Five Moons RPG: Ability Scores

D&D/PF has presented a lot of different ways to generate your ability scores–some simple, some convoluted. Roll 3d6 each stat, in order. Roll 4d6 and drop the lowest, sort in order. 4d6 drop the lowest, sort as you please. Roll 6 times for each ability, take the highest result. 3d6 each score, in order, for 12 characters, pick the set of 6 you prefer. Roll 2d6 and add 6 for each ability score. Dice pool. Point buy. Standard array. And so on. So many options!

This is some thoughts on ability scores, generating them, and what those ability scores mean in terms of what people can do.

(Update September 23, 2014: If you like this post and where these ideas are going, please check out the kickstarter for my Five Moons RPG, which uses these ideas. Thanks!)

Generating Ability Scores

There are two problems with any system where you roll your ability scores, because of the randomness:

1) Your character might end up worse than another similar PC simply because of a quick of the dice. In other words, “Kreggo and Magu are both 1st-level fighters who wield greatswords, but Kreggo is always going to be better than Magu because Kreggo’s player rolled a lot better.” That’s realistic, but kinda lame for the Magu’s player who rolled worse than Kreggo’s player.

2) You can end up with a character who has ridiculously bad ability scores, which means the game either makes you deal with having a weak character or allows you a “mulligan” in that you can reroll until you get better than a certain minimum (such as “until the sum of your ability score modifiers is at least +1”). Having the possibility of a low-stats character is realistic, but it’s also kinda poopy that you could end up with a weak character, and also poopy that the mulligan option means the game acknowledges its character-generation method can give you a crappy character but won’t replace that method with something better.*

(Character building really only has two points of randomization: ability scores and hit points**. You don’t randomly roll to see how many skill ranks you get at each level, or how many feat, or how many spells you learn, but ability scores and hit points are fair game for doing really well or really poorly… in a way that affects your character for the rest of their adventuring career.)

So for other ability score options there’s point buy, where you get a certain number of points and can “buy” higher ability scores with those points, and usually not at a linear cost (frex, in PF an 11 costs you 1 point, 12 costs you 2 points, and 13 costs you 3 points, but 14 costs you 5 points, 15 costs you 7 points, and 16 costs you 10 points). This is method means you can usually buy a couple of good stats, a couple of decent stats, and a couple of average stats (or perhaps a little better if you drop one of your weak stats to get more points back… although the system is aware this is a problem and doesn’t let you drop it too far for even more points).

And there’s the standard array (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8), which is like using a 15-point point-buy system. I personally don’t like the standard array because I don’t necessarily want to play a character who is worse-than-average at something. It’s also weird because the rules for adding class levels to monsters say to modify the base (average) monster’s ability scores by +4, +4, +2, +2, +0, –2, which is in effect the same mods as the standard array, which means a 10th-level fire giant fighter must have one lower ability score than a typical classless fire giant (probably Dex or Cha… so the expert fighter fire giant is either more clumsy or less personable than your typical grunt fire giant). I’d much rather have a system where a monster with class levels had +2 to two or three ability scores, and no penalties (compared to a standard monster of its type).

Derived Stats

You roll your ability scores, and use those scores to derive your ability modifiers (the actual plus, zero, or minus you add to a roll). For most things in the game, after you determine what your ability mods are, those original ability scores don’t matter any more.

Those ability scores might make a difference between having a Str 13 and qualifying for Power Attack and only having Str 12 and not qualifying. They might make a difference when taking ability damage (or drain) and determining whether or not your ability score is 0. They don’t matter for stat penalties in PF because the rule is based on even numbers of an ability score damage/drain/penalty (instead of what number it brings your score to).

So if ability scores have so little effect on your character once you’ve derived your ability modifiers, why do we care so much about ability scores instead of focusing on the ability modifiers? Why not just allow people to generate their ability modifiers, and that’s what you add to your rolls? Just skip having the 3–18 ability scores entirely, and use the modifiers from those scores (–4 for a 3 score, +4 for an 18 score, and all the fun between and beyond).

The Meaning of Ability Scores

It’s subtly hidden in the game rules, but did you know that increasing an ability score by +5 means the creature is twice as good at that ability score as an unmodified character?

In other words, a character with 15 Strength is twice as strong as a character with 10 Strength. Check the Carrying Capacity table for proof… a Str 10 has a light load up to 33 lbs., medium for 34–66 lbs, and heavy at 67–100… and a Str 15 character has double those values (light up to 66, medium 67–133, heavy 134–200, if you account for rounding differences). This repeats for every +5 ability score points (Str 20 is twice as strong as Str 15, Str 25 is twice as strong as Str 30, and so on). Let’s think about that in real-world terms.

Let’s look at some bench press stats from ExRx.net for adult males at various body weights. According to this site, an untrained guy about my weight (181 pounds) should be able to bench press 130 pounds (FYI, no, I can’t). The site also says an “advanced” man of that body weight should be able to bench press 275 pounds, which is a little over double what the untrained guy can do. So we could classify the average person as Str 10 (which makes sense), and an “advanced” man at Str 15 (twice as strong as the average).

According to the ExRex.net chart, an “elite” weight trainer should be able to bench press about 345 pounds, which is only 1.25x the “advanced” value, so we can classify that person at about Str 17 (the max weight capacity of a Str 17 character is 1.25x that of a Str 15 character).

Keep in mind that the bench press world record was 363 pounds from 1898 (when the International Powerlifting Federation was founded) to until about 1950. Bench pressing 363 pounds is 1.3x the advanced man’s 275 pounds, and 1.3x times the (Str 15) advanced man’s heavy load of 200 pounds is 260 pounds, which is the max heavy load of Str 17.

(That also doesn’t take into account that Doug Hepburn, the 1950 record-breaker, weighed 300 pounds and should be able to press proportionately more than a 180 pound man, so the above stats are actually being very generous to an “average” person’s strength estimates.)

