WotW: Earth – System Proposal

Here’s a simple system that would get a WotW: Earth game up and running. Before I go into the details, here’s what was going through my head as I designed this.

  1. WotW: Earth is set in turn-of-the-century England
  2. Player characters are likely to have a base set of skills which can probably default to stats
  3. Highly technical skills don’t really exist, and science is still the realm of the wealthy
  4. Skills matched career very closely, and people generally had one career
  5. My feeling (from reading what Matt has written) is that this is a game about normal people in an abnormal situation, so there won’t be much difference between the characters

And now the system …

Sample character – James Wilkins

Name: James Wilkins  Age: 38
Occupation: Butcher  Ht: 5’9″
Home town: Guildford, Surrey Wt: 14st 6

Traits  Skills
Body: 4 Knife: 2
Mind: 2  Butchery: 4
Will: 3  Literacy: 1

Jim worked in a butcher’s shop in Guildford since he was 13 and big enough to be useful. He was married with four kids, all of whom are missing since the invasion.


There are two sections to the character sheet: characteristics and statistics (top and bottom respectively). The characteristics are by far the most important part. A character’s occupation, age, height, weight and home town will shape what that character knows and can do (and perhaps more importantly, what they don’t know and are unable to do). The statistics side puts some numbers against the characteristics, which are used for resolving things in game play.

As with all games, the best way to create your character is in a narrative style with your GM, and perhaps your co-players. The GM probably has an idea of the sort of game he wants to run (I use the term “he” to describe Matt, who is my GM), which may involve people from a certain area and/or of a certain background. For example, he may want you all to be members of the Royal Society bent on fact-finding missions, or a team of Cockney scavengers. Your character’s characteristics will help determine and define their traits and skills.

Statistics (Traits and Skills)

There are three traits, which should cover most situations. Body is a representation of a character’s physique, and encapsulates strength, health, endurance, agility and reflexes. Mind describes your characters inherent ability to understand and their level of knowledge and education. Will is a measure of how well your character reacts to pressure, how strong their stomach is in horrific situations, and their sheer determination. All three traits are on a range from 1-5.

Some players (and GMs) may need more fine-grained information than this. I would strongly urge this be derived from the characteristics. E.g. looking at Jim above, he has Body: 4. He’s 38, quite heavy for his height (remember this is the late Victorian period) and he’s a butcher. I would determine that he normally eats well (gets a lot of meat!) and has to lift heavy loads, so he’s quite strong and healthy. He’s not particularly light on his feet.

I gave him some skills to along with his traits. I thought that any given character would generally have 1 career skill at 3 or 4 (depending on age) and 2-3 other skills that were related at a level of 1-2. In Jim’s case, he was a butcher so he knows how to cut up dead animals – Butchery: 4. He also probably knows how to cut someone up if they get shirty – Knife: 2. Finally, given that he has to deal with delivery men, I figure he can read poorly (and sign his own name) – Literacy: 1.

System Internals

Resolution of any action is done using a number of d6. Normal actions use 1d6, hard actions use 2d6, very hard actions use 3d6. Roll the correct number of dice, and aim to get under your trait level. If you have a relevant skill, you want to get under your trait + skill. (For those who are combat-oriented, combat rolls use 2d6). For most people, this means that any normal task related to their career will not require a roll. Jim therefore has no need to roll if he wants to butcher a cow. Butchering a cow in under an hour would probably require 2d6 though.

I use this level of numbers to make it reasonably easy for unskilled characters to succeed at a normal task. Likewise, for someone whose career depends upon it, hard tasks will be acheivable at least 50% of the time (assuming trait+skill = 7).

Astute readers will note the similarity with ERIS, the system used by The 23rd Letter. The remaining mechanics would be derived from that system. This would include things like wound levels for damage, experience points, and so forth.
While T23L deals with psychics, I think there ought to be rules within WotW: Earth for dealing with the unknown and potentially horrific. I don’t want to head down the route of Call of Cthulhu’s Sanity rules, but I do think that we as 21st century citizens have exposure to things of which people back then would never have even dreamed. My assumption would be a normal or hard check against Will, to avoid paralysis through fear, retching, or whatever else was appropriate for the situation.

The rulebook itself would need to include a lot of information about possible careers and hometowns for characters, giving them plenty of inspiration for roleplaying. We’d also need to detail the technology of the time, not to mention the imported technology of the Martians. Finally, I would see character sheets being something around the size of an index card/post card rather than an A4/Letter size affair.

While this is far from a complete system, I think it’s a reasonable skeleton that just needs flesh. Assuming everyone in the group had read War of the Worlds, and you had a copy of The Twenty-third Letter handy, our gaming group could play WotW: Earth tonight.

About AJ

Gamist: 14%, Simulationist: 29%, Narrativist: 57%. Ah, the irony.
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One Response to WotW: Earth – System Proposal

  1. Aidan says:

    We had some discussion about this last night (we being Matt, Paul and myself). One thing that I didn’t really get into was how to generate characters in a non-narrative way. Here’s how:

    You have 9 points to spend on traits and 7 to spend on skills. 1 skill must be at least 3 and be your career skill. No trait can have a value of 1. There you go, nice and simple.

    The idea is to come up with a strong concept for the character and to devote the time to fleshing out that character’s background, personality, loves, hates, etc. The game mechanic part should then only take a few minutes.

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