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The Case for Attrition

CROWN and SKULL is working it's way into gamer brains worldwide this month, after a smash-hit pre-sale over the weekend. While me and my team get the first print run into the warehouse and really kick this thing off (the digital bundle is still up for sale for now), there's plenty to talk about...

CROWN and SKULL has many unorthodox game mechanics. For now, the many revelations and and innovations of the ATTRITION system are center stage.

For decades, role-players have chaffed at the abstract concept and application of HIT POINTS in their games. Sure, it's at a level of ingrained intuition: "Of course I have hit points, this IS an RPG, right?" Sure, HIT POINTS go back to the elder days of role-playing: "If it was good enough for Gygax, it's good enough for us." But, if you're like me, you've heard a bumper crop of complaints and dissastisfactions with the HIT POINTS system over the years. It just lacks excitement until death is close.. until zero HP is close. All it seems to do is track how close we are to death... offering no other narrative.

Some designers have sought to remedy this conceptual vacuum with WOUNDS or INJURIES. There is more detail, sure, but do I really want to revel in my hero's injuries? Sounds a bit too much like real life, where aches and pains are a constant companion.

Seeing the lack of awesome in the abstraction of HIT POINTS, you're ready to consider THE CASE FOR ATTRITION. See what I did there? Just like the title. Good job, Hankerin', you're a simpleton.

Put plainly, ATTRITION is...

Any time a character fails to avoid or defend against an attack, they will lose use of one or more pieces of equipment, or one or more skills. Various forms of ATTRITION will disable more skills/equipment, or even DESTROY equipment.

This foundational rule unfolds with various types of ATTRITION, means of recovering skills or repairing equipment, and a death rule (if hit with no skills or equipment to sacrifice, you take a shot to the heart, dying a sudden death at the end of the round unless helped). But without considering all that, let's make a case for the foundation. I can feel the eyes narrowing with doubt, loyal reader, but hear me out!

Consider this panel from 'Conan the Barbarian' Issue 1 by Titan Comics (Zub/La Torre)...

At left, we see the all-too familiar effect of losing HIT POINTS when punched in the head. Conan is a small step closer to caring about his HP total at all. Nothing else in his narrative changes. Well, he might get mad.

At right, we see ATTRITION. In this case, the mercenary captain is inflicting BASIC ATTRITION with a brass knuckles punch. Failing his defense roll, Conan takes the hit. Conan's player chooses to sacrifice his helmet in the impact, reducing his defense by 2 points. The helmet goes clattering, lodged under a tavern table in some dark corner.

It doesn't take much to instantly see how many narrative details have been introduced in the second case. The helmet can be chased after, the defense score drops, the character is one hit closer to death (similar to tracking HP) and Conan has one less item to sacrifice before taking ATTRITION to his precious skills. Additionally, the GM is not burdened with tracking or determining attack damage. They simply assign an ATTRITION TYPE to the attack and let the player work it out. "You're hit! Take BASIC ATTRITION!"

Before you panic about losing your favorite horned Aquilonian helmet, CROWN and SKULL

has many player options for equipment repair and recovery. Here, Conan is seen in a subsequent panel,

having retrieved his safety-hat from the tavern floor.

GM's are conditioned to describe attack impact. With ATTRITION, though, this task is left to the player. They decide how to handle incoming harm, choosing what equipment or skill is crossed-off, and role-playing the ensuing narrative. "Another BASIC ATTRITION? Ok, I guess I'll take a sword-cut to the knee-bone! I'm crossing off my JUMP skill. Youch!" In this way, ATTRITION brings even more narrative flair to a hit: body locations, future disability, and an urgency for recovery has specific reference points.

Now that I've totally convinced you ( :) ), here's a look at the ATTRITION types in CROWN and SKULL, employed by various foes. With a hard limit of 10 skills and 10 equipment on a character, you can see how perilous things can become.



BASIC: Player crosses off 1 skill OR equipment

EQUIPMENT: Player chooses 1 equipment to damage/disable

FLESH: Player chooses 1 skill to disable

DESTROY: Player chooses 1 equipment to permanently destroy, and 1 skill to disable

BRUTAL: 1D6 RANDOMLY SELECTED equipment and skills are disabled (eek!)


There are, of course, numerous other aspects to discuss as we visualize fully adopting this system: padding inventory, recovery options, death-spirals, and more come to mind. There will be a stretching of GM and player muscles here! Don't take my word for it... get over to and download the FREE PLAYER'S GUIDE to continue reading about ATTRITION. Oh wait, that's also "my word." Well, uhm....

-Points to sky-

"What in the world can that be?"

-Runs away like Skeletor-

"Until next time!"


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