From Magnesium Games

Under the Hood #2 – Multi-Dimensional Mechanics

In this instalment of Under the Hood, I’m going to talk about our second Design Principle, which I’m currently calling Multi-Dimensional Mechanics. Partly because it’s a somewhat apt description, and partly because it sounds kind of amusingly steampunkish.

What do I mean by Multi-Dimensional Mechanics? Well, let’s start with the singular dimensional rules you see in most systems.

Under these rules, a character will have a set of traits which affect their chance of success. They may do this in any number of ways. Some systems have a flat bonus that is added to a die roll and then has to beat a target number. Some systems might change the number of dice you are rolling.

The thing that all these systems have in common is that there is only one number from the character that affects the roll. So, if you make your character better at something they tend to increase their chances of getting a success of any type and to increase the level of success that they can achieve.

That may sound reasonable but there is an important difference between how easily something comes to a person and how much they can accomplish with it. Some people may find solving a given mathematical problem simplistic, but only be able to do it through a complex and circuitous route that takes them three times as long as someone for whom mathematics comes just as easily but who has a greater knowledge and can thus accomplish much more with it.

Another way to think about it, is the idea of representing the ease with which someone with a high potential manages the simpler tasks in a given field before they’ve learnt enough to even attempt the harder tasks. Both characters may have a rank of 1 in their Computer skill, but the natural talent is going to have a lot easier time with that 1 rank than the person who has struggled to learn it in the first place.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is definitely represented in the overwhelming majority of systems. It’s just that there is no dividing line between the two and generally, to improve one is to improve the other.

In our system, we’re determined to make that line a little bit sharper. As in many systems, to make a roll you combine two different traits. One of these traits – the one that determines how easy a task comes to you – tells you what sort of dice to roll (d4, d6, d8, d10, or d12), and the other- the one that determines how much you can accomplish with a task – tells you how many dice you can roll.

Thus you can create a character with phenomenal potential, but very limited abilities – or one who has toiled for decades to have an in depth understanding of a given topic, but still struggles to apply it to new works.

This system doesn’t divide the two out perfectly, there’s still some overlap. But it is a bit neater than many other systems. It also creates some interesting options to improve our take on the first Design Concept (the Narrative Character), and as you’ll see later – makes it a little easier to do some of the things we want to do with Tokens and Experience.

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