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Title: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: Bert on February 03, 2009, 03:46:56 PM
Hi folks. I’m working on a fantasy RPG (Free Will) where the PCs are agents of supernatural entities called Aeons. The PCs have to steer the course of history by tinkering with events or thwarting the plans of other Aeons and their agents who are trying to steer the course of history in a different direction.

I’m looking for some answers to a few quandries relatign to the supplementary mechanics for the base action resolution system. The base system is tactically deterministic and rather vanilla, with ability scores and difficulty scores ranging from 0 to 8.

Contests are resolved by a straight comparison of character ability scores. The character with the highest score wins and the winner’s player gets to narrate an outcome they think serves the story best. If scores are equal the result is deadlock and nobody can win under the existing circumstances.

Challenges are resolved in a similar manner, with ability scores compared to difficulty scores. If a characters ability score is higher than the difficulty score they succeed, but if their ability score is lower than the difficulty score they fail. Matched scores indicate a partial success.

Tactics can have a significant impact on the outcome, providing temporary ability score modifiers or changing the nature of the challenge or contest.

This is the basis of pretty much every diceless game in circulation. I like the idea of characters being able to do things automatically if their abilities are up to snuff, but I don’t know if this is a diceless game yet. What follows are the three supplementary mechanics I’ve been toying around with.

1) Cosmic Balance
At the start of each session each Player takes 4 Balance Tokens from the pot. For each token a Player puts back in the pot their character gains a +1 bonus. For each token a Player takes from the pot their character suffers a -1 penalty. You cannot have more than 4 tokens. If a Player has fewer than 4 tokens, the GM can make them take one or more tokens from the pot.

2) Calculated Risk
The Player nominates a modifier no greater than 4, the risk modifier, and plays RPS with the GM. If they win the throw, the modifier is added to their ability score. In the event of a tie, nothing changes. If they lose the throw, the modifier is subtracted from their ability score.

3) Divine Favour
All Players start with a pool of Favour Dice. They can roll as many Favour Dice as they want in an attempt to obtain divine assistance in resolving a contest or challenge. Any dice that come up 1 are lost, providing no bonus. Any dice that come up 2-3 are lost, providing a +1 bonus. Any dice that come up 4-6 are retained, providing a +1 bonus. Favour dice are obtained by defeating enemy agents or completing tasks set by your patron Aeon.

Do you think all three systems will work together, or am I going to have to pick one or two? Which combinations might work best? Will these supplementary mechanics devalue Player tactics? Has anyone had any experience playing or play testing something similar?


Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: greyorm on February 03, 2009, 05:30:06 PM
Something isn't clear to me from your description of the rules: why WOULDN'T you put all four tokens back in the pot at the start of play? What do Balance tokens even do that make them a resource you'd want to have rather than having a bonus or in spite of having a penalty?


Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: Vulpinoid on February 03, 2009, 07:00:14 PM
Indeed.

Why not reverse the pot mechanism so that everyone starts with nothing from the pot?

In this case, anyone could draw counters from the pot in exchange for a 1 pt penalty on their current action (up to a maximum of 4). At any later stage, they can return counters to the pot to claim a bonus.

In this way, every starts evenly, and those character who take risks in the course of play will gain benefits for those actions later on.

Just some thoughts...

V


Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: David C on February 03, 2009, 09:07:59 PM
I really like the Cosmic balance mechanic a lot, EXCEPT for one thing.  Why not just do actions you don't care so much about, or take penalties, when it won't effect you?

For example, lets say I have "Strong 5" and then the GM says you need "Strong 4" to resolve.  Why wouldn't I just take a token then? I know I'll still succeed since there's no chance. 

There's a mechanic from a diceless board game I'm thinking of, that might be of assistance to you. (A Game of Thrones strategy board game.)  The way it works is you know both modifiers beforehand (in this case it's your armies strength), but every combat, you play a card from you hand (which you then discard.)  Cards have a rating of +0 to +3, and you never know what your opponent is going to play (and they'll always play a card.) 

