Tuesday, December 1, 2009

FFF: First Thoughts

For those just coming in, this is going to be built on a previous post on a hypothetical resolution system of 3d6 (maybe +bonus) vs target number, with rich dice (dice that convey extra information). the dice respectively represent force, finesse and fortune.

The first thing to address is what this looks like in play. Even in the absence of mechanics, the dice can be useful for narrating an outcome. Just look at the highest die and use that to set the tone of the outcome. If the highest die is Force (representing strength and power) then that's easy: you land a hammer blow, you overwhelm the guard with your presence and you generally stomp on the problem. If it's Finesse (representing speed and precision) then t's equally easy: You find a gap in the armor, you subtly convey your point or you otherwise solve the problem with grace.

Those two are so clearly easy to envision that it's easy to not stop and think about Fortune. Because it's the most transparent concept (luck), and we know what luck looks like, we don't worry about it. But there's a danger there: describing luck is surprisingly hard. I mean, yes, it's easy to do a few times, but it gets very silly very quickly. The temptation, of course, is to describe luck in terms of coincidences. The guard just happens to slip on that puddle; the terrier just happens to fall on that guys head and so on. The more this happens the more it comes to resemble slapstick, and that's not terribly helpful for most games.

As such, the way to think about Fortune (and by extension, luck mechanics in most games) is in terms of opportunity. This has a number of advantages. First, it's much more tied to the situation at hand (falling terriers tend to be situation-independent) so it uses the color of the scene. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it makes the character proactive and keeps them at center stage. It's a small difference, but it's the difference between "The guard slips on a puddle" and "You drive him two steps back until his left foot is in the puddle, then take advantage of his bad footing to knock him down". The net result is the same (guard is on the floor) but the second sounds much more adventurous, and that's important.

I'm aware that this may seem like a sidetrack when compared to the mechanical possibilities of the system, but it's an important one. Coming up with a clever mechanic is all well and good, but if there is no clear way to turn it into the language of the table then it's never going to be anything more than awkward.[1]

Ok, so with that aside, let's start looking at ways to start this idea some mechanical purchase.

The simplest model is to have some sort of bonus trigger based on which die dominates (which is to say, which is the highest)[2]. This could be expressed generically: If Force dominates you get a bonus to damage (or damage equivalent), if Finesse dominates you get a bonus to this (or maybe the next) roll and if fortune dominates, you can maneuver. That works, and it strongly supports the color of the dice[3] but it offers very little in the way of player interface. This works roughly the same way whether my character is brawny or scrawny, and there's no way for me to make choices that impact this.

So here we have the first big fork: one way or another we want the impact of this to be responsive to player choice, but do we want it to be choices made during character creation (stats, skills), choices made in preparation (equipment, possibly spells), choices made in situation (tactics) or some combination of these?

Sounds like a good point to pick up tomorrow.

1 - This is actually a big factor, for good or ill, with 4e. By insisting on play with minis and maps, it changes the language of the table from one of description to one of 5 foot squares and numbers. In that second language, everything is very well written, coming together beautifully. The problem comes when you try to translate from the tactical language to the descriptive one: the guidelines for doing so are quite faint indeed.

2 - The term "dominates" is from Don't Rest Your Head, so it's very natural to me, but it could easily be changed to suit the tone of whatever the final game is. If you're feeling really nerdy this is a great place to put in one of those made up words that makes a game sound EVEN MORE dorky.

3 - Fortune might merit a switch to something more setting or situation specific, but that's easy. It's a wild card, and there's usually an obvious use for such a thing.


  1. With regards to your Fortune die I don't see it explicitly as a random Luck die. Rather I see Fortune more in the sense that good luck allows you to see and exploit opportunities that others may miss. {Bad luck, on the other hand is not seeing the pitfalls in time.] Thus a high roll on the Fortune die might represent seeing that your opponent's elbow sticks out too much, or that they habitually parry high in in tierce, or something similar. Not that you necessarily realise the opening for what it is whilst you are fighting.

    Thinking on your previous post I also thought about the effects if, instead of adding 1 to the ability test, you got to increase one of the dice by one rank (eg d6 to d8). This would allow a character to express their preferred style when using an ability (is the character a balanced fighter, for example, or does he rely on brute force to get things done?

  2. In fact, that's one of the options I'm chewing on. It can work equally well as stats or as tactics, depending how it's applied.

  3. I'm following this with *great* interest. I've been thinking that I really dig mechanics like "rich dice" (thanks for letting me know there's a name for it), inspired in part by some One Roll Engine play I've experienced, although ORE has almost TOO much going for it for my tastes -- not a system critique of ORE, so much as my aging brain would prefer smaller dice pools and ranges to interpret.

    In any event, as this series of posts from you runs, I see possibilities that I haven't seen before, and I'm hoping to pick your brain with specific questions once you get into deeper into the nitty-gritty.

    Great stuff indeed.

  4. The 3d6 bell curve must be rising to the surface of the pool in the collective subconscious 'cuz it's been nagging my hind-brain too. I never would have imagined mixing the die types. Color me interested.

  5. Fortune: You're on the right track by thinking of it as opportunity. "I had the good Fortune to notice a puddle behind my opponent..."

    Force: A damage bonus that happens only when Force dominates would be interestingly bursty. I roll 6 force and 5 finesse, I'm +6 to my damage. I roll 4 force and 5 finesse, and I'm +0 to it. I think this alone underscores how unmitigatedly potent the other die effects have to be when they occur. Those effects have to be just as palpable.

    Finesse: You're looking for a in-my-pocket game here, so I'd be careful about "carry it forward" effects with the finesse die. The less you have to book-keep/remember from roll to roll, the better, probably. That said, without an idea of the larger system picture that this fits into, it's very hard to determine what the possible effects could be. Maybe my caution is unwarranted; a +X on the next roll is at least fairly universal.

    Overall: You'll need to figure out how your system sorts out ties. There's a 1 in 36 chance that the dice will all come up the same number, and I *think* you're somewhere around a third of the time for rolling your 3d6 such that at least two of the numbers come up identical. The DRYH approach of "eliminate ties before determining dominance" only works because of there being more dice in operation than 1 of each color.

  6. A major part of DRYH is that the number of dice in the pool has an impact on which pool will potentially dominate. While this is never a certainty the different size pools do help break up ties as you mentioned. By going to a 3d6 approach the flat statistical line is being replaced by the bell curve which eliminates one aspect of wild randomness, but gains another by which die dominates.

    I'm trying to picture myself as a player constantly shifting my approach to some conflict based on the dice roll. This time I land a heavy blow, that time I was able to sneak in a lock shot between plates of armor and next time I may just luck into a situation. But many of the characters I've played tend to be of a certain focus. I'm the strong guy, the quick guy or the lucky guy.

    What if instead of leaving the dominant die up to chance you instead borrow an aspect of Otherkind dice? Let the player decide which of the dice gets applied to which aspect. This time I may choose Force, but I usually like to go for the Finesse approach.

    Instead of only one die being dominant, what if the distribution of the dice as applied has some total affect? I may put my high die into Force, but if I put my low die into Luck, something may not go my way next round. Taking that a step further, if this is a game in which there is a gm, what if the player picks which aspect into which to place the high die while the GM gets to pick which aspect will get the low die?

    Ok, the caffine is wearing off and I have to get back to work. I hope this made sense. You may have this already worked out in your head and are just dosing it out for us junkies. Thanks for all the food for thought.


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