I love this story, as published in the editorial of Dragon magazine, issue 144, penned by Roger E Moore:
The mountain pass was called the Demon Tongue, which implied there might be a demon and treasure there, so the party headed for it right away. The characters were hungry for combat and cash – lots of each. I was the DM. We were gaming on the pool table in the medical company rec room in West Germany, a decade ago last fall.
Not many of the details of that adventure are left with me now, but I remember what happened when the adventurers got to the Demon Tongue. The paladin was the point man, mounted up and armored like a tank (he had volunteered for, no, demanded the position). Some distance behind, the wizard was checking the landscape with his amulet of ESP, hunting for enemy thoughts. Everyone else was gathered near the wizard, weapons ready. They were on a narrow road in the pass itself, with a slope up to the left and a sheer drop to the right, when the wizard got a reading. Continue reading
First off, I’ve created a PDF compilation for your reading pleasure! Click below to grab it:
And so, where do we go from here? The big next step is to take this core engine and begin to create some full rulesets out of it, both for playtesting but moreover for actual campaign play. First up will be using it for an upcoming (and fittingly) Star Wars game I’ll be running. Over the coming months I’ll share the design diaries as I put it together.
After that, I have some ideas for at least partial write-ups for campaigns based on Zoids, spycraftian action, Broken Lands, and maybe even Firefly. Though the idea of a Tank Girl RPG I used as an example in the introduction could also be fun to try out…
Thank you all for reading, and if you try this out yourself and create a campaign with it, I’d love to hear any feedback. Game on!
Postscript – Breaking the Core Mechanic (In a Good Way)
Sometimes, hooking a sub-system onto the core isn’t quite enough to model the intricacies of a particular genre. Sometimes you just gotta directly hack the core. Here’s one example of how this can work well when carefully applied, centering around the fixed target number. Continue reading
Additional and Common Subsystems and Considerations
To round out and complete the resolution system… Continue reading
Creating the Base Pool
After going through nearly the entirety of the resolution system and outlining the bits that happen once the base pool has been gathered, it’s well past time to cover how that base pool, and its baseline value of 5 dice, is generated. This is no trivial matter. As every test or roll made by a character begins with these values, what gets included, measured, and listed on the character sheet not only defines that character but also has a huge influence on the overall genre, tone, and playstyle of the entire game/campaign. These values say what’s important about the characters, and thus what’s important about the game. They influence how the players view the characters, how they approach things, and what kinds of actions they will take. They provide flavour and guidance and ultimately are the lens through which the players/characters know themselves. All in all, the way characters are measured and defined is one of the most important choices in designing the campaign. Continue reading
The Twist: “Buying” Success
Riffing on the previous concept is a twist that complements the idea of MoS from the opposite direction: If I fail the roll, or if I succeeded but want extra MoS, I can “buy” extra dice to succeed (or succeed better) at cost.
While this doesn’t preclude the recommendation of using a “fail-forward” concept in scenario design, there are still times where I might want my character to succeed in this moment, right now. And so I have a choice… let things continue as I rolled them, or am I willing to put my character into some narrative (backed by mechanics) peril in order to get the win?
If I choose the latter, <devilish voice>excellent</devil>. Much like the ladder of options for MoS, each extra die bought in this manner raises the magnitude of the potential trouble. The number of dice to be bought doesn’t need to be stated up front, allowing them to be bought one at a time, rolling and adding to my total and gradually raising the stakes until either my character succeeds or I reach my limit of peril.
Note that the narrative/perilous cost of the extra dice is paid whether they lead to success or not! Continue reading
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.