Friday, October 11, 2013

The big five character traits

So far attributes have been the key values that define a character and that convert directly to game mechanics. They help in actions such as skill usage, problem solving and combat, but in no way describe the way the character behaves, his morals, the way he or she responds under different situations. Now I'm adding a few more traits to make things more interesting. To flesh out the character with desires and fears, virtues and vices, and moral strengths and weaknesses.

The first are the big five character traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. These five values will help describe and record how the character tends to behave under different conditions. The player may choose the values between 1 and 10 or simply roll them and play what comes out.

These five basic traits will help define actions which will in turn mold the character throughout the adventure. Aside the big five character traits live saints and daemons, the angels and ghosts of personal experience. Saints and daemons live in the character's mind and both will help him or her overcome the hardships encountered. The former with a benefit and the later at a cost. With time these will grow and change the character's perception of the world around the character, of life, of others and him or herself.

"Now you might not believe it, but under fire Animal Mother is one of the... finest human beings in the world. All he needs is somebody to throw hand grenades at him the rest of his life." (Pvt. Eightball, Full Metal Jacket)

The Big Five Character Traits

Character traits are being added as character description values. These range from 1 to 10 and are covered the in the following explanation.

A summary of the factors of the Big Five and their constituent traits:
  • Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine. Some disagreement remains about how to interpret the openness factor, which is sometimes called "intellect" rather than openness to experience.
  • Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior; organized, and dependable.
  • Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness.
  • Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. cold/unkind). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of ones' trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well tempered or not.
  • Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as angeranxiety, depression, or vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control and is sometimes referred to by its low pole, "emotional stability".

This diagram shows clear examples of a high or low score on each.

If you want to roll for these values instead of picking them a roll of 3d4 - 2 is done for each. This might result in a set of unexpected yet very interesting character traits to play.

If you want to see what your trait score is take a look a this test:

Saints & Daemons

"You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling... without passion... without judgment... without judgment! Because it's judgment that defeats us." (Kurtz, Apocalypse Now)

Saints and daemons are background experiences that forged the character. A saint is a special gift that the character has that makes him or her excel at what she does. That special intuition, that charisma, that six sense, that particular endurance, motivation or spirit, maybe something his grandfather taught him or some self taught skill from living in the streets. Usage of a saint power grants bonuses to the character when doing certain tasks, success enhances the character's spirit, but failure in its usage may feed the daemons within.

For example, hard work and perseverance during youth may grant the character a special saint power to control his body very well. Enduring the hardships of hiding and concealment, able to stay perfectly still and control himself for long periods of time. This grants bonuses to rolls and actions related to scouting and concealment.

Daemons are also gifts that give power to the character, but do so at a cost. Using a daemon power will corrupt the character and make the daemon even stronger. Working around a problem without using a daemon power will raise the spirit of the character. Much in the same way a saint grants bonuses, so does a daemon grant bonuses, but its usage, failure or not, slowly corrupts the character.

For example, an animal like instinct in the character grants her a bonus in reflex rolls. She will draw faster, react faster and foreshadow enemy actions. Using this power to gain an advantage in a shoot out would result in a more effective, yet more vicious attack and the slow corruption of the character's soul.


When I go home people'll ask me, "Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?" (Hoot, Black Hawk Down)

The drive is a thought, ideal or wish the character has that fuels his or her life. It can be a mid or long term goal, it's what pushes the character on through the darkest moments. Drives change and evolve, but above all drives are challenged. The character's traits will dictate how and how well the drive's goals are pursued.

Will the drive be banal and superficial and unable to push the character forward in dire moments? Will the drive be too overwhelming and push the character to a breaking point or leave him to be consumed by his or her daemons as the character does everything in his or her power to achieve the goal? 

The drive also represents the character's interests and in a way, ego. Strong changes in drive may result in a high impact on the character's personality. Drives that lead to disappointment can result in the birth of new daemons in the character or heavily accentuate basic traits. Usually not in the stronger more virtuous manner.

Oh, maaaaaan and I was getting short. Four more weeks and out, now I'm going to die on this rock. This ain't fair man. (Hudson, Aliens)

Image source

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The devil within, saints and daemons in a character's personality

We all have daemons, even the lawful good paladin does. What keeps these daemons at bay is a good question, what keeps them at bay when one wields unchallenged power is an even better question.

Now that I've set the weapons in their sweet spot and mayhem is ensured I turn to the characters and their fears. They all have a virtue of some sort, a gift that makes them good at what they are. They also have a drive, something that makes them place themselves in harm's way, and behind all of this they have daemons.

