The Aurora RPG Engine – Part 7

The “Extra Die” Beauty: Creating a Margin of Success

Now we get to the key idea that really makes Aurora sing:  After tallying enough dice to reach the target number of 15, any “remaining” dice count (as in counting the number of dice themselves, not the numbers on the dice) as the Margin of Success (hereafter often noted as MoS).

With this innovation*, a Margin of Success mechanic is elegantly added to a dice pool system that keeps things moving quickly and, most importantly, preserves the pool’s visceral nature.  By dealing in dice (and by having/keeping a fixed target number), there’s no need to calculate something fiddly such as “for every 5 points over the target number you have achieved an extra level of success.”  Count out to 15, move the rest of the dice to the side, and there’s the Margin of Success.

With this, the many great options and advantages of a Margin of Success system open up:

  • Provides for more interesting narrative outcomes. With an explicit MoS system, the players and GM know not only if the character succeeds or fails, but also how well or by how much.  Did they just narrowly make it?  Succeed with style?  Fail miserably?  Or did they shine in a moment of glory?  This gives everyone a tool to create and craft a rich and more exciting scene and story.
  • AND, using the “Buying Success” mechanic detailed in the next section, it allows for tension, excitement, and a great story even if the character fails or just ekes out a win.
  • Allows for the easy creation of cumulative or extended tasks, compiling a count of MoS towards completing a goal.
  • Explicitly allows the coupling of success in combat (or other conflicts) with the skill roll, avoiding the oddities (and often frustration) of excellent to-hit rolls yet terrible damage rolls, or vice versa. This makes the skill roll more important and thus makes character ability and agency more relevant.
  • By leveraging MoS as a type of “currency,” interesting subsystems can be added, such as spending MoS to activate special abilities, create advantages, or other creative and exciting outcomes.

* Innovation?  This idea of counting “Extra Dice” is what broke my mental logjam and ended my multi-year pursuit through various (and increasingly complex) dice systems to handle all the aspects I wanted in my game system, especially the inclusion of an elegant way to determine Margin of Success within a dice pool.  It also provides for the very nifty inversion of the idea, using the same mechanics and values as the results from the MoS, only flipped, to “buy” success at a cost (which is detailed in “The Twist,” below).

This idea is the crux of Aurora and I’m excited that it came to me.  AND I’m putting an asterisk next to the word “innovation” for I know there are countless game systems out there, and while I don’t recall seeing this idea used in this manner before I’m not so arrogant as to believe that I must be the only person to ever dream it up.  So to all of us who have had this idea, it’s a great idea and innovation!

Handling MoS:  The Success Ladder.   As used (and perhaps pioneered) in the old James Bond RPG by Victory Games, as well as the FATE system and, to some degree, DP9’s Silhouette system, MoS can be handled in a narrative fashion to play out the results of a test.

For example, to pull from the FATE ladder:

MoS Quality of Result
0 Fair
1 Good
2 Great
3 Superb
4 Fantastic
5 Epic
6 Legendary

Alternately, it could be written like this:

MoS Quality of Result
0 Unremarkable Success
1 Notable Success
2 Absolute Success
3 Brilliant Success
4 Stunning Success
5 Sublime Success
6 Legendary Success

Used as a narrative result, the impact of these results on a given situation or outcome is left up to the GM and players in the spur of the moment.  Suggestions include the task taking less time, requiring less resources, obtaining additional or sizable and spectacular results, gaining narrative advantages, gaining additional information, or influencing NPC actions, dispositions, or reactions.  If, as in the James Bond RPG, the same results are also used to determine success in a conflict, high results could also indicate taking out multiple or stronger opponents.

Handling MoS:  MoS as Currency.  Beyond a purely narrative construct, MoS can also be used as a form of “currency” that allows a player to “purchase” and guide the outcome of their extraordinary success at a task.  This is used in Modiphius’ 2d20 system (spending Momentum) and, of a fashion, in FFG’s Star Wars/Genesys system (spending Advantage).  DP9’s Silhouette system also used parts of this idea, especially towards damage during conflicts.

For example, as a very basic list:

Cost Benefit
1 Damage:  When attacking someone, deal an extra point of damage. (Repeatable)
1 Great Success:  Improve the task outcome (Repeatable:  +15%/30%/50%/70%/90%)
1 Great Success:  Reduce time required to perform the task (Repeatable:  -15%/30%/50%/70%/90%)
1 Great Success:  Reduce resources required to perform the task (Repeatable:  -15%/30%/50%/70%/90%)
1 Boon:  Add an appropriate Trait/Aspect to the scene or character that lasts until the end of your next turn.
3 Create Advantage:  Add an appropriate Trait/Aspect to the scene or character that lasts until the end of the scene.
5 Asset or Leverage:  Gain an appropriate and “permanent” Trait/Aspect or Asset going forward for the remainder of the episode.
3 Remove Complication:  Remove or nullify an appropriate Trait/Aspect on the scene or character that lasts until the end of the scene.
2 Disarm:  One item or weapon held by the target is knocked away.
4 Swift Task:  Perform an additional action at no die penalty.

(With a brief reminder that the values on the above list have not been playtested…)

In addition, certain games and genres could also include special abilities, feats, or stunts that are activated by spending points of MoS.  Martial arts moves and maneuvers (especially wuxia-like ones) are a prime example of where this could be used.

Purchasing Outcomes.  Having played in a few games that use this type of success economy, this concept can be very exciting and of great help to create amusing, nifty, and memorable results, all through player choice.  Sometimes I may just want the maximum damage or skill outcome possible, but other times, and even often, setting up an advantage or creating narrative hooks can be more important to success, not to mention supremely rewarding for the story being created through play.
MoS Options:  Collective MoS Pool.  To borrow from the Momentum Pool idea/mechanic that is used in Modiphius’ Star Trek Adventures, any “leftover” MoS that has not been spent to purchase outcomes can be added to a common MoS pool, up to a certain cap.  Later, any character can pull these stored MoS dice from the pool to purchase outcomes as though they had generated the MoS themselves during their roll.

Handling Difficulty and Modifiers
| Index |
The Twist: “Buying Success”

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