Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Down To The Core, Part 2: All These Dice

Just like its older sister, the Optional System, this new version
uses dice pools to settle arguments and conflicts. 
I am the Warden!!

It's time to get to the nitty-gritty and talk about how to construct this system. Along the way, I'll be talking about some of the fundamental from the original Optional System and will try to explain these concepts and mechanics along the way. For additional information and insight into how the original system works, feel free to pick up the Pay What You Want version of Killshot (you don't even have to pay anything for it, I don't mind).

Before I can put one solid word on paper, there's a serious hurdle to overcome in Optional Core's construction: dice pools. It's a staple of the original Optional System, where players and Directors build up a dice pool from various attributes, modifiers, gear, and difficulty levels to roll against each other, a facet that will remain in Optional Core. Here's a bullet point list of the key points for dice pools in the system's previous incarnation.

  1. All dice types are assigned a group category detailing their source, or reason for use. All d20s are base dice and represent the luck of the draw outside of everyone's reach; d12s are focus dice to represent every character's basic training and versatility; d10s are circumstance dice for outside factors manipulated by the characters (such as modifiers); d8s are option dice assigned by the individual option used in a dice roll; d6s are trained skills for everyone's skills; and d4s are bonus dice just because everyone needs that extra push now and then. 
  2. Each dice group is limited in when it can be added to the roll, with the larger groups (base dice, focus dice, etc.) being more frequent than the smaller ones. In other words, every roll uses at least a base die (d20) while bonus dice (d4s) are few and far between.
  3. All dice explode. When you roll the highest number on that die, you can roll another one and add to your running total. 
  4. When your base dice explode, you gain a training point. You can use it to increase your experience and training between sessions or cash some in for immediate benefits, such as bonus dice. 
  5. As a campaign continues forward, characters can increase the number of dice available in their individual stats, focus, skills, etc. and increase the size of their pool by spending their training points. 
On the surface, there's no reason for numbers 1-3 to remain in Optional Core with some minor modifications and simplifications. Numbers 4 and 5, however, either need to go entirely or receive serious tweaks. Adding a training point (AKA experience point) mechanic to the system would complicate matters and fly in the face of Optional Core's prime directive (quick-play adventures). That's not to say there won't be any form of advancement during an adventure, but adding on a slurry of optional character enhancements risks complicating matters, so it's safe to say such a feature is off the table. 

Now that we're left with three fundamental carry-overs from the original system, there's still a major concern to handle: the size of the dice pools. In the Optional System, it's completely possible for a typical dice pool to have six or seven dice, not including explosions. Even for a beginning character. Let's look at the following example from a real Killshot character. An Enforcer is going to make an active Body roll to attack a thug by firing a burst from a submachine gun and assembles his dice pool as follows:

1d20 (base die) + 1d12 (Body stat) + 1d12 (Enforcer focus) 
+ 2d8 (the Burst option's dice for a submachine gun) + 2d6 (Firearms skill)

- or - 

1d20 + 2d12 + 2d8 + 2d6

That's seven dice. While there was nothing wrong with it before, one of the key goals of Optional Core is to increase playing speed and that means cutting down on the size of the dice pools from an average of 6-7 dice to 3-4 dice. Here's what I'm thinking. 

Focus Dice (d12s)

Perhaps the easiest solution is cutting down on the number of focus dice available to characters. Notice in the example above how there are two sources for focus dice applied to the roll - a stat and a focus. If we maintain the three stats (Body, Sense, and Mind) and add on a character's focus as an alternative instead of an add-on, players can choose to apply the focus dice from their stat (whichever is called for by the Director) or substitute it with an appropriate focus. Returning to the above example, if the Enforcer is making an attack roll with a trained weapon, he could easily substitute the Enforcer focus dice for the Body focus dice, but cannot use both. 

Let's assume another example using the same character. An active Sense roll is required to detect a sneaky opponent trying to surprise the Enforcer, but he doesn't have any Sense focus dice available. Because of the situation, his Enforcer focus dice could be used to substitute Sense dice. In any other situation, the Enforcer's training could not make a similar substitution if the character was trying to locate a specific phone number in a messy office. 

