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[Mechanics] Pick holes in my core mechanic

AnEristic Principle

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This is...I've lost track of what iteration. I'm about to start play-testing my core mechanics and would like it if you guys could critique and, ideally, find any loopholes/bugs in my core mechanics. Thanks in advance.

To give the game some context, it's a Victorian-punk game set in Manchester, England at the height of the industrial revolution. The rich entitled landed gentry and new corporations tread the have-nots into the dirt with the heels of their boots. The slums are home to gangs of violent Scuttlers and laudanum-addled homeless. Space is at a premium and a dozen families are often forced to live together in one house. Through it all, the existential threat of progress weighs heavy as mechanical looms and steam engines replace the jobs of the common man at a time when the Corn Laws mean most families can't even afford bread to feed their children. Characters are the oppressed, dispossessed, downtrodden working classes. Everything is weighed against them (and I hope that's at least reflected a little in the mechanics) and they must rely on their resolve and mettle to effect change and rise up and take action against the corrupt laws of the land and its broken systems of government (or, choose to side with progress and technological revolution...but at a cost).

Core mechanic:
  • D10 dice pool + skill modifier to each die result. Skills have an unlimited number of dice (though practically, 2-6), skill modifiers are 0-5, die succeeds on 7+.
  • All rolls are opposed. Where there is no one to oppose a roll, the number of dice + modifiers are based on a matrix of risk + difficult.
  • Winner is whomever has the most successes.
  • Margin of success is determined by the number of successes over your opponent. This is typically used for combat and social rolls e.g. calculating (slightly) variable damage.
  • Characters have a meta-currency they can spend to earn either an additional die OR a +2 to each result, when making a skill check (max one point of currency spent per check).
  • If they fail a check, characters may spend meta-currency to buy a success with consequences (they succeed at the roll with 1 success per currency spent and the GM typically fails forward some other consequence).
  • One die is designated as the Consequence Die (this is used in other mechanics). It's basically also the critical die. If you succeed and roll a 10 on this die, you Flourish. If you fail and roll a 1 on this die, you Botch.
Rules for dice pools where there is no one to oppose the roll:

Risk: Little (2 dice), Some (4 dice), Significant (6 dice)
Difficulty: Easy (+0), Tricky (+3), Difficult (+5)

So for example, a character with 3 dice and 4 pips in Athletics that is trying to climb a drainpipe (Some risk) in the rain (Tricky) would be rolling 3D10 and adding 4 to each result, counting successes of 7+, against the GM rolling 4 dice (Some) and adding 3 (Tricky).

Meta-currency is awarded typically at around 5-10 per character per session, with more for achieving in-character goals or succeeding against significant odds.

The one thing that does stand out to me is a maxed-out character that spends meta-currency will always generate successes (each dice roll + 5 + 2 from the currency). I'm not sure I have too much of a problem with this, as it means highly-skilled characters are quite literally pitting their dice against one another.

Thanks for reading. Please let me know your thoughts and especially, any obvious loopholes in the mechanics.

-- An
 

John Out West

Registered User
Validated User
I read it, but I only kind-of understood it. I suggest a rewrite, making sure to introduce everything carefully and define everything. (Like Pips) I might just be tired though... I would love to see a Introduction page if you have one.

If I'm correct then its just Skill Dice vs Skill Dice in most cases. Not sure how combat would work. More skill dice generally means a better chance of success, while dangerous situations have the GM rolling more opposing dice with a bigger modifier. Seems like it might be a pain to run. With standard D&D I know how difficult an action is going to be based on the DC. In this case there's multiple dice on both sides, plus two sides of modifiers. Not sure I could reasonably make up a DC number that reflects the difficulty of a task. Might lead to people swimming up waterfalls or unable to get out of a window.

Hope that helps.
 

Alban

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I suggest you replace skill modifiers with varying success thresholds.
For instance, instead of having modifier +2, you would have success threshold 5+.
Doing so, you'd have exactly the same odds, but you will save time.
I also think it's a rule you will eventually apply nonetheless when you will be accustomed to your system, as you'd naturally identify 5s and 6s as successes for skill modifier of +2.
 

thorya

Statistical out-liar
Validated User
Do you decide whether to add the +2 or one more dice before or after the roll? Because as it is there will always be a 'right' answer if it is chosen before the roll.

Specifically, +2 adds 0.2 successes per die on average.
An extra die adds it's fraction of success on average (so if you succeed on 7+, 0.4 successes).

This means adding another die is usually only a good choice if you have one or two dice.
 

brahnamin

Will GM for Beer
Validated User
TBH, unpacking it straight from the box here, it feels a little bit math-y.

A Alban 's suggestion above would mitigate that somewhat in that it streamlines things a bit, but overall it still feels very fiddly to me. A game's core mechanic is literally the first thing I look at when I pick up a game and how well that is done will always inform my interest.

One thing I personally look for is a core mechanic that sticks to type.

By that I mean, if it is a dice pool mechanic, then I like all modifiers to be represented as dice (eg - x dice for attribute, x dice for skills, x dice for gear - maybe taking away dice for certain conditions, etc - changing target numbers doesn't bug me as much, but it can swing the odds more than you might mean to).

