Author: horizoncarlo

The human brain and “roll under” systems

I’m a big fan of the voodoo and beliefs the human brain can attach to dice. From switching dice because certain ones are “rolling badly”, to feeling like you’re “due” for a good roll, to thinking you can downright force the dice to roll a certain number, to the rituals around blowing on dice before rolling or shaking them a certain way. It’s amazing what we can trick ourselves into.

Anyway recently I’ve been playing Warhammer Fantasy RPG. Just a few sessions in as a Zealot. It’s been pretty fun. The melee combat is enjoyable with the different stances you can enter and how you can split your attacks. A few of the other players don’t really get too in-depth besides “I full attack”, so that’s too bad. The system unfortunately uses D10s. As you know, me and hundreds of thousands of other people don’t like the D10. But I digress.

The point I wanted to make is the system is Roll Under. Which means if you have a Weapon Skill of 45 you need to roll 45 or under on percentile D100 dice. Games Workshop always seems to be torn in this regard as their other approach in Warhammer 40,000 and similar is to have a Ballistic Skill of say 4, and to figure out what you need to hit you subtract your BS from 7, so 4 BS = 3+ on a D6.

So the other day when I was playing we had many missed attacks. But I noticed something funny: people feel okay failing a check when they still roll high. There’s still something so natural about seeing a roll of 98 out of 100 and feeling good about it. “Sure I missed, but damn did you see that roll?!”. Certainly makes for an interesting look at human nature and our long standing relationship with dice.

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Considering complexity with re-rolls


I was thinking about how re-rolls could be integrated into Fickle RPG recently. Mostly as a fun thought/design exercise, since I think there are enough decision points in the resolution process already. I could see three approaches:

1. Replace Underdog Bonus: Right now if you allocate less Fickle dice than your opponent you get the “Underdog Bonus” and your dice can “Explode”, which means on a roll of 6 you roll another free D6. These can chain. This gives drastically outskilled (like 7 dice against 3) characters a chance, and also gives another choice when allocating similar sized dice pools (since it’s an advantage you could try to allocate for).

Now arguably this isn’t insanely impactful. There certainly have been cases of Exploding dice with Underdog “going off” and turning a lost resolution into a win.

Replacing with re-rolls would be quite simple: If you allocate less Fickle dice and get the Underdog Bonus, you can choose to re-roll your Fickle dice. The question would be is it a FULL re-roll (all dice must be re-rolled, even existing successes) or a chosen re-roll where you don’t have to re-roll your dice. The former is less powerful, the latter is much more powerful and almost doubles your dice when it comes to odds. The downside is does this make Underdog too tempting? The choice changes a bit too if you allocate just a single dice, as then it doesn’t matter if you’re full or choice re-rolling.

1a. Optionally Replace Underdog Bonus: This might be a non-choice because one is obviously superior, but maybe whoever has the Underdog bonus could choose (before rolling) whether they want Exploding or Re-Rolls.

2. New Mechanic if “Doubled”: The second option is to have a new decision during allocation: If your opponents dice pool is double/twice yours, you can re-roll (again would have to decide on full vs choice re-rolls). This would come into play if say you had 4 dice and the opponent had 8+. Problems? Tons of them…this is the least likely way I’d implement re-rolls. For one thing it’d be pretty rare. There would be awkward timing I could imagine where the player declares they’re going to do something that would give them 5 dice, then the opponent describes their reaction with 6 dice, then the player wants to switch their choice to instead use their 3 dice attribute to get the “Doubled” re-roll, and then maybe the opponent wants to adjust to counter that, and so on. Realistically we always have the acting person declare first before the reactor, but yeah, could still be an issue. The other problem is somewhat present already in the game, and that is the player might choose their action purely for the best odds they have, and less so for the story or what their character would actually do. For example they might normally shoot with their Intelligence, but hey if they shoot with Strength this time they get the Doubled bonus. All in all a flawed concept on how re-rolls could be added.

3. Pool of Re-Roll Tokens: The image at the start of this post might have given it away, but I’d be really tempted to use an approach of the players (as a group) and the Storyteller each getting a resource pool of spendable re-roll tokens. Sort of like team re-rolls in Blood Bowl. This almost goes back to the old Karma dice idea on how to set it up, in the sense of would the pool be sized from 1 re-roll token per player, or a set number, or what. Could that pool grow? Would it be sized well enough that re-rolls would be used regularly to be useful and interesting, or would they be too stingy and never be used? Would a re-roll pool lower the impact and weight of the Exploit Coin? Would players end up burning their re-rolls guaranteed for the last resolution or two of the night just because they know the pool resets next session? Would it add too much tedium of checking if the player is going to re-roll, then the Storyteller declaring if they are? Would I end up naming the pool “Fate” and then having to put a little note on the bottom of the character sheet as to what Fickle, Flat, and Fate are? Or name it Fortune and rename the already renamed Exploit Coin back to Fate?

