The Aurora RPG Engine – Part 4


Fixed Target Number and Difficulty as Dice Modifiers

There is one main disadvantage to most dice pool systems:  the time it takes to total the rolled dice.  This begins to get especially tedious around 7-8 dice and only increases thereafter, slowing the game and potentially killing its momentum.

A second disadvantage also arises if the system uses a series of increasing target numbers (for example, setting a target number of 10 for an Easy task, 15 for a Moderate task, 20 for Difficult task, etc).  Doing so undermines the intuitive feel of “Number of Dice = Chance of Success”.  If I have 8 dice in my hand versus 5 dice, I should feel as though my character is more capable; however, if the target number is also changing/increasing, then it’s tough to gauge whether those extra dice really are leading to an extra chance of success.  With two variables at play it creates a matrix of possibilities that hinders any automatic and visceral feel.

By setting the target number at a fixed value of 15 and by adjusting both for the difficulty as well as accounting for all other modifiers by adjusting the number of dice rolled:

  • The number of dice rolled at one time is generally kept low.
  • Even when many dice are rolled, we only need to count enough dice to make 15, which can be easily done by adding together the highest dice until 15 is reached. (The remaining dice are used as a “Margin of Success”, to further explained below.)  This avoids needing to tally large numbers of dice.
  • And because the target number never changes, we easily grasp the chance of success by the number of dice in our hand. The visceral nature of the die pool is maintained.

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The Aurora RPG Engine – Part 3


Base Underpinnings and the Dice Pool

At its fundamental level, this is a d6 dice pool system, chosen for the numerous of advantages it brings to the table:

First and foremost is the pure visceral aspect of a dice pool.  By holding a number of dice in our hand we gain instant feedback of our strength in that moment.  We feel it.  As characters progress in skill and ability, it’s immediately apparent through the number of dice.  So too is the impact of adding or subtracting modifiers.  At each moment in the game we feel our character’s chance of success (or not).  Altogether it is much more personal than a faceless target number, and as such the experience of rolling heightens our emotional attachment.

Secondly, to summarize this earlier blog post, it allows for an elegant way of handling multiple actions by a character in a turn:  for each declared action above the first, subtract one die from every test made.  This allows for a sweet differentiation between experienced and inexperienced characters while also elegantly handing movement and incidental actions.  Within this system there are no fixed silos of (arbitrarily increasing) attacks per turn, no rigid number of actions/moves/bonus actions, or the like; instead it provides a unified and organic method that promotes options, interesting choices, and crazy excitement.

Thirdly, it allows for various sub-systems and abilities (such as martial arts, stunts, equipment traits, or other similar things) where removing dice can be used to “fuel” special maneuvers or attacks.

Lastly, because we’re dealing solely with dice, both the number of calculations as well as the values involved tend to remain low.  There’s no need to add, for example, +17 to a roll.  Starting with a base number of dice (likely to be less than 10), then adding or subtracting a few dice (likely to be less than 6 either way) for modifiers keeps things simple.  Even if our list of modifiers grows large, because we are dealing with actual dice it remains easy to calculate things by going through modifiers one by one and physically adding or removing dice from our hand until the final value is reached. Continue reading

The Aurora RPG Engine – Part 2


Intentions and Advantages of the Aurora RPG Engine

  • Delightfully visceral, with an intuitively graspable chance of success and strong emotional engagement.
  • Uncomplicated and minimal math plus easy handling of modifiers makes for a quick and efficient resolution system.
  • In a clean and innovative way, outcomes generate a Margin of Success or Failure that tie both into crunchy rule impacts and/or narrative boons, banes, and effects.
  • Easy to hack and customize to suit a campaign’s specific needs in terms of genre, tone, feel, and playstyle.
  • Emphasizes player choice and agency, allowing for greater options, engagement, excitement, and storytelling oomph.


