May 012012
'Let the Games Begin' by see-through-the-eye-of-g on Flickr

'Let the Games Begin' by see-through-the-eye-of-g on Flickr

Failure can be interesting if it encourages creativity; when players can’t do the first thing that enters their heads, so they’re forced to pursue alternate paths.


What if, instead of success/failure, you rolled to determine one of two different outcomes? Or a range of outcomes?

I’m sure there are systems that do this (like Fudge). But imagine it accepted broadly, in most RPGs. What if popular systems were built around the idea of dice rolls providing more than a binary outcome of success or failure?

What if the GM built dangerous situations, not monsters?

GMs are used to constructing encounters with a balanced mixes of baddies, and choosing or constructing appropriate baddies. What if we rose our thinking to a higher level?

Imagine the GM laying out possible outcomes for a situation. The players then roll to determine which one occurs.

We could build a system for this, but let’s use common, existing mechanics. When in a dangerous situation, choose appropriate abilities, skills, etc. Instead of rolling against one target difficulty, you roll for each possible outcome. The outcome with the highest roll occurs.

Example: The players have been hired to protect a caravan traveling through the desert. An airship covered with a swarm of giant insects descends out of the sky and crashes on the path ahead. The PCs see at least one unconscious survivor. Outcomes include: the players rescue the survivor but are attacked by insects; the players are attacked by insects and the survivors die (but leave behind a record of their trip); all the insects are dead but the players rescue the survivor. The players roll for each of these outcomes, adding all their results together.

How might this broaden the kinds of situations that your party would get into?

About Brent Newhall

I'm a 21st Century Renaissance Man. I work at Amazon, I make and run RPGs, I write fantasy books (none published yet), and I'm a huge anime and manga fan. I wrote the OSR Handbook (a profile of many old-school tabletop RPG systems), the Original D&D retroclone Dungeon Raiders, a mecha RPG called Gunwave that tries to actually simulate mecha anime series, a kid-friendly animal RPG called Weasels!, and a tile-based board game called Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls.

  3 Responses to “How Else Could the Die Roll?”

  1. It’s an interesting idea, Brent, and I’m really digging it. I think it might be interesting to add a small chance that one of the players or the DM can suggest an outcome.

    That would certainly promote a different feel for the game, but I think it’s an idea with some legs.

  2. Absolutely agreed, Jeremy! In fact, that should absolutely be part of it — the GM and players should collaborate on the possible outcomes.

  3. Isn’t that just the “stake setting” mechanic in most narativist rpg’s?

    Before rolling (or turning over cards, or counting stones of effort) you negotiate the stakes of a won / lose with the GM. Then you reveal the outcome (based on mechanic) and the story moves forward from there. Dogs on the Vineyard us an excellent example of this.

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