Friday, November 27, 2009

Rich Dice: Force, Finesse and Fortune

Long car rides help me think, and the holidays is a time of many long car rides. Specifically, I found myself thinking about the forthcoming Dragon Age RPG. I'm pretty excited about this game, for a swath of reasons. It's Green Ronin, so right off the bat I have a certain amount of brand trust. The sales model (4 boxed sets, each representing a level range) makes me quite curious to see in action, and the bits that Chris Pramas has revealed so far about the system interest me greatly.[1] Though hell, he's put up another post: I need to read that!

The big thing is that the core mechanic is a 3d6 model, specifically 3d6 + Stat + thing-which-is-most-certainly-not-called-a-skill-but-is-basically-a-skill trying to hit a target number. Bonuses don't seem to be too huge, so target numbers are probably start in the 10-20 range. In short, it's not terribly removed from d20[2], excepting that the 3d6 curve is probably a bit more appealing to those who have been bent over the wheel of fate by flat rolling.

One interesting thing it does with this approach is to take something of a variant on d6's wild die with the "dragon die". One of your dice is the dragon die, and when you make a roll where degree of success matters, then that is not determined by how high you roll, but rather by the number showing on the dragon die. If it's a 1, your success is narrow, but on a 6 it's profound[3] and that translates into mechanical effects.

I dig this, because it's a great example of something that's started to be called "rich dice rolling". The idea is that in some games, a single roll of the dice can reveal many different and unrelated (or only loosely related) pieces of information. For example, the core system for Godlike and subsequent games called for rolling a number of d10s and building sets (like two 4s, three 7s and whatnot). Those rolls were considered to have a "height" - the number - and a "width" - the number of dice in the set. So a set of 3 sevens would have a height of 7 and a width of 3. Those two numbers were used to track different things, like how well something was done versus how long it took to do. In combat, for example, width determined if you hit, but height determined hit location.

This was a little bit different than including a "wild die" (one differently colored die with special significance) in a set of d6s, but the underlying idea was very similar, and subsequent games have experimented with other ways to make die rolls richer. Fred Hicks' Don't Rest Your Head may be the current grand champion for richest die rolls, with a sophisticated economy of events plugging away in the background based on dice color.

Taking this back to Dragon Age, I was pretty intrigued. I'm always on the lookout for a system that balances crunch and simplicity at just my sweet spot[4] and this initial overview of Dragon Age suggested it might be in that ballpark. But it also got me thinking about that dragon die, and about the other two dice.

Specifically, I found myself wondering if it would be possible to make all three dice into rich dice. It seemed reasonable: I wouldn't expect players to be able to keep track of more than maybe four rich dice, but sticking with three kept things intellectually manageable. Plus, three dice matches one of the criteria for my ideal pocket game (requiring nothing I can't carry in a small box), and three is an auspicious number, so why not?

So if they were rich, what would they be? The classic trilogy is Mind/Body/Spirit, and while I suspect that could probably work, it's a little bit abstract (especially in terms of spirit). I kicked it around a little more and realized I like the idea of one of the dice being luck - just all the stupid things that happen around us every day. That was satisfying, and it meant that I could make the remaining dice into an opposed pair. Good/Evil, Black/White, Tastes Great/Less Filling or anything else. I actually ended up thinking about something that is ubiquitous in gaming and a lot of fiction - strength vs. speed, or perhaps more precisely power vs. precision.[5]

I dig this division a lot, partly because Clauswitz vs. Jomini makes me do a little dance, but also because it's VERY easy to conceptualize, especially in a fight. That said, I was looking at two-thirds of an alliterative name with "Luck, Power & Precision" so I swapped it out for "Fortune, Force and Finesse".

So there was the bones. Roll 3d6, each of a different color (I'm totally undecided on color scheme - probably White/Red/Black because those are the easiest colors to get) and in addition to your total, you can sketch a quick image of how the roll succeeded or failed. Even if there's no mechanical support at all, it's useful information for the GM who is interested in how to color his descriptions[6].

But, of course, once you introduce something like this, the possibilities for how to use it mechanically start bubbling to the surface. "Oooh!" say some nerd hindbrain, "Force can also be the basis for damage, and finesse can be, um, armor penetration!" and so it begins.

That hindbrain been bubbling for a bit. Some of what it says isn't to bad, so next week, we'll see about exposing some of those ideas to the whithering power of daylight to see what becomes of them.

1- Curiously, for all that I LOVE the Dragon Age video game, that love doesn't really translate into real excitement for the RPG. I'm curious to read more about the setting, sure, but Bioware did such a solid job with the game that I haven't been left thinking "There are stories in Ferelden I feel still need to be told". Not that that will keep me from buying new downloadable content when it comes out. The connection mostly interests me because I'm not sure how it will shake out from a marketing perspective.