To be fair, we’re just looking at one aspect of human strength, but my point is this: for a very long time, the strongest human was less 3 times as strong as the average human. In D&D terms, the strongest human up until 1950 had Strength 17. Using point-buy for your ability scores, you could buy a 15 Strength, and then use your “+2 to one stat” for being human, half-elf, or half-orc, and get a 1st-level character who is as strong as the strongest human for half of the 20th century. And that’s without boosts from magic or +1-every-four-levels.

Isn’t that… weird?

If you instead did that to your character’s Intelligence score, you’d get a 1st-level character who is as smart as the smartest human for half of the 20th century. “Hi, I’m 1st-level, I’m as smart as Albert Einstien.”

Think about that the next time you build a new 1st-level character and decide that a 15 in their primary stat “isn’t good enough”… you’re saying that a 1st-level character who’s at the peak of human ability isn’t good enough… because the +2 bonus from that stat isn’t as good as the +3 you’d get for a 16 or 17.

What to Do?

I don’t want to go back to 1E/2E AD&D’s system where the difference between an 8, 10, and 14 was essentially “nothing” for most characters; one really great thing about 3E as a change from 2E is it made most of the mid-range ability scores actually worth something instead of being a dead zone before you got to the worthwhile ability scores. So here’s my plan for Five Moons RPG:

1) Creatures don’t have ability scores, they just have ability modifiers (in effect, their modifiers are the scores). An average stat is +0, not 10–11.

2) Use a point-buy system so players don’t have to worry about rolling lower stats compared to their friends, which also means the game doesn’t have to include a “mulligan” rule or expect GMs to house-rule it.

3) This point-buy system is simple, and doesn’t allow you to build a 1st-level character to superhuman levels. A 1st-level character gets a +1 in two stats and +0 in all other stats. This system creates characters who are above average, but not herculean (no more “strongest/smartest/swiftest character in the world at level 1”). Optionally, a character can take a –1 in one stat to get a +1 in a third stat (or use that +1 to increase one of their existing +1 stat to a +2); some people like having a stat penalty for roleplaying (and it’s not a huge advantage given other things in the system, which doesn’t promote stacking bonuses really high).

4) Having such a low starting range for bonuses leaves more room to “grow” as your character levels up, and it means that “growing” doesn’t require proportionately bigger numbers to feel significant. Frex, if your Strength bonus is +3 (from Str 17) at 1st level, increasing it to +4 at 4th level (by bumping Str to 18) doesn’t feel like a big deal because it’s only increasing by +25%; but if your Strength bonus is only +1, increasing it to +2 at 4th level is a +100% boost, which feels a lot more significant.

5) This probably means the every-four-levels ability score bump probably has to change its frequency, as it becomes twice as powerful in this system (although in Five Moons the level spread is expanded, so you’d only get them at level 8, 16, and 24).

(It seems weird to not have characters with a lot of stat bonuses, or a big bonus in one stat, but that’s how it was in Basic/1E/2E… and because everyone has a couple of +1s, everyone gets to be better than average at some things… instead of the possibility of having a Basic/1E/2E character with 14s in every score that give them a sad +0 bonus in every score.)

* I really wanted to use point-buy or standard array for ability score generation in the Beginner Box, but I was overruled. Which meant we had to write a mulligan rule specifically for the Beginner Box so new players wouldn’t get stuck with a loser character and have a bad experience. :/

** And as with ability scores, most GMs have a mulligan house rule for players who roll too low on hit points (usually “if you roll a 1,” or “1 or 2,” or even “less than the average result)… which is another sign that the official rule is a problem.

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35 thoughts on “Five Moons RPG: Ability Scores

  1. Howdy Sean,

    Cool blog as always. I’m gonna change the subject, but not really. I want to comment on what I see is behind the drive for big ability score/modifiers, and not just the obvious desire to be powerful. This comes from my own home games.

    Do we ever look at the ratio of success and failure on die rolls at very low levels? I mean, what is the expected chance to hit an appropriate CR monster for that level? Or the appropriate chance to succeed on a saving throw?

    The reason I ask is that I am no fan of optimization and I encourage my players to just strive to have a focus but not munchkinize. I say it that way, because I had one player cite to me that they just wanted to have an “effective character” who was good at what they do. To my way of thinking, that was not unreasonable. Yet, that led me to start thinking about what it means to be an “effective character”. After a while, I concluded that it meant the players felt that they should be better at what they’re trying to do than the game is actually designed to allow them to do.

    I don’t have any hard numbers to present as proof (I’m kinda being casual here), but I recall one time looking at the chance of a STANDARD low level character to hit an appropriate challenge, as assuming a +1 or +2 ability modifier, it looked like anywhere from a 40 to 60% chance to hit. It depended upon BAB, weapon focus, and a few other factors.

    So time came to start a new campaign and I encouraged characters that were somewhat well-rounded, conceding that they would probably have a focus. Some players listened more than others, but I had one fellow who took it to heart and really tried. After a few sessions that didn’t go so well, he asked to make a new character. His concept, unsurprisingly, allowed for some generous optimization. I asked him why he wanted to change. He professed that he thought his character sucked and he made some poor choices. I pointed out that he had four or five bad die rolls in succession, and when the chance of success was 40 to 60% (leaning towards 50%) that was bound to happen. Like flipping a quarter 4 times and it coming up tails 4 times in a row. Hardly crazy or the fault of the “flipper”. I asked him to try to persevere because he honestly had not made a bad character at all. He was having bad luck.

    He wanted that high ability modifier because at low levels he was discouraged by failing so often.

    To finish the story, about 5th level these worries went away, and by the time he was 12th level he was something of the party badass and he was very happy with his character. The same guy who was moping that he made a poopy character.

    Summation: Any armchair psychologist can look at optimization and dismiss it as a power trip (I think it is sometimes). Yet, sometimes I think the player base has a skewed perception on how much they’re supposed to succeed or fail.

    Anyway, I thought I would toss that into the gristmill.

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    • Trailblazer (a really nice 3.5 “patch”) posits that optimal is about 70%, or a 16 in your primary stat. They differentiate “optimal” from “maximized,” since maximizing trivializes challenges, and part of the optimal experience is to be somewhat challenged.

