The Dual-Core System: Attributes & Skills

Attributes measure innate the abilities of a role playing character such as Strength, Intelligence, or Spiritual Resolve. These measure a character’s full potential, and as such rarely fluctuates or improves. While not all RPGs utilize attributes, a great majority of popular RPGs has character attributes – including the most popular and original RPG system on the market today. However, too many RPGs attempt to reinvent the wheel when it comes to attributes. They split up some attributes, rename others, and add attributes that are out of place for the type of game in question.

When there is a purpose behind these attributes, these changes are fine, but far too often it seems like the designers have chosen their attributes only to be different. The end result is games that have far too many attributes, many of which rarely are used, and others which have obscure uses. As a game designer, I wanted to avoid making that same mistake.

I decided early-on that I would use terms that are very common within the gaming community and that I would try to make each attribute equally important. I chose four familiar attributes for the Dual-Core System; Agility, Intelligence, Strength, and Wisdom. These attributes all of their roots in some of the first RPGs created and haven’t really changed in the 40 years since the birth of our hobby. Due to there being only four attributes, it becomes easier to balance all four and make them equally useful in game play. Of course, they will never be “perfectly” balanced, as there will always be factors which cannot be accounted for in game play.

  • Agility is the attribute of moving quickly and easily; its the nimbleness of a character’s hands and feet.
  • Intelligence is the attribute of learning and reasoning; its a character’s ability to grasp abstract relationships and remembering facts.
  • Strength is the attribute of  muscular force and physical vigor; its the power and health of a character’s body.
  • Wisdom is the attribute of understanding and insight, which allows a character to discern truth from deception and judge options.

Attributes for characters normally range from 1 to 4, but sometimes can range from 0 to 5 if the setting includes races or if the character has suffered Attribute Damage – both issues will be discussed in detail later.

Skills work in conjunction with attributes to determine how well a character can accomplish any given task. Unlike attributes, skills represent learned abilities of a character. However,  much of my thinking about attribute scores apply to skills as well – they should be few in number so that they are easier to balance against one another, and should not deviate too far from accepted norms. Fortunately for me skills do not have too many accepted norms. So long as the skills I have chosen make sense in context of the game and each are useful in the context of the game, it will be a successful design. The Dual-Core System is meant to be more universal than genre or setting specific, so each skill should have multiple uses that could be important in several different settings.

Each Character has twelve skills:

  • Acrobatics (Agility) allows your character to jump or tumble around obstacles; it represents your character’s ability to keep balance and move with stealth.
  • Athletics (Strength) deal with activities such as swimming, running, climbing, fisticuffs, and sports that require endurance.
  • Diplomacy (Wisdom) is the ability to detect deception, negotiate, and to convince others of your honest intents.
  • Evasion (Agility) allows your character to dodge incoming attacks and squeeze out of precarious situations.
  • Finesse (Agility) represents a character’s hand-eye coordination; with the Finesse skill, your character can aim ranged weapons,  do anything that may require fine motor skills
  • Fortitude (Strength) addresses a character’s ability to resist poison, disease, and exhaustion.
  • Instinct (Wisdom) allows characters to hunt in the wild, understand the motives of untamed animals, and survive in extreme conditions.
  • Knowledge (Intelligence) is the character’s understanding of the world around them, and may include science, history and literature, just as much as it includes pop-culture, video games, and trashy romance novels.
  • Manipulation (Intelligence) deals with the ability to manipulate another character’s actions through deception, intimidation, or derision.
  • Mechanics (Intelligence) deals with the common technology and techniques of the setting in which the character is native.
  • Perception (Wisdom) addresses your character’s ability to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste the world around you; it is usually used to detect individuals who are hiding and finding clues.
  • Prowess (Strength) is regarding feats of strength, such as bending soft-iron bars, ripping phone books in half, and using melee weapons.