Aurora’s Core Resolution Engine Building Blocks

  • The task resolution mechanic is d6 pool system.
    • All die values in the game are written without the 6 on d6, as there are no other dice. For example: 5d.
    • Values are (generally) stepped up or down in ½d increments: 4d, 4½d, 5d, etc.
    • A ½d is a d3.
  • Values on the character sheet determine the base pool.
    • Exactly what these values are, and what they represent, varies depending on the genre, style, and tone of the campaign.
    • Most games will use a combination of values to generate the base pool.
    • Common value groupings include:
      • Attributes
      • Skills
      • Styles
      • Roles
      • Backgrounds
      • Approaches
      • Aptitudes
      • Traits/Aspects/Distinctions/Tags
    • Values are (generally) rated in ½d increments.
  • The base number of dice for a skilled entry-level professional is 5d.
    • Consider: “If this was someone’s profession, and they had a year or two in that profession, would this be considered regularly doable? Would this be in their wheelhouse?”  If so, this is the baseline of 5 dice.
    • A higher level of skill, experience, or capability is represented by a base number of dice greater than 5.
    • Likewise, a lower level of skill, experience, or capability is represented by a base number of dice less than 5.
  • This base pool is adjusted.
    • Tasks of greater or lesser difficulty are handled by adding or subtracting dice from the character’s base pool.
    • External and contextual modifiers to the task (for equipment, environment, situation, injuries, etc) are also handled by adding or subtracting dice from the character’s base pool.
    • Modifiers are (generally) applied in ½d increments.
    • Therefore, the total pool rolled (generally) equals the Base Values ± Difficulty Modifier ± All External & Contextual Modifiers.
  • The target number of the roll is 15.
    • This number is fixed; as above, tasks of greater or lesser difficulty, as well as external and contextual modifiers to the task, are handled by adding and subtracting dice from the character’s base pool, not by increasing or decreasing the target number.
  • Rolls that total or exceed the target number of 15 count as a success.
    • “Extra” dice (the number of dice remaining after totalling enough dice to equal 15) count as the Margin of Success.
    • These Margin of Success dice are then used to gain superior outcomes, including narrative favour, creating advantages, extra effect(s), etc.
  • Rolls that total less than the target number count as a failure.
    • “Extra” dice can be bought (one by one) to be rolled and added to the total to succeed “at cost” by incurring setbacks, including narrative disfavour, disadvantages, troubles, complications, etc.

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The Aurora RPG Engine – Part 1


To begin, I’m not sure there can be a truly universal RPG system that can, or will, fit each and every RPG possible.  Every genre, sub-genre, and even playstyle within each (sub)genre is going to have its own flavour.  For example, for a campaign set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, the tone, focus, and involvement is going to be vastly different if playing in the way of Tank Girl (silly hijinks) versus playing in the way of Mad Max (amped up action/adventure) versus playing in the way of Twilight 2000 or Wasteland (gritty, minutia, perilous).  The rules of the system used for those campaigns needs to be designed to fit and support their unique flavour and to thereby draw out the specific feel of the (sub)genre.  Between each type of campaign there are going to be differences.

That said, I do believe there’s still plenty of space for a core framework that can form the foundation for these different campaign types, using customization and specific sub-systems to appropriately mold the system to fit the (sub)genre and feel of both the world and the playstyle.  Thus, creating more of a universal “toolkit” rather than a single universal “system.” Continue reading

Gaming Thursday: RPG System: The Release

It is ready!  After many years of musings and thoughts, experiments and explorations, tests and tweaks, frustrations and, I will admit, moments of wondering if this was all a fool’s errand, it has finally come together in a flurry of insights, inspirations, and a few nifty innovations.  The long journey has come to fruition – the core of my RPG system is ready for release.  And so with that, and with great excitement, I introduce you all to:



The Aurora RPG Engine.  A core resolution system that is visceral and intuitive, with a quick and meaningful resolution engine that emphasizes player choice, agency, and engagement.  In addition, it is designed with many hooks to be adjusted and customized for many different games and campaigns, suiting their needs in terms of genre, tone, feel, and playstyle while supporting both crunchy and narrative mechanics for excitement and storytelling delight.