Conversely, if the core mechanic is the same single die or a set combination of dice (1d20, 2d10, 3d6, etc) for every roll, then numeric modifiers don't bug me. There are exceptions to both rules, but those exceptions need to be elegant to not trigger my 'nope' response when first encountering it.

D&D 5e's advantage/disadvantage dice would be one such elegant exception. ORE's use of height and width isn't precisely an exception, but it is a good example where an initially fiddly seeming mechanic turns out to be worth its weight.

So, I guess my first suggestion would be to turn your modifiers into dice or settle on a set die or combination of dice if you want to go with numeric modifiers.

That is strictly from an functionality/handling perspective - not a probability perspective - so I can't speak specifically to whether one is better than the other as far as odds.

The second thing that stood out to me is the bit thorya thorya pointed out above, wherein what you choose regarding flat bonus vs adding a die (and when you have to make said choice) when you spend player bennies can throw in a bit of wiggle room.

This being a dice pool mechanic, I'd personally prefer my bennie to be worth exactly one free success. I know what I'm getting, so I know how to gauge the effectiveness of my spend. Depending on how frequently bennies refresh, you might need to cap how many a player can spend on a single roll.

The third thing that stood out was using another d10 for botch/crit. If you are already using MoS, find a way to derive crits and botches from that instead of adding an extra step. Run the probabilities by someone, but maybe an MoS of +/-3 is a crit or a botch, and let whoever wins the roll (where that is appropriate) decide if they take the crit or force their opponent to take a botch? Player choice adds excitement to any use of your mechanics.

Final thought. Opposed rolls in a dice pool system wherein you have the potential for different target numbers (whether via modifiers or altering target numbers up front) is never going to be a particularly fast or intuitive comparison. It's just isn't. I rolled seven dice and I have a plus three modifier so I get to count everything 4 and higher versus his five dice but he has another modifier, etc . . . So that is something to consider as well. Set target numbers at least eliminate that bit. Your MoS gets a little less granular with set targets, but I haven't seen anything in the above explanation of your core mechanic that points to that being a necessarily bad thing.

My two bits. Luck to you.
 
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fheredin

Registered User
Validated User
I think it's a mistake to apply modifiers in parallel across all the dice. It works, but it basically translates to variable TN, something I am never a particular fan of. The ideal dice pool is one where you fish out your dice, roll, and then see your result. Variable TN always means the player has to stop and do some superficial thought about the check if not an outright computation for each die. It's much harder to fall into a muscle memory rhythm like this.

The other problem is that dice pools are quite inclined to tie. I suspect if this happened, you would refer to the roll with the higher critical die, right? This still means you'll be having a tie every session or so. Will that turn into another roll-off or spending metagame currency? Neither of those are ideal.

I don't think you have a system here with particular faults or exploits, but I do think you'll encounter a 7th Sea-like problem where the simple act of powering the system is a bit of a pain. I, personally, would change the roll-against rules so the GM can set difficulties by rolling step dice and that the "risk" would be expressed with a roll and keep mechanic similar to D&D advantage and disadvantage. The asymmetric rules means ties could default to the player. However, the ton of parallel math across all dice...I have no idea how to fix that without breaking the fundamental idea. I like what you've got here, but I can see it becoming tedious if you roll it out 100 times per session.
 

Knaight

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I'm with Alban: you've made a variable TN system, but clunkier. Varying TN by skill exclusively is neat, but do it directly.
 
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AnEristic Principle

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J John Out West A Alban thorya thorya brahnamin brahnamin fheredin fheredin Knaight Knaight

First of all, thank you all for the feedback and sorry I've not replied sooner - it's been a long and non-stop week. Saturday morning coffee is my first breather.

I'm oversimplifying some of the feedback here, so I apologise. A significant consensus is to dump the modifiers and change the TN and/or ditch the variable TN, both of which make sense (no idea why my maths brain didn't translate the +2 modifier into a change in the TN). The original iteration of the system was similar to Interlock's 1D10 + Stat + Skill but the switch to dice pools has been a recent change for "reasons" and I suspect in part at least, I still have the remnants - at least in my mind - of using modifiers to adjust probabilities. In hindsight and with the feedback here, I need to get out of that mindset. I'm out and about and travelling today so I'll take a notebook and scribble some ideas down.

To give some more context to the bennies ("Mettle"): each character has Troubles (exactly what they sounds like and they can be overcome or new ones added during a game), Values (core ethical/moral rules) and Goals (short and long term things they want to achieve - find work, get married, join the Navy). Mettle is awarded whenever a Trouble conflicts with a Value or prevents a character from achieving a Goal; or whenever they do manage to achieve a Goal. So the bennies are a sort of role-playing reward currency. They can be spent on boosting skill checks (as above, needs definite rework) in exchange for extra XP when the check fails or succeeds and to offset various negative game mechanics.