If I went this route I envision tokens like these or these from Litko:

Conclusion
Anyway the idea of re-rolls is interesting. When used it would lengthen resolution as you’re doing an extra set of rolls. There are flaws and downsides to all of the ideas and implementations above. After getting the choices down on paper I actually think I’d lean towards replacing the Underdog Bonus, as it’d be more reliable than Exploding dice. I’m going to try it for my next game, just to see, but basically it’s an interesting exercise for my brain, but sometimes a cool mechanic doesn’t necessarily fit into a game well.

“Dark City” as a surprise setting for Fickle RPG

In case you haven’t seen Dark City (1998) you really should go watch it. You also shouldn’t read anymore of this post first because it will have spoilers.

So first of all Dark City is a bit like The Matrix. Except instead of the main character knowing about the concept of the Matrix, and then discovering it the details throughout the movie, the protagonist in Dark City wakes up in a bath tub, confused and alone, and we as viewers slowly unravel the mystery of his world. The plot seems to be mostly about solving a murder, but really he uncovers the horrible truth that he’s trapped aboard a giant lab where alien creatures test on humans in an ever changing city. There are cool hints to watch for on subsequent viewings, great atmosphere and art, and overall a really mind bending idea.

I’d like to a similar concept with Fickle RPG. I’d frame the one-off/mini-campaign to the players as a standard detective story. I’d say maybe 1920s era to them, and that they’d be trying to solve a mystery. But as they dig through the plot elements and story they start to uncover things that can’t be true. Like who are these strange looking men shuffling around at night? What is this empty injection they find near a sleeping vagabond? Why can’t they leave the city? And slowly the plot would continue and they’d end up at the big reveal.

I think this is a fun idea because it throws a lot of player assumptions out the window. Like “I know the rules of this universe”, and “a city in 1920 can’t suddenly change”. And it’d be a bit of a test of my GMing skills to keep a straight face as they start to realize not everything is as it seems. I’d also have to work really hard to make sure they got the right clues (the old “give 3 clues when you want the players to find 1”) to make sure the story continues at a good pace and is revealed without my standard weakness of a giant exposition dump.

I could see a similar style game in the Cthulhu mythos, where the characters are digging into a crime in a small town, and discover cultists, and oh wait the cultists actually have summoned some dark, fantastical creature.

My new “Double Six” dice

Oh man, I just bought these dice from the Double Six store, and they are so perfectly up my alley. They are 12 sided dice numbered 1-6 twice, so you can use them as standard D6s but with all the benefits of a D12 (such as being the coolest dice shape, rolling well, feeling nice when you have a handful).

Anyway I can’t wait to use them in Fickle RPG (thus the different colors 😉 ) or really any game with D6s ever.

Encounters and hazards for car chases and races

Here’s a big list that might be a useful reference for you when having a modern day car chase or race. You and the players can throw these curve balls into the mix to add some excitement.

  • Motorcycles or dirt bikes, perhaps a gang tour
  • Giant crowd or carnival
  • Person (old, homeless, kid) or animal crossing the street, bee or other insect flying inside the car
  • Drawbridge slowly going up
  • Detour due to bridge being closed
  • Train on tracks, or trolley car in road
  • Parking garage
  • Garbage truck backing out of alley
  • Rock slide, avalanche, mudslide along the road
  • Rain, fog, sleet, snow, hail, freezing rain, ice, dust storm, or other weather
  • Tunnels
  • Have to split across a few roads or blocks
  • Going into the opposite lane
  • Going down a dark alley and turning off lights and engine
  • Jumping an off/on ramp
  • Emergency cargo dump to try to gain more speed
  • Nitro boosts
  • Look away at distraction, look back and crash
  • Fruit cart or other market items in the (perhaps closed to cars) street
  • Semi truck rolling over to get out of the way or spilling chemicals
  • Sudden ambulance or fire truck
  • Rolling roadblock of semi trucks that have to be weaved through, or funeral, or old people
  • Oblivious taxi or drunk driver
  • Driving through construction site or wood frame houses
  • Workers crossing the street with a huge pane of glass, massive painting, moving a piano, etc.
  • Black ice, oil slick, or other slippery conditions
  • Spike strips or flat tires
  • Huge pile of cardboard boxes, could be full of packing foam
  • Having to drive through a fire (forest, maybe burning building)
  • Road closed due to a wreck
  • Pot holes, open manhole cover, or other debris
  • Police road block (for player or someone else)
  • Running out of gas or overheating the engine or even having the engine catch on fire
  • Hacker messing with the traffic lights
  • Airplane landing on the road
  • Water main breaking and flooding the road
  • Tire rolling across the road, or blown tire treads on the road
  • Driving through a corn field
  • Swarm of insects or birds hitting the windshield
  • Driving on 2 wheels (“skiing”) to go between a narrow space
  • Driving through a war zone or active police/SWAT scene
  • Going up or down stairs or through a hilly park
  • Damaged hood flies up and blocks the view out the windshield
  • Jumping between cars, or from an overpass to the roof

Thanks to some great suggestions from this Reddit thread.