      Personally I would define “effective” as succeeding more often than failing. So 70% resonates with me.

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    • {Do we ever look at the ratio of success and failure on die rolls at very low levels? I mean, what is the expected chance to hit an appropriate CR monster for that level? Or the appropriate chance to succeed on a saving throw?}

      I do, partly because I have a history of crappy attack rolls (back in 1E I was the fighter who’d go through an entire combat without hitting at all), which is why I’m fiddling with the AC system so an “unarmored average peasant” is AC 5 instead of AC 10. That makes it easier for everyone across the board to hit, and reduces the need for touch attacks in the game (I have a problem with touch attack mechanics).

      {I recall one time looking at the chance of a STANDARD low level character to hit an appropriate challenge, as assuming a +1 or +2 ability modifier, it looked like anywhere from a 40 to 60% chance to hit.}

      Yep, that is poo. As is the math that a 1st-level fighter is only 5% more likely to hit than a 1st-level cleric with an identical build (+1 BAB vs. +0 BAB), which is why the base fighter class gets an attack boost that’s not tied to BAB. Yes, that means the fighter has a yooj boost to hit… which means the fighter can spend some of her attack bonus for other effects (such as maneuvers and such) and still have a good chance of hitting.

      {Summation: Any armchair psychologist can look at optimization and dismiss it as a power trip (I think it is sometimes). Yet, sometimes I think the player base has a skewed perception on how much they’re supposed to succeed or fail.}

      Against an “average” (CR-appropriate) opponent, the PCs should have an easy time hitting. Missing is boring, as it means you waited for everyone else to take their turn, and you end up spending your turn doing nothing. The game’s math can be fixed so that’s much less of an issue–where optimization isn’t necessary to feel competent.

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  2. I’m on board with stripping away the ability score facade. It’s a legacy mechanic, but nowadays when most people use point buys instead of rolling, it’s vestigial. And the days of “wanting” the bell curve that 3d6 yields are certainly long gone.

    I’m on board with most of what you’re doing. However, I think with this model, the PCs are going to feel extremely weak conceptually. There’s a strong sense that the PC’s best stat is equal to a 12. Not only that, but people aren’t going to think about the math behind the power bumps. People won’t think about the fact that going from +1 to +2 doubles their bonus. People see one +1 as the same as another +1, or even have the opposite feeling that math suggests they should have, where they value the boost from +4 to +5 even higher than the one from +1 to +2.

    I like 5e’s solution to this. Hard cap ability scores at 20 (+5) and limit starting stats at 15 (+2) plus racials (+1). (It’s higher if you roll, but then you have to roll.) This gives you 16 (+3) for your primary, which is arguably optimal. There is still some room to grow, but min/maxing is limited by the cap.

    The frequency of the bumps also feels weak. In PF, between levels and magic items/wish, you get 16 bumps, about +8. (Unless I’ve counted wrong… again.) If you wanted to relax the effects of magic items (and wish) on PC power, you could conceivably give a bump every 3rd level. That would also be in line with your plan to give more rewards more frequently.

    Something I’ve thought about is how to make more ability scores desirable to more character concepts. The relevance to this blog being that you seem to want to rein in scores, and an alternate way to do that would be to make characters care about more than one score as they grow. Aside from obvious MAD classes, people basically want their primary score and then hit points. But what if it wasn’t so one-dimensional? Like, what if fighters benefitted in a more tangible and relevant way from INT? In a way that is inherent to the scores themselves. Not with the goal of making every character MAD (because it wouldn’t really be dependence, but potential usefulness), but with the goal of having a much wider variety of viable ways to build a character. Bumping up your primary score wouldn’t be your only interest, especially if there’s a relatively low cap.

    Keep up the good work. I hope I’m helping!

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    • {I’m on board with most of what you’re doing. However, I think with this model, the PCs are going to feel extremely weak conceptually. There’s a strong sense that the PC’s best stat is equal to a 12.}

      Yes, I see your point.

      {Not only that, but people aren’t going to think about the math behind the power bumps. People won’t think about the fact that going from +1 to +2 doubles their bonus. People see one +1 as the same as another +1, or even have the opposite feeling that math suggests they should have, where they value the boost from +4 to +5 even higher than the one from +1 to +2.}

      I can see it both ways. I think that once you’re at +4, the bump to +5 isn’t really a big deal. And when you’re at +10, +11 isn’t very impressive. (And that’s actually one of the problems with martial characters: most of their class benefits are “add more bonuses to the same thing you were doing at level 1”).

      {The frequency of the bumps also feels weak. In PF, between levels and magic items/wish, you get 16 bumps, about +8. (Unless I’ve counted wrong… again.) If you wanted to relax the effects of magic items (and wish) on PC power, you could conceivably give a bump every 3rd level. That would also be in line with your plan to give more rewards more frequently.}

      Actually I was thinking that Five Moons would give stat boosts at level 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25… it doesn’t have to follow the D&D/PF pattern (at 4th, 8th, and so on, which is Five Moons 8th, 16th, and so on). Gear will have the opportunity for stat bumps as well, but as an add-on to the item’s base abilities. (In other words, no items that ONLY have the purpose of adding X to a stat.)

      {Like, what if fighters benefitted in a more tangible and relevant way from INT? In a way that is inherent to the scores themselves.}

      Oh, I have plans, and those plans rhyme with “shmocial shmombat.” 🙂

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      • LL{Like, what if fighters benefitted in a more tangible and relevant way from INT? In a way that is inherent to the scores themselves.}

        I think the Warblade from D&D3e had an “INT to damage and initiative” ability, it was interesting but you’d still be relying on STR or DEX to hit things.

        Do you envision 5 moons to be a game where a Fighter that has an INT higher than his STR or DEX score can still be as good at fighting (it’s in the class name after all!) as a Fighter with a 17-18 STR/DEX?

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  3. Concerning ability scores, I had this exact train of thought. It seemed like the entire point of ability scores served the purpose of the 3d6 generation. Since the game very rarely uses ability scores, it begs the question why have them in the first place.

