The scale

In the Common Ground post,I mentioned the TSR – FGU scale. This scale was something I used to use to describe the system complexity, but also to gauge the realism reflected in the game.  As a general guide, the more realistic you make a system, the more complex you make the rules.  Some examples:

  • Hit points vs localized wounds:  Hit points are a very generic and highly abstract means of tracking a character’s health.  As such, they are a fairly simple mechanic.  With hit locations, and damage distributed to each one, you have vastly increased the realism, because now you can track if an arm is broken, or a leg muscle shredded, and the sharpshooter character becomes a very powerful character.  But now, you need rules for distributing damage capacities to each area, a way to determine where a hit lands, how aiming works…you need to determine the granularity of your system…limb, torso, head, or left hand, left fore arm, left upper arm, left shoulder…This can be even more realistic by looking at types of damage…a cut versus a club or a bullet…does the bullet penetrate or get lodged in the body. You can see how the rules ramp up pretty fast.
  • Level Vs Skill: In a level system, you need to create a means to level up, usually an experience system.  Then the character, upon defeating enough challenges (traps, missions, fights…) they gain an incremental bonus to everything they do.  So basically two rules:  awarding experience and benefits on leveling.  A skill based system becomes much more granular, and forgoes the unrealistic leveling system.  You advance skills as you use them.  Now you need to create an experience system that tracks individual skills, and create a rule for advancing those skills.  On first view, same amount of rules.  But now you need to look at the finer system.  When leveling, usually all, or a given number of capabilities improve, and usually all of your players will improve at about the same time.  In a skill system, this becomes much more chaotic, and characters tend to become highly specialized in a small set of skills while the others tend to languish.
  • Character Creation: This is really the basis of all the rest of your system.   A character creation system with 2 characteristics, say Body and Mind, based on a 1-6 range is very quick and fairly easy to create and conceptualize, but not very granular.  This system would give you a total of 36 types of people.  A game based on those two attributes could be fairly easily understood.  Now, a system with 10 characteristic, say 5 mental and 5 physical based on 1 – 100 gives you a hugely vast variation from the character with all 01s in all 10 scores, (probably dies of a mosquito bite before he is a day old) to the one with 100 in all 10, and becomes a challenger of the gods.  2-12 points total in the first system, 10 – 1000 points in the second.

Even though this scale been broken by many games as our hobby matures, by using hybrid level/skill systems or making combat cover hits and wounds, or by including optional”Advanced” rules to address some of the simpler systems the concept still holds water for comparison.  In may not be TSR or FGU anymore, but when looking at the very surface of the system, it can give you a feel for what it is.

Is either end of the scale better than the other?  All depends on what you want in a system.  If you want realistic combat, then roll a D20, beat a given armor class, deal so many points is not very good.  If you want a fast and abstract (but workable system) Rolling up to 11 D100s to determine the outcome of a hit (maintain your saddle, score a hit, determine hit location, determine shield damage, determine damage past shield, determine damage to rider, determine if either rider is unhorsed, determine falling damage…) is probably not what you are looking for.   This is before we even look at how to determine how good you are with the weapon, and the riding!

Many of the more modern games use some variation of these systems to determine character resilience and capabilities.  Are they better than the earlier games?  In many ways yes, as they have evolved the systems.  With that in mind, is there ways to improve?   I’m sure they will come along…  (by the way, both of the character creation systems are real, and I have played them.  You might wanna wait around for the reviews of some games, eh?!)

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