Monday, August 3, 2009

See-Saw Stats

A see-saw stat is a stat that moves between two extremes, both of which are beneficial, but in different ways. I got the idea from Pendragon's passions, but they can be applied in any game system.

To set up the see-saw stat, you need two opposed qualities - Honor/Practicality, Piety/Worldliness, Kindness/Cruelty, etc. - depending on what would be important in the game. Both qualities must be beneficial in different circumstances, so stay away from qualities that are universally good or bad.

Next, set up your number range. We'll be using this as a bonus, so the number range must not be unbalancing when taken to extremes. For example, for a percentile system, 10 or 20 points would be reasonable, depending on how the bonus is to be applied. The number range is a total - both stats added together would always equal the total. So if one is increased, the other must be decreased by the same amount. I like even numbers for the total, so both sides can start even.

The application of the bonus is simple - add the number on one side of the see-saw to your chance or quality, whichever is appropriate. However, you need to delineate what that bonus can be added to. The two sides need to be applied to different things.

Now as the game goes along, the GM (or group if you prefer) award a point of one or the other whenever a character does something strongly inclined in that direction. Each point tipping the see-saw further in one direction. Some characters move strongly in one direction, some in the other, and some hover around the middle. All of these are winning strategies, because the result is always a bonus.

For example, I used Honor/Practicality in my In Harm's Way military games. This reflects the duality of a mindset in which both qualities are very important, but are never applicable in the same circumstances. Taking the honorable course when there is a choice adds 1 to the PC’s Honor score, and subtracts one from the PC’s Practicality score. Conversely, choosing the practical course adds one to the PC’s Practicality score and subtracts one from the PC’s Honor score.

The character can add his Honor score to any rolls where the PC’s Honor might help, such as convincing superior officers of the need for a certain action, dealing with VIPs and diplomacy, or for any Leadership roll.

The character can add his Practicality score to any rolls where the PC’s Practicality might help, such as dealing with criminals, brutes, and minor officials, bribing, finding information from low lives, intimidating, or any Discipline roll.

Honor plus Practicality always equals 20.

The see-saw stat is a type of abstract tactic used in social situations. How the PC chooses to live his life gives him certain advantages in certain situations.



  1. I believe that Earthdawn used such stats also, where the constant value was 7 (? - could be misremebering...) - anyway, I thought that that was an interesting concept at the time, and still do. Good post!

  2. I love these things. I wish more games used them. Steve Darlington seemed to be heading towards an awesome presentation in his Firefly rpg before he was shut down. I still regard that as a golden lost opportunity.

  3. This is one of the first points you've made that I've been genuinely unfamiliar with and it's definitely some food for thought. It's definitely a great idea for social interaction. I'm seeing the potential complication that in kitchen sink style games with large scope it might be difficult not to miss certain social aspects with such stats. Still, some excellent food for thought.

  4. @ Ragnorak:

    I've never had the pleasure of playing or running Earthdawn, but that does sound interesting. how were the see-saw stats used?

    @ Matthew:

    Yeah - I love 'em too! They are a seldom-used but elegant mechanic. I never read or played Firefly, but I playtested TINS over IRC with Steve as GM and S. John Ross and myself as players - wonderful game session, and TINS was brilliant.

    @ Helmsman:

    I have found it answers wonderfully well for social interaction. Unfortunately, I have never run a kitchen sink-style game, so I'm not quite sure what you mean, but perhaps several such see-saw stats might be needed in such a game. Should you drop by again, maybe you could clarify?

    Thanks, guys!


  5. My point is, in a game with a streamlined theme these sorts of stats can measure and influence important aspects of that theme. In a more generally themed game you'd need a few see-saw stats of a more general theme to cover the gamut of social interactions that have the potential to occur. I don't think I can clarify it more than that because it's still sloshing around in the brain custard and hasn't quite congealed yet.

    Also: I've really got it in my head to do a tongue and cheek Teen-Anxt RPG with a Emo/Horny see saw stat... or something close to that. Hm, maybe for the 24 hour RPG contest.

  6. It was really Fading Suns that I was thinking of. Four of a character's stats are balanced binary pairs:

  7. OK - that's what i was thinking. Those are very interesting see-saw stats! Depending on what you choose to emphasize in a game they could be very cool!

    Thanks for coming back and elaborating a bit! :D


  8. Hmm. It's an interesting idea; the main problem I can see is how easy it is to set up false dichotomies. For example, with Kindness/Cruelty, it's true that they're mutually exclusive when applied to the same circumstance (though the line is fuzzy--which one is it to quickly kill a mortally wounded person without their knowledge, to spare them suffering?), but plenty of people act kind in some circumstnaces and cruel in others--many of the more brutal Nazi officials were loving parents to their children.

    It can work, but it misses a lot of the complexities and outright contradictions of self that are part of human nature.