Creating a New Table-top RPG System, Part 9

A Revision and Starting into the Detail


I like feedback. I like it when the feedback makes me go back and rethink some things. I need more than what I’m getting, though! I know there are other gamers out there who might have some insight. Tell me what I’m doing wrong! Tell me what I’m doing right. Just tell me something!

Revising Personality Facets

Jon pointed out a couple things that makes me want to reconsider the Personality Facets. I still want them, but I wonder if I can get some better ideas from established canon. Not RPG cannon, but research based on sociology and psychology.

Right now, I have these seven facets, which I envision working on a point scale to help guide the player in how to run their character: Carousing, Creativity, Empathy, Moxie, Relational, Sanity, Wisdom. Jon takes issue with Relational and Sanity, and I agree with his arguments. But, as I think about it, I think the entire system is flawed. How? As a player, I need to look at the character sheet and interpret what I see into how I can play. Alignment is relatively easy: “Lawful Good” means the character is a jerk in that they will only do “good” and follow the “law”, even to the detriment of the party. “Chaotic Evil” means the character is a jerk in that they will do whatever suits them in a given situation, regardless the consequences. I can give examples for all nine alignments where they are played like a jerk. I’ll spare you the pain.

Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws are also relatively easy. The drawback is they don’t cover the full spectrum of personality, and for the way they are presented, they aren’t necessarily easy to follow and role-play.

Do we go back and let the players run amuck and do whatever the heck they want with no guidelines or rails?

Before we take such a radical step, let’s examine what the professionals have to offer.

Sixteen Personalities

I found numerous variations of this popular method of categorizing, based on Carl Jung’s theories and research enhanced by Myers-Briggs typology. This groups people into four major types, which are then subdivided into four sub-types. (Source:


  • Architect: Imaginative and strategic thinkers, with a plan for everything.
  • Logician: Innovative inventors with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
  • Commander: Bold, imaginative and strong-willed leaders, always finding a way – or making one.
  • Debater: Smart and curious thinkers who cannot resist an intellectual challenge.


  • Advocate: Quiet and mystical, yet very inspiring and tireless idealists.
  • Mediator: Poetic, kind and altruistic people, always eager to help a good cause.
  • Protagonist: Charismatic and inspiring leaders, able to mesmerize their listeners.
  • Campaigner: Enthusiastic, creative and sociable free spirits, who can always find a reason to smile.


  • Logistician: Practical and fact-minded individuals, whose reliability cannot be doubted.
  • Defender: Very dedicated and warm protectors, always ready to defend their loved ones.
  • Executive: Excellent administrators, unsurpassed at managing things – or people.
  • Consul: Extraordinarily caring, social and popular people, always eager to help.


  • Virtuoso: Bold and practical experimenters, masters of all kinds of tools.
  • Adventurer: Flexible and charming artists, always ready to explore and experience something new.
  • Entrepreneur: Smart, energetic and very perceptive people, who truly enjoy living on the edge.
  • Entertainer: Spontaneous, energetic and enthusiastic people – life is never boring around them.

I find this categorization to be powerful and sufficiently intuitive. When reading the notes on how this was developed, I detect some inherent flaws, especially when we try to adapt it into a game mechanic.

The first flaw is the same problem we have with the nine alignments. Instead of nine, we have sixteen, but the issue doesn’t change. Every player who has a “Commander” personality will play their character the same way: the character will be strong-willed, bold, and, unless played well, will be considered a jerk. This isn’t to say that real people in this category are jerks. I’m saying that unless that’s what you are in real life, you’re going to play your character based on a stereotype. Unfortunately, that means playing it like a jerk.

The next flaw is that these definitions are inherently broad, which means they are inherently vague. As I read through them, I can see how some are extremely close to others. I’m not sure the distinctions are clear enough. Maybe they are.

Finally, a major missing piece I think we need for a role-playing game is the spectrum of good and evil. Whatever the heck that means.

