Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back, Lather, Rinse, and Repeat

So I had another idea for an RPG system.

Take a character’s attribute that can be used in combat.  We’ll say his strength (or even total weapon skill) is +7.  In attacking a creature he rolls a d100.  Often, we would expect him to add it to the roll and see if it exceeds his target’s defensive stat (such as Armor).  But instead of adding to get high numbers, why not add to get wide numbers?  What if the sweet spot within that 100 digits was not meant to be reached for but sought for?

Take that roll and go either 7 up or down (including that original value).  So rolling a 57, he could declare his attack range to be 51-57, 57-63, or any range that is 7 digits wide but includes the original roll.  The value the player is looking for might be within that range.  If the GM declares it a miss, the player knows to aim differently on his next roll.  He can hunt through the digits till he gets a strike.  The enemy’s Armor could also be a range or it could be sprinkled in digits (or separate ranges) across the 100.  It could be:


4-20 (3+weapon damage)

31-49 (2+ weapon damage)

52-60 (8+weapon damage)

70-79 (6+weapon damage)

With the player’s original roll, this would be a successful strike.  He would indicate within his notes where the sweet spot was found, and then use that on the next goblin he faces.  But he can’t transfer it cross monster.  Another might be:


2-3 (6+ weapon damage)

50-56 ( 5+ weapon damage)

90 (20+ weapon damage)

You’ll see on the dragon it has fewer vulnerabilities, but within those sweet spots they are higher damage overall.  The 90 is particularly brutal and is meant to represent an amazing strike that saves the day.  But it’s very different, obviously, from the goblin.  This would be, in a sense, a game where advancement was actually on the part of the players as they get smarter and not an abstract sense of progression of raising numbers.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the traditional “You’re stronger now! Add 3 to you strength score.”, this is just an alternative to the accepted model.  And it would work wonderfully in a low magic game.

The problem would be is that the idea is clunky.  Since their own advancement is built on keeping records, combat would not be quick die rolls but built on looking through their personal archives.  It would be cumbersome, especially for seasoned soldiers with a big combat history. And that doesn’t sound very fun.  So is this the white flag for the Martian Sunrise Tabletop RPG?  Sort of.

In contrast, the FUDGE and FATE systems have caught my attention because they are built around being narrative driven, rather than mechanically driven.  These games are designed for “fudging” the numbers if something’s not abundantly clear.  To be fair, all systems do run into this problem because players get creative.  But none of them cover all contingencies, because this would be impossible.  Some reach for the edge of reality and detail everything.  Those games are also very slow.  FUDGE and FATE encourage the players to think outside the box.  It encourages liberty and speed, rather than perfectly simulating the details of an adventure.

They are also completely generic systems and very useful for running any sort of setting.  FATE has been built into the high flying pulp adventure Spirit of the Century, the hard science fiction Diaspora, the urban fantasy Dresden Files (as in the Jim Butcher books), and is being worked to fit into the world of the recent Atomic Robo comic book.

FATE is actually built out of the older FUDGE.  FUDGE, from what I understand, has been much more of an underground thing because it came out before the Internet really flared up.  But for what it’s worth, there exists somewhere the home brewed rules for FUDGE made into things like Animorphs, Wizard of Oz, Call of Cthulhu, Transformers, Chronicles of Amber, and many more.  So they’re definitely out there sitting somewhere on a hard drive, but only some of them still remain accessible to the public through the Internet.

So I happily don’t know where this is going.  If I get something that’s substantial (for example, a workable squirrel mafia game), I’ll be happy to share it with you guys.  Otherwise, let’s comfortably continue on with humor, reviews, and Scripture.


3 Responses to “Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back, Lather, Rinse, and Repeat”

  1. This is an incredibly interesting mechanic. I’ve played in a few d100 systems before and I’d gladly give this a try in a Superhero or Cyberpunk type game.

    Quick clarification though. If the player’s skill is 7 and he rolls a 50 and decides to go below. Is his attack a range from 43-50 or is it a single number within that range? If it is the entire range and that range straddles two damage categories which one would you pick?

    One way to get around the player archives is to have the damage ranges determined randomly, as the range is more than just a function of armor but also how the monster moves and fights. You can have certain guidelines such as fast moving characters tend to take damage high on low values (<30) while heavily armored characters take damage on very high values (80+). In this way the ranges are different every time so the players still have to discover the best sweet spot (highest damage) but they have a few rules-of-thumb to rely on when facing off against certain enemies.

    • His attack is that range. It might help to visualize it like a Venn diagram, you want to cover as much of the other circle as possible so you can find that hidden point.

      If a player’s attack range does straddle two damage categories, the GM could ask “High or Low?” and calculate damage based on the player’s blind (at least at the time) choice. But my main goal with the combat philosophy was to make it where this would never happen by every monster having a set of predetermined characteristics and for the limits of a player’s potential attack range to rarely (if ever) be big enough to straddle more than one damage category.

      But your idea for having the very ends of the 100 be representative of maneuvaribility and armor effectiveness in combat does help because the players could certainly use a rule of thumb. And if the placement of those sweet spots could be determined randomly, this might actually fix a lot of problems.

      In this case, I’d want a monster’s sweet spots to be uniform in shape (no matter the encounter) but still random in placement.

      The base template of “Dragon” might be:

      10 digits

      3 digits

      1 digit

      Dragon A might in play look like:




      whereas Dragon B might be:




      Now they both still have a 10, 3, 1 model but their individual potencies and flavors in combat remain unique to themselves.

      Dragon A will have a higher to change receive a truckload of damage on a good high roll because of thickness of his armored scales, but an encounter with Dragon B would be a very different one, not to mention exceedingly more difficult. Low rolls would be good, but they don’t get you much.

      I would also be curious what sort of other “poles” you could represent outside of combat. Is a high roll on the use of an “Unlock Device” skill better when you’re trying to rush the job? Is a low roll better for persuading people of very low charisma?

      And I will also gently nudge you to look into the FATE system if you haven’t already.

      • I hadn’t considered the system outside of combat but I really do like the idea of changing it up for rush jobs and strokes of luck vs careful planning and concentration, on saying opening a lock.

        I’ve been meaning to take a look at the FATE system since I’ve heard really good things about the Dresden files RPG and I really liked the setting.

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