    I’m not too sure reducing the bonuses. I liked how your abilities scaled based on a function of level and ability modifiers in Pathfinder, unlike 2nd Edition which was more based on class level. Reducing the bonuses lowers the effect of the abilities. However, the article does not explain how the new ability modifiers affect other aspects of the game, so I can’t really jump to conclusions.

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    • {I’m not too sure reducing the bonuses. I liked how your abilities scaled based on a function of level and ability modifiers in Pathfinder, unlike 2nd Edition which was more based on class level. Reducing the bonuses lowers the effect of the abilities. However, the article does not explain how the new ability modifiers affect other aspects of the game, so I can’t really jump to conclusions.}

      Keep in mind that if ability scores scale less over the course of the leveling path from 1 to 25, that means a level 1 character can still meaningfully interact with a level 5 or even a level 10 character because the DCs for level 5 and characters aren’t automatically out of the reach of the level 1 character. Those tasks should still be *difficult*, but they don’t have to be outright *impossible.*

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      • Hm, I see! I can appreciate that as I can’t send anything lower than CR = APL – 3 at my players because enemies that low have little to no chance to affect the PCs. Even when they hit, the damage is negligible.

        On the subject of ability score generation, I personally enjoy point-buy because it allows me to make trade offs between my character’s capabilities, which strikes me as more believable. A person that dedicates their life to sports will likely be much better at them than someone who splits between two unrelated disciplines (the case with me, I’m an engineer and artist that enjoys game design). Generation feels less believable to me. I have a hard time picturing why anyone would willingly go adventuring when they’re literally as strong as a cat or barely smarter than a bugbear.

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  4. Interesting idea. I’ve often put thought into the value of ability scores, what they mean, and generally hate the race to get scores into the 20’s for bigger bonuses.

    Rolling does present it’s issues bUT my players all enjoy doing. To help ensure no one player was screwed on hit points since it is such a precious commodity years ago I house ruled they roll 1 die smaller and add 2 which evens out the curve a little without inflating the numbers. So a fighter would roll 1d8+2 while a cleric would roll 1d6+2.

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  5. Hi Sean. Interesting and blog . Just as the Alignment blog, this one too is a bit provocative to some of us and that is a good thing.
    I agree with hudax, but at the same time I can’t help that this might be out of habit.
    I so accustomed to play 3.5/P.F that the concept of building your character by the use of ability scores is a very integrated part of my thinking in the same manner as saying that a fighter with str 16 is a far better melee character than a Sorcerer or a rogue with a str score of 10.
    So if I play a Five Moons RPG Paladin and a Five Moons RPG Bard where both has +1 str there is not much of a difference when they fight. At first this may seem absurd, but when you think about it we have two trained adventurers that just starting their career and none of them has yet been able to specialize. Perhaps this is a good thing, but if this is how stats will be handled I think it is important that characters will be able to differentiate at lower levels, perhaps thru skills and feats? If skills is the one solution then I really hope that classes such as the fighter get more than 2 skill ranks per level (or perhaps no class get 2 ranks / level).
    I’m still a bit hesitant to your suggestion, but since I’m aware it’s probably just “habit” that has gone into defense mode I’m going to give it some thought.

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    • {So if I play a Five Moons RPG Paladin and a Five Moons RPG Bard where both has +1 str there is not much of a difference when they fight.}

      That’s only the case if there’s nothing that makes the fighter class and rogue class different. In D&D/PF that’s not the case (although the difference between a ftr1 and a rogue1 is pretty much just +1 BAB, a feat, and the proficient armor and weapons), and it’s not the case in Five Moons either (and the differences between the classes will be greater).

      {I think it is important that characters will be able to differentiate at lower levels, perhaps thru skills and feats?}

      I agree. 🙂

      {If skills is the one solution then I really hope that classes such as the fighter get more than 2 skill ranks per level (or perhaps no class get 2 ranks / level).}

      Increasing the number of skill ranks the 2+INT classes get is one solution, yes.

      {I’m still a bit hesitant to your suggestion, but since I’m aware it’s probably just “habit” that has gone into defense mode I’m going to give it some thought.}

      Let me remind you again that up until 3rd edition, your ability scores didn’t provide a bonus unless your score was at least 15. That means a character with six 10s was exactly the same as six 14s! After 14 years of 3E, people have gotten used to inflated stats. We can scale that back down to reasonable levels and still have a fun game, with fun characters that are fun to play. 🙂

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  6. First off, I’m glad you’re holding every PC to the same standard, and that races won’t affect this (or if they do, I strongly implore to just make it a choice of the player for a stat to choose, so races provide abilities, not stat-ups).

    Harder for me to judge math, though its possible because I’m not seeing a full picture here yet. Regardless, so long as the math lines up properly through the 25 level scheme, this would be workable. I can be on board with a progression of starting low, but then rapidly attaining bonuses that’ll pave the PC’s to becoming the awesome Jedi’s & like they will be.

    Speaking of Math, in your book, I would 110% compel that you make the various underlying math transparent & known to the audience. So that DM’s know what expected numbers, probabilities are for on succeeding various type of checks at the various levels (such as if game expects hit 70% of the time, then chart out various totals should equate to for “balanced” character. Also values for making monsters). This isn’t just a DM thing though, but great for the players as well, so that they can get a strong grasp of what their numbers mean in respect to the game world.

    ” you’re saying that a 1st-level character who’s at the peak of human ability isn’t good enough…”

    One could consider that way they stand out from the rabble, but that’s otherwise just flavor, if it doesn’t match rules-wise, its not a problem. Like in Shaodwrun, upping your 1-6 rank gun skills, “Flavor-wise” Rank 6 is one of the best shots in the entire world! =…+1 to hit w/that gun-type. So flavor-wise you’re supposed to be awesome, but in the rules, it doesn’t really mean all that much in the end. So I think its odd to use flavor as an argument in part like that, if/when the numbers will speak for themselves. I do recommend caution to any decisions partly made out of just flavor (albeit that is a HUGE part of an RPG).

    “Gear will have the opportunity for stat bumps as well, but as an add-on to the item’s base abilities. (In other words, no items that ONLY have the purpose of adding X to a stat.)”