Five Personality Traits

Beginning with D.W. Fiske, and later expanded, some researchers believe there are five core personality traits. (Source:

  • Openness: People who like to learn new things and enjoy new experiences usually score high in openness. Openness includes traits like being insightful and imaginative and having a wide variety of interests.
  • Conscientiousness: People that have a high degree of conscientiousness are reliable and prompt. Traits include being organized, methodic, and thorough.
  • Extraversion: Extraverts get their energy from interacting with others, while introverts get their energy from within themselves. Extraversion includes the traits of energetic, talkative, and assertive.
  • Agreeableness: These individuals are friendly, cooperative, and compassionate. People with low agreeableness may be more distant. Traits include being kind, affectionate, and sympathetic.
  • Neuroticism: Neuroticism is also sometimes called Emotional Stability. This dimension relates to one’s emotional stability and degree of negative emotions. People that score high on neuroticism often experience emotional instability and negative emotions. Traits include being moody and tense.

These five traits are continuums that suggest people lie somewhere between the two polar ends of each dimension. I like the idea that these are scaled traits, which is consistent with my current design model. There doesn’t seem to be much compatibility with the 16-personality types, but there is overlap. I think they could be made to work together.

What this system provides is a scalable measure. What it doesn’t do is tell us how to play the characters. I’m not saying we can’t figure it out, but it’s not as clear as the 16 types. On the other hand, coupled with the 16 types, this adds depth. There’s overlap, of course, but it’s manageable.

Another aspect I like is that it touches on “Good and Evil” without calling them out by name. Good and Evil are relative concepts and we could argue for hours on what they mean.

The one thing I want to avoid, which this system doesn’t do, is the judgmental perspective. How I was defining Sanity in the prior iteration is not much different than Neuroticism here. This is something that is too reliant on the player, and to pigeon-hole it into a stat on a character sheet might have undesirable consequences.

Exhaustive Lists of Traits

This web page,, lists 638 “traits.” I mentioned in a prior blog that I have a list of over 5,500 words that can be used to describe personality in some way. This list was one that was used to build my master list. No. I’m not going to list them here. Not only would it be a cheesy way to get to my target word count, but no one is going to read each word anyway. I’ve added a definition to over half of the words in my list, which is how it’s grown to at least eighty pages (with small printed font.)

What I like about a comprehensive list with definitions is that it gives me very clear guidance on how to play the character; assuming the situation warrants the trait. It’s great for single-encounter NPCs where I can read a word, phrase, or short sentence and quickly know how to play the character. For a player, though, this falls short of the complete picture. Suddenly, the character lacks depth and they quickly become a stereotyped jerk.

Child Development

The final reference I’m going to drop is a page about how children develop socially. Here’s the link: You might be thinking, “This is interaction, not personality,” and you’d be right. At least partially. Buried in the article is this section, which I’ve copied for convenience:

  • Attention and concentration:Sustained effort, doing activities without distraction and being able to hold that effort long enough to get the task done.
  • Receptive (understanding) language: Comprehension of language.
  • Expressive (using) language: The use of language through speech, sign or alternative forms of communication to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas.
  • Play skills:Voluntary engagement in self-motivated activities that are normally associated with pleasure and enjoyment where the activities may be, but are not necessarily, goal oriented.
  • Pre-language skills:The ways in which we communicate without using words and include things such as gestures, facial expressions, imitation, joint attention and eye-contact.
  • Self-regulation:The ability to obtain, maintain and change one’s emotion, behavior, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation in a socially acceptable manner.
  • Executive functioning: Higher order reasoning and thinking skills.
  • Planning and sequencing:The sequential multi-step task or activity performance to achieve a well-defined result.

Now, here are eight categories, core to personality, that are almost completely missing from all the other personality types, traits, and groupings. However, like the other categorizations, this leaves stuff out – things like altruism (knowledge of applied good and evil), extroversion (vs. introversion), and innovation (creativity).

Even though I don’t want to use these as presented, they provide inspiration on what I can do to round out a character’s personality in a way the player is still free to express and develop. These traits represent the components for normal socialization and development. Conceptually, this is guidance on how a character should be played in social situations within the game.


I’m not an expert in psychology. Nor am I an expert in game theory and design. I don’t even play one on TV. But with these building blocks, I believe I can devise a system that can be explained in the rules well enough that players can use the guidelines to run their character effectively in the game.


