Saturday, 9 January 2016

Smart Wizards, Dumb everyone else?

I like the simple approach to defining a character in Hero Kids.  It’s mostly elegant, however there is one aspect which doesn’t quite work smoothly for me, and that is the interaction between the Attribute die pools and Skills.  Due to how the idea of a character is presented in the core rules, I suspect the designer first approached character design from the perspective of what is the minimum needed for fantasy combat and branched out from there.  Skills behave as though they were added after the die pools had already been codified as skill use is somewhat hampered by the established combat-centric purposes of each die pool.

The spot in the system where attributes and skills are the most dysfunctional is in the dual nature of the Magic/Intelligence die pool.  Due to those two purposes, one specific and one generalized, being linked into the one die pool, the ONLY way one can create an intelligent character who is exceptional at any Intelligence based skill is if they are also a magic user of some kind.  This creates the possibly unintended side effect that any setting built using this system as its foundation will result in all smart people also being magically endowed and anyone who doesn’t also practice magic is kind of simple minded as they have a hard upper limit of one die for any base intelligence ability test, max of two dice if they have a relevent specific skill.  There are no brilliant military strategists, unless they are also capable of hurling spells on the battlefield.  Leaders of society and industry will almost always be magic users too.  There is an alternative though, and it requires only two simple changes.

One, rename the “Magic Die Pool” to “Intelligence Die Pool” (one could even change the Magic Icon to a Brain on a Hero Card), it’s usually referred to as Intelligence for skill use already as it is.  This shifts the die pool away from a specific usage and makes it applicable to any character.

Two, give all magic users this new Bonus Ability:
Magical: You can perform magic, using your Intelligence Die Pool to power a Magic Attack, magical Special Action, or magical Bonus Ability.
These two changes may seem like a game of semantics at first, but when you consider what else changes when you do this it is actually a big deal.

Take the two Hunter Heroes from page 26 of the core rules: they have two Ranged/Dex dice and one Defence die, yet they also are depicted wearing plain clothes without armor and each have a skill which could benefit from more Intelligence (Knowledge for the girl and Tracking for the boy). What if instead, they had one die each in Dex, Int, and Def; or two dice in Dex, and one die in Int?  Then when they made an Int (Knowledge) or Int (Tracking) Ability Test they would be able to use more than the minimum number of die.

This change also allows the creation of Intelligence focused Heroes who do not bend their mind to magic by default.  As a rough example, one could create a Scholar Hero who has three dice in Int, plus a Special Action and a Bonus Ability to grant either a very minor combat ability (Distract: can use Int Die Pool to make a Ranged Attack which deals no damage, but prevents an opponent from attacking on their next turn), or grants them non-combat bonuses (Linguist: Knows two additional languages to be determined at Hero creation, and on an Int Ability Test roll of 6 can decipher an unfamiliar language, written or spoken).  Sure, such a Hero isn’t powerful in a fight like a Warrior or Brute, but the existence of non-magical, Intelligent characters encourages gameplay which isn’t so heavily focused on combat

Is this a clue before me?
Imagine Hero types such as the Apprentice, Archaeologist, Detective, Explorer, Investigator, and so on being used in more Exploration style adventures (More like Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and less like Conan the Barbarian or Harry Potter) where players are deciphering clues or puzzles, and unlocking tombs to gain treasure, solve the mystery,  or rescue the Macguffin instead of simply killing their way to the goal.  Such Hero types could be one Str and two Int, one each in Dex and Int, or one each in Str, Int, and Def, plus a set of applicable Attacks, Actions, and Abilities.

How about an Intelligence focused Hero who has abilities centered on negotiation or manipulation (a Bard or a Leader type of Hero) giving a party the option of parlay instead of always drawing weapons first.  Instead of killing the Goblins who kidnapped the Princess (or Prince), the party discovers why they kidnapped in the first place, what they really want more than a hostage, and exchanging for that.  A less murderous solution, but the adventure is resolved and the person rescued, so everyone should be just as happy with the result.