In role-playing games, the GM describes challenges and offers opportunities. The players then make decisions for how their characters react to these things. You can think of this process as navigating a maze made of doors, walls, and windows.

Many modern RPGs give you a triad of outcomes when you roll dice: Pass, Fail, and Complicate.

Pass is pretty simple: "the PC gets what the player wanted." Fail is sometimes equally simple: “they don’t”. Complicate, and more recent incarnations of Fail, give you something else: hard bargains, extra costs, or unexpected outcomes.

I’ve had this conversation with a few people, and it seemed helpful to them. So I’m writing it up, in hopes that it’s helpful to others.

It’s easy to sit down, try to design something, and not have it go the way you planned. From this, you might conclude that you’re bad at design, that what you just did has no value, and that you should throw it away.

I’m going to argue that this is the wrong lesson to learn from failure, and the right lesson can be learned by knowing just a little about genetics.

I’ve been working on a system I call “cues”. First, I’ll introduce the system itself, then talk about why it’s written the way it is, and some possible ways to use it.

I’ve been thinking more about the new dice mechanic. In some games, players can (a few times a session) have their characters go above and beyond their normal abilities for a desperate, risky, or effective super-move. How would this system accommodate that? There’s a few possibilities.

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.

I originally posted this on Ello in two parts (Part 1, Part 2). This is a rewrite of some of that material, with extra thoughts.

Mostly I need better terminology for some of these things, and a truckload of playtesting. I wrote Inept Sorcerers around this dice mechanic, and it’s theoretically a playable game, so if you want to help me test it, let’s start with that.