Which dice mechanic appeals to you?
They all do really. ~ I like dice. I find the mechanics that we use in RPGs fascinating. What are we trying to model? Why? What sort of outcomes are the dice called upon to determine? How many different fictional prompts are possible from one roll? How do we decide when to roll them and when not to? ~ The list or questions is seemingly endless.
Which dice mechanic appeals to me really depends upon the effect that it is being used to produce. Different mechanics produce radically different feels, and we’re not just talking about how often you succeed or fail. Creative game designers can have dice mechanics that represent a myriad of elements of the fiction. ~ Some do a fantastic job of emulating a genre or tone, and that always appeals to me on an aesthetic sense. However, I might not like the final feel of the game, but you might. Different strokes.
Percentile dice have always appealed to me. Math is funny. All dice mechanics boil down to percentage chances of various results. I don’t care if you’re rolling a rainbow fistfull of FFG Star Wars narrative dice, there’s a percentage chance of each possible combination of symbols coming up. Get enough d10s together and assign them to tens, units, tenths, hundredths, thousandths, etc & you can model anything. ~ But then again, you could just use the other dice you’re trying to model.
Silly examples aside, I still like percentile dice an awful lot. A game doesn’t have to be complex in order to use them to good effect. ~ It’s also very easy to wrap your head around your chances when dealing with percentages.
I’ve become quite enamored with dice pools as of late. Now, the criticism that single dice mechanics like a d20 or d% are “too swingy” compared to dice pools doesn’t exactly hold water, depending upon what the dice are supposed to be determining. If the roll is for a simple success or failure, then the final number you end up with really doesn’t matter. Don’t believe me? ~ Read on.
The chance of rolling at least 4 successes on a pool of 8 “yes/no” ubiquity dice is approximately 65%. (63.67) The chance of rolling at least an “8” on a d20 is 65%. ~ If both of those conditions indicate success, then they are pretty much equal. The fact that the results tend to cluster around 4 successes on the dice pool while they are all over the place on the d20 doesn’t matter. Unless…..the roll also determines the degree of success or failure.
It just so happens that Ubiquity die pools can determine a degree of success or failure, which is cool. That clustering around the middle means that on average, a character of a given competence level will perform at or around that level of competence on most attempts. Minor failures and somewhat better successes are also rather likely, which also represent performing just below or above the character’s level of competence. Abysmal failures & remarkable successes are rarities, just as they tend to be in real life. This is one of the strengths of dice pools like the ones used by Ubiquity, Fate/Fudge, and a host of others. ~ Even a small dice pool like the 2d6 PBTA mechanic is designed to have “partial success” occur most of the time. That might not be the most “realistic” result, but that is a hallmark of that system.
However, the other side of the coin is that while dice pools do an excellent job of modelling competence in a “realistic” manner, the likelihood of “Hail Marys” and “I can’t believe you tripped over your own shoelaces” becomes vanishingly small. ~ If you want those effects to show up on a somewhat regular basis, then a linear mechanic like d20 or percentile dice where the number rolled actually matters beyond simple success or failure is your best bet. ~ Which one appeals to me depends upon what feel I want for a given game.
Then again, sometimes the old standards are the most appealing to me, especially when I need a quick resolution for an unexpected situation. “You want to what? ~ Roll a d6, try for low.” ~ It’s easy to discount such a simple and ancient mechanic, but it has its charm, and it can model a range of chances fairly well. ~ Is it a Hail Mary? 1 in 6. Hard? 2 in 6. 50/50? 3 in 6. Easy? 4 in 6. Almost a sure thing? 5 in 6.
D6 roll low isn’t for everything, but it does have its place.