AresMUSH
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FS3.3 - Tweaking FS3

This article gives some tips to game designers for customizing and tweaking FS3.

Attributes

The six attributes are designed to cover the basic aspects of a character. There are two for physical strength/finesse (Brawn and Reflexes), two for mental strength/finesse (Grit and Wits), and two that are a blend of physical and mental (Perception and Presence).

When changing attributes, consider that every skill - even a Background Skill - needs to be tied to an attribute. That’s why Presence exists even though it isn’t relevant to Action Skills in FS3 Core. It’s there so you have something to link Background Skills like Acting or Singing to.

Action Skills

One of the hallmarks of FS3 is the distinction between Action Skills, which are relevant to the conflict in the game, and Background Skills, which are fluff skills to promote character depth. Another hallmark is a fast, easy character creation experience because the skill list is limited.

To stay true to these basic principles, it’s important to keep the skill list reasonably small. 10-12 skills is ideal. More than that, and you’re going to end up with people min/maxing excessively or getting overwhelmed trying to figure out what skills they need. Fewer than that, and you won’t have much differentiation between characters.

Limit Action Skills to what is important to your game and likely to come up in conflict situations. Sure, Survival and Driving and Riding are all potential Action Skills. But are there really going to be a lot of challenging horseback rides or car chases in your theme? Are people going to be stranded out in the woods a lot? If it’s not important, leave it to a Background Skill.

Attributes aren’t meant to be rolled by themselves; only in conjunction with a skill. So if you expect something like a willpower or perception check to come up a lot in your game, you should have an Action Skill to go with it - like Composure or Alertness.

Specialties

FS3 works best with broad Action Skills, because otherwise you end up with a gazillion of them. Of course there are specialties within every Action Skill. Firing a pistol is really not quite the same as using a rifle, nor is wielding a sword the same as wielding an axe. These are lumped together for simplicity. Remember - FS3 is “Simple Skill System”.

Specialties are there when it’s really important to divide up a skill. Don’t add specialties for every skill or it gets silly. Reserve them for the ones that truly need some degree of oversight. On a BSG game it might be important to know whether your pilot knows Vipers, Raptors or both. On a modern game, does it really matter what kinds of planes they can fly? Probably not.

Advantages

Advantages can be used for things that aren’t skills, but that you want people to spend points on in chargen. Common things you might use this for:

  • WoD-esque backgrounds (Resources, Connections, Rank, etc.)
  • Merits/Advantages (Ambidexterity, Internal Compass, etc.)
  • Powers/Spells - although be careful, because FS3 isn’t inherently geared towards fantasy/superhero settings.

The advantage rating descriptions are pretty vague (Fair/Good/Exceptional), so you should be sure to elaborate on what exactly those ratings mean in your system. What is “Fair” rank, for example.

Ability Point Limits

Be sure to allow enough ability points for the types of concepts you want to support. There’s nothing wrong with telling people to start off at “level 1” - MMOs and tabletop RPGs have been doing it for ages. But “level 1” characters should have an appropriate “level 1” background. It makes no sense to allow a Navy SEAL or superhero character and then nerf their skills.

The default limit of 45 AP in FS3 Core is designed to give you the “everybody has them” skills at fair levels, a couple skills at professional levels, a handful of above-average attributes, and a few more skills to spread around to make yourself stand out.

If you have more skills or want people to start off more awesome, you should consider raising the bar accordingly.

Don’t be afraid to allow different levels of Ability Points based on faction, position, or some other criteria that makes sense in your game. In 3rd Edition, Action Skills account for way more of the Ability Point total. So action-oriented characters need more points than supporting characters.

See Managing Min-Maxing for more information.

Points and Age

Side note about age: I’m not a fan of flat age brackets. You end up with a lot of people who min/max their age to get points instead of picking the age that’s appropriate to their concept. More importantly, age doesn’t always equal experience. Should a 50-year-old cook really have as many Action Skills as a 22-year-old marine combat veteran? No. Youth and talent often equals age and wisdom.

Personally, I use age to guide what levels are appropriate rather than giving more or fewer points. A kid fresh out of boot camp probably shouldn’t be an expert in anything, unless they’ve got a really unusual background.

Ratings

Games are encouraged to use the full range of ability levels, with the exception of the Legendary skill level, which is truly meant to reflect epic levels of awesomeness.

Too often, games curtail people. For example, refusing to approve rookie pilots with low skills or veteran pilots with high skills. When you do that, you effectively take a game that’s tuned for dice ranges from 2-12 and smush it down into 4-9. Everyone starts to blend together.

There’s really not a huge advantage between higher skill levels once you get above 5. Don’t be too worried that you’re going to hugely unbalance the game by allowing a couple 6’s or 7’s.

Experience / Advancement

There is no universal approach to character advancement. It varies a great deal depending on the game’s desired tone, theme and values. That said, there are a few common models:

  • Carrot on a Stick - You feed people a continual stream of adancement as an incentive to keep playing. This is what you find in many traditional RPGs and MMOs.
  • Hero’s Journey - Characters get really good really quick because they’re heroes. The hero begins the journey as a farmer/apprentice/etc. and by the end of the (typically very short) journey they’re a legend.
  • Reward-Based - If you do things that the staff approves of, you will advance faster.
  • Realistic - Learning takes lots of time. You may pick up a new skill here or there, but in the IC timespan covered by a typical MUSH at a 1:1 time ratio, character skills aren’t going to meaningfully change.

The default config in FS3 Core is geared toward a Realistic advancement. You get lots of points in chargen to start off cool if you want to be an expert, but don’t expect dramatic changes during the game.

There is no right or wrong here; it is a question of style and preference. But there are a few caveats if you’re going to change the system:

  • Characters who start out as newbie/apprentice type characters are going to be very frustrated if they’re expecting the Hero’s Journey and you’re enforcing a more realistic rate of advancement. Talk to these players ahead of time to set appropriate expectations.
  • If you limit chargen points too much and enforce a slow progression model, you’re basically begging people to min/max their skills in chargen.
  • It’s a bit jarring to restrict starting levels in chargen (“sorry, you don’t have enough background experience to justify a rating 6 in that skill”) and then let characters advance to level 6 in a few months of game play.
  • Carrot on a stick model works best when people start off at low levels (as MMOs/tabletop RPGs do). When you let people start as experts and still expect continuous advancement, you can quicly reach godlike power levels. It can also lead to some glaring disparities between veteran characters and people fresh out of chargen. (the “dino effect”)
  • Reward-based advancement can lead to OOC sour grapes if people are unable/unwilling to do certain things due to time/temperment/etc. It can also create a have/have-not splintering of power levels.

Dodge

This is a pet peeve of mine, so take it with a grain of salt :)

Please don’t add a Dodge skill. For one, it makes warriors now need to buy one more skill, which just causes more min/maxing and silliness in chargen. Secondly, nobody ever goes into a martial arts dojo just to learn “Dodge”. Splitting out dodge makes about as much sense as splitting out punching or kicking. It also doesn’t account for parries/blocks very well.

Some people added a Dodge skill in 2nd Edition because of the way melee weapons were defended. In 3rd edition that’s no longer necessary. If you’ve got a Sword, and someone’s attacking with an Axe, you defend with your Sword skill.

Combat Without Armor

The default FS3 configuration is balanced for near-modern military combat with vehicles or ground troops will be wearing body armor most of the time. If you don’t have armor in your theme (e.g. a Wild West game) you’ll probably find that combat is too lethal. You can adjust the lethality levels in that case.

You may also want to do this in a post-apoc or low-tech environment where healing is in short supply, since otherwise it might be hard to explain people surviving terrible wounds.