Friday, May 4, 2012

The Trait System

Several times in this blog, I've mentioned that I designed a fairly well-received roleplaying system that's gotten some use in the local gaming community (mostly among story gamers, as that's where my former gaming group decided to present it, and two of the members of that group were instrumental in developing the system). I called it the Trait System, but other names included the Two-Die System (because it uses 2d6 for most resolution checks) or the Bridge System (as it was seen by one of the developers as a bridge of sorts between "trad" and "story" games).

Briefly, character creation consists of selecting three traits (sometimes, one of the traits is considered the character's "core" trait, and largely defines the character, like "Gunslinger" or "Veteran Mercenary", though I don't know that I am overly fond of that). A trait might be "Strong", "Hard-headed", "Goth As Fuck", or whatever. The point is that the three traits selected define the character. I wanted to provide a list of automatically acceptable traits, with an "Other" category that would allow negotiation with the Referee for something else, but I never got around to creating that list, and it made the game easier to propagate without the need for any written rules set. Perhaps, after finishing the Top Secret clone, I'll get back to the Trait System.

Anyway, resolution is by determining what is attempted, and if any of the character's traits apply to it. Then, roll 2d6 and add 2 for each applicable trait (or add 1 - the developers thought that it was easier to remember that way) and hope for a 9 or better for success (I think that the version which adds 1 per trait looked for a 7+). If a character was on the receiving end of an attempt, he would gain a negative trait, such as "Wounded" or "Confused". We never got around to really working with those, but the general rule turned into "if you have 5 negative traits, you are out for the rest of the scene, or whatever is appropriate". We also didn't really define "scene", but just went with what felt right at the table.

There are, of course, other aspects of the game (like wealth or negative traits), but they aren't necessary for this brief overview.

Now, I've just learned about Technoir, and discovered that it uses a similar mechanic. They came up with an awesome way of handling injury traits and similar setbacks, too, in which if a character gains a "wound" type trait, they roll a die for each such trait they have. If a 6 comes up, they also gain "Dying". If a 6 comes up and they have the "Dying" trait, they also gain the "Dead" trait. (In Technoir, "traits" are called "adjectives" in this sense, to separate them from basic character definition traits, but that isn't necessary or desirable in the Trait System). I'm going to have to get that game to examine it for things I can use.

The games which originally inspired the Trait System were:

Tales of the Arabian Nights from West End Games - This was the original inspiration. I loved the game when I first played it, and wanted a way to use the ideas in a broader roleplaying context, with no limits based on the board or paragraph book. Basically, I was looking for a way that a Referee could extend the game.

Magic Realm from Avalon Hill - Another approach at a boardgame/roleplaying game hybrid. Not much survived the development process, largely because my developers had never played it. I hope to reintroduce aspects of it.

Car Wars - Uses 2d6 for resolution, and has characters that are described by their skills without any stats (though it still operates from the traditional paradigm of rating skills by numbers).

Where Fools Dare to Tread - In the early '90s, Space Gamer/Fantasy Gamer magazine sometimes included entire roleplaying games. This one was a game of modern horror and conspiracy. It used singular traits to describe a character, though there were five central ones that pretty much made up the basis of a character.

To a lesser extent, I also looked at Mind's Eye Theater, the White Wolf LARP system. I wouldn't be surprised if there were some other games that had an influence on the basic design, too.

After looking at these, I wanted to get away from having numeric values on the character sheet. We don't describe someone as "14 Strength" in the real world, we just say "he's strong". I wanted to gain that feeling, and set a design goal of "no numbers on the character sheet". Because not everyone who is strong is the same strength, though, I added the idea of advanced versions of the traits, so that someone who had "Strong" twice might trade both in for "Very Strong" or whatever. Some of those ideas got lost in development, but I think I will return to them. I have some more ideas, too, so I'll hope to get a chance to work them out at the table, then write them up for publication in some manner.

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