Monday, July 29, 2019

Design Noodling in the 2d6 Space

TLDR: I couldn't sleep so I made a game. Skip down to Give It a Name! to get past the process notes.

If you were to ask me what my favorite die was, I would probably say the d6. While it's odds are rarely intuitive or seemly, there are so many things you can do with it that are interesting and quick to read at the table. The point of this is that I am up late tonight working on yet another way to use these basic cubes to make an interesting resolution engine. 

The Idea

Here is the game in a nutshell:

Roll 2d6 and get 8+ to succeed. If you have a relevant skill, power, or specialized bit of gear you can "push" and roll 3d6 instead, and drop the lowest die. Succeed or fail, your highest die indicates the degree of success/failure. A high die on successes is the damage you do. (No separate roll to resolve damage.) 

The odds work out that you succeed 41.67% of the time on 2d6 and 68.06% of the time on a roll 3d6. Which is kind of nice in that 3d6 puts you above the 50-50 threshold, AND moves the middle of the curve above the 8+ success line. 

Criticals

Success is its own reward, since you do more on a high roll. But I wanted to give the GM permission to screw people (make a "move" in PbtA parlance) when a player rolled really poorly. So I started with the idea that any failure that includes a 1 is a critical fail. That was problematic because the odds were way too high (31% on 2d6, 19% on 3d6) and it ran counter to the idea of high die (not low die) indicating degree. In fact, the idea of high die indicated degree of failure as well as success came after I looked at the odds. Before it was high die on success, low die on fail.

As a result, a critical fail became any failure that included a 6. The odds of that came out to 5.56% on 2d6 and 1.39% on 3d6. That seems to be in the right range and I left it there for a while. But as I was jotting down design notes, I realized two things:

Raising the Bar

The first was that I wanted some way for the GM to raise the bar on really tough things. I came up with two variations. Since players need to roll 2d6 to hit an 8, the GM can't take away a die. Variation 1 was for the GM to raise the bar by requiring 2 or even 3 fictional advantages for the push. The other was for the GM to make 5's and 6's a critical fail. Or even a 4+ on the high die a critical fail. (The odds of a high die of 5 on a fail are 17% for 2d6 and 5% on 3d6. The odds for a high die of 4 on a fail are 33.3% on 2d6 and 11% on 3d6). I didn't like either of these options because they didn't feel good or were too fiddly to explain/not intuitive enough.

The second note I made was that I was originally hoping that the math would work out such that a player who pushed not only increased their overall chance to succeed and their chance for a "critical success" (which I suppose equates to hitting a 6 on the high die), but to also increase their chance for critical failure

In writing that second one out, I realized I could meet both of my design goals with one simple change.

The Final Version?

Roll 2d6 and get 8+ to succeed. Succeed or fail, your highest die indicates the degree of success/failure. A high die on successes is the damage you do and a 6 gives you an extra benefit in the fiction. On the other hand, a fail with a high die of 6 is a critical failure; the GM can heap on the pain!

If you have a relevant skill, power, or specialized bit of gear you can "push" and roll 3d6 instead, and drop the lowest die. This of course increases your chance of success and your chance to get in some big damage. However, when you push, any fail is a critical fail in that the GM can do things to make your character's life a lot worse than a simple failure. 

I liked this idea, but wasn't fully married to it yet, and I'll explain why in a moment. First, though, I want to show the odds:

2d6 chance of success = 42% and critical fail = 6%.
3d6 chance of success = 68% and critical fail = 19%.

This makes pushing dramatic! 

I suppose my one reservation is that it may not be very logical. Yes, putting extreme effort into something can raise the stakes on failure. On the other hand, higher skill, the right equipment, or a relevant ability, which I give as the justification for a push, probably shouldn't result in a higher chance of critical failure. 

One more tweak? Let's give it a shot.

The Final Version (Probably)

Roll 2d6 and get 8+ to succeed. Succeed or fail, your highest die indicates the degree of success/failure. The high die on a success is the damage you do, and a 6 allows you an extra benefit in the fiction. A fail with a high die of 6 is a critical failure, and the GM will make your character's life worse!

If you have a relevant skill, power, or specialized bit of gear you can "push" the roll; Use 3d6 and drop the lowest. This increases your chance of success and your chance to get in some big damage or gain that extra benefit. 

If you don't have a relevant skill, power, or specialized gear,
you can still push. However, any fail is a critical fail. Whether you roll a 6 or not, the GM can do things to make your character's life a lot worse than on a simple, non-critical failure.