Modifiers and Gear (d10s)

Both of these sources provide circumstance dice to active or opposed rolls and they can add the proverbial shitload. Modifiers alone provide anywhere from +1d10 to +5d10 and can be mixed together to beef them up even higher, whereas gear typically exists in the +1d10 to +3d10 range. Not only that, but modifiers come with their own chart and each offers its own rules and conditions for use, something that will only complicate Optional Core's rules and increase the word count.

Instead, all modifiers and gear can be grouped into a single circumstance dice category where you can add d10s from either a single modifier (described by the player or Director) or gear (carried and used by the character). Instead of breaking them down individually, all modifiers and gear are simply listed as Average (+1d10), Minor (+2d10) and Major (+3d10) with Average modifiers and gear being the standard type. 

Base Dice (d20s)

Here's the big one and it's bothering me to no end. The purpose of the base dice is to represent the randomness of the world with all the numerous factors and unexpected influences beyond our control, what allows even the most common, untrained individual a chance to succeed despite the odds. Hence why it's applied with d20s - the range of this dice is greater than any other used in the game and it becomes the Director's best friend and worst enemy. Unfortunately, it does complicate matters when you're trying to speed up play in Optional Core because of this range. You're either adding tiny numbers or large ones and that can slow down a player's resolution while they add things in their head or pull out a calculator. Using d20s can be unreliable, particularly when used for difficulty rolls and so I'm trying to find a way to eliminate them from every single dice roll, active and opposed. 

At the same time, that unpredictability is a perfect way to handle various aspects of the system where players and Directors leave things to chance. For example, applying d20s with stunts sounds great at its first pass, but doesn't entirely make sense why a stunt would increase the number of dice rolled for a character. When base dice are used in the Optional System for difficulty rolls, that unpredictability can blow up in the players' faces - two players attempting the same action against the same difficulty can encounter completely different results because of the base die. 

Based on the points I just made, d20s should be eliminated altogether, but I just can't bring myself to do it. For the same reason why Monte Cook couldn't part with this definitive RPG dice, a dice-based game doesn't feel like a dice-based game without the d20. So we're down to the penultimate reason for today's post - what to do with the d20? 

Here are a few ideas I'm considering at the moment. 

Team Dice: Rather than have every individual character include a d20 in their roll, one player on every Team and the Director each roll a d20. This becomes the Team Dice and the total provided can be distributed to any Teammate as the players see fit. For example, if a Team rolls a 12 on their Team Dice, those players can apply part of that result to individual dice rolls until the Team Dice has been used up. One player can take 5 for their roll, another can take 3, and another can use up the remaining 4 points. Another Team Dice cannot be rolled until the start of the next series. 

Passing: Similar to the Team Dice concept, Teammates can "pass" their current turn to each other. In the Optional System, passing grants +1d10 to the immediate roll, but it can be converted to +1d20 instead. This can only work for the initial roll, but the improved chance of success allows the player an opportunity gain more hits (success levels) for an improved result. Certain Teams can benefit from improved results, such as a spec ops unit rolling 2d20 and choosing the highest die as their passing bonus due to their enhanced co-operative training. 

Ability Dice: This idea is borrowed from 13th Age's escalation dice and then modified so it looks nothing like it. At the start of every series (or a round in game speak), the Director rolls 1d20 and places it at the centre of the table - it's called the ability die. Player can take turns drawing points from the ability die's result to unlock character-based benefits and special abilities, but the Director gains an equal number of points for her own use. There could be character abilities, bonus hits, unlock extra features in a scene, increase the number of opponents, and anything else written into the game to challenge the players. Once these ability points are used up, everyone has to wait until the next series. 

I really love the idea of ability dice for the new d20 group, but something about it feels out of place for this game. However, it's an effective way for every Optional Core adventure to include its own quirks and traits, keeping every game and character fresh and original. Plus it provides a tactical portion to the game that encourages co-operation, another essential element of the Optional System I want to carry on in Optional Core. 

This is where you come in, good reader. What do you think about these suggestions for streamlining dice pools in Optional Core? Any other suggestions are always welcome and strongly encouraged.