One of the other uses for Mettle is to spend it to convert a failed check into a successful one, at a conversion of 1-to-1 per MoS, not unlike one of the points brahnamin brahnamin makes. So maybe I ditch the variable TN completely and just flesh out the mechanics of using the bennies. It's thematically appropriate as well (you're spending Mettle: essentially you're falling back on inner resolve to get yourself through a tough situation, and you earn more Mettle by facing down hardship).

fheredin fheredin Ties are a concern, yeah, and at the moment I was planning on leaving it up to my initial play-testing with my game group to see how they felt ties should be resolved.

J John Out West Yeah, sorry for the somewhat splurged stream-of-consciousness OP. I'm back at the "hacking things around" stage again at the moment and also rewriting things like the introduction to take into account some changes in the game (it's gone from purely "historical" to "more esoteric" and I'm working hard to try and avoid "yet another steampunk clone" or "ooooh, so it's WoD meets CoC then" which is how my inner editor keeps seeing things). I'll run up a PDF with something less incoherent, soon, I time permitting.

It's crunchy, but that was a deliberate design decision very early on. It's way simpler than the first iteration, which kind of resembled MERP/RM. ;)

So I think the next iteration will be to rethink meta-currency, rip out the variable TNs and try and get it into a workable straight-up dice pool system but to try and do so within the feel of "you're pitting yourself against overwhelming odds and the crushing weight of progress"

Thanks again folks, I really appreciate the helpful and constructive feedback. I'll rethink things, try and condense the amended mechanics into a single page PDF and post it up.

-- An
 

AnEristic Principle

Changed by Circumstance
Validated User
Hi folks. I've tried to really distil this down; removing variable TNs, using simple opposed pools and putting more emphasis on player agency e.g. buying successes. There will likely be a little more complexity as a result of other rules but nothing that detracts from this basic mechanic (example: combat will still be opposed by the defender's Dodge or Block skill, not the difficulty of the task). I've also expounded the game terminology.

Comments and criticism gratefully received. (y)

Characters

Characters are burdened by their Troubles which are the things in their lives that hinder them. For example: “I lost my leg in the war” or “I owe a debt to a landowner”.

Character possess Values, which indicate their core beliefs and ethical/moral framework. For example: “all work is God’s work” or “every man and woman deserves a roof over their and three square meals a day”.

Characters also have Goals, which are immediate or long-term ambitions they are aiming to achieve. For example “I want to find a job” or “I long to marry my childhood sweetheart”.

When a character’s Troubles conflict with their Values or cause them to fail to achieve a Goal, they are awarded Mettle. A character also earns Mettle for role-playing to their Values and successfully achieving long term Goals, even in the face of adversity. Mettle may be earned and awarded during a session, not just at the end as with XP. There is no limit to how much Mettle a character may have.

A character that is heavily burdened by the difficulties that life throws at them or that may have seen or experienced horrific or traumatising things, will be beset with Dread. This is a measure of existential threat from society and industrial progress that weighs upon them.

Dice Mechanics

Characters have Skills which represent their ability to do things such as climb, fight and negotiate as well as their understanding of the sciences, religion and vocational expertise such as labouring and engineering. Skills are broken down into seven groups of Competencies: Fighting, Physical, Social, Academia, Esoterica, Street and Trade.

Both Competencies and Skills have a number of dice. When a character makes a skill check, their player rolls a number of D10 equal to the character’s Competency + Skill and count each result of 7+ as a success.

The GM also rolls a number of dice based on the Risk and Difficulty of the task the character is attempting.

Code:
              RISK >        Little    Some    Significant
              Easy            1         3         5
DIFFICULTY >  Tricky          3         5         7
              Difficult       5         7         9

If the character achieves more successes than the GM then the skill check succeeds. The difference in the number of successes is their Margin of Success (MoS).

A character may spend Mettle on a 1-for-1 basis to buy additional successes on a skill check. The player must choose to spend Mettle in this way before the GM rolls their dice but may do so after the GM has declared how many dice they are rolling.

Variations?

Two possible variations, neither of which I'm sure of:
  • Remove the GM dice and change this to a minimum number of successes required to succeed.
    • More player agency, especially with players buying successes with Mettle.
    • Less dice rolling.
    • Couple implement crit/botch based on MoS as brahnamin brahnamin suggested.
  • Spend Mettle to "steal" dice from the GM's pool and add them to your own, rather than buy successes.
    • Would need to limit the number that could be stolen.
    • Could work both ways, with the GM using a character's Dread to steal dice, a little like spending Destiny Points in FFG Star Wars to make a task more difficult.
    • Feels clunky.
 

fheredin

Registered User
Validated User
I do like the streamlines of the new version.

I would suggest two changes. First, make the player succeed when tying with the GM. I think this will give you a little more leeway with the math, you could possibly introduce a fail forward or messy success rule, and in general I think it will feel better when playing.

Second, consider using Mettle to cancel GM dice and vice versa rather than stealing dice or buying success. This way no dice actually need to move across the table and Mettle is a smaller (and therefore more precise) metagame currency than usual. If you want an even smaller metagame currency and are interested in step dice mechanics, you could allow spending Mettle to boost a die to d12. This way you can naturally limit how many Mettle get spent on a check just by calling for a specific number of d12s to be on the table.
 
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