The first consideration, which carries over from the previous model, is the question of scale. To be consistent, we need to stay within a scale of 1 to 8. Within this scale, where 1 is generally “low” and 8 is correspondingly “high,” we can establish a range where the differences are clearly measurable.

When the player is creating their character, they will decide a value for each Facet. The consequence of the decision needs to be intuitive in how the choice applies to Facets outside of Personality.


Deciding on a value should influence decisions elsewhere. Since this is core to the design of a character, I’m taking the approach that personality is determined first. This doesn’t mean deciding on a personality archetype translates to a character class. It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t. However, in other games, deciding a class often translates to the character’s stereotyped personality. What I’m getting at here is that certain Personality Facets correlate to potential bonuses with various knowledges, proficiencies, or even Interactive Facets. For example, a character that is more innovative is going to be better at professions based on creativity.

The Words and Their Meanings

I think I’ve decided on the seven words I’m going to use. As always, this is open to discussion. In a way, I’m circling back to what I started with, but I think better words will lead to better understanding. Also, I’m going to present this on the character sheet differently.

Core Personality: What word or phrase best describes you? Choose a word from the list, which will establish ranges for the remaining Facets. This is based on sixteen types, though I’m going to look for synonyms that work better for our purposes.

Ambiversion: Are you an introvert, extrovert, or do you land somewhere in the middle? A high value means you’re an extrovert.

Innovation: Are you quick to learn new things and can you figure out puzzles intuitively? Or do you prefer to excel at those things you already know? A high value typically opens more options within a skill, knowledge, or proficiency, whereas a lower number leads to greater effectiveness with what’s been chosen.

Organization: Do you care about keeping schedules, following established patterns, and staying organized, or are you one who shuns procedure and likes to forge your own path? A high value suggests a person who is very organized but is uncomfortable around chaos. A low value means you are unfazed by new situations, but you have a tough time finding your keys.

Regulation: How well do you focus on a task? Do you stay focused on something for the long haul or do you get bored quickly and want to move on to other things? Here, a high number means you can unlock higher levels of mastery for less cost, whereas a small number means it costs less to start new things.

(Identifying) Trait: Provide a word or phrase that represents something unique about you. This can be a quirk or catch-phrase, or a typical reaction to stimuli, or whatever.

(Identifying) Weakness: Provide a word or phrase that describes your greatest weakness or flaw. This needs to be something that will affect you daily. It could be an irrational fear, an annoying quirk, or some sort of negative trait.

I think by splitting into 3 “verbal” and 4 “numeric” Facets, we can define a character’s personality in a way that is intuitively playable. The general guidelines provide a framework, but there’s enough flexibility to explore and grow. Additionally, the four numeric ranges don’t infer a subjective evaluation.  Instead, both high and low scores translate to benefits and advantages elsewhere in the character’s development.

Character Sheet Version 2


How to Create a Character – First Draft

As always, this is subject to change and revision.

What are the steps a player must go through when creating a new character? Different games’ rulebooks do this in diverse ways, but I want to step through it because it is distinctly different than anything I’ve seen before.

Step 1: Choose General Background

Neuith is a fantasy setting. General background doesn’t correspond to the background archetypes presented in D&D 5e (Charlatan, Hermit, Noble, Soldier, etc.), but encompasses two components: economics and race. Economics infers Upper-, Middle-, and Lower-Class. These are self-explanatory and provides a rough idea of what types of training and study the character can access. This doesn’t override life events, like “I was born in a noble family, but when our city was conquered, I was sold as a slave.” In this example, you spent part of your life doing things the nobles do then part of your life doing things slaves do. This is conceptual decision, not a mechanical one.

Presently, Character Race has minimal impact on the build process. Each race has a selection of Special Features from which you pick two: One Advantage and one Disadvantage. The list isn’t wide open, however. When you choose an Advantage, you must pick one of the Disadvantages associated with the Advantage. This prevents min-max optimization and silliness.

Step 2: Think About Where You Want to Be

SligoRPG is modeled as a class-less system. This means that any character can learn any proficiency. A starting character can know how to pick locks, cast a spell or two, and use a martial weapon effectively. This doesn’t mean you can’t choose a character modeled after any of the traditional RPG classes, but you aren’t forced to, either. The purpose of this step is to give you direction on the next few steps. You’ll notice that nothing is written on the character sheet. As with anything in life, you can be exceptional at a few things, average at several things, and/or barely competent at a lot of things.

