Friday, April 24, 2015

Crazy Train

Now where was I...oh, right: going off the rails.

The last couple days have been spent mostly researching ancient history, and the pseudo-science "archaeological" study of goofy, woo-woo lost cultures (like Atlantis). It would just be so useful if we had real, working time machines and an ability to go back and truly document ancient history (you know, when exactly did the dinosaurs die, who built the damn Giza pyramids, who was mining copper out of the Americas and exporting it to Eurasia to fuel the bronze age, etc.). I don't even need to go back and see Jesus healing lepers and such...just let me fly around the globe circa 9000 BCE and see what was going on. I promise I won't try to put modern Egyptologists out of business. Heck, I'll even agree to stay west of the Prime Meridian; I never had much interest in China anyway.

*sigh* So many people arguing so many crazy things on the internet. So much history tainted with bias and agendas. And so so soooo much of our history unknown. Radiocarbon dating isn't wholly  accurate, and our written material (what we can translate) just doesn't withstand the forces of entropy for more than a few centuries. Unless they're inscribed in gold, or other precious metal, that is...but then, such "books" of that type were likely melted down for ready cash long ago by folks who couldn't decipher them anyway. Or confiscated by the Vatican. Or whatever.

But you folks don't want to to hear about all that stuff...let's talk about games! of the purposes in writing the new fantasy heartbreaker (recall that I've already got a pseudo-heartbreaker under my belt with Five Ancient Kingdoms), was to get something down that was more like "Basic" D&D. Yes, funhouse-style gaming...though, now the specifics of the setting are starting to make this look like a long-term sandbox-style campaign setting. ANYway...part of getting back to "basics" was going back to those funny-shaped dice that D&D helped popularize...all those D8s, D4s, and D12s (not to mention D20s!). I wanted to make a game that people would recognize, even if it was a "little different."

Then I started looking at Star Wars.

Specifically Fantasy Flight Game's new Star Wars RPGs (Edge of Empire, Age of Rebellion, etc.). I could find surprisingly little posted on-line about these games (considering the production value and general popularity of the setting)...then again, I didn't spend time perusing the FFG forums. I know there are people playing it. I know there are even more people who simply own it (I want to own it...the artwork and production values are stunning!). The main knock people seem to have (and there aren't all that many negative reviews out there, please realize) is the proprietary dice required to play with their weird symbols (as opposed to numbers or pips).

Personally, I'm not terribly into a this kind of gimmick (says the guy who has special "zero dice" commissioned for sale with 5AK...hypocrite, much?). *AHEM* Personally, I am NOT really into this kind of gimmick when it leads to overly-complicated mechanics that are hard to decipher (how hard is it to read "zero" on a six-sided die? Not bloody-damn hard!), but the REASON behind it (to introduce narrative aspects into the standard mechanics of the game with a single simple dice roll) isn't a bad one. Just one that was kind of clunkily executed.

So I started brainstorming an easier way to do the same thing. And that's where my "basic" idea starts to fall apart.

See, one thing I really wanted to return to was the "roll D20" to hit, to save, to everything. People love those little 20-sided dice and I wanted to give 'em to them. There were three main mechanics in Moon, and all of them used a D20 mechanic. I was intending to keep these mechanics for the new iteration. But now...well, now it's going to be a "roll 2D10" instead.

Bell curves. Nerds like me who look at dice and percentages (well, and maybe some hard-core gamblers, too) know that rolling 2D10 is a lot different from rolling a D20 (and not just because 'you can't roll a 1'). When rolling a D20, each number (1-20) has an equal chance of being rolled (5%) and all "+"s and "-"s from, say, ability scores or level move the needle in simple increments of 5%.

2D10 is different. The percentage chance of rolling very high or very low is much smaller compared to numbers "in the middle." Which, when considering a "roll over target number" scenario (as is my basic mechanic), means easy rolls get easier to make, and harder rolls get harder.

Blah blah blah...what does that mean, JB? Let's look at a basic example: combat. Attack rolls versus armor class (though I'm not sure if I'm going to stick with the "AC" term in the final document). At the moment, you've got three basic target numbers when fighting an armored man:

10 (unarmored)
13 (light armor)
16 (heavy armor)

with a shield adding +1 to those numbers (11, 14, and 17, in other words).

Needing to "roll over" the target number to hit means a dice roll of 11+, 14+, or 17+ against non-shield wielding opponents. Since all PCs get at least a +1 to their attack roll (bonus is level-class-based), this means that, effectively, each character type needs to roll a result equal to the actual AC of the target to make a successful attack (for example, if the PC tries to damage a dude wearing heavy armor and a shield, she needs to roll 17, as 17+1 = 18). We can see that with a straight D20 roll the chance of success for each AC is:

10 (11) - 55% (50%)
13 (14) - 40% (35%)
16 (17) - 25% (20%)

With the bell curve of 2D10, this looks fairly different:

10 (11) - 64% (55%)
13 (14) - 36% (28%)
16 (17) - 15% (10%)

Armor becomes substantially more effective, and the +1 AC bonus from a shield makes a bigger difference...though with a diminishing "rate of return" (only a 5% bump if already wearing "heavy armor" - but you're basically forcing your 1st level opponent to roll the equivalent of a 19+ on a standard D20 to do damage).

