Gaming Thursday: RPG System 5: Dice Pool Thoughts

Some extra pontificating on the idea of removing dice as a sweet game mechanic…

For starters, and the biggie for me that had me first get the elegance of it all, is removing dice to allow a character multiple actions in a turn. Assume each PC has a single action they can do in a turn, where action is something of import/skill: firing a weapon, operating some equipment, climbing a wall, etc. Every extra action the PC takes removes one die from all their actions. So a character can perform one action at full dice, or two actions at minus one die each, or four actions at minus three dice each.

Why do I find this so elegant? For one, it is a great way to differentiate an experienced character from an inexperienced character. There is no strict “at X level you get a second attack” – instead, it is a choice. Do you fire one excellent shot, or do you fire two (or three, or four) shots against one or multiple enemies, each with a reduced chance to hit? A single shot is guaranteed to hit and do a good amount of damage (high margin of success), but if I’m skilled enough over my opponents (or I want to gamble…), I can shoot three of them with perhaps still a good chance of taking them out. Yet when the boss appears, I need that one action to be focused… or I can fire two shots which, if they both hit, may do more damage than my one better shot.

All this without gaining X attacks because my level tells me so, and requiring opponents to somehow be built (more Hit Points) to survive these X attacks each character is getting.

Secondly, taking dice away to “fuel” options lets us do things like have a martial arts/maneuver system where a basic punch is cool, but if you take one die away, you get a chance to, for example, knock your opponent down, or, as another example, lets you move them around. And you can combine these two for a more complex attack. It’s more difficult to pull off, but it’s doing more effect. Again, having more skill (being more experienced) gives you greater options.

Perhaps most cool is that it can incorporate movement fluidly into the combat turn. Say each character gets to move X metres “free” each turn (and perform a single action); to move an additional X metres costs one action. Sprint for another X metres costs another action, and so on. Movement has now engrained into the system, organically, without needing to silo actions.

We can add in incidentals (like drawing a weapon), where you get one incidental free, but taking a second incidental (so, stow a weapon and then draw one) costs an action. Moving across difficult terrain could costs an action. YOU ARE NEVER BARRED FROM DOING SOMETHING. It just costs actions, which equals penalties. Higher experience characters can do that as an expression of their higher levelness – they can do crazier things or remain effective even in the midst of odd conditions, without needing to inflate target numbers or have independent action amounts for attacks, or movement, or etc. It’s unified and all tied into a character’s overall skill (and it affects all skills, so where a character is not as skilled, they’ll have to play it more cautiously). It offers up more interesting choices in the moment, and makes for more interesting scenes, all while being visceral and easy to keep track of: adding and removing dice.

And that’s why I really dig the idea.