Which non-dice system appeals to you?
I’m going to cheat a bit & talk a bit more about dice. But, I promise that it will be a nice segue into the actual topic ~ & besides, it’s my blog, I can do what I want.
Checking out a lot of the responses for day 21, I was reminded of one of the preferences I have for dice mechanics that I didn’t mention. I like them to be simple & elegant. Not just for ease of learning or ease of use, but so that the dice can be a powerful symbol of the fiction with a minimum of interpretive steps needed to know what the outcome represents. ~ In other words, once the dice mechanic is internalized, it is a powerful experience to have a group of players all bent over the table waiting for the bones to stop rolling. The cries of elation or despair are as natural as they would be as if we were all present in the fiction & witnessing the events that the dice roll represents. Sure, some systems like FFG Star Wars or the Reaction Roll in B/X D&D require some creative interpretation of the particulars, but we can all look at the result and instantly know if it’s bad, very bad, good, or very good. ~ The more layers of procedure or lookup post roll, the less the dice act as an analogue of the events in the fiction, & the less captivating the roll becomes.
That said, there are many non-dice resolution mechanics out there which are fascinating, but the more complex the interpretation of what they actually mean becomes, the less they appeal to me. Some of the card based ones are fascinating, but many of them do involve those additional layers of lookup & interpretation, so they are less visceral than the quick clatter of the dice. (besides, I’m terrible at shuffling cards, as in really, really bad at it). ~ There are lots of non-dice systems or mechanics or procedures besides resolution based ones, but I’ve decided to stick to resolution based ones for RPGaDAY as it fit with the thoughts I had about the last three questions as a whole.
The one I’ll talk about that appeals to me a great deal is something that we have been doing forever in the RPG hobby, but which has been formalized in some games. ~ The technical term for this resolution mechanic is Karma. It’s not a term I would have chosen, but it has stuck & I have acquiesced to reality.
In short, Karma works by comparing the difficulty of a task or attempt to the competence or raw ability of the character. No roll needed. I’ve been doing this since 1981. ~ The player declares that his character tries to cross a slippery plank from one rooftop to the other. “What’s your Dexterity? 16? OK, no problem, you cross the plank.”
Just about any character has some list of numbers or words informing us about how competent they are in various areas, how strong they are, how lucky, how graceful, if they’ve been a cop on the beat, if they have the ability to sway a crowd, whatever. Usually there will be an indication of where on a spectrum they fall in a number of different skills or attributes. ~ Coincidentally, the game will generally have an indication of the relative difficulty of various tasks. In most case both the relative ability of the character & the relative difficulty of a task will be represented numerically. This makes them easy to compare at a glance. ~ Even in games that use signal words for competence & for how daunting an attempted action might be, a comparison of these values isn’t tough.
The Ubiquity System used in Hollow Earth Expedition, All for One, Desolation, & many other nifty games has taken this long used method of diceless task resolution & formalized it in the ability to “take the average”. ~ Unless the GM or the fiction dictates that a roll of the dice is appropriate, the player has the option to “take the average” result of rolling their die pool, which is equal to half the size of the pool. This means that a character with an 8 die pool in a particular skill can automatically succeed in tasks related to that skill that require 4 or less successes on a roll of the dice. They’re just that good. (Remember how we talked about how dice pools model operating at your level of competence yesterday?)
I like that the system allows & encourages the GM to take the average for NPCs, so often as a GM you don’t roll dice. ~ A lot of the game can go much faster that way, & when the dice come out it’s special. Another cool thing about Ubiquity is that the style points resource can be spent to add more dice to a pool in order to represent the character pushing themselves above & beyond their normal capacity. This can be done in a manner that requires a roll, but just as often that character with the 8 die pool can spend a couple of style points to be able to succeed at a task requiring 5 success via Karma/Taking the Average as well.
Rolling the dice is fun and can be exhilarating, but do it too much and it becomes commonplace & stale. Whether it’s part of the rules as in Ubiquity, or used informally as a bit of common sense, the use of Karma to resolve less dramatic moments can help make the really dramatic ones come alive as the dice hit the table & we all bend over them in anticipation.