Each skill is associated with one Attribute, shown in parentheses next to the name of the skill; this will usually be the Attribute you will add to the skill when you roll a skill check. There are three skills to each attribute, which helps maintain balance in the game system. However, there will be opportunities and the occasional necessity to use Attributes other than that commonly associated with the skill in question. Skill Ranks usually range from 0 to 10, but only reach as high as 10 after the character had been played for several game sessions and gained several levels. New PCs have Attributes that range from 0 to 3.

Mechanics and Knowledge may be expanded upon by a character’s background. Later I will discuss the mechanism that determines a character’s background – named, aptly, “Character Background.”  Setting also may have a large impact on Mechanics and Knowledge; while how to shoe a horse may have been common knowledge just before the industrial revolution, a common person from this era wouldn’t have a clue how to begin. Likewise, a gentleman from the 18th century would have no idea how to change a flat tire.

I have chosen a more balanced and familiar approach when it comes to attributes and skills. While I think this is sensible, some may find it a bit dull. I remain, however, open to critique and new ideas. If you have any suggestions, I am ready to listen.

Purgatoris: Overview

Purgatoris is the game setting I’m developing for use with the Dual-Core System. Purgatoris is a Dark Fantasy setting with elements of Horror and Science Fiction thrown in for good measure. Purgatoris is the name of the a large cavernous chamber deep within the Earth. Purgatoris, about the size of India and has a mile high ceiling. The world features a large lake that takes up about one third of the chamber and a single lighted sphere suspended in the middle of the chamber between a huge stalactite and a stalagmite.

This sphere is called the Orv by natives and, while providing life giving light, is the subject of fear, as most of the natives believe that within the Orv is the unborn creature that is destined to destroy the entire world. The deities of Purgatoris claim that it is only they that keep the creature imprisoned. The seven of them live within the Stalagmite below the great Orv, into which a great tower has been carved. Around this tower thrives the greatest city within Purgatoris.

Magic is only legally practiced by the priests of the deities, as the practice of magic has the tendency of drawing the attention of demons. Sometimes, when a arcanist casts her spells, a demon will manifest and attack the arcanist and any living thing around her. Priests claim that this is because arcanists draw their power from demonic sources, while their power is granted by the gods. Others whisper that there is little difference between priestly and arcane magic, and that the deities, who rule Purgatoris with an iron fist, are demons themselves.

Psychic powers are also illegal. Most people believe that psychic power is indicative of demonic blood – otherwise, how would the psychic be able to use their powers without attracting the attention of demons? Priest go a step further, often claiming that psychic powers siphon strength from the deities – strength they need to keep the creature within the Orv imprisoned. Psychics, on the other hand, tend to see their powers as a gift, and the natural evolution of their species. Some psychics even go so far as to say that the seven deities are suppressing the natural evolution of humanity and the other species that inhabit Purgatoris. They point out that these so-called Gods appeal to the baser nature of the natives by encouraging greed, hatred, lust, envy, and sloth. The same psychics often also claim that there is a world above theirs that is full of light and warmth – a claim that most people believe to be foolish dreams.

Five different races inhabit Purgatoris. In addition to magic and psychic powers, there exists the strange practice of biomancy. There is also the issue of technology within the Purgatoris, the outside forces that threaten to destroy Purgatoris, and the political forces within that threaten to do the same. More of these subjects will be discussed  in the next installment.

NOTE: While The Dual-Core System will be released under a Creative Commons License, the author retains all rights in regards to the setting – Purgatoris.

The Dual-Core System: Core Mechanics

Role playing games often have whats called a “Core Mechanic.” Generally these are ways in which the game determines success or failure when a character faces a challenge. The Dual-Core System features two different core mechanics; a Primary Mechanic which is a simple mechanic that features dice, and a Secondary Mechanic which features playing cards, enriching the game through providing a level of strategy.

 The Primary Mechanic consists of rolling two six-sided dice, producing a range of numbers from 2 to 12,  and then adding the result to a modifier as defined by the game.

