(From Ask Chris #49: D&D with Super-Heroes, by Chris Sims.
I have been continuing to think about roleplaying stuff, so I figured I'd spool out my train of thought to keep up with what I've been mulling over. I continue to really like the idea of Character Traits, & they will definitely be appearing in some form or another in the next campaign I run. That being said, the major problem I've identified is that you lose a degree of the "neat rule hacks," which is a shame. I am a big proponent of the idea that the rules can help you tell the story; at the very most basic level there is the fact that attributes & skills help describe a character's strengths & weaknesses, right? & different mechanics twists can help distinguish races or classes from one another. A game with lots of hit points tells a more swashbuckling story than a game with more limited health options, which tends to be more "gritty." It is a language of subtext, & that can be exploited by the system & the Narrator to good effect. Conversely, relatively minor tweaks, especially conditional ones, really bug me. Give me minor constant hacks or major conditional ones.
I still don't have an easy answer for what to do, here. I really do think it is important. By way of example-- making antagonists in Oubliette is easy. All I have to come up with is an "Attack" value, a "Defense" value, & a "Health" value. Theoretically these should be derived from the creature's statitics, but why bother? Just eyeball it, since only the output matters. This template has one problem-- it is boring. So I spice it up a little. The Sugarcane Slasher was able to pull the PCs a number of squares equal to the number of successes it rolled on attack, trading damage for distance one to one. The Demi of the Terror Wolf Mob gave their targets a minus one penalty every time they hit them with their "neural whips." When the Players fought the mime-assassins of the Vanitas Vichey, those guys rolled a d10 every hit & dealt a random point of Attribute damage-- 0 being Narrator's choice. So on & so forth. Those little pinpricks, those dashes of colour, help make things interesting, & I'd hate to remove them from the table, as far as Characters go. In fact, the strength of the current Merit system is the use of ad hoc rules-- if there is a Player who wants to disarm people, the onus should be on him. It is an elegant dodge of the horrors of, for instance, Dungeons & Dragons' grapple mechanics.
So what are the important rules? Well, there are the very broad ones. 9-again rolls & 8-again rolls, those are both vivid, flavorful, & Players remember them. Auto-successes are also good-- I've used 9-again & auto-successes with items & I have had very positive results. Rote actions & advanced actions both give you re-rolls, & thus are much heftier, right? So I'm not sure where they fit in. I can even come up with some other neat fundamental mechanics-- 7-success, where rolls of a seven or better are successes, rather than the typical eight or better? Boom, there you go. I've had a few ideas-- maybe items shouldn't grant extra dice, maybe they should all be 9- or 8-again? Nah, if I'm going to do that I should just have variable difficulties, which isn't the worst idea, but a different discussion entirely. I could just have a "Hacks" section of the character sheet, or little boxes next to each skill, but then how much XP does a 9-again cost? & those are just baseline mechanics fiddling-- as I described above with the various monsters & villains, more specific rules mini-games are also a lot of fun. At some point this over-laps with Powers-- things like Disciplines & Gifts-- which is something else to keep in mind. Hrmph.
On the subject of the fact that there aren't any Traits derived from Presence, Manipulation & Intelligence, I have had a few ideas. First-- what if Willpower was derived from either Resolve plus Composure or Presence plus Intelligence? Or, well-- I understand the logic behind Resolve plus Composure, but I think Presence is a potential source as well, right? Self-confidence lending itself to Willpower. Anyhow, I like Willpower, & I might be alright with giving characters a higher over-all Willpower, right? Something to think about, anyway. I really like Defense, which is calculated by the lower of your Dexterity or your Wits. It makes players make hard choices, which I find to be the sign of a rewarding mechanic. Plus-- & this goes to the ability of rules to tell stories & to the idea of special rules hacks as Powers-- you can flip it so that a character or race or whatever has the higher of Wits or Dexterity, & boom. Isn't that interesting? I think so, anyhow. I've discounted the idea of a "Wyrd" or "Glamour" pool-- too much complexity for too little gain, especially since Willpower already exists & can be co-opted for the same thing. I still occasionally think of a "Resistance" Trait, like Defense for Social & Supernatural attacks-- an idea, right? Or "Aura," as a sort of default area of effect? Nah, that is too abstract. Anyhow, this is the kind of direction I'm thinking of taking it.