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Thoughts on this CRM

GoaltimeExposure

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After a playtest gone awry, I'm back to contemplating my game's core mechanic. I keep going back and forth between a dice pool mechanic (like that of Mouse Guard) and a dice stepping mechanic (like that of Cortex Plus, more or less).

My game's not entirely unlike Exalted. PCs are the chosen champions of the gods, and as such, they're essentially similar to fantasy superheroes. Common adversaries include dragons, giants, and their like, so I need to be able to stat them as formidable opponents. The game is grittier than Exalted, however; character death is not uncommon and even divine heroes are mortal.

Anyway. During the failed playtest, we were using the dice pool mechanic. Now I'm back to thinking about the dice stepping mechanic. For this mechanic, players gather pools of dice based on various character parameters. Parameters are rated in die sizes, from d4 to d12. Once the dice have been rolled, the player picks 2 from among the roll (the rest are simply discarded). The sum of those 2 dice is the roll's result. The lower of those 2 dice is the roll's effect (for attack rolls, effect equals damage dealt (if the attack hits)).

Usually, non-combat rolls consist of...
  • 1 base d6.
  • 1 die from the player's relevant attribute.
  • 1 die from the player's relevant background (like in 13th Age), if any.
  • 1 die from the player's relevant equipment, if any.
For combat rolls (attacks and the like), characters don't roll dice from their background. Instead, they roll their "fray," which is used as an overall gauge of their combat prowess.

Let's look at an example. You're trying to scale a mountain wall. Your're supernaturally strong (d8) and your GM decides that your background of "scaled all the mountains in the realms d6" applies to this task. Also, you remembered to pack your your climber's kit (d8). As such, you'll be rolling 1d6, 1d8, 1d6, and 1d8 (the first d6 is your base die). You get a 4, a 4, a 6, and an 8. You decide to keep the 6 and the 8 (obviously) for a result of 14 - more than enough to scale the wall (the climber's kit really helped).

Character progression is somewhat comparable to D&D. The zero to hero paradigm is used, except players start at the heroic tier and progress into divinity. In Cortex Plus and Savage Worlds, it's easily possible to start with big dice (d12) in singular attributes. Here, d4 is the human baseline for attributes. The step from d4 to d6 is significant. At the proverbial level 1, you're regarded as a god's budding champion. At the proverbial level 20, you're known as the proven champion of a pantheon and a possible candidate for divinity. As such, the largest die of a PC at character creation is likely d8. Ultimately, an optimized warrior's attack pool (at level 1) will include 1 base die (d6), 1d8 (from his strength), 1d8 (from his sword), and 1d4 (from his fray). At the proverbial 20th level, he'll instead roll 1 base die, 1d12 (from his strength), 1d8 (from his sword), and 1d12 (from his fray). Uniquely powerful entities - the gods and their greatest adversaries - transcend the scale; they might have scores as high as d20.

Bonuses are expressed as additional dice to be rolled, and certain abilities and circumstances may also add additional dice to your rolls. That said, most pools will include a total of 4 dice while some pools may include as many as 6 dice at once.

The somewhat limited scale of d4 to d12 makes it possible (albeit unlikely) for human commoners (who use d4s, predominantly) to overcome epic adversaries. With a bit of luck, a force of commoners should (and will) be able to defeat a high-level enemy. On average, a human commoner will have a 10% hit rate against a "level 20" NPC, dealing an approximate average of 3 damage on every hit (in all likelihood, the NPC will have approximately 30 hit points).

The limited scale also means that granularity's out the window. As such, when it comes to one's attributes, there's nothing - mechanically speaking - that sets apart mortal humans. An unheroic scholar's intelligence is, in all likelihood, matched by the intelligence of the local herder (both have an intelligence score of d4). They are, however, set apart by their backgrounds. I also considered a system of traits similar to Numenera's descriptors. This would alleviate this issue somewhat by giving characters with the "intelligent" trait an extra die on rolls that relate to intelligence. While this system would work, it adds another die to the mix.

Finally, a note on the base die. Fate plays an important role in my game. Previously, I've made the base die (also called the fate die) explode on rolls of 6. When the fate die rolls a 6, you roll another d6 and add the result of the second die to the 6 rolled on the first die. As such, rolls are open-ended. While rerolling exploding dice slows down the game, it adds a wow-factor that can make players burst with excitement on chained explosions.

Previously, I've moved away from this mechanic due to worries over speed of resolution (rolling is fast enough, but collecting the right dice takes time) and the lack of granularity. If any of you have concerns or insights regarding this mechanic, I'd love to hear them. I'm particularly interested in hearing whether you think I can work with this system in spite of its lacking granularity.
 

fheredin

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I have spent a significant amount of time messing with step dice systems and currently use a step dice pool. I am not worried about your lack of granularity--that metric is overrated, anyway--but your concerns about speed are founded. I think you need a pass of streamlining, which is likely to be painful.

For starters, I would ditch backgrounds adding dice. The idea isn't bad, but moving the system from 3 dice to 4 dice will significantly slow the setup for a roll. A flat modifier would be better, but you could also regard it as a plot point in Cortex and just keep all the dice if your background is in play.

Second, don't explode one die and not the rest. It breaks the internal consistency of the core mechanic. What might capture the "Wow!" feeling better is a tempting fate rerolling chain. A die which rolls its maximum lets you reroll a different die, but you're stuck with the new result. Well, that's what I would do, anyway.
 

