Thursday, 30 June 2022

1-to-5 relative reference system

(This is a quick post expanding from my old comment, just so to keep it in one place)

It still strikes me interesting how easy it is to use 1 to 5 range as reference for being's stat / skill level in a number of systems, despite the systems themselves then using a widely different mechanics. "1" won't be the same in each of those systems and won't be mathematically equal across them, but it will mean the approximately same level of competence/power in each system. 

Systems I can think about where it applies:

– dot system of WoD-like where it represents the number of 1d10 dice rolled against a threshold for successes; average PC has 1-to-5 dots in attribute and / or 1-to-5 dots in skill.
– proficiency modifier in 5Ed, shifted up by one so it becomes +2 to +6.
– "Savage Worlds" dice steps (1d4 as "1", the weakest, 1d12 as "5", the strongest).
– comparable with 'Lamentation of Flame Princess' pip skill system, with X-in-6 chances to roll success on 1d6 die.
– comparable range for GloK sum/dice investment system, shifted down by 1, to become 0 to 4.
– comparable with 'Cats RPG' system, where PCs have 1 to 5 d6s to roll and count even/odd successes.
– stretchily comparable with 'Dark Souls' weapon scaling, with S being 5, and D being 1 (and E being 0 because nobody is thrilled about E-scale weapons)

Technically 1-to-5 is 0-to-6 with exceptional cases going below and above, but 1-to-5 seems to be a good range to reference. I am curious in how many other systems it might be also applicable.


  1. Traveller typically has most skills being in this sort of range. 1 is typically enough to get a job at something on the frontier, even though a 2 or 3 (depending) is more the level expected of a professional. But on the frontier you take what you can get. Skill levels of 5 and 6 are generally rare, but they do happen, They’re notable though.

    I saw an actual skill classification for real life job descriptions that was based on 6 levels. I used to have a copy of it to use with traveller 8-). Misplaced it though.

    Even d100 games often got broken down into categories of 5 or 6 categories when I played them a lot. It just helped to turn a 01-100 scale into something more manageable. 15-20% per level was a conversion I often saw and used - I preferred 20% per level. So 1 = 20%, 2=40%, 3= 60%, ...6 = 120%. For those d100 systems that allowed you to go over 100% with a skill.

    I think it is a human thing, a natural expression of how many things we can easily grasp at once, and how many grades of something can be easily distinguished or codified such that a description of any one grade is meaningul, and also meaningfully different from the grade above and the grade below.

    1. Thank you for the note about Traveller.

      There is a number of mechanics that aren't easily translated to this scheme of reference. DnD 3rd edition has numbers going however high they might, Roll-and-Keep (as in 7th Sea), Ryuutama even.

      I wonder if "easily grasp" could be literal in this case, as we have five-fingered hands.

  2. It's like with Likert Scales as well (i.e. strongly disagree through strongly agree surveys), and also 5-7 is about the maximum most people can hold in working memory. So it's intuitive and easy to mentally track; you can roughly track 1-5 to very weak through very strong without much thought. I hadn't necessarily considered this idea that it also often works as a relative reference across systems that use it, that's an interesting point as well.

    1. "5 stars" reference scale is surely used as lot, but what is curious to me is that how many of the systems directly or almost directly translate to 1 to 5 in numbers they use when we appraise character's relative power or proficiency, and how different are the mathematical paths they take in how they handle these numbers later.

  3. This is a great point! There's a whole coherent rpg ruleset implied in just the words: "1-to-5 relative reference system" imo. Its got my head swirling with ideas.

    1. Thank you. I am very curious to see what you do with this idea.