You could do a similar thing, and have it so players always start with a certain hand (3x +0, 3x +1, 2x +2, 1x +3) and then whenever they get kudos (however you do that), have them draw a card from a collective pile that could be anything. 


Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: Bert on February 04, 2009, 12:12:24 PM
Hi Greygorm,

Something isn't clear to me from your description of the rules: why WOULDN'T you put all four tokens back in the pot at the start of play?

The the bonus only applies to a single action. Once the action is resolved, that's it - the bonus evaporates. Leaving you with a debt to repay. If you put all 4 tokens back in the pot for the first contest/challenge you encounter, or initiate a trivial challenge and put 4 tokens back, you're going to do really well at something that might not be terribly important or even irrelevant - racking up a bumper debt for when it really counts.

What do Balance tokens even do that make them a resource you'd want to have rather than having a bonus or in spite of having a penalty?

I'm not 100% sure what you mean here. Balance tokens are bonuses - or at least potential bonuses. Putting balance tokens back in the pot gives you a bonus, allowing you to succede when you would otherwise fail. If you dont take balance tokens from the pot and suffer penalties, you'll have no bonus tokens to put back in exchange for bonuses when you really need them. Does that answer your question?

If you think about it for a minute dice offer pretty much the same deal. With enough die rolls the lousy results and the good results balance out. The only difference here is the you get to choose when you get a good result or a lousy result.

Do you think this system is flawed? If not, would it work with the others?



Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: Bert on February 04, 2009, 12:44:14 PM
Greetings Vulpiniod,

Start the buggers with zero tokens? Make them pay before they can reap any rewards? That's mean - and I like it!

Do you think the Cosmic Balance mechanic will work with any of the others?



Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: Bert on February 04, 2009, 01:30:24 PM
Hi David,

Thanks for your response.

I really like the Cosmic balance mechanic a lot, EXCEPT for one thing.  Why not just do actions you don't care so much about, or take penalties, when it won't effect you?

For example, lets say I have "Strong 5" and then the GM says you need "Strong 4" to resolve.  Why wouldn't I just take a token then? I know I'll still succeed since there's no chance. 

Hopefully some more info will clear up your EXCEPT - or maybe not!

The players aren’t told what score they need to win. They know in general terms if the opposing score is a significantly lower (easy: PC score -2 or lower), round about the same (challenging: PC score -1 to +1), or significantly higher (daunting: PC score +2 or higher).

Players are expected to take tokens and suffer penalties on this kind of action, but they’re never going to know with certainty what the result is going to be or how important success is. Hnyuk.

The cards in the Game of Thrones sound interesting, with great potential for suspense. Add a bluffing element and you'd have something pretty scary. I’ve considered using cards because of the flexibility they offer, but they seem like a lot of bother. For this game I’m interested in three different things: d6’s, RPS and resource allocation. Simple. Simple. Simple.

I’m aiming for a system where the GMs influence on PC actions, other than assigning opposing scores, is minimal. I’m still not sure if I want the GM to be able to dole out tokens up to a players limit, even if it’s to make the story interesting. Do you think it would help to can this aspect of GM control?

Saying that, I’ve considered not allowing players to draw form the pot at all, leaving it completely in the hands of the GM. How do you think that would affect things?

How do you think this would interact with Calculated Risk and Divine Favour? Good? Bad? Ugly?


Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: David C on February 04, 2009, 03:46:34 PM
I really don't like playing in games where the GM doesn't announce a difficulty before the attempt.  In my experience, things start becoming very arbitrary.

bob "I jump the ravine and spend a token" Strong 2 + 1 (GM, *hmm, he did spend a token* "You succeed")
alice "I jump the ravine and take a token"  Strong 5 - 1 (GM, "You fail")

Bert, for cards, what if you used a deck of playing cards?  Face Cards + Ace could be +2,  non face black cards could be +1, and non race red cards could be +0 (or something like that.)   Everytime you take a penalty, you could draw a card.  You'd never want to run out of cards, because then you won't be able to "bluff." 

You mention you wanted to shoot for diceless, if you could, so why are you mentioning d6, or is that a failsafe (if you don't come up with something better?)