Tips on chase scenes in RPGs

Car chases, and even foot chases, can be tough to represent well in RPGs. There’s tons of forum questions and articles about what system does it best, tips and strategies, and so on. Generally you don’t want to be bogged down with slow rules that break the pacing or mean you’re planning and resolving a 2 second snap character decision in 5+ minutes of real time. You also don’t want to have to track exact distances between everyone involved unless that really adds something to the chase (which I don’t think it does).

See the previous post about the Fast & Furious setting for some background.

For the first one-off I got the inkling of an idea on how to best handle chases. And by the second one-off I had refined and tested that idea and found it worked very well. Basically the Storyteller needs to track and inform the players of the order of cars, so that if a player says “is Li Fang in front or behind me?” you can know the answer right away. Distance is either “you can interact with them”, or “far away”. But the latter rarely came up, because the scene would transition to the “up close and ready to interact” phase with a few words of summary.

And now the magic part: the acting entity sets the pace and describes the obstacle. More or less take turns throwing obstacles into the chase. This helps share the onus of making the chase interesting between the Storyteller and the players. If the player in the Toyota Supra is acting, they might say “We see a semi-truck coming towards us carrying a huge load of lumber, and as they slam on the brakes the trailer starts to jack knife”. If the villain Li Fang on her motorcycle is acting the Storyteller might say that she’s taken the chase down an off ramp and through a series of red lights at busy intersections. And maybe next the player says that after negotiating the red lights they see an old homeless person with a shopping cart full of cans crossing the middle of the road.

The key idea here is to almost always have something specific happening that everyone reacts to, instead of just “we’re on a vaguely defined freeway, going fast, with some generic cars all around. I guess I try to sideswipe the other car.” You don’t want the only real option to be a repetitive “I ram the other car”. Instead the players and Storyteller are now having to think of how the characters would react: would they speed up to run the red lights, would they try a shortcut down an alley, would they tentatively stop before each intersection, would they call in on the radio for an aerial view, or whatever. There is an immediate, looming problem that needs an immediate solution beyond just “eventually I want to catch the bad guy and ram them off the road”. And since we’re in the Fast & Furious universe and have access to the Exploit Coin, the answer could be “I swerve my car to the side so that it flips over the first rolling log, catapults me through the shower of the rest, and I land on top of the enemy car”.

This is where the General Driving Incidents header in the Fast & Furious setting document comes in handy. It’s a ready list of ideas and curveballs the Storyteller can throw into the chase or suggest to the players. Chasing on a dirt road in Griffith Park is fun. When there’s a rock slide or fallen tree ahead, that increases the danger and boosts the fun.

EDIT: In addition I compiled an even bigger list of driving encounters and hazards you can view here.

The other upside of this approach is it helps solidify details of the area. I’ve only briefly been to Los Angeles, and certainly never had a car chase there. But anyone can conjure up stereotypical scenes of LA: palm trees, huge clogged freeways, empty storm drains, Venice Beach, movie studio lots, etc. And in a chase you want to move from interesting location to interesting location, without much of a focus on plain, forgettable side streets or stretches of highway. Part of the acting person describing the situation is they can move the location forward.

In the one-off we started around Chinatown in LA, but pretty much skipped over about 10 miles of road so that the next area of interest was Griffith Park. Then we brought the scale back in for some freeway incidents, followed by a finale through the Warner Bros. Studios.

This route wasn’t hugely planned, it was more organically decided when the acting player shifted the action from one place to another. We did want to follow a realistic route, and not jump too far ahead (like we wouldn’t instantly go 100 miles west to Santa Barbara). But we also didn’t want to feel stuck or tied to an uninteresting area without much detail. The best analogy is a chase scene in a movie: you only see the decision points and unique places, you rarely see the cars maintaining their order and speed on an unremarkable side street.

And of course the original idea is not a hard and fast rule and requires some arbitration on when the best time to add a new obstacle is. But that’s why we’re playing a tabletop RPG and not a computer game: so we can adjust on the fly. Sometimes it makes sense that every player gets a chance to have a turn and interact with the scene detail before changing it. Other times a drastic setback to a player or enemy can change the pacing (no sense in the villain taking a side road if they just careened into a median).

I think this idea and strategy could be applied to other systems and other chases with great success. Anyway drive safe out there.