Starting next Monday, Aurora will take over the blog for a week, interrupting the regular schedule to allow for the entire engine to be posted.  Besides the system itself there will be designer notes, greater explorations on how the various pieces fit together, peeks beneath the hood on why the engine was designed the way it was, and examples of how to use it all, adding subsystems to create a full RPG system to support a rich and exciting campaign.

I’m chuffed and giddy and just a bit nervous to share it all with you.   But I can’t wait to see what you all think and, even more so, what you do with it and the games and awesome times and stories it supports.

See you Monday!

Gaming Thursday: Trail Maps

Back in 1990, TSR released a pair of maps:  one of the (western) Forgotten Realms, the other of Kara-Tur.  They called them Trail Maps, and these were no simple poster-sized map; much like the name suggests, they unfolded like a road map to massive size.  Put the two together and you got the whole of the realms some 72”+ wide.  It was epic.  I had them on my wall for quite some time.

One of the benefits of working at an architecture firm is access to a full-colour large-format roll scanner.  I think you know where this is leading… both trail maps, scanned and merged, with a bit of added continent to the south, all ready for your campaigning pleasure:


Gaming Thursday

Heroforge now has centaur models!  Rejoice!

As someone who has long enjoyed playing centaurs (and other taurs!) in D&D, this is exciting news for me.  And if you’re not familiar with Heroforge, well, consider this doubly great news, for now you’ve learned about a site that you can make and order customized 3D printed minis for your character.  It’s as awesome as it sounds.

And hey, if you like centaurs, wemics, and other taurs (or even yuan ti) as much as I do, I’ve written a supplement for D&D 5e so you can add them into your game:

Check it out!


Philosophy Tuesday

“Fortune favors the prepared, dahhling.”

So says the inimitable Edna Mode.  And, on the whole, it’s a statement I very much subscribe to.  It is not enough to want something, or hope for something – we, quite likely, need to work for it.  Learning, creating, rehearsing, adapting, overcoming our barriers and then building the path step by step.  And when something goes awry, as things invariably seem to do, being prepared gives us the wherewithal to right the ship and get things back on course to what we want.

But in that quote, and similar ones like “Fortune favors the bold,” there’s something we often miss.  And it’s that second word: “Favors.”  It’s not guarantees, it’s not promises, it’s not even “agrees to help you.”    It’s favors.  Chance (and/or luck) always remains a factor.  A big factor.  And while being prepared can increase our chances, it’s still remains a roll of the dice.*

When we acknowledge and own that, we gain freedom.  We can be kinder and gentler to ourselves.  We can put aside our assessments of where we are versus where we wanted (or “should”) be, especially in comparison to others.  We can avoid sentencing ourselves to being a failure, and carry forth under that shame.**

More importantly, we can also judge others with greater grace and generosity.  We can set aside our dismissals and opinions on their lives and all the reasons why things aren’t going well for them, and we can forego all the ways we might treat them harshly because of it, be it shunning, punishing, ridiculing, or anything of the like. **

Even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and even a mouse sized setback or unexpected hindrance can spiral into another, and another, and another.  To be fortunate requires fortune to favor us, and that is never a certain thing.   Living into that context brings with it peace of mind, connection, and opens possibility, freeing us to pursue and to support each other in pursuing those things that call to us deeply.


*  Which is something many a tabletop gamer can relate to.  It doesn’t matter if you have +12 to hit… you may still miss.  And then there was the time where the DM, at the end of the campaign, after so many sessions, with the ultimate and final roll about to be made, and after long and theatrical preamble, told the player, “Look, basically just don’t roll a 1.”  By the very fact I’m using this as an example for how fortune can fail us, you and I both know I don’t need to describe what happened next…

** At the same time there is the flip side.  For ourselves, there is humility – acknowledging our fortune and that sometimes privilege gave us a boost – and not becoming conceited and hubristic.  When looking at others, we can remember that those who have accomplished much (or acquired a lot of wealth) are not necessarily or inherently better people, worthy of worship and imitation.