Why Another Dice System?

I posted a new dice mechanic recently. I explained the mechanics, and in doing so found a better version of the same idea. Thanks to Lester Ward for feedback confirming this conclusion. However, I didn’t really articulate its intended purpose.

Aside from novelty, what does this system bring to the table? It brings risk, reward, and possibility. Long conversations with Gray Pawn about success and failure in games got me thinking, and this system was the result of one of those thoughts. Reading gamer war stories like Sameo (warning: rest of 1d4chan is NSFW) reminded me that spectacular failures could still be exciting. Fate taught me that doling out excitement can be safely put, at least partly, in the hands of the players.

In the new system, anyone can technically attempt anything. Nothing stops you from accumulating dice to pay off a high Action Cost. At the end of the day, high skill doesn’t give you more opportunities, it just prevents more things from going badly. There’s a gatekeeper, of course: if the GM doesn’t think you get to make the roll at all, you don’t. The bespectacled professor isn’t going to lift a 10-ton rock off his crushed car, unless he also has superpowers.

To see what I mean, let’s imagine a PC party trekking through the jungle. Nearby are some bad guys, waiting in ambush. It would be interesting to determine if the PCs notice the ambush, so that calls for a roll. The GM has set the Action Cost for a “Realize” type action at 18 - fairly steep as things go. Let’s imagine two different PCs making this same roll.

First is the capable, wilderness-savvy ranger type. He’s got a special action or feat or something that gives him an Ability of 6 to notice ambushes. He rolls d4 (3), d6 (3), d8 (6), and d10 (2). This reduces the AC from 18 to 15, 12, 6, and 4, respectively. His final roll on d12 (11) brings it to -7, fully paying off the Action Cost and leaving 7 points of Risk. He adds his Ability leaving 1 point of Risk. “You overlook a minor detail,” says the GM. “You’ll find out about it after the fight.” The player agrees, and the combat begins.

Second is the bespectacled professor type mentioned earlier. He’s not old and senile, but he sometimes misses things, and has an Ability of 1 to Realize non-scientific things. If he had rolled the same as the ranger, but added his Ability of 1, 6 points of risk would have remained! Maybe the professor, peering intently into the jungle, is the first attacked, and the signs of the ambush is him falling backward with arrows in his chest. Maybe he’s stunned and unable to move for a few rounds. Maybe he flees in a panic.

The professor’s player could have chosen to stop rolling, and failed to detect the ambush at no personal cost. But either way, the increasingly big gamble of the dice is a player choice, with both big rewards and big penalties as possibilities. If it really works as intended, then success or failure is a choice the player gets a say in, at the possible cost of something going south very hard for their PC.