Step 3: Establish Personality

Several rulebook pages will be devoted to the Personality Aspect. The first page is the list of Core Personalities, which are based on the sixteen types listed above. Each entry in the list will include the four scaled Facets with a valid range. For example, “Extrovert” personality types will limit the Ambivert Facet range to 5-8.

The next page will explain the four scaled Facets. The two rules that apply are:

  1. You must remain within the constraints set by the chosen Core Personality.
  2. No two Facets can have the same value.

These rules enforce just enough limitation to prevent min-max optimization while still allowing broad flexibility in player choice.

The final page talks about the identifying trait and weakness and offers a page or two of examples. The player is encouraged to be creative, but anything not in the book must be approved by the Conductor. The guidance here is that the trait and weakness must be relevant and play-able. For example, “Irrational fear of rodents” is a relevant, play-able weakness. “Irrational fear of Denebian Slime Devils” isn’t, because we’re never going to Deneb.

Step 4: Interactive Facets

Every character starts with 1 in each of the seven Facets. A starting character spends up to 30 Interactive Improvement Points (IIPs) on these Facets. The common rule applies: to raise a value, you must spend points equal to the current value.

A few Personality choices give bonuses to corresponding Interactions. For example, 5 or 6 points of Ambiversion means that you get one free point with Performance. 7 or 8 in Ambiversion gives 1 free point in Performance and 1 free point in Diplomacy. Conversely, 3 or 4 Ambiversion means 1 free point in Discernment, 1 or 2 Ambiversion means 1 free point in Discernment and Animal. (Don’t take these bonuses as set in stone just yet. I’m likely to adjust them, even if it’s just that I don’t want two distinct values to have the same corresponding bonus.)

Step 5: Knowledge Facets

Since the Knowledge Facets represent learning, training, and practical experience, there are no freebies. The scale works the same once a Facet-Specialization is opened, but points must be spent to open it. On the sheet, the player lists the specializations in the appropriate facets they want to learn. All start at zero. Here, we get 45 Knowledge Improvement Points (KIPs) to spend, and once opened, improvement works the same as everywhere else. However, opening specializations depends values in the scaled Personality Facets. I have yet to work out the details, because I need to compile the full list of specializations. As I mentioned previously, some Personality Facets support a wider range of specializations while others support a deeper knowledge. Those with the wider range make it less expensive to open the specialization. Those with deeper knowledge give bonuses toward increasing the score after it’s been opened. Different specializations relate to different Personality Facets.

In addition, higher levels in Interactive Facets may also translate to bonuses.

Step 6: Physical Aspect Facets

Just like Interactive Facets, every character starts with 1 in each of these. You get 30 Physical Improvement Points (PIPs) to spend, with the same rule as before. The only other constraint is that you may not raise any Physical Facets higher than 6 during character creation. I put two columns for values on the character sheet. The first column is the Actual value for this Facet. The second column, which should remain blank at this time, is for Current value. During an encounter, you may take damage that will reduce one or more of your Physical Facet values. When this happens, you note the Current value in this space.

Step 7: Stuff

Based on knowledge and proficiency, fill in your character sheet with equipment, tools and items. I haven’t established guidelines, though it is unlikely that any starting character will have magical items or anything that doesn’t make sense. Eventually there will be equipment tables with pricing, along with a clear explanation of the setting’s monetary system.

Step 8: Action Cards

The last step is to identify which Action Cards you get. These include Movement, Attack, Defense, and Spell Actions. The Conductor will have Condition Cards that you might receive during an encounter, so you don’t need them for yourself.

Character Improvement

You might notice the section on the character sheet for Unspent IPs, which is divided into three sections: Interactive (IIPs), Knowledge (KIPs), and Physical (PIPs). During play, the Conductor will award characters points in these three categories that are used to improve the corresponding Facets.

During a character’s “down-time,” accumulated points can be spent. This refers to the opportunity for a character to rest and reflect upon their adventures, or, in some cases, the time to study, practice, or train.

