should be unfazed by fear and they should be better able to strike down these creatures of legend.  A courageous character also leaps into danger to save another regardless of their own safety, perhaps an aspect that bolsters them against many foes is necessary.

  • How this Originally worked
    • The hero received an attack bonus (value of +1 to +4) equal to their courage modifier against any creature more powerful (more HD) than they.
      • Attack bonuses were rare so this was a powerful modifier.
      • A cowardly character instead applied their own negative modifier as a penalty towards the defense of any creature weaker than themselves (less HD)
    • This was later revised to an attack bonus against Mythical Creatures
      • Naturally the Mythical tag would have to be added to monsters fitting the theme.
  • How it was revised
    •  The hero receives bonus dice to attack equal to their modifier when facing a Legendary Beast or when outnumbered
      • Multiple attacks via Dice Splitting was being tested at the time so the bonus dice meant either an unfailing ability to hit and critically hit a legendary creature or numerous dice to make multiple attacks when surrounded.
  • Problem:   
    • In an effort to curb ability score inflation there are no standard ability modifiers
    • All previous incarnations granted an advantage equal to the ability modifier
    • We now need to confer a sliding scale bonus that is not dependent on a non-existent value
      • A sliding scale may not be necessary if we allow the score to be a Boolean value: courageous or cowardly.
The problem as I've mentioned above is that the effects of these player chosen ability scores was usually keyed off its ability modifier rather than the flat score.  Since I've been moving away from conventional -- high score = high mod -- methodology I now need to have effects that are based on something else.  One possible way is to treat the score an either or binary value, you are either courageous or you aren't.  With a score greater than 10 being a courageous character and a score less than 10 being a cowardly one.  The problem with this is that there is no obvious way in which a more courageous character (one with a higher score) is any better off than one with a lower value but still gaining the benefits of being courageous.

Now I mentioned before that a Courageous Hero should have no problem dealing with fear related effects.  This is really easy to represent in game terms, a monster with a fearful presence has a fear value and as long as the hero's courage score is greater than that they suffer no ill effects.  In this way someone with a higher score than the bare minimum is rewarded for it.    I like that you can skip the minutia and granularity of the rules with a binary value however, if you are doing non-randomized generation then it is easy to game the system.  If say the majority of monsters do not have a fear rating greater than 14 there would be little incentive to raise the score above that.  It's something I need to consider in the coming weeks as I begin to develop a new mechanical system to represent the benefits of these player chosen stats.

Other things Courage has influenced in the past
  • The number of Hirelings & Retainers you can lead in battle
  • Saving Throws Vs Fear
  • Morale Bonus
  • The Vexing Defensive Combat Style
  • Special Abilities including
    • Commander Effects
    • Bolstering Songs
    • Stepping in the way of incoming danger
    • Challenges