I ran a game for my youngest child, Jewel, this weekend. She’s eight, and in the second grade.
Now, just like her older sister, she has been immersed in Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying concepts in general for her whole life. Hitpoints, mana, elves, orcs, swords, sorcery – she’s seen it all in video games and movies. Ever since she saw me buy the D&D Basic Set for her older sister Megan, she’s been asking if she could play Dungeons & Dragons.
And I’d been putting her off, for two reasons. First, she couldn’t do the math. Second, she really didn’t have the attention span.
Now that she’s eight I felt she was ready to experience roleplaying in some fashion, but I still didn’t want to let her play Dungeons & Dragons. Why? It’s just too heavy and confusing for a young roleplayer. In order to play that particular game she’d need to be able to read and do math at a much higher level than she can now.
But I felt that she was more than ready for the roleplaying experience itself, especially since she would have her older sister helping her along. What I needed was a simple, easy-to-understand roleplaying system. My goals were:
* Based on 2D6; I didn’t want to introduce polyhedral dice yet
* Low modifiers to make the math easier
* Fast-playing. I mean, really fast-playing. No charts or tables for the players.
Now, I had written up what I thought was a pretty good system based on the old Traveller rules. It had rules for buying stats and skills and general task resolution. I asked Megan to read it and she said something brilliant. She noted that high stats gave bonuses and low stats penalties when buying skills, and asked the question, “Why are there skills at all? Why don’t we just add or subtract those stat bonuses when we’re trying to do something related to that stat?”
“Well,” I huffed, “it would mean that someone with a high Intelligence, for example, would be able to do everything Intelligence-related well. They’d be able to program a computer, solve a Rubik’s cube, do theoretical physics…”
“Oh, please,” she retorted. “You effectively pick what you’re good at when you pick your class. If you’re trying to do something very different from your class description then you’d get a penalty. There isn’t any real reason to have skills; they just make things more complicated.”
I’d already had a nagging suspicion that the system I was coming up with was more complicated than it needed to be, and buying skills was one of the worst parts. Megan’s one question allowed me to greatly reduce the complexity of the system without it being any less fun. She is definitely my daughter.
I hereby present the system for your perusal and critique.
JRPGS (Jewel’s RPG System)
Characters consist of five stats – Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), Intelligence(INT), Endurance (END) and Personality (PER). Stats range from 2 to 12. Characters start with 7 (an average score) in each stat and players take away and add points to stats until they’re happy with what they have. Every point of a stat above 7 gives a bonus and every point below 7 gives you a penalty. Characters have (END * 3) hitpoints and (INT * 3) mana points to begin with.
I asked Jewel what kind of character she wanted to play and she said a wizard (of course). To make things even easier, I asked Jewel what two stats she felt would be most useful to her character and she picked Intelligence and Personality, surprising me. Then I asked her what two stats she wanted to give up; she chose Strength and Endurance. So I simply gave her a +2 for the ones she picked and a -2 for the ones she gave up. I gave her three times her Intelligence in mana and three times her Endurance in hitpoints so, she ended up with this:
Race: High Elf
STR: 5 (-2)
INT: 9 (+2)
END: 5 (-2)
PER: 9 (+2)
Her sister Megan wanted to play a rogue, and she juggled her numbers herself to get this:
DEX: 10 (+3)
INT: 4 (-3)
END: 5 (-2)
PER: 9 (+2)
The basic throw to succeed at a task is 8+ on two six-sided dice. Based on the type of task you are resolving, you will add or subtract whatever stat bonus or penalty the DM thinks is relevant to that task.
For instance, Jewel’s spellcasting would pretty obviously be an INT-based task, so in order to successfully cast a spell she would roll two dice, add her +2 INT bonus and try to roll 8 or higher.
The GM can make tasks more difficult two ways – they can assign penalties or they can have tasks be opposed. Penalties are fairly obvious, so let’s talk about opposed tasks.
An opposed task is one where another character is trying to stop you. A good example would be attempting to lie to someone convincingly. You would roll a Personality task to do so – if you roll 8+ then you have spoken well and there’s a chance the other character will believe you. But then they roll against their Intelligence. If they also roll 8+ then your attempt fails – they’re too smart for you.
I initially thought about having all combat rolls be opposed – a player would roll a Dexterity task to see if they hit, then the enemy would roll a Dexterity task to see if they could dodge the attack. I realized this would be slow and frustrating (I could hear Jewel saying “But I hit!” in my mind).
So melee attacks are Dexterity tasks; succeed and you hit. A basic attack does 1d6 worth of damage. If you have a Strength bonus, you add that bonus to your damage. Damage can be reduced by wearing armor; one point of armor negates one point of damage from each attack.
This required the most work and imagination on my part. I absolutely did not want a huge list of spells with their effects cluttering up everything so I gave Jewel a basic attack spell and a sleep spell and went from there.
What I did was allow her to tell me what she wanted to do, and then based on how effective that task was I would assign it a mana cost of 1, 2 or 3. (If I felt it was too game-breaking, I didn’t allow it at all.)
She would then roll an Intelligence task to cast the spell. Her attack spell would do the same damage as a weapon attack – 1d6 – plus however much mana she used to cast it.
Armed with this system, I was ready to run Jewel’s first roleplaying session. Since this is already a bit long, I’ll save that for the next post…