I like the system.
Your character starts with ten abilities. Attribute scores are formed by the number of abilities attached to them rather than the other way round: you divide by two and round up. 1-2 abilities equal an attribute score of 1, 3-4 is 2, and so on.
Where attributes – ‘Fitness’, say, or ‘Zone’ – give a general picture of a character’s capabilities, abilities indicate areas in which the character is particularly experienced. The ability ‘Survivor’ would connect to the attribute ‘Fitness’, the ability ‘Xenotechnology’ to ‘Zone’. There are eight attributes, each of which governs ten or more abilities.
Attributes also act as a reservoir of points to burn when the player wants to engineer a success for her character. She then has to play the attribute at a lower level, possibly zero, for the rest of the session; she’s too burnt-out or despondent to do more. This fits the source material wonderfully well.
Beyond a) general facility or b) a particular ability, a player can affect her character’s chances of success through two forms of narration:
- The Idea is how applicable the player’s solution is to the problem at hand. Negotiations between GM and player can be as detailed or as general as they like.
- Roleplaying covers how well her course of action meshes with the scope of her character. This includes acting, immersion and other social factors.
The two variables – Idea and Roleplaying – are given a numerical value between 1 and 5 and multiplied to produce a rising curve of possible results. Having the right ability for the job gives a +1 bonus to both variables.
With no relevant ability, average values for both Idea and Roleplaying are between 2 and 4, giving a spread of results between 4 and 16. With an ability, values of 3 to 5 offer results from 9 to 25.
Characters’ tasks will often be Routine or Challenging. At the low end, having a relevant ability will mean a difference of one difficulty level; at the high end, two. Harder tasks will be attainable if the player can get either her Idea or her Roleplaying variables high enough to hit the difficulty level set by the GM:
- 2 Easy
- 5 Routine
- 10 Challenging
- 15 Difficult
- 20 Very Difficult
- 25 Nearly Impossible
- 30 Incredible
As written, the GM wouldn’t make these numerical targets available to the players. Personally, I’d prefer to do so.
I think I’d also want to include the players in evaluating one another’s ideas. A ‘bid one up’ or ‘bid one down’ heckle system could work. Higher!
If the player’s idea has a clear advantage over the problem set by the GM, the modifier is +1. If there are several advantages, or one of them is instrumental to success, the modifier is +2. Negative modifiers would apply to bad ideas:
- (1) Stupid Idea
- (2) Weak Idea
- (3) Functional Idea
- (4) Good Idea
- (5) Brilliant Idea
Another way to evaluate a player’s idea would be to start with a value of 1 and then apply modifiers to the in-story situation:
- +1 credible idea
- +1 equipment available
- +1 circumstances and/or environment can be adjusted to suit
- +1 teamwork
- +1 speed
Evaluating roleplay is, in my experience, more problematic. Players that behave politically in games rarely admit to doing so. I’d suggest using a starting value of 3, erring on the side of generosity and paying close attention to how well the player’s performance suits a) their character, and b) the situation in the game.
Players will have opportunities to roleplay their attribute scores, particularly if they’ve burned points during the session. Any halfway decent attempt at acting should be awarded +1:
- (1) Poor
- (2) Lacking
- (3) Expected
- (4) Good
- (5) Excellent
The game is next to perfect. Even its weaknesses become it: print-on-demand, a home-made quality, inconsistencies in the translation (from Finnish).
A great game marries its hard effect, or game system, to its soft effect – its ‘setting’ or source material. There are all kinds of things bubbling under the surface of Stalker RPG: Soviet colonialism, urban dungeon crawls, numinous science. The message of the game is the same as the reason to play it: détournement.
Come in. Remake space. This is the Zone.