Category Archives: FFF

FFF: Before the Roll

Another post about 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.

As I was writing this, I refined the idea of the fork a little bit, and realized the more practical division, for discussion purposes, is between things that happen before the dice roll and things that happen afterward. This is the split between things which impact the outcome (fixed things like stats, or dynamic choices like tactics) and different ways the outcome is expressed (much more system specific, but generally breaks down to choices made after the roll, like how damage is distributed).[1] Today I’ll look at some options for how to manipulate the system before the roll.

We can have modifiers that exists before the roll, based on the type of die (I need a cooler name for the die categories, to better discuss this idea generally). Presumably this calls for very small values, otherwise they kind of overwhelm the dice. Suppose, for example, that you have stats that correspond to the dice, say Force: 2, Finesse 3, Fortune 1. While you could just total them up and use that as base modifier, that’s pretty uninteresting. If, on the other hand, you choose one of them before you roll the dice, that gets interesting. Sure, if all else is equal, you’ll just pick your highest value, but that gets complicated when your best is not appropriate to the challenge on hand. Since the bonus not only improves the total roll, but it also increases the likelihood that that die will dominate. If you’re running a race, using your force bonus (and thus making force dominate) might well make you lose to someone who has finesse dominate.

That also hints at the reasonthe bonuses need to stay low: bonuses over 3 are going to make it very hard for that die to NOT dominate.

An interesting twist on this is to change die size. One of the joys of dealing with dice from d4 to d12 is that each bump in die size is basically equivalent to adding a +1 (modulo some fiddliness with range). The bonuses could just as easily be handled as die bumps: Instead of rolling 3d6 all the time, maybe I’m Fortune d4, Force d8 and Finesse d6. On the upside, this is kind of neat, especially if the dice can be shifted around dynamically[2] – it’s got a very organic feel without adding math. The downside is that I’ve just complicated my life.

One of the big benefits of 3d6 is that it is demonstrably easy to learn by rote. D&D exposure means a lot of us can roll up stats in our sleep[3], and it’s still pretty easy for those who haven’t. Mixing up die sizes turns it into an actual mathematical exercise, removing some of the benefits of going to a dice model. It also increases the number of supplies needed. This is not a huge factor, but it’s nice to know you have all the necessary dice needs covered with a handful of D6s rather than a bag full of D-everythings.

But for all that logic, I still really just dig the idea of trading dice values, especially on the fly. It triggers that gambling part of the brain I guess. That’s a good reason to keep this one in mind – sometimes unreasonable fun can point to the right choice when mere logic fails.

One other option is to mess with the dice pool directly. The player could choose which 3 dice he rolled (3 fortune, two force and a finesse and so on). There’s a little play there, but there are probably not enough choices to be interesting. But suppose we add more dice: make it a roll of multiple dice, perhaps 1 per “point” of the stat, then tally the best 3.[4] Basically it’s a roll and keep model, but the number of kept dice is fixed at 3. Since the best 3 dice might be of any category, you are more likely to dominate with your high stat, but not guaranteed.

There’s definitely some added complexity there – sorting dice is a mental process, much as adding them is, but it’s not an overly complicated one, and at least it means you can stick to d6s. It may seem a trivial thing, but if you can only have 1 die type, the fact that d6s pack so compactly that you can buy them in bricks is a pretty big deal.

Now, for the most part I’ve been focusing on the dice and not giving much thought to the modifier to the roll. This is intentional because, to be frank, that’s the easy bit. A skill list (pre-defined or user defined) plus an anticipated numeric range is all you need. Not to say there aren’t mechanically interesting things you can do in that space, but rather that it’s a very familiar space, and one that would be a whole other topic on its own.

Anyway, that seems like a good start for things we might do before the dice hit the table. Tomorrow, let’s start looking at the different ways we can read them and what we can do with that information.

1 – As I was thinking of examples, I realized there are very few systems that call for post-roll choices normally, but it’s fairly common in subsystems like specific powers. For example, if you have a power in 4e that lets you move the target, that’s a post-success decision to make.

2 – For example, imagine a default 3d6 system. If I need to focus on finesse, I can bump my Force or Fortune die down to a d4, and my finesse up to a d8. If I really focus, I drop both Force and Fortune to d4s, and bump Finesse to a d10. I probably have some other mechanical control to determine how far I can focus any one particular die. 

3 – This is, by the way, why I think the easiest way to do something like fudge dice is 3d6, use D&D stat modifiers. It’s totally illogical, but if you’ve played enough 3rd ed, it’s second nature to read the dice and convert it into a bonus or penalty.

4 – It would also be possible to roll X, tally the 3 of your choice. This gives the player control over what factor dominates, provided he’s willing to choose a non-optimal roll. I’ll probably come back to this one when we get to post-roll mechanics.

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.