The Action Table!

There’s an “old-school” method of determining success that was used in a few role playing games that works well, but is relatively gone and forgotten nowadays.

The Action Table!

This system, with variations, was used in the original FASERIP version of Marvel Superheroes by TSR in 1984, Chill by Pacesetter Games also in 1984 (and the updated version called Crypt World by Goblinoid Games and Pacesetter in 2013), and Star Frontiers by TSR in 1985 (after the Zebulon’s Guide revamp), among a couple of others.

The basic concept behind Action Table mechanics is usually with percentile (1-100) dice, where you are trying to roll lower than a number set as the difficulty number. The result of your role is cross-indexed on the Action Table, which gives you a result. This result in some versions is a letter, and in some, notably Marvel, a color. Whichever way is used, that result is equal to the final result.

For example, in Marvel, if you roll low enough, your final result could be a Red, Yellow or Green, with Red being the most successful result or the most damage in combat, while Green signified just a basic success. By the way, in Marvel the table is called the Universal Table.

This helps vary the degree of success.  Most role playing game systems have an “on-off” mechanic that determines success, but now how successful, whereas the Action Table lets the GM and players know if it was a stunning success or just barely got it done.

Whether it’s called the Action Table or the Universal Table, it’s a solid, easy to use system that can quickly be used for just about any action or task in a game. I wish more modern games would take a look at this system. If you know of any out there I haven’t heard of yet, please let me know!

I’m currently developing an adventure for a Crypt World campaign I’m running for my game group, and since the next adventure is going to be a lot more action-adventure than the previous sessions, I’ve been reviewing the rules for combat, especially firearms combat. I really like how it works, and even though it takes a little bit of work coming up with all the modifiers to the base chance, it’s pretty quick and simple. I actually used portions of that system during my development of the Opposed Roll Combat system here on my site, specifically during ranged combat.

I’ve run into something, however, that I don’t like much, and I’m thinking about a slight change to the system, but I’m worried it will just slow down the system and not be effective enough to bother doing.

In Crypt World, whenever you attack an enemy, that enemy rolls a d10, and the result from that die is the column you use for the cross-reference. I don’t like it because it’s baseless randomization. You could end up facing a very simple monster who just happened to roll the most difficult column and ends up being too hard to overcome.

So my thought is this: instead of just rolling a random d10, what if the enemy had to roll his own ability check and that result gave you your target? For example, something as simple as a zombie has a very low Dexterity score. Instead of rolling that d10 for the zombie, have it roll it’s own Dex to determine how much of a difficult target he is? That would, in my opinion, help differentiate between slow, easy target monsters and fast moving or more powerful enemies.

It does mean one more roll during combat, and that’s usually a bad thing. However, the system as it stands now requires the GM to roll a d10 every round of combat. Instead, as a GM I would roll the enemies result only once at the beginning of combat. That would actually help to reduce the amount of dice rolling, and simultaneously increase realism. I think I’m going to try it when we play next.

On a side note, Marvel Superheroes has a range of attributes that really only has two very weak categories for normal human ranges. If this range of attributes could be expanded to give more variation in the normal human range, I think Marvel could be an excellent “generic” system that could very easily be converted to use in almost any genre or setting. The extensive number of super-powers available could actually used as templates to represent stuff like technology in Sci-Fi setting, magic in a fantasy setting, or even different types of weapons in a contemporary setting. I bet it would work really well.

Please comment below any thoughts or critiques about this post, and the idea of the change to the Crypt World game!

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