Also, excuse my ignorance, but what does RPS stand for?


Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: Bert on February 05, 2009, 12:54:12 PM
Hi David,

Thanks for the ongoing contributions.

I’m used to playing games where action resolution is based on opposing rolls. You don’t know what your roll is going to be, but you know your ability score. You don’t know what the opposing roll is going to be, or the opposing ability score. You never know the ‘difficulty’ before you commit to the action, save in very general terms, such as “the ravine looks like a fairly challenging jump”. There are lots of games out there that work in this way. In the game of thrones, as far as I can tell from your description, you don’t know the ‘difficulty’ either. Surely that’s part of the fun? How is a diceless system where you don’t know the actual difficulty any different?

The example of play you provide is overly simplistic. Any GM who just says ‘you succeed’ or ‘you fail’ in real play deserves a table full of power gamers. I’d imagine it going like this:

Bob: “I think I’m going to try and jump the ravine. Does it look doable?”
Bob’s character has athletics 5, and requires 4 to make it across.
GM: “It looks pretty challenging.”
Bob: “I’m going to put a token back and take a running leap.”
GM: “You sail across and land safely on the other side, with feet to spare.”

Alice: “Wow. That looked like a cinch. I’m going to take a token and do the same.”
Alice’s character has athletics 2, and she’s a dunce for not taking this into account
GM: “You mess up your timing and jump too early. You just manage to catch hold of the edge on the other side, smashing your knees into the wall. It hurts so much you feel sick.”
Bob: “I run forward, get down on my knees and grab her arms…”

On the subject of cards, I just don’t feel that cards are right for this game - although you have given me the germ of an idea for another system that uses cards and copious amount of bluffing to resolve actions. I’ll let that stew for a while and get back to you.

As for ‘shooting for diceless’, in my original post I wrote ‘I don’t know if this is a diceless game yet’.  I’m not interested in making an arbitrary value judgment by placing diceless mechanics over dicealicious mechanics. That would be cutting off my dicey nose to spite my gamey face. I'm not shooting for diceless, but if diceless is going to work best, that’s what I’m going to use. If dice will work better, so be it. That’s why I called this topic ‘Diceless or Dicealicious?’

I’m not keeping d6’s ‘as a failsafe (if you don’t come up with anything better)’ (Ouch!). In my original post I presented 3 supplementary mechanics: Cosmic Balance (resource allocation), Calculated Risk (RPS*) and Divine Favour (d6’s). I’m still keen to know how the three might work together or not. So far nobody’s gone any further than Cosmic Balance!

Thanks again, and keep ‘em coming!

*RPS stands for Rock Paper Scissors, which confused the hell out of me at first - its called Scissors Paper Stone in the UK.



Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: chronoplasm on February 05, 2009, 01:28:56 PM
Some ideas...

Cosmic Balance
Instead of tokens, the players get dice in their dice pool.
When performing actions, players may 'Extend' their dice (substitute whatever verb you may.) When they do so, they reroll the die and add it to their score, but then they throw the die in the pot.
Players may also elect to 'Bite the Bullet'. When they declare this, a die is taken from the pot and rolled, and that number is added to the difficulty rating of the action.

Calculated Risk
Before a player performs a check, that player may bet dice on the outcome. If the check is successful, that player may draw a die from the pot. If the check is not successful, that player must put a die into the pot.
If a player takes a risk while Biting the Bullet at the same time, they gain two bonus dice if the check is successful.




Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: David C on February 05, 2009, 02:30:10 PM
Quote
The example of play you provide is overly simplistic. Any GM who just says ‘you succeed’ or ‘you fail’ in real play deserves a table full of power gamers.

It is simplistic, but it was supposed to demonstrate a point.  The point being that in my experience, GMs who don't predetermine difficulties often do whatever feels "right", which usually completely negates your character whatsoever.  In the example, the GM has Bob fail because he took a token, while in the same circumstances, he'd have had Alice succeed when spending a token, even though Bob's a lot stronger and actually had a better result.  By having to say the difficulty out loud and in advance, the GM can't just ad hoc whatever BS he comes up with.