Now the odds look like this:

2d6 chance of success = 42% and critical fail = 6%.
3d6 chance of success = 68% and critical fail = 1% when you use skill, power, equipment or 19% when you use pure willpower, desperation, or reckless effort.

Give It a Name!

Hmmm. I'm not sure how original this mechanic is. I've never seen it before, so I'm going to name it and release it under a Creative Commons. (Yes, I know you can't really copyright mechanics. Humor me. If you use this mechanic somewhere, stroke my ego by giving me credit.)

The text of the rules may change a little over time for brevity. But for now you should use some variation very close to the following. Feel free to use it exactly as written.

Dice Punch 
Roll 2d6 and get 8+ to succeed. Succeed or fail, your highest die indicates your degree of success/failure. The high die on a success is the damage you do, and a 6 allows you an extra benefit in the fiction. A fail with a high die of 6 is a critical failure, and the GM will make your character's life worse!
If you have a relevant skill, power, or specialized bit of gear you can "push" the roll; Use 3d6 and drop the lowest. This increases your chance of success and your chance to get in some big damage or gain that extra benefit. It also reduces your chance of a critical failure.
If you don't have a relevant skill, power, or specialized gear, you can still push. However, any fail is a critical fail. Whether you roll a 6 or not, the GM can do things to make your character's life a lot worse than on a simple, non-critical failure. 
Text of Dice Punch is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, 2019, Ray Otus. 

What Is It Good For? 

I feel like this bit of mechanics would be great for a micro-game or a very cinematic game where characters are defined by only a handful of adjectives/labels. It leaves the question of what damage means wide open. I would give most characters/opponents d6 hp per "level" and consider 0 hp to mean "out of action" (dead or the equivalent in most cases, probably something impermanent for player characters). Here's an example game written with Dice Punch.

Dice Punch Bowl 

In know, the name makes no sense whatsoever.

Get together with a small group of friends and three dice to share. Each of you should add one element of inspiration: e.g. Jedi knights, a death race, and neanderthals! Figure out some kind of world where these things make sense together. These rules assume you know a bit about role-playing games. One of you will be the Game Master; the rest will make characters as follows.
 
Choose:
  • A folk (like human, lizardfolk, trollkin, or cat-people)
  • A calling (like sailor, mystic, librarian, or psychologist)
  • Three to five mundane bits of equipment that might prove useful
  • One "special" – a power or bit of specialized equipment that is unique to your character.
  • Your character starts with 6 points of health. If you lose all 6 you are out of action for a while. The GM will tell you what it will take to get going again, if you aren't actually dead.
When you do something risky, roll the dice!

Roll 2d6 and get 8+ to succeed. Succeed or fail, your highest die indicates your degree of success/failure. The high die on a success is the damage you do, and a 6 allows you an extra benefit in the fiction. A fail with a high die of 6 is a critical failure, and the GM will make your character's life worse!

If you have a relevant skill, power, or specialized bit of gear you can "push" the roll; Use 3d6 and drop the lowest. This increases your chance of success and your chance to get in some big damage or gain that extra benefit. It also reduces your chance of a critical failure.

If you don't have a relevant skill, power, or specialized gear, you can still push. However, any fail is a critical fail. Whether you roll a 6 or not, the GM can do things to make your character's life a lot worse than on a simple, non-critical failure. 

Failure can mean you take damage. The GM will give you a wound or two. 

When you play the game, the GM frames scenes and poses questions. You answer for/as your character. It's a conversation! Keep up the exchange until the GM tells you it's time to roll. After you roll, the GM will describe what happens or ask you to describe it, and the conversation continues.

After a session or major accomplishment, the GM may award everyone an "advance." An advance gives you an additional d6 of health; roll a die and add it to your total. An advance also means you can add a stunt. To add one, write down a bit of useful gear you used, or a special trick you did in the fiction of a previous session. In any subsequent session, you can name a relevant stunt (once per stunt per session) to reroll the dice. You must take the second result, however.

3 comments:

  1. Wow, let's hear it for insomnia! Great little game!

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  2. I've got a somewhat similar system I've worked on for awhile. One observation is that you may want to change "drop lowest" to "drop choice." So a 1,1,6 they can drop the six instead of the 1. Total failure to hit a bar, but absolutely avoids a critical failure. In baseball terms, it's like a checked swing. It means the player has more options to consider.

    In one of my games, I also have a variant where there's a negative modifier baked into the character. If they use it, they roll one less die, but they can also then never have a drastic failure that gives them a setback.

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