2 - by d20 I mean the core precept of the system: roll a d20, add some bonuses, try to hit a certain number or higher. I am by no means saying this is a d20 clone, or even anything close to that, but rather I'm saying that by making the basic resolution something familiar to someone who's been exposed to d20 maybe once, they are doing themselves a favor. Dice pools, chart lookups, success counting or weird dice are all well and good, but since one of the stated goals of the product is to grow the hobby, it's not too bad an idea to go with something this simple.

3 - Extra points if you use a ghost die for this.

4 - I still haven't quite found it, and there's a good chance I never will, but that's rather besides the point, isn't it?

5 - You can, incidentally, port this over to PDQ quite trivially, especially if your game or character has some central thematic conflict, like passion vs. reason. You can just designate one die to each pole, and use them to color how you play. When you're rolling more than 2 dice, then their source is either drama or awesomeness. Easy as pie.

6 - This is a practice that is at odds with the idea of "Only roll the dice when it matters", but many GMs will call for a roll that has no specific drama or any real chance of failure just so she can have some information to use as the seed of how she will describe events. An example would be calling for a sailing roll before taking a trip: a bad roll won't mean the trip won't happen, but it means the GM might describe the trip as stormy and encountering incidental problems.


  1. Obviously all of this is background for me I already know, so I'll be very interested to see where you go from this starting point.

    Another interesting point to be made here is that inside of each 3d6 roll, you not only have a 1d6 each of Force, Finesse, and Fortune, but also a 2d6 of the three possible pairs.

    "Luck is largely a matter of paying attention" : Finesse + Fortune

    "It was a one in a million shot, and he hit the target with all the impact of a freight train" : Force + Fortune

    "He was, pure and simple, the most powerful and most experienced wizard in the world" : Finesse + Force

    So I'd be pretty intrigued to see some stuff that made use of the "hidden" pairs within the roll.

  2. (Long time listener, first time caller)
    Nifty stuff.

    One point about alliteration: as appealing as it is to the ear, it kind of sucks when you want to write down results or goals -- i.e. you can't abbreviate a die roll with a single letter. For that reason, I'd go with something like "Luck", "Skill", "Power":

    "Steven rolled L1S1P6. Oops."

  3. Awesome train of thought. I present you with this use of the term "Rich Rollin'" to keep you motivated as you drive and think up crazy new game mechanics:

  4. I like this idea because it, along with most other rich-dice methods, can lead to those "Hell, yeah!" moments that I love to see. As in "I was aiming for his hand but because of my awesome roll, I shot the gun out of it instead. Hell, yeah!"

  5. I've messed around with a half-dozen different systems using 2-4 different colored dice since picking up DRYH and listening to Fred talk about rich rolling a couple years back - none that I was content with. Of course your first dabble is way better than anything I was tinkering with...

    I was doing some stuff with dFs along these lines as well. Stuff I think I like but not sure it would have broad appeal in the Fate community.

    Still, this has inspired to go back for more tinkering.

  6. It also provides another point of contact for other mechanics. E.g., a feat/stunt/whatever "Luck of the Gods", which means that character gets to re-roll 1's on their fortune die. You can see where this leads: exploding 6's, bennies for doubles on particular dice, etc.

  7. It also provides another point of contact for other mechanics. E.g., a feat/stunt/whatever "Luck of the Gods", which means that character gets to re-roll 1's on their fortune die. You can see where this leads: exploding 6's, bennies for doubles on particular dice, etc.

  8. Good stuff. My larval Chimaera uses Force already, but the other factors are Flux and Form. Good point on the limits of alliteration, above, but I think I'll stick with it.

    Personally I like small piles of d6 so I think it'll be low numbers for each, but any given roll is always two pools. Might be ways to get pool-ish behaviours from modifications to each d6 though . . . hmmm. Thanks for the out-loud thinking Rob.

  9. Lovely concept, with some fairly extensive iterations.

    You mentioned the height (as the number) and width (as the size of the stack). Fred Hicks has added a kind of depth too, in ordering the results of the dice.

    There are also moments of intersection, where numbers double or triple, and, like Justin Jacobson added, there are possibilities for explosion/implosion.

    I imagine the ordering of the dice as colour, and the cumulative score determining success, while moments of intersection intensify the results.

    But perhaps it would be more interesting if the order of the dice determined success - the numbers within those dice colouring the narrative. Players could then re-roll numbers in order to try to push for different results. Who knows?

    I'm very interested to see where you go with this idea, particularly how to flavour the roll with character attributes.

    Sebastian K. Hickey
    Cobweb Games

  10. Does the hew warhammer game do something similar?


  11. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

  12. I re-read this after you linked to it from your recent dice post. I didn't catch it the first time, but the Dragon Die concept is also one used in the old In Nomine game. They add an additional layer to that with 1-1-1 and 6-6-6 being auspicious dice rolls. But the core of it is still the same.

  13. Wacky, I had never made the In Nomine connection either, but you're right, there it is.


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