For example, one of my friends likes to run Mage the Ascension. He'll often do this:

David: "I try to jump the ravine, what's the difficulty?"
Mike: "What's your Strength?"
David: "5"
Mike: "Difficulty 9"

later...

Andrew: "I try to break down the door, I'm kind of weak so I'll spend a willpower. What's the difficulty?"
Mike: "Hmm, Difficulty 4"

And that's what nearly every single check goes like playing MtA with him!  You can say "Well, a good GM wouldn't do that..." all you want, but are you trying to make a game for your friends, or a game that runs well under any circumstances?

Quote
In the game of thrones, as far as I can tell from your description, you don’t know the ‘difficulty’ either.

Actually, you do.  The variable element is you don't know what card they're going to play. 

Quote
I’m not keeping d6’s ‘as a failsafe (if you don’t come up with anything better)’ (Ouch!).

Maybe I read too much into your title, but in my mind, it sounded like you were hoping to go diceless, but were having trouble doing that sufficiently.  I guess I was wrong, sorry for the misunderstanding. I'll get back to your original questions.

Quote
Do you think all three systems will work together, or am I going to have to pick one or two? Which combinations might work best? Will these supplementary mechanics devalue Player tactics? Has anyone had any experience playing or play testing something similar?

1) Why do you want all 3 systems?  What does Cosmic Balance add to the game, that Calculated Risk doesn't already handle? 
2) I feel Cosmic Balance and Calc. Risk overlap a lot.
3) Calc. Risk is just an elaborate randomization method.  Basically, you can choose not to use it (unknown chance of success.)  Or use it and have a 50% chance of increasing or decreasing your unknown chance of success (whether you pick +1 or +4 doesn't seem to matter in my mind.) 

I think you need to figure out if you want your players to have a pretty good idea of how their actions will effect their outcome, or just settle on a simple randomization method.  For example: a situation where they know their actions will effect their outcome using the AGoT mechanic.

GM: "Your difficulty is 5" (+0 to +3)
Player: (Hmm, my skill is 6. I can play a +0 and save my good cards for later, and hope I succeed, or I can cement my chance of success by playing my +3 card...)

For example: scenarios using your mechanics.

GM: "The ravine looks challenging..."
Player: (Hmm, I probably won't succeed unless I RPS.  I could RPS +2 and hope that's enough, but if I do +4, I'm sure I'll succeed, if I win the throw...)

GM: "The ravine looks challenging..."
Player: (Hmm, I doubt I'll succeed, I guess I better put in a token)

GM: "The ravine looks challenging..."
Player: (Hmm, I better use some of my favor dice.  It's not that important to me, so I'll just use 2...)







Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: Bert on February 05, 2009, 05:23:50 PM
Thanks David,

I do see what you mean about a fudgetastic GM not stating the difficulty. I still like the idea of players only having a general idea about how difficult a contest/challenge is. Maybe the GM has to write the difficulty down beforehand and show it to the players afterwards?

I don’t necessarily want to use all three systems. I would like to use two, providing a degree of tactical interplay, but I'd be happy to settle for one if that turns out best. I guess I’m just being indecisive.

I agree with you to a certain extent about cosmic balance and calculated risk. Both can take you up or down. However, the two mechanisms function in very different ways. Cosmic balance is based on choice and calculated risk is based on...well, calculated risk. With cosmic balance, if you’re facing an incredibly daunting task and you have no tokens, you’re screwed. Maybe that’s a good thing. With calculated risk, you can always try for a +4, but if you fail the consequences could be very, very bad. Maybe that’s a good thing too. I think I am going to have to choose between the two.

I don’t know if RPS counts as a randomisation or not. I’m on the fence. There’s nothing random about the choice either opponent makes – and there’s a lot of psychology involved. Saying that, you can simulate a single throw of RPS with 1d3; 1=win, 2=tie, 3=lose (33.33% chance of a win, not 50%). The boundary between diceless and dicealicious is blurry here.

