Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mechanics Discussion: Luck Points and Skills (again)

Luck Points

I'm thinking about revamping how I do HP for my homebrew: the GLOG.  Here's what I'm thinking:

Level 1: HP = 1/3 of Con.
Level 2: HP = 2/3 of Con.
Level 3+: HP = Con.

And that's it.  It never goes up.  (It's still modified by class, of course.  Barbarians are still going to have a boatload of HP.)

And then after you reach level 4, you start accumulating Luck Points.

Level 4: 1 Luck Point
Level 5: 2 Luck Points
Level 6: 3 Luck Points
Et cetera.

Luck points can be spent to influence a roll by +/- 1 point, after it has been rolled.  This works on both damage rolls and d20 rolls.  This only works on rolls involving you.

You recover lost luck points when you get a good night's sleep or eat a good lunch (1/day).


This is interesting because Luck Points are--at a minimum--an HP increase.  Since you can reduce incoming damage by spending Luck Points, a character with 10 HP and 10 Luck Points can survive taking 19 damage from a dragon's breath.

Except that they're much, much more versatile than that, and actually much more powerful than a mere +1 HP would be.

You can spend them to make your enemies miss (as long as they barely hit), and you can spend them to turn your near-misses into hits.  You can spend them to make your Save vs Death.

And because you can always spend them, they become this little option attached to every die roll that you fail by a couple of points.  "Do I want to spend my 2 luck points to dodge this orc's axe?  Or should I save them for later?"

And because you spend them after the roll, and because nearly all rolls in the GLOG are d20 roll-unders, there's no more dice to roll or tables to consult.  Just the question of "Do I want to spend my precious Luck Points here?"

And like HP, every class benefits from them.  They're like the American dollar.  Like HP, they're a reservoir that the DM must whittle down before killing a PC, but it's such an interesting little reservoir of potential.

That's good, since classes stop getting class abilities after level 3.  This injects a powerful little ability into every character that they'll all benefit from.

And yet I tend to hate hero/action points.  Go figure.

by Jakob Eirich
Skills (v4)

Alright, I've done skills a million times because I'm never happy with them.  Fuck 'em.  Here's my newest draft and it's perfect in every way, and I'm sure I'll never hurl it from the cliffside where it will dash its brains out alongside it's brothers below.


There is no strict list of skills.  You can pick anything you want as long as it's not a social skill (no Persuade), a Perception skill (no Search/Sense Motive), or overly broad (no Magic).  Likewise, the uses of each skill must be interpreted by the DM.

You start with 2 skills: one random one from your background and one random one from your profession. (Or just two random ones.)  You gain these skills at a skill score of 6.

Like everything else in this damn game, you test your skill by rolling a d20 and trying to get equal-or-under to succeed.

At the end of each session, you can attempt to improve a single skill by rolling a d20 under your Intelligence.  If you succeed, the skill score improves by 2 (up to 10) or 1 (when attempting to pass 10).  You cannot raise a skill higher than 10+Level, to a  maximum of 16.

You can gain a new skill the same way.  Mention a thing you did this session "I tried to sail a boat and failed, but I think I might have learned from my experience", and make an Int check.  If you succeed, you gain that skill at a skill score of 2.

If you succeed by 10 points (e.g. rolling a 2 when you had a skill score of 12) it is a critical success and you can apply an adverb to your attempt, such as "instantly" or "reversibly" or "stealthily".

Skills are used to achieve things beyond the ken of a standard adventurer.  Adventurers are already capable climbers, swimmers, jumpers, and combatants.  (For example, Indiana Jones is just an base adventurer with skill in Archaelogy, nothing else.)


This isn't very different from my previous skill systems.  It's very easy to explain, which I like.  And there's no tracking

I've been playtesting this for a little while, and I like the little Int tests at the end of each session.

While I'm calculating XP, the players are all rolling to see if they can improve a skill.  This is good because (a) it gets them talking about what they did during the session, (b) it keeps them out of my hair, (c) it rewards higher Int characters by letting them learn skills faster, but not to a higher degree than low-Int characters, and (d) the only skills that improve are the ones that the players actually use in each session.

