Sunday, August 31, 2014

Optional Characteristics in Man, Myth & Magic

As discussed previously, characters in Man, Myth & Magic have six basic characteristics:  Courage, Endurance, Intelligence, Skill, Speed, and Strength.  The sum of their values equals the amount of 'Life Points' that a character possesses – the amount of physical harm the character can sustain.  So, everything else being equal, smarter people are more durable than dumb people.  As a game mechanic, I don't have a problem with this.  Someone who has bought into the concept of Leprechauns, gladiators, Zen mystics, and Egyptian sorcerers reincarnating into one another cannot decry a lack of realism.  Regardless, determining Life Points by adding together all of the basic characteristics is a simple and convenient notion.  Also, beginning characters will tend to have similar Life Point totals; each added characteristic means a closer approximation to the “average.”  So, using all of the basic characteristics for Life Points helps to balance characters.

The rules do not explicitly define most of these basic characteristics, but they are largely self-explanatory – especially for people versed in RPG terminology.  'Skill' is an exception; it means something different for each character type.  For warriors, 'Skill' is combat training.  For sorcerers, it is magic proficiency; for merchants, it is salesmanship.  Let's take two hypothetical characters who have the same basic characteristic values as each other.  One is a warrior and the other is a merchant.  To the same extent, their 'Skill' contributes to their respective Life Point totals.  Some of the warrior's Life Points are due to combat training.  Fair enough, but the merchant has the same number of Life Points because he can get a good deal on a rug.  Perhaps instead of considering the effect of the Skill, we should interpret the talent and/or determination inherent in the Skill to be a metaphysical 'source' of Life Points.  If you don't buy that argument, just tell yourself, “Leprechauns.”

Book II of Man, Myth & Magic contains a section detailing various 'optional characteristics' that may be used “to increase the depth of your characters.”  The are typically expressed as percentile scores.  (Incidentally, the MM&M notation for percentile dice is “2d20%.”  This is a testament to the old-school nature of the game.  Back in the day, we didn't have ten-sided dice; we had twenty-sided dice numbered 0 - 9 twice – and we were grateful.)  The optional characteristics do not influence Life Points; however, as mentioned before, some optional characteristics – most notably Agility, Dexterity, Sight, and Throwing – provide modifiers when using certain weapon types.

The Luck optional characteristic is not represented as a percentage.  Instead, a die is rolled generating a result from 1 to 10. Modifiers are applied and the total is divided by three.  This is the number of times per adventure that the player may re-roll a result (or cause a roll made against the character to be re-rolled).  “Luck may not be used to offset death caused by a natural dice roll of 100...”

Height determination is a flat distribution.  'Normal' humans can be anywhere from 4' to 6'6" at intervals of 2" except that 4'4", 4'10", and 5'2" are skipped without explanation.  Leprechauns can be either 3'6" or 4' and Anakim have their own table ranging from 6'6" to 7'3".  The roll for Weight is determined by indexing a percentile die roll on a Height chart.

Many of the optional characteristics are shown in the “LM'S LIST OF CHECKING DICE ROLLS” graphic above.  This list is found on the back of the “ADVANCED CHARACTER STATISTICS SHEET” for ease of reference.  A successful roll means rolling high in some cases and rolling low in others and the distinction is not intuitive (or else there wouldn't be a need for such a list).  For Hearing, a successful roll is higher than the value but, for Sight, a successful roll is lower than the value.  Is consistency too much to ask for?  Incidentally, the only other 'sensory' characteristic is Senses which “represents a players [sic] ability to sense danger or trouble.”

Characters (in the AD 41 setting) “are assumed to speak their native language and Latin...Roman characters are assumed to speak Latin and Greek.”  The Language optional characteristic determines the chance a character can speak a third (and possibly a fourth) language.  The Read & Write optional characteristic determines if a character is literate (must have a score of at least 70) and – if so – with how many languages.

The “Player Characteristics Modifiers Table” takes up a complete page and provides basic and optional characteristic modifiers for each of the classes/nationalities.  (The Egyptian Trilogy provides an equivalent table for the 1375 BC setting.)  Fewer than half of the classes/nationalities have basic characteristic modifiers less than –5 or greater than +5.  Gaulish Merchants have no modifiers for basic characteristics so I assume they represent the 'average' of humanity.  Optional characteristics are more likely to have modifiers in the range of ±10, ±15, or even ±20.  Spellcasters tend to have a positive modifier for Luck and no class has a negative modifier for Luck.  An Egyptian Merchant has a +15 modifier for Woods Knowledge (bad) while a British Druid has a –15 modifier (good).  In contrast, the same Merchant has a –10 modifier for Desert Knowledge (good) and the Druid, a +10 modifier (bad).

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