I’m not convinced that there’s no difference between a risk of 1 and a risk of 4. I haven’t mentioned it previously, but the greater the difference between your total and the difficulty score, the greater the degree of success or failure. One point either way is going to make an impact – whether you know the difficulty or not. The question is, can you take a failure and how important is a greater degree of success?

On its own, I don’t think this is an issue. Running alongside any of the other systems, this is going to end up being a last resort for daunting tasks. That’s settled then. It’s now a two horse race. Next stop: will Cosmic Balance and Divine Favour work together?

Comparing the card mechanics with mine, how are they different:

GM: "Your difficulty is 5" (+0 to +3)
Player: (Hmm, my skill is 6. I can play a +0 and save my good cards for later, and hope I succeed, or I can cement my chance of success by playing my +3 card...)

GM: "The ravine looks challenging..." (Difficulty and skill factored together)
Player: (Hmm. I can save my tokens for later, and hope I succeed, or I can improve my chance of success by putting a few tokens back in the pot...)

GM: "The ravine looks challenging..." (Difficulty and skill factored together)
Player: (Hmm. I can save my favour dice for later, and hope I succeed, or I can improve my chance of success by rolling a few favour dice…)

Language is a tricky beast.

Thanks for helping me make my mind up on at least one thing!

Bert

Procrastinators Unite! Tomorrow…


Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: Bert on February 05, 2009, 06:07:05 PM
Is it chronoplasm or Kevin? I've haven't had much experience with this of thing and I don't know the etiquette.

I like these ideas. I did a lot of work on dice pool mechanics for an adaptation of James V. West’s 'The Pool' (which I adore!) and the divine favour mechanic is a by-product that work. The Pool uses dice as tokens, which you can gamble to improve your chances of success.

Calculated risk has been ditched, but I think I'll go back and look at using dice as tokens for Cosmic Balance in tandem with Divine Favour.

Its looking more dicealicious (dicemore?) by the moment - except when you have no dice, are saving them for later, or don’t need to roll any anyway.

Bert


Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: greyorm on February 05, 2009, 11:21:28 PM
I'm not 100% sure what you mean here. Balance tokens are bonuses - or at least potential bonuses.

Thanks for the clarifications. How they worked was not clear to me from your post, which is why I asked.


Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: CKNIGHT on February 06, 2009, 08:21:03 PM
Hi Burt

Is this system for fun(free pdf)
or is it for market?

Extra parts (tokens and cards) if manufactured may have descriptors or special uses that might be useful(colorful).



Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: Bert on February 07, 2009, 04:02:00 PM
Hi Sir C,

I'm thinking free and fun.

As for customisable tokens and dice, I've just bought a bunch of blank dice from my local game shop and an indellible marker. This will allow me to customise the dice I plan to use in Free Will. I'm going to replace the cosmic balance tokens with dice and modify the divine favour mechanic, giving me a 2 die-type dice pool mechanic. I'll post where I'm at shortly.

Bert


Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: Bert on February 07, 2009, 04:40:53 PM
Hi Sir C,

This is most definitely for fun, so I'd be looking to distrubute it for free if I can get it looking ship-shape. If it kicks off a few ideas for other people that would be great - if people play it, that would be fantastic.

On the subject of customised elements, I've just bought a bunch of blank dice from a local gameshop and an indellible marker, so I can make customised dice for the evolving dice pool mechanic.

I'll be posting an update of where I'm at, along with some more questions relating to ideas I've had, very shortly.

Bert


Title: Re: Diceless or Dicealicious?
Post by: Bert on February 07, 2009, 04:58:24 PM
Following some sage advice, a little resistance on my part, some good ideas and a fair bit of thought, I’ve reached the next stage in the development of Free Will. I think this system is more coherent than the earlier ‘water-testing’ system. If feels like its going in a very specific direction, rather than being a nebulous brain fart. I think what I have now is game that makes use of diceless and dicealicious mechanics as integral aspects of its function. Wujick, you are my god.