A player is not required to spend all available Improvement Points. The only applicable rules are that no character can improve any single Facet by more than two points in the first month of down time. This includes starting a new Specialization: the value can’t be raised to more than 2 in the first month. Subsequent months of down time limit the increase to 1 point per month.

Likewise, you can’t “game the system” by taking short breaks and spending points all on one facet. In other words, a weekend-warrior can’t adventure for two days, rest for five days, repeat the pattern over the course of four weeks, then raise a specific Facet by more than 2 points.

Action Card Primer

A lot of work will go in to the design and content of the Action Cards. Unfortunately, I don’t know a better physical mechanic to handle this aspect of the game.

My goal is that no player will ever need more than 10-15 cards for their character. I made room on the character sheet to list up to 18 cards. It’s my hope that we’ll never need this many (this includes casters). The Conductor will be required to handle more cards overall, but for most Actors on the battlefield, the selection will be less than normal player-characters. The exception includes major non-player characters and boss-level monsters.

I already started compiling a list of potential actions that I can condense into cards, starting with swordplay maneuvers drawn from numerous hobbyist and competitive sites. I also found a list of monster abilities that claims to be comprehensive. Granted, these aren’t written in the terminology and format I need for my game, but it’s enough to work with.

With 10-15 cards held in a hand, the player will likely fan them like a hand of playing cards. This means the design of the card is important in that the most essential information needs to show in the upper-left corner. When thinking as a player, I need to decide which card is most beneficial in a given situation. What are the factors that contribute to that decision? What I list below is all the information that might appear on the card, in order of importance.

  1. Type of Action (Attack/Defense/Spell/Move/Interrupt/Other)
  2. Time (Increments)
  3. Attack Facet
  4. Defense Facet
  5. Potential Damage
  6. Conditional Adjustments
  7. Name of Action
  8. Image
  9. Flavor Text

There are several options for tracking countdown. One is to use a countdown die. Another is to use the card itself. There are some interesting options that I’ve seen used in other games. One includes rotating the card through 8 positions (sides and corners), where “0” is portrait and upright. This limits all actions to no more than 7 seconds, which is somewhat consistent with other games’ six-second-per-round mechanic but leaves little room to wiggle. Countdown dice are generally 20-sided, and the numbers are arranged so that the next value in the countdown is always adjacent to the current value.

Two other options, which I’m not keen on, use a sliding marker on a printed page or mat or use another deck of cards.

What might be best is to make the first two options available. If the countdown is 7 increments or less, use the card and rotate. If the countdown is greater, use a countdown die. It’s easy to stick a small number along the edges and in the corners of cards.

The type of action is identified two ways: the background color and the Action name. Once familiar with the color scheme, players will easily know what type of Action the card represents. Below are colors I’ll use (these are chosen based on card frames I built for previous games. I admit I’m being lazy for not making any new ones.)

  • Attack: Pink
  • Defense: Blue
  • Spell: Brown
  • Move: Green
  • Interrupt: Yellow
  • Other: Light blue

I think the normal (base) time the Action takes to resolve should be the number superimposed over a stopwatch symbol. This would be the largest number shown on the card and appear in the upper-left corner.

Next, we add iconography for the seven Physical Facets and displaying the Attack and Defense Facets under the stopwatch. Unique colors for each icon will aid in quick identification.

The damage scale (based on the chart result) can go in the upper-middle section of the card. Damage types should be icons: hammer for concussion, arrow for piercing, blade for cutting, etc. Here are the damage types I’m considering:

  • Bash
  • Stab
  • Cut
  • Burn
  • Freeze
  • Shock
  • Arcane

D&D 5e has 13 damage types. The first six match up as expected. The rest I’m rolling either into “Arcane” or the others. For example, Acid is close enough to burn. Thunder and Force are basically Bash. Radiant, Necrotic, and Psychic are variations of Arcane. Poison isn’t necessarily damage but causes various debilitating conditions.

