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(TFT) Bell Curve
I read this on the list and just had to give it a hearty hi-ho. This is
exactly right (relatively simple nature of the play and 6 sided dice).
Nature uses the bell curve a lot. And being an athlete almost my entire
life I know that skills move in a normal curve fashion. The shape of the
curve will vary somewhat, but getting those superior skills and maintaining
them takes a lot of work for just a little gain. And though you might not
be able to keep up with Lance, you can still ride a bike even though it has
been 20 years.
TFT always struck me as having that great balance between detail and
abstraction that made how your character was designed and what he did mean
something, but without having to worry about nit-picky details that might
get in the way of a story-telling or even a combat. D&D fails primarily in
the use of flat "curves" and irrelevant stats, and GURPS in its round the
table play with 2 second turns and too much detail.
3 6-sided dice added together gives that "just right" feel. Shifting the
entire curve back and forth across the x-axis a bit with small additions or
subtractions completes the variations needed.
When I was at UT in the Aerospace dept. we got to work with some NASA
engineers on a computer simulation of a personal George Jetson style
backpack for space. Without computer guidance, once you started yaw, pitch,
and roll it was basically impossible to ever achieve complete stillness
again. Every correction led to another correction and the spin would just
get worse and worse until all you could see was the Space Shuttle zipping
across the screen from various positions as you achieved a dizzying finality
in the coldness of space.
Trying to "fix" TFT can quickly lead to the same disappointing results, IMO.
Why not leave the system alone, find a way to make it available to as many
as possible, and concentrate on creating and playing great adventures?
Indeed, it's the old realism vs. abstraction issue. I'm on record as an
abstractionist. The size of the hexes vs. the size of characters has never
mattered to me, and as long as the scale of weapons and their hit points
against types of armor seemed consistent, then it was fine for me.
I've been thinking about what keeps TFT my favorite gaming system after all
this time, and it comes down to two things: the relative simplicity of the
play thanks to the level of abstraction in TFT, and 6 sided dice.
I think TFT hit exactly the right level of abstraction so that I could
imagine the encounters with enough level of detail to make it exciting
without having them turn into endless roll-playing (as opposed to
role-playing). I'm happy to ignore all the little inconsistencies if it
means a fast-paced game.
lately I've been thinking a *lot* about 6-sided dice. This is in no small
part because of a gaming system under development that I've been lucky
enough to watch evolve before its release. In some ways it's vert TFT-ish,
but uses a d20 for its hit determination.
This gives us a linear scale where each point gained in an attribute like
dexterity is a 5% increase towards the likelihood of a successful roll.
This is true whether your character is in the middle of the pack or a
With the 3d6 mechanism, the edge in percentage drops off the higher the
value of the stat goes, thanks to the bell-curve nature of how 3d6's roll.
This has always seemed more correct to me, in that skilled athletes work
very hard to achieve small advances in the abilities.
Now sure, it seems hypocritical on my part to at first say I'm fine with a
high level of abstraction, then prefer a certain dice- rolling mechanism as
more realistic, but it comes back to that level of balance.
I know I'm in a minority when it comes to the abstraction vs. realism
debate, as evidenced by the popularity of DnD versus TFT, and the numerous
attempts (including GURPS) to add more and more factors into the mix to more
closely simulate reality. As Johnnyboy notes, "I think we just want (or
demand) different amounts of exactitude in our games."
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