Because of the bell curves, smaller adjustments (a +2 versus a +1) make a bigger difference. While at the "top end" (+5ish) it works out to be about the same success chance against hard difficulties as a D20 system, the success against easy target numbers is much the +10%-15% range. That's the equivalent of giving the D20 character an extra +2 or +3 against easy-medium targets without needing to resort to inflation of effectiveness by making sure everyone has more potent magic weapons (if sticking with the combat example). 

For DMs that don't want to clutter their campaigns with needless enchanted items (just for the sake of meeting expectations of character effectiveness) this is a bit of a godsend...and at the same time makes sure that the harder challenges remain appropriately hard (plate armor doesn't suddenly become useless unless upgraded to mithril, etc.).

Of course, that's just the effective outcome of switching from a D20 base to a 2D10 base for "stunt" rolls (what I call the action mechanic: attack stunts, magic stunts, and physical stunts). The whole reason for switching to a 2D10 mechanic was to enable me to create additional outcomes (similar to FFGs "advantage," "threat," "triumph," and "despair" results) at the same time as determining success/failure. Rolling two dice instead of one allows me to do this by allowing me to compare the results of each die separately (to its partner) in addition to examining the sum total of the roll.

At this point, I'm keeping it simple (it's supposed to be a "basic" game, right?) and just looking at "doubles" rolls (double 10, double 4, etc.) in relationship to two factors: whether or not the end result was a success-failure, and the character's level (I'm tempted to add a 3rd factor: a comparison based on class and type of stunt, but haven't developed the idea yet). Since doubles get rolled 1 in 10 times on a 2D10, that gives a 10% chance of "something interesting" happening on any particular stunt roll...not particularly over-whelming and not much different from saying a D20 roll of "20" is a "critical" and a roll of "1" is a "fumble." It just allows me to be a bit more nuanced with my effects.

SO...I've decided that I'm going to stick with it. The 2D10 thing instead of D20, that is. I realize this puts me outside the normal FHB model (again, jeez...just like what happened with 5AK), but I think the end result will better model what I want it to model.

Which is treasure hunting descendants of Atlantean colonists fighting the monstrous creations of older Atlantean migrations in the South American wilderness with orcichalcum spears and bronze armor, 11,000 years before present. Oh yeah...and sorcery, of course. Got to have sorcery.

More later.

A little too long in the jungle.


  1. You might consider making the 2d10 roll open-ended ("exploding"). There was an article recently in one of the blogs I read which noted that just rerolling 10s and adding creates a "bumpy" probability progression, and provided an alternative: when you roll a 10, reroll that die and add another die to the roll. So, a roll of a 6 and a 10 would keep the 6, then roll 2d10 and add to that; if two 10s were rolled, you'd just reroll both of them plus another 2d10 for a total of 4d10. This way, you could make special things happen on high rolls - if you make it happen on a 17 or higher, that would be about a 10% chance (slightly higher because of the exploding factor).

    1. Found it. The blog in question is here.

    2. @ Faol:

      No, no...I don't want a bumpy progression. And I don't need exploding dice. At this point, the hardest target number in the game is 20 (the equivalent of AC -1 in B/X), and a 1% chance (without additional bonuses) is exactly what I want that to be.

      Thanks, though.
      ; )

    3. No problem. Just offering it up for consideration. Good to see Joe is already here, too!

  2. @JB

    I like your idea of something interesting happening on "special rolls".
    The point about my post that Faoladh links to is that it isn't a bumpy progression, it's actually smoother than straight rolling 2d10 when you get to targets of 18+.
    At this point the 2d10 curve drops right off; for example 19+ is 3 times more likely than 20+, whereas 16+ is only 1.5 times as likely as 17+.
    As a result of the smoothing, for 17+ the chance is about the same (12% vs 10%) but in my version you only drop to a 1% chance when you need to roll 27+.
    I wondered whether it would be worth the extra hassle, but found that my players love the roll over - especially when they roll two zeros.

    Anyway, players can use either version in your heartbreaker or mine: long live 2d10 rolls in either form! Good luck with your heartbreaker.

    1. @ Joe (and Faol):

      Ah...I get it now.

      Yeah, still not what I'm going for. I mean (as said) the original impetus to move from D20 was to have a way to get "extra results" from a single dice roll (without changing the numbers on the dice). If a smooth progression was more important, I would have stayed with D20.

      Having said that, I find I LIKE the choppiness. It allows me to model things like "heavy armor is really tough no matter who's trying to hit it," or "it's really difficult to free climb a rock face in armor while wounded regardless of level." Because it's a small scale game (in terms of character development...PCs can achieve a maximum of 8th level), I need the range of numbers to be smaller than the "explosion" allows's not terribly important to draw that line o probability out long and thin.

      I understand there's a visceral reaction caused by rolling the explosion jackpot ("00"), similar to D20 players rolling a crit in combat. I'm hoping to achieve something similar (though with all double rolls and with stunts outside combat, too).

      Thanks for helping me process that. Hope your game goes well!

  3. The Star Wars dice are fun and work well. It's way easier to teach people "this symbol cancels this symbol, any left over and you win!" over "+2 for this and -1 for this and you need a 13". I played the FFG Star Wars game with my 7 and 5 year-olds and they got it.

    The main problem is that you don't have enough of the funny dice at the table, whereas everybody already has buckets of the regular polyhedrons.