    GOOD, the only other thing I can say about this, is good luck with making magic items interesting & exciting objects like I’ve heard they were in Older editions (that crap can be mega hard, even for those with good imaginations).

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  7. {One could consider that way they stand out from the rabble, but that’s otherwise just flavor, if it doesn’t match rules-wise, its not a problem. Like in Shaodwrun, upping your 1-6 rank gun skills, “Flavor-wise” Rank 6 is one of the best shots in the entire world! =…+1 to hit w/that gun-type. So flavor-wise you’re supposed to be awesome, but in the rules, it doesn’t really mean all that much in the end.}

    I think this is probably the most important point, and what I feel like sails right over SKR’s head in the blog. While the flavor is that a 15 is twice as strong as a 10, and a 20 is twice as strong as that 15, making every point really important, for most game mechanics it’s really not. While I’m not going to suggest a 15 strength character have twice the chance to hit as a strength 10 character, a 15 strength character should be MUCH more than +2 ahead in many other areas, particularly anything skill based. Possibly even for raw damage. What if instead of a 15 strength character dealing d8+2 damage with a longsword they got to deal 2d8? What if instead of only getting +2 on a jump check, their jump checks were doubled?

    Or applying to other ability mods, you probably don’t want every +1 con mod being +50% health, so that mechanic can be the same. But it’s totally awesome if the guy with +2 con can run, hold his breath, etc, twice as long as the guy with +0 (as opposed to currently those things are mostly all con checks, so the guy with +2 will last on average one or two extra rounds). Similarly it’s awesome if he can recover twice as fast as other characters.

    Basically what I’m saying is find the things that are okay to grow at an exponential rate without breaking the foundations of the game, and let those things scale. Make the attributes as important as you are detailing here. I really thought this is where it was going as I read the first half of the article, but when I read the second half I face palmed hard, because the conclusions drawn from it seemed to be “Attributes make you really powerful, let’s make you get less of them” rather than “Attributes make you really powerful, let’s make the mechanics reflect that, and then have you start off lower”

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    • {I think this is probably the most important point, and what I feel like sails right over SKR’s head in the blog. While the flavor is that a 15 is twice as strong as a 10, and a 20 is twice as strong as that 15, making every point really important, for most game mechanics it’s really not.}

      It hasn’t sailed over my head. I’m just pointing out the in-world absurdity that it’s routine for *1st-level* characters to start out with stats that would make them Olympic *gold medalists.*

      {the conclusions drawn from it seemed to be “Attributes make you really powerful, let’s make you get less of them” rather than “Attributes make you really powerful, let’s make the mechanics reflect that, and then have you start off lower”}

      The way D&D/PF works, attributes quickly scale out of bounds. A fighter with Str 18 using a longsword does 1d8+4 points of damage–the sword’s average damage is doubled, which means the weapon being used is almost irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if the fighter is using a dagger, short sword, or longsword, that +4 from Strength is dominating the damage roll; the actual dice you roll barely matter (the difference between short sword damage and longsword damage is 1 point, which is trivial compared to the 4 points contributed from Strength).

      If you want low-level characters to have any relevance at higher levels, you need to compress the expected damage output range (and target hit points) of the character over the leveling curve.

      WOW’s range for this massively out of scale—a tough 1st-level character might have 100 health, and a tough 40th level character might have 4,000 health. That means there’s no way a low-level character (or creature) can pose any risk to a high-level character, its damage output simply can’t wear down the higher-level character in any significant way. (That’s actually why Blizzard is going to “squish” all character stats in the next sequel, as the stat inflation has gone crazy.)

      Because the overall power level of Five Moons is less than D&D (a max-level Five Moons character is the equivalent of a 13th-level D&D character), you need to watch the stat scaling, otherwise the inflation problem would actually be worse than it is in D&D (because the inflation would happen over the equivalent of level 1 to 13 instead of 1 to 20).

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      • Just some more thought on the subject.

        I’m aware that I need to let this sink in and that it is a good thing that attributes will be scale back down to reasonable level, but what is reasonable is a very subjective. Comparing Five Moons RPG to first edition may not be relevant since most play 3.x, Pathfinder, 4E or 5E.

        Low starting stats can be problematic when it comes to Carrying capacity and skills. It can also make low level play more binary.

        Carrying capacity is really one boring parts of the system. I never liked the idea of having to keep track of every single thing. I now play a level 1 Bard in light armor with 12 str and it doesn’t take much until he takes a hit on ACP etc. Imagine how a fighter will fair with str 12.

        With int 10 being the standard int score at level 1 and int 12 being a good stat at level 1, skills is going to be much rarer unless people get more skills per level. That said I never did like the int modifier bonus to skills. Creating monsters with high int is very time consuming and there are other problems as well that goes with this: Wizards having more skills than the skilled classes, etc. (I personally house rule all classes get at least 4 skills + half int mod. Caped at a bonus of +5 skill ranks.)

        Is a level 1 fighter with str 15 absurd? I don’t think so. PCs are not ordinary people; they are trained heroes. That said I think it is a good thing is we can have a more gritty game at lower levels. (Next campaign that I GM I will houserule that no starting stat can’t be above 16.)

        {The way D&D/PF works, attributes quickly scale out of bounds. A fighter with Str 18 using a longsword does 1d8+4 points of damage–the sword’s average damage is doubled, which means the weapon being used is almost irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if the fighter is using a dagger, short sword, or longsword, that +4 from Strength is dominating the damage roll; the actual dice you roll barely matter (the difference between short sword damage and longsword damage is 1 point, which is trivial compared to the 4 points contributed from Strength).}

        The good thing about the 1d8+4 and 1d4+4 being similar is that it evens out the rolls, making low level game less binary. I actually think that less binary is good. Auto kill on one good roll is not fun. This does however mean that all must have more hit points to compensate for higher averaged rolls.