Recall the damage scale/chart results from Part 7:

  • A: Lethal blow
  • B: Severe Critical (triple damage)
  • C: Moderate Critical (double damage)
  • D: Light Critical (normal damage)
  • E: Normal damage with advantage
  • F: Normal damage
  • G: Minimal damage
  • H: Miss, but gain advantage
  • I: Miss
  • J: Miss with penalty
  • K: Moderate critical miss
  • L: Severe critical miss

Putting all twelve results on a card will take a lot of space, even when the font is reduced to the smallest readable size. Two options present themselves:

  1. Make the card bigger
  2. Reduce the number of possible results (i.e. change TURC.)

Before I do either of these, I’d like to see how it presents on a standard 3.5” x 2.5” card.

The name of the action appears in the upper right. It’s not readily visible when fanning the cards, but easily accessible.

Conditional adjustments, including how the time to resolve is modified, is shown above or below the damage scale.

Flavor text is nice but not necessary. We can live without it.

This leaves the card’s image. This is challenging for a lot of reasons. First, it takes up real estate on the card, and there simply may not be room for it. Another is the production cost of the artwork. For many other games, the cost of card artwork runs anywhere from $75.00 per image to over $1,000.00, depending upon the artist and the desired quality.

On the other hand, imagery adds value to the card and the game. Players can see the card image from across the table and know what card it is. Good imagery enhances the game experience and immersion.

One option for the image is to make it faint and put all the text on top of it. This is appealing, but risky.

For now, I’m only going to use basic iconography. If warranted, we can add artwork later.

One Hour?

In Part 1 I mentioned having attended a GenCon workshop titled, “How to Create an RPG in One Hour.” The workshop was scheduled for two hours; this should have been my first clue on how silly this notion is.

To quickly create an RPG requires using existing tropes, mechanics, and concepts already established. Their take was, “Come up with a setting, decide which mechanic you’re going to use, come up with a list of attributes and skills, and everything else will fall into place.”

I completely reject the notion.

This is the ninth entry in a series of blog posts describing what I’m doing. I’m creating a new RPG. I’m intentionally avoiding existing game archetypes and mechanics. I don’t want to create a flawed clone of another system. I want a system that is robust and meets the goals I stated in the outset.

I’m not surprised that some of my original ideas have changed. I’ve had to compromise. This blog entry represents several major departures from earlier thinking. However, as I progress, I see a system that works. Each step brings us closer to a finished product.

I’ve lost track of how many hours I’ve spent on this project. I have no idea how many it will take. Suffice it to say, there’s still a lot of work to do.

2 thoughts on “Creating a New Table-top RPG System, Part 9

  1. Instead of focusing on positive personality traits,
    how about building a personality system entirely around negative personality traits?
    – Selfishness
    – Jerk
    – Unassertiveness
    Otherwise how is anyone going to be able to play me as a character 😉

    But seriously…
    Organization is good because even if the player is disorganized the character could be organized and accrue certain benefits. Same with regulation.

    Ambiversion and innovation bug me for some reason however. Maybe the names.

    Character Sheet Version 2
    I would go with a less granular personality scale: five, six or seven possible numbers rather than eight, so that “No two Facets can have the same value” actually means something.

    Step 1: Choose General Background
    But I want to run a blerflemod… with wings.

    Step 2: Think About Where You Want to Be
    How about starting with a completely broad ‘blank slate’ character and developing it over a campaign.

    Step 4: Interactive Facets
    Step 5: Knowledge Facets
    Step 6: Physical Aspect Facets
    I really really like that you have split these out into separate build groups!

    One Hour?
    It took me about a week to create Goofy Wizards. One hour seems to be pushing it.


    1. Ambiversion is introvert vs extrovert. Is there a better word? Same thing for innovation. These are far off from the five factors used to determine the 16 personalities. As for scale, my mechanic is based on d8, so I’m staying consistent. I thought I was giving more range of options. In blog 11 you’ll see how I limit the 4 numerics based on the chosen personality. It’s still a work in progress, so I’m not locked in on anything yet.

      Step 1: I have no idea what a blerflemod is. I’m not going to look it up, either.

      Step 2: a blank slate is a new-born infant. It wouldn’t make sense to start a character there. Perhaps the better way to describe it is “Where are you when you make the decision to start adventuring? What’s your state of mind? What experiences (non-adventuring) have you had so far? What kind of schooling and training have you undergone?”

      One Hour. I know, right?


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