GoaltimeExposure

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For starters, I would ditch backgrounds adding dice. The idea isn't bad, but moving the system from 3 dice to 4 dice will significantly slow the setup for a roll.
Well. Usually, non-combat rolls don't include dice from gear. Sometimes they don't include dice from backgrounds, either, making it 2 dice (1 base die + 1 from the PCs attribute).

Second, don't explode one die and not the rest. It breaks the internal consistency of the core mechanic. What might capture the "Wow!" feeling better is a tempting fate rerolling chain. A die which rolls its maximum lets you reroll a different die, but you're stuck with the new result. Well, that's what I would do, anyway.
I don't think it does. Several systems - like Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game (the d6 one) - features wild dice that, essentially, work in the same. Though I like the idea of a maximized die permitting a reroll, it creates the construct where better dice (such as d12s) explode more rarely than worse dice (such as d4s). As such, players will probably want to always include at least a few d4s in their rolls.
 

kenco

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Well. Usually, non-combat rolls don't include dice from gear. Sometimes they don't include dice from backgrounds, either, making it 2 dice (1 base die + 1 from the PCs attribute).
That was unexpected. So if you roll two dice, then the score is both a) success/ failure; and b) effect/ damage?

That has the slightly odd effect that more dice creates more likelihood of a success, but also more likelihood that a success will have a small effect?

I don't think that's a severe problem, but it might seem a bit strange. A possibly alternative might be to give the player a d2 (or just a '1') for each die they are NOT eligible to roll for.

If you are willing to roll 2 dice, why not just say its always a 2 die roll, but the player might have up to 4 places to choose them from? Actually, I can see why straight away. Sigh.
 

kenco

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...While rerolling exploding dice slows down the game, it adds a wow-factor that can make players burst with excitement...
Ouch. I hope that doesn't come up too often... ;)
...worries over speed of resolution (rolling is fast enough, but collecting the right dice takes time) and the lack of granularity. If any of you have concerns or insights regarding this mechanic, I'd love to hear them. I'm particularly interested in hearing whether you think I can work with this system in spite of its lacking granularity.
Personally, I think variable dice pools with varying die sizes are a bit too slow for my preferences; collecting the dice can be a pain, but even reading them is a bit slow if you have to rank and sort them into 2-3 groups then perform two additions. But some people really seem to like that kind of thing.

It might also depend on how often the game has recourse to the dice. If you have to make 2-3 rolls per character per combat round then it is likely to be painful (especially if you have different chances on each roll); but if you roll once per combat, or once per round for combats lasting only 2-3 combat rounds, it's probably OK.

I have no problem with the level of granularity, although this is also personal preference. It also depends a bit on the setting. For supers where you might want to compare Aunt May with The Hulk on strength, perhaps the range is a bit small. But for many genres, the range from a d4 to a d12 is fine.

Again, I'm personally not a big fan of exploding dice in most situations, especially not if the mechanic is already at the slow end; it's the same reason I don't like re-rolls - slows everything down without adding any meaningful choice.

I'd rather see something like a bonus for e.g. rolling a pair (because it's quicker than picking up another die and rolling it); but this tends to be a bit strange where you have variable die sizes, as the small dice will pair more often than the large ones do. That could be a feature, too, if you played it right e.g. the bonus is equal to the number rolled in the pair. So a d10 pairs less often than a d4, but when it does it offers the possibility of a +10, whereas the d4 gives a maximum bonus of +4. There is still weirdness though because d4 x d4 gives an average +0.625 per roll, whereas d4 x d10 gives an average +0.25 per roll and d10 x d10 gives an average 0.55 per roll.
 

fheredin

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Personally, I think variable dice pools with varying die sizes are a bit too slow for my preferences; collecting the dice can be a pain, but even reading them is a bit slow if you have to rank and sort them into 2-3 groups then perform two additions. But some people really seem to like that kind of thing.
Kind of. You have to fight a temptation to overbuild core mechanics, and I've never known a player who actually liked using an overbuilt mechanic, just ones with a sufficient tedium tolerance to appreciate any additional power it provides. Dice pools in particular do not like being overbuilt.

Rerolls are a similar matter. I've never had problems with rerolls or explosions in systems which do not involve addition, or which keep their addition spartan. It seems this isn't so much a time consuming mechanic so much as an effort-consuming one when you include the arithmetic, and spending that effort slows the player's perception of time down.
 

Beyond Reality

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One of my first impressions is that, for the theme you're going for, gear seems overly important.

Assuming no gear means no gear die (?) then operating without is a major disadvantage. In your example, the climbing gear is just as important as the fact that your character is a superhuman being and more important than the fact that they are an incredibly experienced mountain climber (meaning that an utter novice with climbing gear is better than a super-seasoned mountain climber without it). This is kind of clashing with fantasy superheroes.

The issue may be exacerbated in combat, since you assign a sword a d8 rating I'm assuming that bigger, deadlier weapons have a higher rating and smaller weapons like daggers have a lower one (could be misreading obviously). If that's the case then that means not only is a huge weapon going to do more damage, it's going to hit more often as well, and it means that someone who wants to focus on lighter weapons like daggers is going to end up penalized in both accuracy and damage.

I'd also agree that a jumble of different die-types is probably not the best choice, especially if bonuses take things above 4. Perhaps the base could be an attribute die + d6 with additional d6's added for a suitable background (from the backgrounds you described, it doesn't sound like they really need a "rating" anyway). So roll attribute +d6 base, attribute +2d6 with a relevant background, attribute +3d6 with relevant background and a significant amount of gear/prep, adding extra d6s for other bonuses.

The fray rating you mentioned could replace d6s with the character's fray die in combat.
 
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