Sunday, April 24, 2016

Indiana Jones and the Attribute Checks of Peril

Modified Check Table

It's most important to me that a game be fun and simple to play.
– David “Zeb” Cook

Characters in The Adventures of Indiana Jones role-playing game (hereinafter Adventures) have six Attributes:
  • Strength – A measure of “muscle power.”
  • Movement –  A character's movement rate.  This Attribute is also used for determining initiative, whenever a “character tries for that extra boost of speed...tries to do something acrobatic, or when he drives a vehicle.”
  • Prowess – Represents a “character's coordination in a fight.”  Any attempt to hit an opponent uses Prowess.
  • Backbone – Represents a “character's determination and guts.”  This Attribute is used “whenever he encounters something that tests his willpower – torture, drugs, or some terrifying sight.”
  • Instinct – Perception, including “gut” feelings.  In certain sections of the rules, Instinct is used for intelligence and memory.
  • Appeal – This Attribute indicates a character's personality; specifically, “how non-player characters react to” the character.  This is specifically a human concept; animals do not have this Attribute.
Among the seven provided characters, Attribute Ratings range from 44 (the Instinct Rating for both Short Round and Wu Han, as well as the Strength Rating for Willie Scott) to 92 (the Appeal Rating for both Willie Scott and Marion).  (Digression:  Is there a tendency in role-playing games to assign higher 'charisma' values to women characters?)  All of the ratings are divisible by four (for reasons soon to be explained).

The basic mechanic of Adventures involves rolling percentile dice against some multiple of an Attribute Rating.  Rolling equal to or under the specified multiple indicates success.  Regardless, a roll of 96 - 100 represents failure and a Bad Break – some complication to the situation.  A roll of 01 - 05 is not only a success, but also a Lucky Break – “something good has unexpectedly happened.”

Aside from Lucky Breaks, there are degrees of success; the better the roll, the more successful the character is.  The Modified Check Table shown above demonstrates four 'colors' of success (including Lucky Breaks).  We see similar concepts implemented in contemporaneous TSR products such as the Marvel Super Heroes RPG and the Star Frontiers adjunct, Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space.  Unlike these examples, the 'degrees of success' in Adventures are formulaic – they are based on multiples of the Attribute Rating being checked.

In other games, there can be a plethora of numeric modifiers to a roll (e.g., +x for aiming, -y for darkness, etc.).  The Modified Check Table for Adventures has only four columns because there are only four possible 'states' in which an Attribute can be checked:  the normal Rating of the Attribute, a less difficult circumstance (×2 Attribute Rating), a more difficult circumstance (×½ Attribute Rating), and a much more difficult circumstance (×¼ Attribute Rating).  “Using ropes or levers” would be a ×2 modifier for a Strength check and “Shooting at a moving target” would be a ×½ modifier for a Prowess check.  Modifiers are cumulative (two ×½ modifiers would result in a ×¼ modifier; a ×½ modifier would cancel out a ×2 modifier).  A check cannot be greater than ×2 nor can a check be less than ×¼ (and still be possible).

The Character Dossiers list the ×2, ×½, and ×¼ values for each of a character's Attribute Ratings.  As such, it is a relatively simple matter to determine success for any check as well as the degree of success.  Evidently, some concern was expressed that the system was not sufficiently efficient.  The Judge's Survival Pack includes a “combat computer you assemble, to speed your adventures along.”  This contraption is shown below.  A sleeve is positioned along a narrow sheet to a selected Rating; values exposed by the sleeve indicate the percentile ranges of various degrees of success.  The so-called computer is not limited to combat (i.e., Prowess checks), but is usable for any of the Attributes; results for Instinct and Appeal checks are clearly listed.  It “works,” but it's hardly an aid to simplicity.  If this is an improvement, it's time to go back to the drawing board.

The ×¼, ×½, ×1, ×2 progression is a workable system, but I would use the terminology of “levels” (Level 1 = ×¼, Level 2 = ×½, etc.).  Modifiers would then be -2, -1, and +1.  With “Level 3” being the default Rating, everything would work like it should, but we forgo fractions and the non-intuitive ×1, ×2, ×½, ×¼ Character Dossier display.

DVD shown for purposes of scale

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