System Design: Players like Dice
Last time we talked about my goals for the system, and the core mechanic. This time I’ll delve a bit more into how I am meeting those goals. A few of my early design choices ignored one relative truism of role-playing gamers. Players like to roll dice. Often, the more dice the better. Of course there is a practical limit. Both the Hero System and Shadowrun are known for being “bucket of dice” systems, but crunchy games that revolve around a single die often feel less exciting at the table than ones that require at least a small handful.
The latest mechanic I’ve created is one for player control of the game. I call it Effort. Players have a set pool of Effort which refreshes at the start of every scene. This means that when players are thrust into a new challenge they always have a few resources available to shape it for them. Effort can be used for lots of things, it’s a commodity, but at its most basic usage is to add dice to rolls. So unless a player has spent all of their Effort, they always have a way to attempt to sway fate in their favor. Players still only choose a pair of dice, but rolling more dice improves the chances for higher success.
Effort isn’t the only dice adder opportunity available to players. Characters can also have triggered dice adding opportunities. This is how I deal with resources such as wealth or faction reputations. I also encourage players to invoke personality traits and goals in the course of play in the same way. The immediate reward is extra dice. The GM always has the right to limit the latter, but is encouraged to do so only to curb players finding an “excuse” to use these always present extra dice on every roll.
So this mechanic allows players to meaningfully add dice to rolls without breaking the curve outright. I also think I’ve built in plenty of reasons for players to enjoy adding dice, as well as deterrents to prevent dice pool inflation abuse. For example, rolling a lot of 1s can limit your degree of success. The more dice you roll, the more likely you get at least one 1. Then again, rolling 6s can increase your degree of success. It’s a gamble. When players use Effort, some of the time it gives the GM dice for his Fate Pool. Fate being a good way of saying, if the GM chooses to, he or she has a chance to really ruin your day.
So, players can improve their chances, and they can spend it for other useful benefits such as recovering from damage, powering potent special abilities, and even editing their surroundings to add minor changes. Overall, Effort is the ever present ace in the hole of all player characters.
Next time I’ll cover the basics of combat, and how I decided to keep it moving.