If you want to be a master linguist, you need to spend some time wrestling with merfolk morphemes.


  1. I like the what happens to small margins for error with Luck points in play. It means that the "Aww man, that was really close, can I have a bonus?" becomes "Yes. For now."

    I love being able to adverb it up on critical skill checks. Stolen!

  2. I have a very similar set up with luck, except I tied it to an ability score and made them d6s. The luck points add some great mechanical things for players without detracting from the game itself. Like the hp/luck progression. What's your reasoning for stopping there, though. Why not just keep hp as is from level 1? The adverb bit about skills is cool.

  3. Yeah, making them a d6 sounds sensible to me. Most of the time, when an enemy hits you, they've done so by >1 (e.g. if they need 14+ on a d20 to hit, then only 1 of 7 hits are on the exact number). If you can reduce their to-hit by a d6, though ... then it's a gamble. Otherwise, it's entirely possible your character with one luck may (quite reasonably) never use it - they got hit three times, none of which a single -1 would have affected, and reducing the damage by 1 wouldn't help, so their shiny new ability couldn't be used usefully.

    (Of course, it's true of *every* ability you gain, you might end up in a situation where it can't be used; it's just that a single +1/-1 seems fairly low key.)

    On a 1-to-1 exchange rate, it also seems like there's almost never a point spending luck to reduce damage *except* when that damage was going to knock you out *and* if by doing so, you can avoid being knocked out. They're doing 6HP damage, reducing me from 8 to 2HP? Why bother to reduce the damage *now*? I can always use the luck points on the next hit, the one that actually *would* have knocked me out ... and by holding off on spending them, I've still got them available if I need them for something different before then.

    That might be entirely intentional though: luck points never come into play until someone *is* at risk of dying. Seems kind of reasonable.

    1. Yeah, that's all intentional. I expect players to save luck points until it becomes the difference between life and death. But then again, you recover them 2x a day, so you might as well spend them.

      And yes, +1 is underwhelming compared to +1d6, but I like it like that. If they got a 1d6 luck point every level, that's sorta equivalent to getting an additional 1d6 HP per level, and I want a system that is self-limiting.

      You aren't going to be able to spend your 2 luck points usefully in every roll, maybe not even every fight. But when you spend them, you'll know exactly the effect they'll have.

      Other things about my homebrew that might help justify my tiny luck points:

      - I tell players when monsters get down to 1 or 2 HP. Makes 'em focus. Luck points are good for that.

      - Players get a new level every 2000xp. The only difference is, beyond a certain level, you aren't gaining anything except +1 HP (or +1 luck point, if I decide to implement them).

      I do this because I want character progression to be self-limiting, a soft plateau. And giving players a pile of expendables is self-limiting, because they'll spread them around.

      "Okay, I have 7 luck points because I'm level 10. I'm going to spend 2-3 in order to succeed on attacks if I get the opportunity, and I'm going to keep 4-5 points in reserve to help me survive whacks from the ogre."

  4. With Luck Points and skills that improve from use as a variant of XP, it kinda seems like you're playing a Chaosium game like Stormbringer. The interesting thing they add is that skills that were attempted but failed also have a chance to level up, which I've yet to but always wanted to incorporate into my homebrew.

    1. Hah! I've been reading Chaosium stuff in the last week. Also an influence: burning Luck in DCC.

      Skills improving when they fail is one way to implement diminishing returns into a skill system. It's self-limiting and elegant, which I love. I've played around with the same idea, but right now I'm leaning towards improvements based on Int (to make Int more important for non-casters) and capping things based on levels, because level-less systems don't mesh with my intentions.

      Hell, I might just set a flat cap at 16 and get rid of the level-based caps. It doesn't change the game much, and I guess I'm okay with a player maxing out Lockpicking at level 3 at the expense of their other skills.

