Thursday, 24 May 2012

A simple attribute-based skills / "good at" system

I've been talking to the players in my group about possibly starting a new campaign (actually a series of mini-campaigns), and one option that's been discussed is a Victorian era Cthulhuesque campaign.

I was considering this some time back, and we even got so far as creating characters, but never got around to playing. One of the main factors in this was that I realised I'm not that keen on the Call of Cthulhu rules, and (moreover) that I just can't be bothered to learn and master some new rules set. It's just not something that interests me. One of the brilliant things about playing Labyrinth Lord for me is that I'm innately familiar with the rules.

So I've gotten to thinking about how I might run a Cthuluesque game using a foundation of Labyrinth Lord / basic D&D.

Unlike in D&D, in a modern(ish) horror setting the concept of "classes" of adventurer isn't important. What is important however is what characters know and can do -- hence the enormous skills list in CoC. I'm not a fan of skills systems, which was one of the main things which put me off CoC as a rules system, but I'd want some way of defining what each character is good at.

Here's what I'm thinking of.

For each attribute, the player can choose a number of things which the character is good at or has training in, relative to the score, as follows:

3 to 8: not good at anything, 9 to 12: good at one thing, 13 to 15: good at two things, 16 to 17: good at three things, 18: good at four things.

Each "good at" / skill should of course be in some way related to the attribute in question. The player would basically be free to choose whatever they wanted, without being restricted by a pre-defined list of skills. Some ideas would be:

STR: climbing, boxing, wrestling.
CON: running, can drink anyone under the table, rude health.
DEX: shooting, draftsmanship, card shark.
INT: history, languages, mathematics.
WIS: self-control, good judge of character, compassionate soul.
CHA: public speaking, "ladies' man", mesmerism.

How these areas of skill would actually be used in play would be open to the referee's judgement. One example might be that if characters were given a 1 in 6 chance of achieving a certain task, then characters who are "good at" that thing would get a bonus (probably based on the attribute in question).

Very flexible, very vague, but probably enough to run a game with! (At least for people like me who aren't bothered about having strictly defined rules for everything...)


  1. Hm... Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque are house-rules for a "gothic fantasy" campaign. Even if you don't use much of it, I like the Character Background Table with d100 entries; I guess it's similar to how a profession is used to in Barbarians of Lemuria. I liked this aspect of the Barbarians of Lemuria rules very much. I think I might like such as system better than what you proposed: broad non-weapon proficiencies (haha) independent of the attributes you rolled. It allows for exchanges like the following at the table: "Ok, I'm a wiccan – maybe I will recognize the sign?" And it prevents exchanges like the following: "I rolled low, my character sucks!"

    I'm not sure I'd ditch classes. Boxer vs. academic = fighter vs. sage or something like that?

  2. Hey Alex, yes I'm a big fan of Jack's d100 professions table too! I was actually imagining using a simple profession / background system as well as the skills system I described. The idea was that the skills would just emphasise specialised areas of experience / knowledge. So it wouldn't be that a character with low attributes could do nothing at all...

    I dunno, it might be easier to just let each player choose 5 or 6 things their character's good at. I liked the idea of somehow tying it to attributes though (in the same way INT traditionally grants extra languages -- that was the inspiration for this idea).

    Re: classes... in a setting without spells (either MU or cleric), and where thief skills would be subsumed into the professions / "good at" skills, I don't see what role classes would play. I mean, I could of course create some kind of alternative classes, but for a short campaign of a few months it doesn't seem worth bothering :)

  3. Looks good to me.

    I just thought I'd pipe up long enough to say that the "card shark" skill might be more of a mental attribute (judging the odds, reading bluffs, intuition) unless you are actively "slight of hand" cheating (hiding cards up your sleeve using Dex).

    1. Yes you're probably right :) I guess I was using the term (slightly incorrectly) to mean someone who's skilled at cheating at cards by sleight of hand, etc.

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  5. "I mean, I could of course create some kind of alternative classes, but for a short campaign of a few months it doesn't seem worth bothering :)"

    You can't fight the urge... it's in your blood! I'll be looking forward to your write-up of my Pugilist class. ;)

    1. Huh? Do you have a Pugilist class that needs writing up then? (I'm your man! ;)


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