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Thursday, May 20, 2021

A Simple Way to Handle Ability Scores

Long ago, I settled on a simple way to use ability scores:

  1. Set the Difficulty of a task to either Low (8 or less) or High (13+.)
  2. Skip the roll if the character’s ability score is higher than the difficulty level.

Roll is 5+ on 1d6. This is not a roll to succeed, but a roll to see if the task is finished in the shortest time possible (1 round, if performing an action in combat.) On a “failure”, the result is how much longer the task takes.

I’ve finally given in to an urge I’ve had for years: the base difficulty is equal to three times the dungeon level, or three times the hit dice of an opponent, or three times the spell level, unless the dungeon notes or rules say otherwise. This makes every spur-of-the-moment GM ruling so much easier.

Player wants to inch along a narrow ledge? If this is happening on Dungeon Level 1, no prob (everyone with Dex 3+ can do it.) If it’s on Dungeon Level 4, only those with Dex 12+ can handle it. Dungeon Level 6? Only Dex 18 characters can handle that crazy crumbling ledge.

Taking longer lowers the difficulty, enabling low ability characters to handle situations that would be impossible for them to deal with otherwise.

Training helps. Anyone with the appropriate skill can use their years of experience in place of their ability score. If that’s not high enough, they can use special gear (use 3 x gear’s level rating in place of ability score.) Untrained characters gain no benefit from special gear. Level 2 gear costs five times as much normal, Level 3 costs ten times normal, Level 4 costs 50 x normal.

Class helps. If a skill is part of a character class’s abilities, they can use 3 x character level in place of ability score. Heroes (4th level Fighters) can easily negotiate physical obstacles on the 4th dungeon level even if their Strength and Dexterity are below 12.

New magic spells can be easy to apply even without a detailed description. What’s the spell level? Multiply that by 3 to get the equivalent ability score when dealing with the targeted situation. So, a 3rd Level Chasm Leaper spell, without any special write up, will at the very least allow leaping successfully across average chasms on the 1st through 3rd dungeon levels.

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  1. Interesting! Your use of numerical difficulty level correlating with dungeon level has a noble lineage: the original Tunnels & Trolls. What you say is much more developed, though.

  2. Reminds me a lot of cypher system - DC=3xLvl, equipment/training as an asset; check it out!

    1. Probably won't, since I've settled on OD&D (with or without house rules) as my system of choice. And looking at their promo materials, the designers involved, and the price, I'd say it's pretty far from what I want. But thanks!

    2. I like the setting of Numenera but the system is bland IMO. I’m going to try your system out. Thanks.