Role-playing design notes

Random notes on the design of Gods & Monsters, and maybe even Men & Supermen if I can remember what I was drinking when I wrote it.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Lifting and falling

Jerry Stratton, June 25, 2010

I think one of the reasons that so many old-school games, even relatively simple ones like Gods & Monsters, have falling rules is that falling is easy. Once you’re in free-fall, special cases drop to nil or near-enough that it doesn’t matter. You can reasonably assume that one table or one calculation gives you the result you want in unknown situations without worrying that the air might be twice as dense as normal or that some air is harder to get a grip on than other air. Once you’re in free-fall, it doesn’t matter. You can even realistically ignore the difference between falling on stone vs. falling on water, and even if you don’t, that’s your one variable: you can easily enough adjust damage according to it.

Very few things that heroes do are like that. When I moved to the much simpler encumbrance rules that Gods & Monsters currently uses1 I dropped the lift rule entirely. Like the specific miles-per-hour/yards-per-minute movement rules, being able to specifically lift x pounds isn’t useful knowledge. What matters are the bonuses and penalties to strength for lifting variable amounts during strenuous situations.

I had an minor epiphany last night on how to handle this. Gods & Monsters currently has a doubling rule for “obstacle size”. If you can do, say, 10 feet with no penalty, then you can do up to 20 feet with a penalty of 1, and up to 40 feet with a penalty of 2. This doubling rule doesn’t work for lift, however. It gives outrageous numbers that fit more with a superhero game than a standard fantasy game. Either the average hero can’t lift a heavy book, or the strong hero can lift houses.

The epiphany was, why not look at the falling progression, and see if that works for lifting something enough to easily move it around and even give it a toss, in tight situations? Except that it bottoms out at terminal velocity, the falling progression is the same as the level advancement (experience point) progression.2

bulkadjustmenteasy strength
to 3+155
to 6+146
to 10+137
to 15+128
to 21+119
to 28+1010
to 36+911
to 45+812
to 55+713
to 66+614
to 78+515
to 91+416
to 105+317
to 120+218
to 136+119
to 153+020
to 171-1
to 190-2
to 210-3
to 231-4
to 253-5
to 276-6
to 300-7
to 325-8
to 351-9
to 378-10
to 406-11
to 435-12
to 465-13
to 496-14
to 528-15
to 561-16
to 595-17
to 630-18
to 666-19
to 703-20

Bulk is basically pounds. Adjustment is the modifier to the character’s strength roll. And “easy strength” is the minimum strength for which no roll is required, because the number needed is 20 or less on d20.

This is nearly perfect.3 It’s produces exactly the numbers I want for lifting chances. Maybe double it for partial lifts, and so on. It means that in some cases, characters can lift things that they can’t carry around generally, and even in some cases that they can carry things around that they can’t lift, but that’s not unreasonable. A person with a high endurance should be more impressive over the long-term.

It also has two major problems:

  • It requires looking on this chart every time someone lifts something that might require a roll. There is no way to memorize this chart, and there is no “average lift” that doesn’t require any bonus or penalty but is rather a straight roll. Most things should be straight rolls.
  • It doesn’t matter in the “real world”. Lifting isn’t like falling. There are variables for how dense the thing is; variables for how hard it is to grip on; variables for how tightly the thing is wedged into whatever it’s resting on/in.

I could shift it so that 150 or 100 is the baseline, but then I’ve introduced a third progression into Gods & Monsters, and one that is unlikely to be at all useful elsewhere.

I still haven’t decided I’m not going to use it; I could replace the Falling Damage table on the Adventure Guide’s cheat sheet with a generic table for this progression. But falling damage has the advantage that you eventually reach terminal velocity, so I probably won’t. But thinking about this did lead me to a better way of describing how an Adventure Guide can determine modifications on rolls to do shit.

The average hero
The average hero has an ability score of 10. How often should the average hero succeed at this task? That is, what should the player have to roll to succeed if they have an average hero? If the average hero needs a 15 or less to succeed, that’s a +5 to the roll. If the average hero needs a 7 or less to succeed, that’s a -3 to the roll.
The 100% rule
Another way of thinking about it is, what’s the minimum ability score needed to succeed at this task 100% of the time? Remembering that 18 is the maximum any human can have. If it takes a 13 strength to lift this thing 100% of the time, then that’s a bonus of 7, because 13+7 is 20, and it’s impossible to roll more than 20 on a 20-sided die. If it takes a 4 intelligence to figure this thing out, then that’s a bonus of 16.

Ultimately, most tasks require that the Adventure Guide judge the difficulty of a task according to many variables anyway. Most tasks aren’t falling. It makes sense, for most tasks, to judge on the fly rather than use even a standard chart or calculation.

This does mean that sometimes lifting a 120-pound stone takes a 13 or less, and sometimes the same character will need a 15 or less, in similar situations, but that’s reasonable, because there are no identical situations.

  1. You can carry x many items around with you; none of them can weigh more than your strength.

  2. This progression—where each number is the previous number plus its location in the series—is a series of triangular numbers. It has some odd and interesting properties. For example, look at any two adjacent numbers. Their sum is the square of the difference between them.

  3. It has a bit of a problem with gigantic or titanic creatures, but I think that’s because I’m missing one or two sizes between “huge” and “gigantic”, which is a wider issue.

  1. <- Spirit database
  2. Science priests ->