Project Update: ABACUS

For those (few) people who were familiar with the original version of Orchestra, it used a system I called ABACUS-PH; this was when Orchestra had more storytelling inspirations than realistic ones, and the prior system was very different, but the core attributes are going to be rather similar. The core ABACUS system is a measurement of any character’s intrinsic attributes: Agility, Brawn, Awareness, Cunning, Understanding, and Sympathy. When combined, these form a basis for providing a framework for further character development.

ABACUS is a nice building block for Orchestra because each of the individual components flows well into the general game rules; a character who doesn’t use Dominance would dump Understanding in favor of choosing another attribute to increase, but would then have to deal with the fact that Understanding is key to a number of derived attributes. Naturally, this is the equivalent of the attribute systems in Shadowrun or Dungeons & Dragons, and it’s not particularly interesting in and of itself, but it plays a core role in the game itself.

Attributes do not serve to limit their linked skills, but they do provide an equal contribution (with the caveat, of course, being that certain skills have unlearned penalties or cannot be used without training, making a high attribute but low skill useless in some situations) both to the modifier and limit of skills you will use; each point in an attribute equals one point on the final modifier, and two points in the final limit.

In addition, attributes are used to give points in the health pools (as I mentioned before), and determine derived attributes such as initiative (a bonus that is added to the results of your roll for action points at the beginning of each combat). The choice of ABACUS is a little liberating; it measures the physical side of characters a little less than the mental side, but in Orchestra that’s something that tends to fall behind as augmentations and Dominance begin to come into play; toughness and strength for melee damage are both delivered by the Brawn attribute because, traditionally, a character won’t use Brawn terribly often, and it usually requires a high Agility in conjunction to be effective (only a few heavy weapons use a Brawn based skill), but it does help them survive taking a hit in combat, as a character’s physical health pools are each equal to twice their brawn. This may not sound like much, but each point of Brawn is a total of four points of health from taking combat damage, so it remains valuable despite its relative disuse.

Sympathy, on the other hand, is valuable for social and psychological damage resistance, but is heavily single purpose, being the only attribute linked to social interaction skills it won’t necessarily fall onto every player to build it up, but when time comes to get in somewhere peacefully players will wish they had some.

For game terms, attributes are rated from 1 to 10; anything below “3” is considered to below average, and five or six are considered “acceptable” for a field agent, under standard rules they will get 30 points at character creation plus one free in each attribute, allowing them a fair degree of balance or a few exceptional fields. Different character creation packages may be available for higher challenge (i.e. a “cyberpunk” campaign in which characters are much weaker) or for more versatility at the cost of attribute points at the start.

Orchestra’s been growing at a quick rate, and though I can’t promise anything as far as a release (much less a pretty one), I hope to have something to release by the end of September, maybe even a full-fledged “beta” test.

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