Thursday, December 3, 2009

FFF: After the Roll

We've already discussed the idea of "dominance", that after the dice are rolled, the highest die type is considered dominant, and it colors the outcome. If it's Force, the action is forceful, and so on. The effect of this can be limited entirely to color and description, but today we're going to kick around a few ways to give it some mechanical punch.

The most obvious solution, of course, is to simply have some sort of triggered effect based on the dominant die. If Force dominates, it might mean extra damage and such. This is a bit system specific - damage and armor penetration bonuses don't make sense for all systems - but the idea is pretty generally applicable. Fred also floated an interesting idea of looking at the ties as meaningful as well. That is to say, if Force and Finesse both dominate, that is akin to a critical success, using both outcomes, and if all three dice match, that's Super Effective (cuz all the cool kids love Pokemon terminology).

This does raise an interesting question of how dominance plays out in the case of a failure. Presumably, bonuses would only apply on a success, and dominance is now more about how you failed. Three 1s would really indicate that everything imaginable went wrong.

Another possibility is to use dominance as the trigger for player abilities. To use martial arts as an example, a character might be able to do a "whirlwind strike" only if the hit with finesse dominant. Or perhaps the power itself is written so that it has different effects based on what factor is dominant. That certainly opens up a broad range of possibilities, especially because every power need not have a special effect for every outcome.

This sort of mechanic gets very interesting when you start combining it with some of the tricks we were discussing yesterday. By shifting around bonuses, die sizes or die numbers, you can increase the tendency towards certain dominance outcomes, which in turn would let you get the feel for a specific martial art.

To give an example, imagine if we used a system of stances - pre-set dice combinations that come to 18 faces - that can be learned as skills. The "balanced" stance is 3d6, but the Resplendent Wing school stance is Force d4, Fortune d4 and Finesse d10. If you take that stance, you'd want to use attacks which do cool things when finesse dominates.

Of course, since it's martial arts you'd want some interplay. One other thing you can do with Dominance is a little rock-paper-scissors. Force beats Fortune beats Finesse beats Force (or whatever sequence appeals) - if two players both roll, the stronger dominance may grant some moderate to strong advantage, so the benefits of your stance's focus could also be a weakness.[1]

In the less abstract realm, you could set secondary target numbers for the dominant die to restrict triggering effects. If something only happens when the dominant die is Force and it's over 4, then that calls for a bit more bookkeeping, but it also keeps the special results feeling a little bit more earned. This also introduces an interesting corollary to the question of dominance in a failure: if the secondary effect's threshold is still met, then perhaps it still happens.

And once you open that door, you also point to the realm of possibilities beyond dominance. Looking at the other dice also tells a story (If Finesse dominated, Fortune was almost as high, but Force was very low, that suggests a different sort of explanation than one where Force is high and Fortune is low) and you could even have other triggers in the roll for the non-dominant dice. To use and example of a race, suppose that even if you lose (fail the overall roll), you at least show so long as Finesse is above 3. A great number of factors could be determined by a single throw of the dice.

That said, this definitely suggests some synchronicity with the rules for weighting your pool. If the pool is balanced (a straight 3d6) then you're really just depending on luck for these secondary goals. If it's weighted (such as with bonuses, differing die sizes, or roll & keep) then you can steer the result towards different outcomes. This gets all the more interesting when it becomes a genuine choice. Suppose there's something good for each potential focus. Do you tilt towards one to risk the others?

I dig that kind of meaningful tactical choice, but it also reveals a danger - choices like that can really bog things down as the player sits and calculates his optimal action set, waffling between possibilities. Unless you like that, it means you need to make the choices either very simple, or have them already be made (in the case of choosing stats).

This is the real curse of any zero-sum system. Players want to cover their bases as best they can, and will optimize for that, but if things are truly zero sum (or at least look that way) it can be paralyzing. The upside of this is that it can be fuel for a group dynamic. Few things make a group tick better than knowing your buddy is good at the thing you're weak at, at east so long as you're both in play. But that's the tip of a very big iceberg.

Anyway, I don't think I've milked it all yet, but that's a good start, and I'm tired, so let's let that percolate.

1 - If I was really going to use this model for martial arts (and I think it could do it quite well) I admit I'd be inclined to swap over to a 5d6 model and go for elemental dominance.


  1. I'm loving the FFF development I'm seeing, Rob. (It's sometimes drifting near a system I tinkered with for a cop game, last year, and with which I still meddle — I'm happily inspired by you.)

    However, I'd be afraid that special abilities that are triggered only when dice are both dominant and above a certain number are too much out of the player's hands. I'd hate to roll three fives in that system, or beat the TN but have something else be dominant and rob me of my chance to use that cool power.