        {“If you want low-level characters to have any relevance at higher levels, you need to compress the expected damage output range (and target hit points) of the character over the leveling curve.”}
        I’m not sure I want low level characters to have any relevance at higher levels. Do? I want low level characters to have more relevance? Yes, but a level 1 fighter should be no match for a level 13 wizard.

        I’m gonna let this simmer for a bit and give it some more thoughts. Scaling back down attributes to reasonable level is good, but I feel this is a bit too much. That said I got a hunch that I might be overreacting.

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      • {Carrying capacity is really one boring parts of the system. I never liked the idea of having to keep track of every single thing.}

        I don’t like it, either. Haven’t used encumbrance in a campaign in a long, long time. Encumbrance isn’t in Five Moons (except in a “if the GM thinks you’re carrying the equivalent of a house, you need to drop some stuff” rule).

        {With int 10 being the standard int score at level 1 and int 12 being a good stat at level 1, skills is going to be much rarer unless people get more skills per level.}

        Five Moons characters get more skill ranks to play with.

        {Creating monsters with high int is very time consuming}

        Which is an issue I’m addressing in an upcoming blog (I feel the same way as you!).

        {Wizards having more skills than the skilled classes, etc.}

        Well, they are supposed to be the smartest characters, but that does get a bit wobbly if they spend all of their “know-it-all” ranks on Climb, Swim, and other physical skills. 🙂

        {I’m not sure I want low level characters to have any relevance at higher levels. Do? I want low level characters to have more relevance? Yes, but a level 1 fighter should be no match for a level 13 wizard.}

        I’m not talking level 1 vs. level 13, I’m talking level 1 vs. level 5. 🙂 Level 5 PCs shouldn’t scoff at level 1 town guards; the PCs are impressive, but shouldn’t be near-invulnerable.

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  8. {It hasn’t sailed over my head. I’m just pointing out the in-world absurdity that it’s routine for *1st-level* characters to start out with stats that would make them Olympic *gold medalists.*}

    Right, I get that. The point I am making is that the stats don’t make them equivalent with Olympic Gold Medalists except in a few very niche areas. You used Weight Lifting as your basis, but if you had used endurance running, you would have gotten almost no improvement at all. Or if you had used the long jump, the difference between 10 and 17 isn’t triple, it’s +3ft, less than one square on average.

    Basically what I’m saying is pick one: Say the attributes need to be lower because they make you much more powerful, and then actually make them much more powerful. Or say attributes can go higher without exceeding the normal human range, and adjust the outliers (like lifting capacity). Arguing that a 17 is peak human, bringing numbers down to suit that, but not changing any of the mechanics to reflect it is what I am saying is problematic.

    {The way D&D/PF works, attributes quickly scale out of bounds. A fighter with Str 18 using a longsword does 1d8+4 points of damage–the sword’s average damage is doubled, which means the weapon being used is almost irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if the fighter is using a dagger, short sword, or longsword, that +4 from Strength is dominating the damage roll; the actual dice you roll barely matter (the difference between short sword damage and longsword damage is 1 point, which is trivial compared to the 4 points contributed from Strength).}

    I get that. My point is this: A 20 strength character is 4x stronger than an average human. He is twice as strong as an above average human at 15, and about 50% stronger than peak human at 17-18. If that is the attribute definition being worked with, the mechanics should reflect this. So I would expect the Fighter with 20 strength using a Dagger to not deal 1d4+5 (roughly triple damage), but 4d4 damage (quadruple damage). Similarly I would expect the Longsword fighter to go from 1d8 to 4d8. And yes, Greatsword going from 2d6 to 8d6.

    You are correct that this can quickly get you out of bounds. But remember, in the system you described, stats are scaling far slower. You described it as +1 modifier to 1 stat every 5 levels. You won’t have a 20 equivalent strength until level 20. At most you’d end up with the equivalent of a 22 at level 25. I think a system with bounds that low can afford to have every attribute point being worth far more (For what it’s worth, I do think in a system like this you could completely disregard a lot of other stuff that boosts attributes, like items and inherent bonuses, or at least limit those things to attributes not being boosted by level).

    The far more challenging thing is finding things that you can modify in this fashion for every attribute to keep them roughly equivalent, at the very least for characters whose archtype favors that attribute.

    {WOW’s range for this massively out of scale—a tough 1st-level character might have 100 health, and a tough 40th level character might have 4,000 health. That means there’s no way a low-level character (or creature) can pose any risk to a high-level character, its damage output simply can’t wear down the higher-level character in any significant way. (That’s actually why Blizzard is going to “squish” all character stats in the next sequel, as the stat inflation has gone crazy.)}

    Actually you’re wrong on this point. The stat squish in WoW is happening due to technical limitations. Specifically boss health is hard capped at somewhere around 2billion health (32 bit unsigned integer value). As of the last raid in Mists of Pandaria, several bosses actually hit that limit, and they’ve had to come up with creative work arounds to not break the game (Of the last 4 bosses in the raid, 2 have a big self heal tied to phase changes, one has mechanics to literally pull players out of the fight for large periods of time, and adds to deal with, and one of them is actually a dozen mini bosses fought in steady succession). The intent isn’t to make lower level content any more relevant to higher level players, in fact a great deal of effort has gone into providing buffs for players against low level content so it can still be defeated just as easily as on live (seriously at level 100 you might crit for 30k against a level 100 target, but if attacking a level 80 target crit for several million instead).

    I mean, I get where you’re coming from with wanting to keep players in bounds while leveling, and keep low level threats relevant, but that is not at all what WoW is concerned about, so bringing it up at all is a pretty big non-sequitor.

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    • {Right, I get that. The point I am making is that the stats don’t make them equivalent with Olympic Gold Medalists except in a few very niche areas. You used Weight Lifting as your basis, but if you had used endurance running, you would have gotten almost no improvement at all.}

      That’s because the game doesn’t attempt to model every Olympic event. If we had game parameters for individual throwing distance maximums based on Str, we’d also be able to compare record throws at various Str scores.