Here’s the state of development is at present:

ABILITIES
Character abilities range from 0-8, with 4 indicating a well developed ability
Non-zero abilities are associated with a Role
A role is an occupation, pastime or lifestyle (Fixed list? Free form? Not sure.)
Example roles include: Warrior, Carouser, Peasant, Strongman, Noble, Sorcerer, Hermit, Bodyguard, Sailor, Practical Joker, Hunter, Musician, Merchant etc.
The score indicates talent, training, experience, exposure, practice, passion etc.

TRAITS
Abilities are modified by traits, which provide bonuses or penalties
Some traits are positive, providing a +1 mod (perceptive, fit, resilient, disciplined etc.)
Some traits are negative, providing a -1 mod (clumsy, weak, frail, dull-witted etc.)
Modifiers from all relevant traits are added to an ability score
Traits are relative: a character with a role like Strongman (6) is going to be a hell of a lot stronger than a character regarded as ‘Strong’ - for a sailor, peasant, cook - or whatever.

ACTION RESOLUTION

BASIC SYSTEM
The basic action resolution system is diceless.

Contests
GM states difficulty score (okay Dave, you win), highest score wins. Difference in scores is proportional to the consequences for the loser. Ties result in extended stalemate.

Challenges
GM states difficulty score. If your ability score is higher you succeed. Difference in scores is proportional to degree of success. If your ability score is equal to or lower than the difficulty score, the result depends on the type of challenge.

For Hazardous Challenges, involving risk to life and limb, only a 4 point shortfall will result in outright failure with a fatal conclusion. For lesser shortfalls you will suffer graded consequences proportional to the shortfall and have to overcome a secondary challenge to avoid outright failure.

For Harmless Challenges, involving no risk to life and limb, equal scores indicate partial success. If your ability score is lower than the difficulty score, you experience outright failure.

SUPPLEMENTARY SYSTEM
The supplementary system is a based on a dice pool mechanic. A player may choose to employ the supplementary system if their character faces outright failure, unacceptable consequences or simply needs to enhance their performance. There are two types of dice a player may have in their pool.

Balance Dice (The Cosmic Balance Mechanic)
If you need to boost your performance for a specific action you can take a number of Balance Dice (thanks chronoplasm!) from the pot obtaining a one-off bonus equal to the number of dice taken, which is added to your ability score. You cannot have more than 4 balance dice. When resolving an action in which you do not take at least one Balance Die, you must roll all of the Balance Dice in your pool. Every die that comes up 1 confers a -1 penalty and goes back into the pot. Balance dice tend to hang around for a while.

Favour Dice (The Divine Favour Mechanic)
All players start with a number of Favour Dice. These must be a different colour to Balance Dice. Favour Dice offer potential bonuses. If you need to try and boost your characters performance, you roll a number of Favour Dice. Every die that comes up 1-3 provides no bonus, but is retained. Every die that comes up 4-6 provides a +1 bonus but is lost. While the number of favour dice in your possession is not capped, you cannot roll more than 4 at any one time. Favour Dice tend to burn away fairly quickly when used.

So that’s the state of play at present. Is this now looking like a stable, workable action resolution system?

While that question is out there, I’d like to pose another. This system, like many rules-lite systems and practically all diceless systems, is rather coarse grained.

In the same way as I’ve been toying with fusing diceless and dicealicious mechanics, I’ve also been considering fusing high resolution and low resolution mechanics. I quite like low resolution mechanics, but I find my players like to have some means of gradual, incremental improvement.

What I propose is that instead of ability scores ranging from 0-8, I have ability scores ranging from 0-80, but only differences in whole multiples of 10 count for something.

Following this approach a character with ability score (AS) 45 ties with a character with AS 54 but loses to a character with AS 55. If you have a character with an ability score of 37 trying to accomplish a difficulty 60 task, they fail by 2. Modifiers from traits or pool dice are still unitary, representing the number of tens your score changes by.

The way I figure it, this system means that a small increase in your ability score can really count for something, but you still get the ease of use associated with a low resolution system. Or do you? Is this system workable or just plain fiddly-in-the-head.

Bert