Tabletop Review: The Ladder
by Aaron Sirois on January 31, 2013


The Ladder
Publisher: Zozer Games
Page Count: 17
Cost: Free
Release Date: 01/01/2013
Get it Here:

Let’s say you’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons before. In this hypothetical, you’ve joined a friend’s campaign due to that friend talking incessantly about how awesome it is. You have no idea how to play, but you want your character to climb a wall. You’re asked to make a “climb check”. This requires rolling a twenty sided die, something you’ve likely never seen before because you’re used to playing board games like Monopoly and Life. You take the result here, add in your climb score, which is created by adding your strength bonus and ranks in that skill. The strength bonus, of course, is determined by taking your strength score, subtracting ten, dividing by two, and then rounding down. That number isn’t right yet. You still have to subtract points because your character is wearing armor, which weighs him down.

My point is that pen and paper games can seem like high end calculus to a beginner, and for any given action, there’s usually a good deal of math involved. The dice can seem alien, as can the list of skills and seemingly random numbers attached to them. Something as simple as climbing a wall has a whole lot that goes into it. For experienced players, such math is second nature, and is done almost instantaneously. For a beginner, it might just seem overly complicated.

theladder1The Ladder is a game that aims to simply pen and paper rules to the point where a beginning player can quickly feel right at home. Key to this goal is the fact that only six sided dice are used, and rolls don’t involve adding or subtracting any sort of modifier. Skills are relegated to a simple ladder system that uses words like “good”, “poor”, and “expert” to define character’s abilities. This is a noble goal, to be sure. Let’s see how it pans out.

When you create a character using the rules of The Ladder, you have a pretty easy task. You select six “assets” that you want your character to have. These should relate to the them of the campaign as described by your Gamesmaster. So, you’re in modern times, good assets to have might be “driving” or “computer skills”. Of these six assets, you can choose to become an expert in two of them. The other four you’re considered “good” at. Next up to create a few character flaws that add to your character’s personality. Maybe your character is scared of heights. Maybe he’s got asthma. After that, the rest is even simpler, and amounts to nothing more than creating some background information, such as defining features, and home location. You could easily create a character in a minute or two.

At the heart of the game is the ladder system itself. For each skill, you have a rating on the ladder. The idea is that if you’re good at something, you’ll succeed at related tasks most of the time. So if you’re good at driving, chances are you’ll make that turn without a problem. The kicker is that you do still roll a die. On a roll of two through five, nothing happens. Your outcome stays the same as it would have been without the die roll. On a roll of a one or six, however, things start to get interesting. These numbers represent the chance that any person may at some point exceed or fail to meet their normal skill level. For example, even a master martial artist can miss a kick, and a novice baseball player can still hit a home run. Rolling a six moves your attempt up the ladder, while rolling a one moves you down the ladder. Rolling either prompts a second roll. So, if you roll a six, you’ve exceeded your expectations, and get to roll again. Another six means you do even better. You keep going until you don’t roll a six. This sets up the chance, although unlikely, that you can can pull off something amazing.

The ladder system is definitely interesting. For most actions, it has a nice feeling to it. You have a pretty good idea of how you’ll perform on any given task, yet there’s always a chance that something can go wrong/right. Also in play is the “wonky ladder” system where some outside influence can affect the likelihood of your place on the ladder being changed. For example, let’s say you want to perform a running jump. The trouble is that you’re on a patch of ice. This results in a bad wonky ladder, and when you go to make your jump roll, you’ll go down a ladder on a roll of a one AND a two. This gives the system some flexibility when dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

theladder2It’s when there’s conflict that one starts to see some serious flaws in the system. Logically, it makes sense that someone ranked good at something should almost always defeat someone ranked poorly at the same task. However, when it comes to this game, it can often feel like your roll means nothing. If you’re down more than a rung, you have to hope your opponent rolls multiple ones in a roll, or that you roll multiple sixes in a row just to avoid an abysmal outcome. In combat, things get even more redundant. Winning a roll awards the victor points. A certain number of points is needed to win. This means that even if the lesser player has a miraculous roll, they’ll still likely lose because they can’t possibly meet that total number of points before their superior opponent. It takes some of the chance and fun out of conflict, and makes things more of a foregone conclusion. It may be logical, but it’s not as much fun.

Advancement in the game comes via “plot points” that are awarded by the GM. These can be cashed in to improve an existing skill, add a skill, or used to bump yourself up a ladder in times of need. The GM is encouraged to stem too much growth, however, as one shouldn’t be an expert in too many fields. It’s definitely interesting to watch a character grow, and this system can easily be used to create a very specific build.

This game attempts to make things simpler, and for the most part it manages. It can get a bit over complicated when it comes to degrees of injury and how that affects your ladder scores, but the system is still one that can be used to ease a beginner into the world of pen and paper games. I can’t say it’s better than it’s more complicated brethren, but it does offer some appeal to those looking for a rules-light adventure.


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