      {Or if you had used the long jump, the difference between 10 and 17 isn’t triple, it’s +3ft, less than one square on average.}

      That’s because the game models jumping with a combination of Str and ranks in the Acrobatics skill. It would be interesting to see how well (untrained) brute leg strength relates to jumping distance, but jumping isn’t just a matter of Str, and there probably hasn’t been a study of untrained brute leg Strength vs. distance.

      {Basically what I’m saying is pick one: Say the attributes need to be lower because they make you much more powerful, and then actually make them much more powerful.}

      Actually, along those lines, abandoning the game’s secret-but-detectable idea that +5 to a stat = twice as much also helps avoid this. It creates a measurement standard that (1) only allows us to measure certain things, like carrying capacity, but not other things like jumping distance, and (2) means we can set the parameters what a particular ability score “means” to whatever we want.

      {So I would expect the Fighter with 20 strength using a Dagger to not deal 1d4+5 (roughly triple damage), but 4d4 damage (quadruple damage). Similarly I would expect the Longsword fighter to go from 1d8 to 4d8. And yes, Greatsword going from 2d6 to 8d6.}

      I see your point. But D&D (and other RPGs I’ve played) don’t model weapon damage that way… and I think people would freak the hell out if that’s how the game’s damage worked. 🙂

      {Actually you’re wrong on this point. The stat squish in WoW is happening due to technical limitations…}

      True, the *reason* for WOW’s squish is a non-sequitor to my discussion of stat inflation, but the discussion of stat inflation (whether in D&D or WOW) is still relevant: stat inflation means lower-level characters quickly become outclassed by mid-level characters, to where a character of level X–2 is an achilles’ heel for a party of level X. We agree on that point (or at least you see where I’m coming from).

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      • “I see your point. But D&D (and other RPGs I’ve played) don’t model weapon damage that way… and I think people would freak the hell out if that’s how the game’s damage worked. :)”

        (Sighs) I don’t see why you feel when making a NEW GAME, that you feel beholden to Legacy/Sacred-Cows/what’s been done before. Especially considering that’s not a compelling reason to decline an idea, as that could be applied to everything. Since, if you’re afraid people are going to “freak the hell out”, then there’s no reason to make any changes at all, why make a new game at all, and just reprint a D&D edition of your choice, so people won’t “freak out”. Declining ideas because of Legacy is going to block out good ideas, and hamper the game from becoming better. Its even the point of Kickstarter, where you’re not beholden to some publisher telling you how things should be just like another thing, but what the customers want (since they’re the ones backing your game with their money). Its frustrating, as its like someone making a new First Person Shooter, but because someone would “freak out” that its not Call of Duty, they have to be sure to make it like Call of Duty, or because Twilight Fans exist, we should make Vampires in a new IP like them, because otherwise people would “Freak out”.

        The idea itself, seems to coincide with what you want conceptually, and in that regard it looks like a really good idea there. Just because you yourself didn’t come up with the idea, or not a designer as part of the project, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered for use.

        I “think” this was the video, that explains the idea of holding to artifacts attached to a brand, opposed to taking ideas that portray the experience you wish (yes, I know it talks about video games, but Game Design applies to TAbletop as well. Hell, people even make Tabletop versions of their games first sometimes, or at least, back in the day)

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  9. {I don’t like it, either. Haven’t used encumbrance in a campaign in a long, long time. Encumbrance isn’t in Five Moons (except in a “if the GM thinks you’re carrying the equivalent of a house, you need to drop some stuff” rule).}

    Good. Sounds a bit like how we play it now.

    {Five Moons characters get more skill ranks to play with.}

    Love this!

    Creating monsters with high int … {is an issue I’m addressing in an upcoming blog (I feel the same way as you!).}

    Cool!

    {Well, they are supposed to be the smartest characters, but that does get a bit wobbly if they spend all of their “know-it-all” ranks on Climb, Swim, and other physical skills. :)}

    I’m not saying a wizard should be able to add ranks to stealth or climb, but the int mod to skill ranks really messes with the skill system. So we seem to agree on this one too!

    {I’m not talking level 1 vs. level 13, I’m talking level 1 vs. level 5. 🙂 Level 5 PCs shouldn’t scoff at level 1 town guards; the PCs are impressive, but shouldn’t be near-invulnerable.}

    I misunderstood you, Sorry. I totally agree with you that “Level 5 PCs shouldn’t scoff at level 1 town guards”

    This all sounds interesting. I’m looking forward to try the new attribute system.

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  10. One thing I think is important to keep in mind with ability scores is how much weight they have. That is, when you try to perform a task, how much influence does your ability score have? Look at 3.5, 4e, and 5e. I’ll go with 5th level rogue making a stealth check for this.

    In 3.5, you have the d20, an 18 in dex, and 8 ranks in stealth. You roll a d20+12. The d20 adds an average of 10.5 to the result, so we can say that’s it’s weight, in the same way that a d6 weapon adds 3.5 on average to a damage roll. So the stat’s weight is 4/22.5, or about 18%.

    In 4e, our rogue has 20 dex, skill training, and a +2 half-level bonus, for a d20+12 again. Since dex is higher, it’s now 5/22.5, or 22%.

    In 5e, our rogue has a respectable 18 in Dex and a +3 proficency bonus, rolling d20+7. That’s 4/17.5, or 23%.

    As you level up in all three systems, the weight of the d20 stays at 10.5, so it becomes less and less important–though 5e’s advantage mechanic being easier to get at high level actually makes it more important–but the weight of the ability scores also tends to go down.

    Now, with your system. Assuming you had a a skill system with ranks, and assuming characters have plenty of points to invest in them (you did say “I like being able to invest points (or ranks or dots or whatever) in my choice of skills.” in an earlier blog), then I think it’s reasonable to say that a 5th level rogue’s stealth check will probably be a d20 plus 2 from dex and 5-8 from the skill ranks. That would give the ability score a weight between 11% and 9%. If characters can improve a skill each level, then at 25th, the rogue rolls d20+6dex+25stealth, for a weight of just 14.5% Put another way, someone with +6 (22) dexterity, who is agile in ways that are over the border and into superhuman territory, gets a worse result on general, untrained dexterity tasks a full 23% of the time compare to the +0 schmuck.

