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.
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.