What keeps these daemons at bay? What happens when everything begins to fall apart around the character? How and with what strength to they appear? What does the character do when under their influence? Above all, do they recede and when? What havoc do they leave behind? How many other character's daemons do they awaken in their paths?

Players will choose a saint, something that makes their character shine. This will be premonition, dexterity, perception, insight, whatever makes them good as their character. They'll choose a drive, something that pushes them to be all they can be. Finally they'll choose two daemons which they will try to keep asleep, but who will undoubtedly be nourished by the character's actions in the game.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

d6 Poisson encounters

The Imperial March trumpets in the background as you party moves silently through the star destroyer. You dive into cover as a group of storm troopers turns the corner and comes your way. It's the second group you've encountered in the last hour. They must be looking for something, are they aware of your presence in the ship?

The Poisson distribution named after the french Siméon Denis Poisson allows us to calculate the odds of events occurring within a set period of time, area or volume. For example on the average a group of storm troopers is encountered every half hour, how many will the party encounter in the next half hour? According to the following graph, following the orange dots we have 37% chance of having 0 encounters, 37% chance of having 1, 18% of having 2, 6% of having 1 and so on.

The cumulative distribution is as follows:

The numbers are as follows

Prob. Mass Cumulative
# events lambda = 1 lambda = 1
0 36.79% 36.79%
1 36.79% 73.58%
2 18.39% 91.97%
3 6.13% 98.10%
4 1.53% 99.63%
5 0.31% 99.94%
6 0.05% 99.99%
7 0.01% 100.00%
8 0.00% 100.00%
9 0.00% 100.00%
10 0.00% 100.00%

What's really cool, and those d6 fans out there will love it, is that the 5d6 - 5d6 probability curve looks just like the Poisson distribution for lamda = 1. So you don't need to remember those odds.

Roll 5d6 subtract another 5d6, divide by 3, round, and subtract one.

2 + 2 + 2 + 4 + 6 = 16
3 + 5 + 4 + 5 + 5 = 22

Difference = 6
Divide by 3 = 2
Subtract 1 = 1 encounter in the following half hour.

2 + 2 + 3 +1 + 6 = 14
6 + 4 + 4 + 4+ 1 = 19

Difference =  5
Divide by 3 = 1 2/3, rounded = 2
Subtract 1 = 1 encounter in the following half hour.

5 + 5 + 6 + 3 + 1 = 20
1 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 12

Difference = 8
Divide by 3 = 2 2/3, rounded = 3
Subtract 1 = 2 encounters in the following half hour

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Spotting the Enemy

Spotting the enemy is of vital importance to being able to target and neutralize him. To spot someone there has to be a line of sight between the observer and the target. This means the observer will need to be exposed during the period of observation, making him a target of enemy observers and quite possibly enemy fire.

I touched a little bit on this issue in my Surfing Bird post. Was no one looking down that street when the first VC ran through? Did they look, but only too late to raise their rifles and shoot?

Spotting falls beyond the simple die roll that dictates success or failure. Sure, your character spots the enemy, but when? In time to react or not? The sniper sees the enemy dash through the street. Does he catch him in time to aim and shoot? Or did his sweep of the area come too late and allowed the runner to make it to the other side before the round goes off? When will the patrol that does routine walks through the area come around again?

These can be answered by giving odds of occurring every so many seconds or minutes and then roll until the patrol comes around or the sniper spots its target. The issue with this is that the odds are not always the same minute after minute or second after second. If a patrol comes around every 60 minutes it would be very improbable that it comes back ten minutes after it passed. So rolling every ten minutes with a 15% chance of occurrence is wrong. Same thing occurs for a spotter. He can't have eyes everywhere so at some point a character is safe to raise his head to look for enemy positions. The odds of the spotter looking back into the area is slim. But the question is for how long?

Lets look back at the runner example. It takes him 7 seconds to run across a street. A sniper is scoping the area. At what point in the run does the sniper spot the runner? In the beginning, in the end or halfway through. And how does this affect the response time of the sniper. He still needs to estimate range and lead the runner. If the runner is spotted at second 5 it may be too late to get a clear shot. If the runner is spotted at second 1 he's most surely dead.

Instead of looking at an initiative roll will a flat probability curve and have it determine when an event happens or have a long succession of d100 rolls to see if it happens at a given hour, minute or second, I'm looking for a single roll that says : "the patrol will return in 22 minutes" Such probability curves exist, one such example is the Poission Distribution  (pronounced [pwasɔ̃]). It helps answer questions like given a rate of occurrence of an event, what are the odds of one, two, three, four, etc. events occurring in the same period of time.

So instead of rolling every minute to see if the patrol returns I can determine how many times the patrol will come around in one hour by simply using the Poission distribution. On the next post I'll dive into how to do this without having to solve this: