They Call Me The Seeker

International Hobo – Your BrainHex Class is Seeker-Mastermind

Your BrainHex Class is Seeker.

Your BrainHex Class Your BrainHex Sub-Class is Seeker-Mastermind.

You like finding strange and wonderful things or finding familiar things as well as solving puzzles and devising strategies.

Each BrainHex Class also has an Exception, which describes what you dislike about playing games. Your Exceptions are:

» No Fear: You do not enjoy feeling afraid, preferring to feel safe or in control.
» No Punishment: You dislike struggling to overcome seemingly impossible challenges, and repeating the same task over and over again.

Learn more about your classes and exceptions at

Your scores for each of the classes in this test were as follows:

Seeker: 19
Mastermind: 16
Socialiser: 15
Achiever: 8
Daredevil: 7
Survivor: 0
Conqueror: -6

Go to to learn more about this player model, and the neurobiological research behind it.

Feel free to take a copy of your BrainHex icon and display it anywhere you wish! Simply right click and choose “save as”. All we ask is you provide a link to anywhere you use our images.

Thanks for taking part in the BrainHex survey!

Depth Vs. Breadth in Skills

In Pricing breadth in skills, T-Bone, of the Games Diner, muses on how to price depth vs breadth in skills:

Games typically address depth in all the detail you’d want – which isn’t much, really. Some systems might offer skills as a binary “you got it or you don’t” switch, which won’t satisfy enthusiastic character designers. Most systems are more accommodating, with the ability to purchase a desired level of skill. Nothing fancy is needed; just by picking a level, players can make the character a laughable novice or an awesome master, or anything in between, where Astronomy or Knife Throwing is concerned. All fine and good.

Breadth, though, isn’t something you’ll see addressed with such a freely-set measure. A system will pre-package the breadth of skills, establishing that combat skills consist of Sword and Knife and Shield and so on, and scientific skills consist of Astronomy and Chemistry and Physics and what not. There may be limited options to tweak breadth, such as ways to learn smaller subsets of those skills, or to lump them into broader Hand Weapon or Science skills. But they’re typically coarse tools.

This neglects one very common and workable approach, perhaps because it shows up mostly in systems on the rules-light end of the spectrum, which is to have everything cost the same but let the player define the breadth of the skill when purchased and assume there’s some GM-guided ad-hoc trade-off between depth and breadth in use. E.g. if you define your skill as Science a successful roll will give you somewhat less information identifying an alien disease than if you had defined it as Xenobiology. Roughly equivalently the target number can be set higher for a really broad skill than a broad skill than a narrow skill than a super-specialized skill. I find this works quite well in practice, because the GM is already making those kind of judgment calls when setting target numbers or deciding what to tell the player when a knowledge skill is employed. Even if you did as T-Bone suggested and had a detailed list with a complicated formula for figuring cost, the GM would still have to make the same sorts of judgment calls as to whether the more or less specific version applied and where to divide the skills.

There are actually two kinds of sets of skills to consider when you think about grouping them: skills that can be arranged in a hierarchy of specialization, and skills that are discrete even if similar.  Knowledge skills are often hierarchical. Science -> Biology -> Xenobiology -> Xenoforensics would be an example of increasing specialization in a single category.   Performance skills, such as languages or musical instruments, are related but discrete.   French and German aren’t really specializations of general training in “European Languages”, nor  are cello and violin specializations of the broader skill stringed instruments.  Facility in one might make it easier to learn another, and it’s possible to have a general aptitude for being good at learning things in the category (having an “ear for languages”), but it doesn’t really make sense to have a skill rating in Languages without skill at any particular language unless it’s just a placeholder indicating that if you ever do learn a language it will be easier.

Discrete but similar skills probably do require some way of assigning a cost along the lines that T-Bone discusses, where there are increasing returns on investment, or you’ll end up making perfectly logical characters of a sort who actually exist in the real world prohibitively hard to create in the game system.  His particular ideas (basing the cost on the square root of the number of discrete skills, or on a sequence where each additional skill costs half what the previous one cost) are, imo, too complex and almost immediately run into problems of fractional costs, but it would be possible to fix that by doing the inverse:  instead of saying the first language costs 1, the second 0.5, the third 0.25 and so on say you have to spend 1 at a time, but each 1 gives you an additional number of languages equal to double the prior step:  for 1 you get one, another 1 would add two more, another 1 would grant you four on top of that, and so forth.  Even simpler would be to do something like: one, two, three, many.  That is, make the character pay for the first three, and have the fourth step jump to however many the player likes.  These kinds of skills are almost never the focus of the game, and not only does the marginal utility of an additional skill itself drop off quickly, so does the utility of tracking exactly which ones are known.  I’d rather the player be able to say “My character knows all the goblin and giant tongues” and move on than have the game stop while everybody looks at their character sheets to see if a particular dialect is listed.

Become a Better Player

Rob Lang, of the Free RPG Blog, has switched sides of the GM’s screen and asks for tips on becoming a better player, so here are some of my thoughts:

  • Give your character a personality. It needn’t be anything elaborate, and you don’t have to put on an accent, change your speech patterns, or even speak in the first person (though all those can add something), but it’s more fun for everybody at the table when the characters are memorable, and people can derive a lot of satisfaction out of recognizing when a character is doing something that typifies the character’s established personality (“Oh, that’s sooo Merath!”) and even more when they manage to predict and take advantage of that (“I knew Merath would go along with that plan, because she gets to dress up as the princess and boss everybody around”).
  • Don’t make your character a jerk, unless you’re absolutely sure of your ability to entertain the other players and GM with the character’s jerkiness.  It’s ok to be the character that everybody loves to hate, but it’s not cool for anybody to actually hate it when you play that character.  When you’re gaming with friends they’ll probably put up with your character making everything less fun for everybody but you, at least for a while, but that’s no excuse.  Even if you are sure that it’s entertaining and not too disruptive, it would be wise to limit the jerk aspect to specific situations (the character goes on a bender after successful adventures) and not just be all-around unpleasant.
  • Make your character a team-player, unless you’re playing solo.  Loners aren’t necessarily jerks, but in almost all RPGs your character is going to be part of a team, even if it’s not a formal team, and it screws up the game if the character keeps going off away from everybody else and makes the GM split attention between what the loner is doing and then what the rest of the party is doing.  Every team needs a Hawkeye, as Kurt Busiek once wrote, but the thing is even though he might have groused, or even quit, when it came time to act he was there and pulling his weight.   If your character needs some alone time to be true to the character, see if your GM is amenable to doing that between play sessions…that might be brief play-by-email, or it might just be a couple of sentences at the start of the session “In the six months between the end of the last adventure and now, Doc Bronze went back to the monks of Lhassa Apso and meditated and trained,” “The Crimson Fox has been operating solo, striking terror into the drug gangs of Dockside,”  or even just “My druid has been communing with nature.”
  • Give your character in-game goals and make the character a self-starter.  Everything is easier for the GM, even in a heavily-plotted campaign, if the character can be counted on to have goals and pursue them instead of having to be clubbed over the head and dragged along by the plot.  On the flip side, don’t give the character goals that are incompatible with the plot or theme of the game, at least without consulting the GM and other players first, unless you’re quite prepared to play out how the character’s goals are frustrated.  If the campaign is about the brutal war between the conquering Orcs and the rag-tag band of freedom-loving other races, playing a pacifist who just wants peace at any price is cool if you’re interested (or at least willing) to play out how he learns there are some things worth fighting for, but can amount to an attempted hijacking of the campaign if you dig in your heels.
  • Don’t be a afraid to retire a character.  If you’re a design-in-play player who can’t really set out to make a character with a given personality or approach, some of the above advice might seem hard to carry out…you might not have set out to create a jerk or a loner, but as play progressed you found that’s what the character has become.  If that happens, and you can’t see a way to nudge the character you’ve envisioned into something the other players can enjoy playing with, it’s time to let that character go.  The loner can go off and be alone, and you can create a new character and try again.  And even if you’re not design-in-play, and have had the character all figured out with a ten-page backstory before you sat down at the first session, if you’re at all into thinking about the inner life of the character there may come a point where events in the game mean that what the character would do is leave the group.  So let the character leave, and maybe you’ll pick it up again if in-game events bring the character’s goals or location and the party’s back in sync.  Sometimes this will require some out-of-game finagling with the GM and other players (too many plots are written that make the party a sealed group with a common origin or the only ones in the world who can accomplish the overarching campaign goal), but it beats making yourself and everybody else miserable with your square peg in the round hole character.
  • Stick to genre.  Even in a setting without an explicit genre there are going to be certain assumptions as to what the game is “about”, and what sort of things it’s appropriate to do and what things aren’t, and what characters fit the setting and what don’t.  Don’t push the boundaries, at least until you’re used to playing in that setting and with that group.  Yeah, fine, a Warforged who thinks he’s a ninja might be a cool idea, but save it for when you’re sure you can carry it off without wrecking what everybody else is hoping to get out of the setting.
  • Play the system appropriately.  If your group is using a very crunchy tactically oriented system and expects everybody to play as optimally as they can, then you should learn how to do that…don’t slow everything down asking for yet another explanation of what exactly you’re allowed to do on your turn.  On the other hand, even if they’re using such a system, if everybody else is happy just winging it and doing whatever they think their character would do, even if it’s not as big a bonus, don’t insist on breaking out the battle mat and planning your tactics for five minutes every turn.  If it’s a very loose system with an expectation that the players will provide a lot of descriptive color even if there’s no mechanical benefit, do your best to entertain with genre-iffic actions.   Contribute to the game in the spirit that everybody else is playing, even if it’s not your preferred style.  If you have a real problem with the style that everybody else is enjoying, you can bring it up for discussion, but maybe you should be playing a different game.
  • Don’t hog the spotlight, but don’t shun it either.  The only real limitation in the game is not how powerful or effective the characters are, but how much time they get to strut their stuff and be the center of attention.  That’s the real currency of the game: how much time do you get to show your character doing his stuff.   If you suck up all the available time, that’s bad, but it’s also bad if your sole contribution to the group’s enjoyment is getting your turn out of the way as expediently as possible, whether out of shyness or boredom.  If you’re not doing anything more than saying “I swing my sword” every time somebody points out it’s your turn, you’re not contributing as much to the entertainment as you could be.
  • If your preferences aren’t being met, discuss that with the other players. Be open about what you want, they’re there to entertain you as much as you’re there to entertain them, but don’t try to unilaterally change things more to your liking.  If you want more combat you can tell the other players that, or you can have your character grouse about inaction and lust for battle, but don’t just have him attack when they’re trying to negotiate to force their hand.  If you can’t come to an accommodation, you can’t play their way or come up with a character that you’ll have a good time playing and they can’t enjoy your preferred style, then find a game that will satisfy you, don’t subvert theirs.

