About Me

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Seattle, Washington, United States
I'm an old time roleplayer who became a soldier who became a veteran who became a developer who became a dba who became a manager who never gave up his dream of a better world. Even if I have to create it myself.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Monstrarium: Origins

When I decided to focus my theme on playable monsters, I knew that I needed to simplify the Phoenix ruleset. I had already been targeting faster play, but the "attitude" I wanted this endeavor to have required even simpler mechanics.

Origins became a big target for that steamlining. This is a design journal on my approach.

Created Ones
photo credit: Devlin Thompson via photopin cc

In the original Phoenix RPG, a character's origin is sort of like its class. In Monstrarium, it is a combination of both race and class.

I had a few mechanics that ended up being combined or simplified here. First up, attributes.

Attributes previously involved 3d6 rolls, spread along 6 attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Intellect, Will, Faith, and Discipline) and averaged into 3 master attributes (Body, Mind, and Soul). Then attributes were divided by 5 to give primes, or attribute modifiers as other systems call them.


In brainstorming how to simplify this, I opened the door to other mechanics that could consolidate into it, and the obvious choice was the tier dice, or dT. In the original ruleset, dT was 2d10 for mortal characters and increased by 1d10 for each tier afterwards (heroic, demigod). I like the general approach there - giving an obvious advantage at higher tiers - but my charter was to streamline everything.

So, I combined the dT concept with the attributes.

Monstrarium has three attributes for each character: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual. Each of them is represented by a die roll: dP, dM, and dS respectively; the actual dice for each depends on the character's origin. At the lowest levels, this is a single die (1d6 for an average human), and at higher levels the number of dice increases. There is no longer a separate concept for tier dice; there is no need - the attributes themselves are rolled when a check or contest is needed.

I also made a decision at this point to eliminate all basic modifiers to die rolls, such as +4 or -2, although with a singular exception which I'll explain later. Reducing math increases game speed, so I wanted to use only two types of modifiers: number of dice, and size of dice. Number of dice can be modified as in +2d to gain two extra dice, and size is modified like -2s for two size reductions (d8-2s would be a d4) or +3s for three size increases (d6+3s would be a d12).

Obviously stating "d6+3s" is a bit silly, but these modifiers are used against attribute checks. For instance, a weapon might give its damage as "dP-2s". If a character's Physical attribute is d10, they'd roll a d6. If the attribute is a d8, then they'd roll a d4.

At level 5, attributes gain a die, and again at level 10, for all attributes for all characters. I no longer explicitly call out "tiers" in the rules, but this is their visible remnant. Also, the level cap is arbitrarily set to 13. Why? Because.

The only basic modifier leftover is Defense. Previously there were three defenses, now there's only one. Armor increases Defense and some origins have natural Defense. When someone attacks, they roll one thing: damage. If the weapon is dP-1s, and they have a dP of d8, then they roll d6 (exploding) and announce the result. The defender subtracts their Defense, and applies the remainder to their HP total. That's it. A "miss" is when the Defense is greater than the damage roll.

If Defense doesn't make sense - like for a charm spell - then a contest is probably more suitable. A dM contest would see both characters rolling dM, with the winner being the higher roller. A fear spell would probably be a dS contest.

I also combined Combat and Overland speeds. Sort of. Speed is what used to be called Combat Speed, and Overland Speed is now just the same for everyone. Got horses? It goes up. Got mountains? It goes down. Most games probably won't focus too much on overland travel times beyond the general sense anyways.

As an example, here is the info block for the Created One origin. Created Ones weren't born - they were made. There's options for flesh monsters, woodcarved, and stuffed creatures, but they all share the same basic info block.

Created Ones: Feature Info

There are still customization points for players to make their creative mark on a character, but that's a conversation for a different time.

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