  5. How would you handle the situation where someone gets down to zero-luck? Any negative repercussions outside of just not having any more luck to spend?

  6. A bit of luck is something that happens to us by accident. It feels weird to have so much direct control overy my own luck.

    Maybe a different word, like "Resolve".

    1. I was thinking "fate". That has a specific meaning in some RPGs though.

  7. The levels 1-3 HP change seems like it will make low level characters even more vulnerable and make HP calculation unnecessarily complicated for those of us who don't like fractions. Also does this change the number of Hit Dice a player has?

    As for the Luck Points, I like them. However I do wonder how the change will affect things like disease and Saves. On the flip side how does Luck interact with magical healing?

    I like the simplicity of the new skill system, even if the mechanism is a bit difficult to explain (starting at 6 took a while to wrap my head around). Do all skills start at 6? While the reduction in bookkeeping is much appreciated I'm torn as I liked that improving skills was a downtime activity and could be played out.

    1. 1/3 of 3d6 has the same average as 1d6, which is 3.5 HP. The fighter gets +2 HP at level 1, which brings the average fighter HP up to 5.5+Con, same as a single d10 hit die. If anything, it helps keep the level 1 party from having a HP 1 fighter next to a HP 10 fighter.

      (I'm assuming old-schoolish HP totals here. If you're playing 5e, it's a whole different story.)

      Level 1 = HD 1, Level 3 = HD 3, and it never improves beyond that. (Players are always vulnerable to the sleep spell, for example.)

      And yeah, I share some of your concerns re the skill system. I've decided that there is no ideal skill system, just systems that are optimized for different things.

    2. Thank you for clarifying. I was mostly comparing the post to an older copy of The GLOG btw.

  8. How do you handle languages anyways, Arnold? I've always had trouble turning them into a non-boring mechanic, and I see many others struggle with making them interesting to use.

    1. I don't. Everyone speaks Common and no one speaks any additional languages. The players will run across different languages in a dungeon and then one of 3 things will happen:

      1) They'll understand it automatically and we can move on to the more interesting stuff.

      2) They'll understand a fragment of it automatically (or at least, one of the characters will) and they'll be left with a cryptic phrase or clue, and we can move on to the more interesting stuff.

      3) No one understands it automatically, and finding a way to translate it requires finding a person who can translate, or finding a Rosetta stone. The Rosetta stone is interesting, because once you find it, you still need to go back and spend 3 wandering monster rolls translating the stupid thing. THAT is an interesting problem: do you want to spend ~90 minutes while the wizard tries to translate some text of dubious value?

      "Roll Linguistics to understand" is boring.

      If you want the players to understand something, let them understand it. Think "interesting choices" instead of "realism".

  9. I played for about 3 or 4 years where players could burn HP and use them like luck to improve rolls, I think a players used that option maybe 3 times in those 3 or 4 years. Maybe breaking out luck like this would make things work differently. "Do I push my luck to improve this die roll or do I sae it to avoid getting killed?" might do what I wanted to do with burning HP.

  10. I'm going to be the naysayer and say I think turning luck into a resource for players to manage is a step in the wrong direction; players should be getting bonuses to their rolls through a focus on intelligent gameplay.

    Is it not better that a fighter get +1 to hit on the dreaded Rat King through a clever distraction involving cheese rather than he spent a 'luck point'?

    1. 1. It's a way to force the player to make interesting choices regarding resource expenditure, directly fostering engagement.

      2. It helps mitigate the wildest swings of luck, since on a long enough timeline chance will always kill your character, which sucks.

      3. It makes the character a little tougher without ballooning hit points. Thus the math that causes a longsword to do 1d8 damage still make sense, as it remains a threat since you're locked to 3 hit die, but won't neccesary instantly kill you, as you can spend something to prevent a quick and boring death.

      What you propose is still something the DM can do, but fails to accomplish the same things (on its own) as this because it's very situational, DM dependent, can't be used as extra HP in a pinch, and doesn't give the players interesting choices.