Kobold’s Corner: Luck As An RPG Stat – Good Or Bad

meadowToday I painted a cursed wizard school, where every time you miss a quiz question, your life force is drained a bit more until you pass out and awake in the infirmary.

Why does the headmaster allow this awful thing to happen? Well, there’s a vampire curse, you see, and maybe some Snape-ish professors actually like the curse.

It weeds out the weak.

I was also looking today at more Tunnels and Trolls stuff (for my browser-based game project). I downloaded and played Crusaders of Khazan, a T&T CRPG from 1990, on a PC emulator from Emuparadise.

They’re calling this “abandonware”, so it was free. The kitty likes free, but I couldn’t handle navigating that little low-resolution tile world for long. My eyes glazed over. Bleep. Bloop. Bloop. Bleep.

Saving rolls are an interesting part of T&T for me. I want to do lots of rolls, but I’m skeptical about Luck as a stat. Like someone commented in a game forum, Luck is already a real part of the game.

You as a player want to be lucky – with dice rolls.

Ken St. Andre pared D&D down to the barest essentials to make T&T back in the 1970s. When Ken explains why he took out Wisdom and added Luck, I agree with his reasoning. You need Luck to survive a dungeon. If you were wise, you wouldn’t set foot in that infested hole in the first place. Thinking it over though, I wonder if he added an almost-as-worthless stat.

I perused one of St. Andre’s dungeons today in the new deluxe T&T rulebook (“Chambers of the Mad Dwarf“). He is recommending IQ or Luck saving rolls to spot hidden doors and secrets in a few places. So you can be Sherlock Holmes to spot something, or just thrust your sword accidentally into the exact tree knot to open the door.

Which admittedly is fun – the best counter-argument for using Luck. On the other hand, novelist sages say fiction has to be even more real than reality to be believable. If a character wins the big lottery out of the blue in a book of fiction and then lives happily ever after, the reader will feel cheated. That’s no story.

Using the same logic as Luck, I also wonder about Intelligence. Intelligence is how you as the player win the game, whether solving the puzzle or orchestrating combat cleverly. Perception seems like a better stat to put on characters, since you as a player can’t perceive what the GM didn’t tell you?

Perception can also be used as a attribute for dialog option checks, while Luck can’t. (Perceiving whether someone is lying to you, or wants something a lot more than they are letting on.) So my thought is to get rid of INT and LK. I could use Perception instead of LK, and Talents/Subject Knowledge instead of INT.

So to quote a scientific formula, build and use a cannon, or tap philosophical principles, maybe you’d need Science, Military, and Philosophy subject knowledge (talents) instead of INT. While it’s much more work for less resource usage than using a catch-all INT stat, it’s more characterizing.

I’m not doing Charisma either. Here is my current list:

Willpower :: spell power, intimidate
Agility :: defense, avoid danger
Toughness :: health, resistances

Perception :: find hidden, diplomacy
Cunning :: diplomacy, persuasion
Allure :: persuasion, intimidate

It seems like I’m missing something, but I don’t have a Strength stat because the setting is the Dream World, the amorphous, illusory connective tissue between the emotional world (Hell), the mental world (Heaven), and Earth, where vampires, succubi, witches, shifters, and shamans roam.

I also looked at some review articles from Chester at CRPG Addict on T&T’s vintage Crusaders of Khazan. His idea of a perfect RPG happens to be the same as mine, and basically the low-budget game I’m trying to make:

I guess my idea of a perfect RPG has always been something along the lines of a CYOA book with all the other RPG mechanics surrounding it.

Chester suggests Crusaders approaches this ideal relatively well for an old game, offering a lot of dialogue-based encounters. There are also the usual sudden forced scenarios though. In another article, Chester consequently creates a hierarchy of encounter types.