The Secondary Mechanic consists of choosing a card from your hand, and playing it to either adjust or replace your roll. Any time you use a card, you will draw back up to a full hand – normally 5 cards. The simplest way to use the secondary mechanic is to replace your initial die roll by choosing a card from your hand and playing it after you had rolled for the Primary Mechanic. Unfortunately, you cannot choose just any card; each skill is keyed to a specific suit and any cards played on that skill must be of the same suit.

The second way in which the Secondary Mechanic can be used is before the rolling dice for the Primary Mechanic. When you play a card before the rolling dice, it becomes conditional a modifier to your roll; either +1 or -1. Roll over the value of the card, and you receive  a +1 to that roll.  Roll under the value of that card, and you receive a -1 to that roll. The idea behind this is to make lower valued cards more useful in game-play. Again, you would only be able to use a card suited to the skill you are rolling for.

The cards produce a range of  numbers from 1 through 13, with Ace equaling 1, Jack equaling 11, Queen for 12, and King for 13 – slightly higher and slightly lower than the range produced by 2d6. Together, dice and cards produce an average result of 9, providing that you have a hand of five cards. This is two points above the average for the Primary Mechanic alone.

The cards also serve as health indicator. Each character has five health levels, corresponding to the five cards in the player’s hand. As each health level is taking away, the player’s hand size decreases by one card… More about health levels when I discuss combat.

Some of the cards are treated differently than others. For example, Face cards (Jack, Queen, King, and Joker) can be discarded to trigger special abilities, such as magic and psychic powers (depending on the character and/or setting). Jokers can be used as a King of any suit, but forces that player to discard and redraw his whole hand. Aces, when used to replace a die roll, allows the player to draw one of the top three cards of her choosing.

Now, it’s worth to note that six-sided dice and cards are fairly common and cheap; just today I passed a 10 set of dice and a pack of cards in a department store that were on sale for a dollar a piece (USD). Along with paper, writing implements, and a copy of the freely downloadable game rules, you would have everything you needed to play.

The Dual-Core System: Introduction

I’ve decided to start focusing my efforts on a game system idea that I’ve been tinkering with for a long time; The Dual-Core System. This currently unfinished game was actually the primary reason why I got involved in free and open source RPGs in the first place. I wanted to craft an RPG system that was simple yet remained interesting from a mechanics point of view.

Defining Traits of the Dual-Core System

  • Game Master and Players – as is standard in most RPGs.
  • Two Core Game Mechanics – One simple Primary Mechanic, and a Secondary Mechanic which gives players more control.
  • Universal Mechanics for all genres and settings.
  • Uses only cheap, common items (No weird dice or figurines).
  • Simple mathematics, mostly handled in Character Creation or by the Game Master.
  • Uses Backgrounds, Attributes, Skills, Character Features, and Character Flaws as a layered approach to defining and customizing characters.
  • Level-based Advancement, with a simple experience point system.
  • Creative Commons Licensed.

In conjunction with this system, I will be developing a game world which has its start in a piece of fiction I wrote back when I was a freshman in High School. The setting, however, will not be under a Creative Commons License, as I wish to maintain creative control over the game world.

Synergy RPG

The Synergy Role Playing Game, officially the first release for Raven Lake Games, has been updated to version 1.75! This RPG is designed with spontaneous storytelling in mind. This game provides a rules-light framework that is easy to understand, requires cheep common materials to play, and does not require any preparation time besides the time it takes to create a character. It is not tied to any particular setting or genre and allows each player to contribute equally to the development of the story.

Now the rules are clearer, and the text is easier to read. Download HERE.

Welcome to Raven Lake Games

The purpose behind Raven Lake Games is to serve as a vehicle for the table-top game design of  John Michael Crovis – an amateur game designer. All of the games released on the Raven Lake Games website are free to download, and many of the games are licensed under Creative Commons.  All comments, suggestions, ideas, and requests are accepted with open arms.