Blackwater Falls System

My first post to this blog was about a campaign that was called Blackwater Falls. As I mentioned there, the game started using D&D rules, but was then transitioned to a custom system that we designed. I have come now to appreciate basic-style D&D rules much more, and I don’t think I would want to play again using this custom system, but I think it is interesting enough to sketch out what we came up with, at least the parts that I remember.

The basic design was inspired by the White Wolf system of combining attributes and abilities for task resolution. We really liked the idea that a character’s inherent makeup and training would combine to give a probability of success (really, this is a systematization of the idea of nature and nurture). What we didn’t like was the complicated multi-die plus target difficulty mechanic that White Wolf used. We wanted to be able to adjudicate things with a single die roll, like an attack roll in D&D.

Each attribute, skill, or power was rated from 1 to 10. In the case of attributes (like strength), 5 was average, 1 was incompetent, and 10 was world-class. In the case of a power or skill, 1 meant superficially trained or limited power and 10 meant mastery.

Any particular task resolution would be handled by combining an attribute with a skill or power. This is almost directly from White Wolf, which would have combinations like Strength + Brawl, Dexterity + Dodge, and Intelligence + Linguistics. In that system though, each score is rated from 0 to 5, and each point adds another d10 to your dice pool. Our system would yield a number between 1 and 20. This number would then be adjusted for situational difficulty, down for something hard, and up for something easy. Then we would try to roll less than or equal to it on a d20, like a D&D ability check.

I don’t remember every attribute we used, but I know they included Strength, Agility, Stamina, Intelligence, and Appearance. We used a linear point-buy system, and, like in White Wolf, new points in attributes and skills could be purchased with experience.

The skills selection was free-form. If you wanted your wizard to be able to cast a spell like burning hands or fireball, you would make up an appropriate skill or power that was not too general and take points in it. For burning hands, the power might be pyromancy. The power value would thus both determine what you were capable of (a single point might allow lighting a candle, or manipulating a natural fire, while a fireball might require 4 or 5 points). The referee would be required to rule on whether a particular effect was consistent with a skill value. A number of common permissible effects were quickly accumulated through use (similar to the precedent in law of past cases), but we never felt the need to codify or write down what particular skills could do, which left significant room for creativity. Special racial or supernatural abilities were also represented as skills and had to be purchased with points in the same way. One example of this was a character of mine that could switch heads (yes, you read that correctly). His name was Clair de Lune and he had a collection of heads in special glass cases and a magic scarf that he used to connect them to his body; this was related to some curse in his background story and mechanically he had some sort of skill which allowed him to harvest body parts from others. Most of our characters were not that odd, but the system seemed to support such concepts.

A health score was derived directly from stamina, though I don’t remember how. Full health might have just been equal to stamina. I have no memory of how we handled armor. I think it both made characters harder to hit and absorbed some of the damage points, in the process decreasing its own pool of structural points (or something like that).

I believe we called this system Puppeteer. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost all hard documentation.

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