Level 0: Completely random, a surprise forced encounter.
Level 1: Encounter with context. There is some sort of lead-in or build up, with a chance to make a plan and decide whether to engage or retreat. I.e. you know there is an ambush just ahead.
Level 2: Encounter with conversation and/or choice. There are some sort of options or choices allowing roleplay, but you’re still ending up with a pre-determined continuation of some kind(?).
Level 3: Consummate encounter. Roleplay dictates an entire gamut of violent or non-violent outcomes, blending context, conversation, and choice.

Chester notes that in his experience, many players in discussion forums would rather stick to puzzles, gear, gold, and gushing arteries however, and challenges his readers to think of their own best “encounter” experiences. So.

Some Of My Favorite/Most Memorable Encounters:

  • The Vampire Bodhi in Baldur’s Gate – deciding whether to join or kill the vampires. I played through both ways.
  • The werewolf lair in Dragon Age: Origins – deciding whether to join or kill the Lady of the Forest. Played through both ways. The decisions at the ending of the game were good too, but somehow I cared less about those people.
  • Philosophy with Dak’kon – A lot of players go gaga over Fall-From-Grace, but I really enjoyed talking with this Gith in Planescape Torment. It was just really exotic, religious, and left my head spinning.
  • Children of the Cathedral in Fallout. Again, this was sort of a situation where I had to wipe out a church.
  • Mages and demons, the mage tower tryst, and continuing story of Jowan in Dragon Age: Origins.
  • Skyrim: the dragon cult. I wanted to join the cult to worship the dragons, not fight against them. So I literally quit the game two or three times, and never got far, because I didn’t want to become the anointed dragonslayer, and the main story had no choice.
  • Tribunal vs. Imperial. The religious conflict in Morrowind was fascinating. I’m using a Tribunal-like situation of three founding demigods in my dark wizard school, which is similar.

There are so many characters and situations, and I still haven’t completed DA2 or Pillars, or played DA3 or Divinity:Original Sin. Strangely all of the favorites coming to mind are in single player RPGs and not MMOs. That suggests the importance of affecting meaningful change to the people and factions in the story.

I need to go to sleep, but the favorite recurring themes are starting to be clear: major moral choices involving good vs. evil and attitude towards entire factions, and exotic philosophical people and factions. If you read this far, what are your favorite/most memorable encounters in RPGs?

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About Silverangel

https://kittykittyboomboom.wordpress.com/ View all posts by Silverangel

4 responses to “Kobold’s Corner: Luck As An RPG Stat – Good Or Bad

  • Chet Bolingbroke

    I’m glad that “encounters” posting was useful to you. I enjoyed reading about your experiences with good and bad encounters, and I agree with all of them (at least, the ones I’ve played). Bioware has always done a good job at dialogue-based encounters. And like you, one of my biggest complaints about Skyrim is that it forces you into too many situations that go against the type of character you want to role-play.

  • Silverangel

    Thanks for the note! Enjoyed reading your blog as well. Does WordPress trackback to Blogger?? I didn’t think so, so I’m surprised to see you show up here, but maybe it’s just a small world. I wish I could follow your blog posts via WordPress, but I don’t see an option for that either. Cheers ~ J

  • voxludicus

    I’m going to be that guy and say that my favorite encounters all happened on tabletop sessions, be it Shadowrun, D&D or Pathfinder. But since that’s not what you meant, an encounter that comes to mind is when I had to decide between joining Iorveth or Roche in the second Witcher game. Witcher 2 was full of grey-scale decisions, and this one was the first moment I realized just how branching CDProjektRed had made their game (I played the second game first, then the first and then the second again) – the entire second act is in a different place and has different quests and characters depending on who you follow.

  • Silverangel

    I didn’t play Witcher because of the male protagonist, but if the entire second act is different, that’s a really impressive commitment to the concept of important game-changing decisions. Looks like it has paid off for them. Supposedly you can play as a female in Cyberpunk 2077, so I’m looking forward to that one. Subjectively, the Witcher seems to be winning hearts and minds more the Dragon Age franchise, which is not supporting equality. Thanks for the note, Vox Ludicus. Cheers.

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