Ultimately, most of this advice boils down to a principle of courtesy.  Keep in mind that everybody at the table shares the responsibility of making the game fun and entertaining for everybody involved.  Be willing to make sacrifices as far as what would be your ideal ultimate solo gaming experience in order to keep everybody involved and having a good time.  Be flexible in what and how you play, and don’t play if you’re not having fun.

Adding Crunch to Super Simple Combat Maneuvers

Based on some of the comments on my post on Super-Simple Combat Maneuvers, some people are looking for more crunch to the system, or at least a more reliable way of forcing the issue.  Here are some possible added fillips, bearing in mind that to the extent that you make maneuvers a more attractive option than just doing damage you tilt the combat towards being resolved by the use of applicable maneuvers instead.  The original rules were designed so that you probably couldn’t use them to win a combat you would otherwise lose, at least not without a big dollop of luck.  The result, though, was that you probably wouldn’t bother to employ them unless circumstances gave you a specific reason to (we don’t need to defeat all these enemies if we can just get the MacGuffin to the Altar of Doom); it gave you a nice way of adjudicating attempts to do things outside the scope of the normal roll to hit/roll for damage/rinse and repeat cycle of combat, but it deliberately didn’t give you a lot of incentive to do so or choices to make in how to go about it.

If that’s not adequate, then here are some optional rules to try:

  • Advanced Maneuvers: accepting some penalty in return for increasing the chance of a critical that forces the issue.  E.g. for every -1 you take to your defense, or -1 to the damage done if they refuse the maneuver on a normal hit, you increase the critical range by 1.
  • Special Training: in return for spending resources on special training in using maneuvers (e.g. Feats in D&D 3, or Edges in Savage Worlds) you get either an increase in the critical range, or an increase in the damage done if the defender refuses the maneuver.
  • Upping the Stakes: for every -1 you take to your To Hit roll, you increase the damage done by 1 if they refuse the maneuver.
  • Reducing the Cost: if you think that forgoing a critical is too high a price to pay, so nobody would try the option, you could make it do regular damage plus the maneuver on a critical, or you could defer the decision to apply the critical damage or the maneuver until after the damage is rolled.

The exact numbers would vary depending on the system being used (a +/-1 is a lot bigger deal in Savage Worlds than in a d20 system) and the feel you’re going for.  You probably wouldn’t use all of these unless you wanted a very maneuver-centric game, and you should be prepared to tweak the exact numbers or even which ones you’re employing depending on how they work out in actual play.

Of these, I think I like Upping the Stakes the best.  There’s something conceptually kind of nice about the idea that you can press for extra damage, but you have to leave a way for the defender to weasel out of it if they value their hide more than whatever the tactical disadvantage might be.

As far as my actual play goes, it’s too early to tell.  Friday we only had one combat, and it was pretty much a straight-up hackfest, as the party fought off a group of Neanderthals.  Nobody tried anything fancy except for one wimpy mage who tried playing dead.  There was one PC death to a nasty crit, but nobody expected Expendable 1401 (yes, that was his name) to last more than a session or two in the first place.