    The problem with 3.5 and PF was that you could easily get bonuses (say, Glibness, magic items, etc) that would make the dice inconsequential. 5e went with flattening things out, which means that the dice are still the most important factor of any roll. Personally, I think both don’t quite get it right, but I’d say that the problem really lies with the flat d20 roll.

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  11. My pending above post aside, have you officially come up with what the Ability scores in this game will be? While I’d suggest an RPG without them, instead I have some suggestions on the core ones that exist most famously in D&D.

    Constitution should probably be folded into Strength, as both rather narrow stats, and similar in flavor anyway (since when have super strong guys also not be tough?). It helps there not be a “Survival tax” stat as much, as now even most basic of Martial types can be tougher, and no doubt help them in the low levels.

    Charisma, dubbed the “Roleplaying stat” in a sense, is definitely one that I’d recommend strongly should go. That tagline there speaks it being a tax thats hurt characters more than anything, where Barbarians are less scary than silver-tongued bards, people have difficulty feeling cool with their characters, and possibly shuts them away from social situations. I also know there’s been the oddity of people making an “appearance” stat split from Charisma, which is silly, and shows that people don’t want Charisma mucking up their games. Despite Charisma isn’t in too many places in a given skill list, the ones it do are still big skills themselves, and people feel their PC’s lesser when without it, despite doesn’t add much itself.

    Seems like you had mentioned “social combat” or some rhyming such that used “Intelligence”, which is a sign to me that you’re doing away with Charisma. If so, I can applaud that change, charisma is a weak stat, and your game would likely be the better without it. Anyone worried about “sameness”, ideally theclass themselves should have abilities to differentiate the PC’s, so that two Str-based PC’s could be quite different through virtue of their classes, well as feats & power swaps they may make.

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    • {My pending above post aside, have you officially come up with what the Ability scores in this game will be?}

      Yep!

      {Constitution should probably be folded into Strength, as both rather narrow stats, and similar in flavor anyway}

      Str and Con model very different things, and it’s common to have someone who has a high stat in one and not in the other. A weightlifter is strong, but that doesn’t mean he’s better at taking a punch. A marathon runner has incredible endurance, but they’re not physically strong.

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      • A “Weight lifter” or “Runner” I can see character concepts that are narrow enough to not be relevant for the entire game. Just because in Reality they can model different things, doesn’t mean it needs that granular model in a Fantasy World (rule of cool & this isn’t the real world we’re talkin). However, among fictional characters, its common for them to be both strong & tough/hardy, Conan is a famous example (goes up to 6th at most at that), whom among other fantasy characters wanted emulated. Far as emulating those two types however, one seems Str focused (+2-3), and the other Str/Dex (+1/+1), as well as skill choices & character abilities I’m sure help differentiate them.

        Rules-wise doesn’t seem a reason to have them as two different stats when their functions are so narrow, especially among a skill list.

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      • I’m not saying that “weightlifter” and “runner” are character concepts, I’m just citing them to show that strength does not mean toughness, nor does toughness mean strength, and there are many examples in fiction, TV, and movies of characters who are one or the other, but not both.
        Just because it’s common for strong characters to also be hardy doesn’t mean we have to build the game so a character *has to be* that way. Under your suggested revision, every tough elderly person who refuses to lay down and die is also exceptionally strong.

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    • In a game project of mine, I did fold Constitution into Strength and split Wisdom between Intellect and Charisma. However, I did this to help create a defensive trade off between Strength and Dexterity (one boosts your durability while the other improves your chances to avoid attacks entirely). Craftsmanship is a Charisma skill in this game, which is extremely important in the game since sundering is common and the party needs someone who can augment equipment. The point I’m making is that a designer shouldn’t just change around the ability scores because it seems convenient or vaguely “makes sense.” A designer should do it because they have very specific goals in mind in how a character’s statistics influence their build and contribution to their party.

      I also firmly believe Charisma is a really underrated stat, despite social skills being clunky in Pathfinder. I’m really interested to see how social interaction will play out in Five Moons. Though my experience is limited, I haven’t found any games that had interesting mechanics for it.

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      • ” A designer should do it because they have very specific goals in mind in how a character’s statistics influence their build and contribution to their party.”

        Agreed, if one stat already serves the same function as another, then having to split between the two makes that harder. Which can cause it to become a “Tax” on that concept, especially if it takes away from their contributes, more resources for similar gain. In the case of the “survival stat” for Constitution, I’m not seeing what it’ll contribute differently in comparison to the other ability scores. Especially when you consider that ability scores will be starting small, so having a “tax” stat like that is already pulling the PC’s thin.

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  12. Pingback: Five Moons RPG: Retraining… and Reshaping | Sean K Reynolds

  13. I recently thought of another consequence of less dependency on gear. In 3.5e/PF, GMs have to be very mindful of Wealth By Level guidelines since too much wealth could overpower the PCs whereas too little can gimp them. With less dependency, GMs can now be more flexible in how they award wealth just as PCs have greater flexibility in how they spend it. They can spend their wealth on cool, roleplay-centric things rather than worry about making sure their characters are up to par.

    I recently had a major problem in my campaign where the party fighter felt severely hindered because of wealth issues. The party had spent a large chunk of their wealth on a ship and a house, and I tended to award wealth realistically (that owlbear ain’t gonna magically turn into a sack of gold). This hindered the fighter so much that he didn’t get a +2 weapon until around 9th level. Amplifying the problem was that the fighter’s class utilized very expensive weapons, and all other fighting characters in the party had class features that automatically increased their damage as they leveled up.

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  14. Love these bits-

    “This system creates characters who are above average, but not herculean (no more “strongest/smartest/swiftest character in the world at level 1″)….Having such a low starting range for bonuses leaves more room to “grow” as your character levels up”

    For quite a while now there has been an increasing power creep in starting characters, across the industry. Which is odd because in my groups, those early low power campaigns are some of the most fun and memorable. It will be nice to see a system that acknowledges the value of the early narrative, when characters are heroes because of what they do (in spite of their vulnerability), rather than because of what they can do.

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