    Why not let the player choose to use a lesser die if it triggers the power he wants — yeah, it's not the Finesse 6 he scored, but he wants to push the foe (or whatever) so he goes with the Force 4 he rolled. It seems to me that there's niche protection there, as the brute leans towards Force even when the dice keep handing him great Finesse and Fortune.

    If dominance is in play, maybe the thing to do is to assign special effects to numbers on the die (I've been wanting to do something with this idea for years), so that each roll is essentially a character-specific Table of Awesome Options. I roll the dice and can choose to use my Force 3, Finesse 4, or Fortune 5 effects — assuming I've bought an effect for each value already. Otherwise I use a generic trait-specific effect for, most likely, the highest die.

    There's a combo mechanism in here ("I'm going to go Force-Finesse-Force!" "I'm going Fortune-Fortune-Finesse!"), I just can't get my hands around it yet.

  2. I realize I've abandoned the roll-over total TN in this thinking. I'm just spitballing.

  3. Some more numbers crunched. I'm differentiating strict dominance (die is strictly greater than all others), from general dominance (there are no other die that have a higher result; ties are allowed). In each case, I'm assuming that the largest die is the one with the aspect being aimed for.

    Since it normally doesn't matter whether you can perform the Most Glorious Strike of Whirling Winds unless you managed to actually hit the guy, I also computed the probabilities assuming that you need to roll 11+ to hit.

    No target
    Strictly dominating
    3d6: 55 / 216 = 25.5%
    d4 + d6 + d8: 98 / 192 = 51.0%
    2d4 + d10: 110 / 160 = 68.8%

    3d6: 91 / 216 = 42.1%
    d4 + d6 + d8: 122 / 192 = 63.5%
    2d4 + d10: 126 / 160 = 78.8%

    With target
    Strictly dominating
    3d6: 25 / 108 = 23.1%
    d4 + d6 + d8: 64 / 96 = 66.7%
    2d4 + d10: 76 / 80 = 95.0%

    3d6: 48 / 108 = 44.4%
    d4 + d6 + d8: 75 / 96 = 78.1%
    2d4 + d10: 79 / 80 = 98.8%

    Once we introduce a minimum threshold, we can see that the chances of getting off your special attack (provided you hit) are quite high (a 1/80 chance of failure!) assuming you choose a 2d4 + d10 die set, and that tied dominance doesn't get in the way. Even with the more balanced d4+d6+d8, it's still almost an 80% chance, and almost twice as likely as the 3d6 case.

  4. This actually reveals a two-edged sword. i was pretty sure that going with d10 would be pretty overwhelming in terms of dominance (sticking do d4/d6/d8 at least keeps a bit more variety) which is bad in terms of rarity, but good in terms of player control. If the player can weight their roll that much, then the choice feels much more within their grasp (which comes back to Will's point).

    The question is, what are they giving up in the weighting? I can see a few answers, but I need to chew on it a bit.

    -Rob D.

  5. Why not let the player choose to use a lesser die if it triggers the power he wants — yeah, it's not the Finesse 6 he scored, but he wants to push the foe (or whatever) so he goes with the Force 4 he rolled.

    I could see that working with some other mechanism like having the power to lower the value rolled on any die. Yes, you can have the 4 dominant, but now the highest total you can have is 12. If you instead rolled a 3 on Force and *really* need to beat a TN of 10, then you're out of luck.


    The question is, what are they giving up in the weighting?

    As I mentioned yesterday, there's a greater risk of catastrophic failure the more skewed your dice set. You could also have a cost for skewing your set. One point to go from 3d6 to d(4,6,8), and another to go all the way to d(4,4,10). Once you're skewed towards Finesse, say, you'll have to pay 4 points (2 to get back to neutral, 2 to go to the new (4,4,10) configuration) if you need to focus on Force. If not points, then have it require a minor action to change 'stances', and have enough of an RPS dynamic (Force > Fortune > Finesse > Force?) to encourage players to not just sit on one configuration, or even favour 3d6 to make themselves less predictable.

  6. Have you considered the idea of using the Finesse Die for hit location?
    6 - Head
    5 - Chest
    4 - Abdomen
    3 - A Leg
    2 - An Arm
    1 - The Pelvis (1 should always be the nut-shot)

    Another interesting thought from your earlier post could be what about a bad roll on a specific die... 1 for Force meaning a wimpy shot or perhaps a muscle cramp, while a 1 for fortune could be a gun-jam or the like. This could be important in choosing the appropriate stat to go along with the roll. Say it's a more narrative style game you're trying for and you apply an adjective to the stat so you take "swift +3" as a finesse modifier. If you roll a 1 on your finesse die when you chose "swift +3" to be your appropriate modifier that +3 becomes a -3 and something narratively bad occurs. In that sense it becomes a bit more of a risk to use the heavy bonus all the time.

    Personally I'm not sure if I like that approach fully, but it's a thought you may have a better take on.


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