Son of Dice Pool

After letting the dice pool idea lie fallow for a while (more than 18 months, ouch) I decided to pick it up again. I think I see a few tweaks and minor improvements in how to apply it.

As a refresher, all rolls are made with a number of dice equal to the character’s tier. By default these are d8s, but talents can change the die sizes. For instance, a Master character (tier 5) with a martial tradition cornerstone talent at Master tier (and no other relevant talents) would roll 5d10 when attacking instead of 5d8. Each roll of 5 or higher is a success, so bigger dice are more likely to succeed. Each roll of 1 is a complication, a bad thing, but you can spend successes to pay off complications.

Changes to the Echelon Dice Pool Mechanic

There are a few things I can do here.

Adjustable Difficulty

I touched on this a little in the original post, but I realized that I can instead make it a ‘configuration item’ for a particular setting.

If a particular ability should be easier or harder to use than usual, it might default to a different die size. If ‘armed combat’ uses the default, ‘unarmed combat’ might start from d6 instead of d8. Talents still adjust this, so a character with an unarmed combat talent would roll d8s instead of the d6s most people use. Magic might also be ‘hard to use’, and start with d6 instead of d8. Psionics, on the other hand, might be incredible common and easy to use (and default to d10 instead of d8).

This gives the GM a fair bit of opportunity to adjust the nature of the setting.

Expanded Dice Range

The original post had most rolls defaulting to d8s, with talents improving things to d10s and d12s. It is possible for special circumstances and items to bump that again to d20s. I mentioned above adjusting the base die sizes for certain things, and realized I can expand the range slightly. I can add a ‘d4 level’ for the things you should not expect to succeed at all.

At the worst I could still require 5+ to succeed. This means you flat cannot succeed when rolling d4s, you’re rolling only to see how badly things go for you. This is why I ignored it in my early examinations.

If I allow a special case here, though, where 4 can succeed, I get a situation where there is equal chance of success and complication, for a net mean of… nothing happens. I don’t expect it to come up very often, but it does give me an extra tool to use for things that, in a particular setting or situation, shouldn’t work.

Magic or psionics ‘in the real world’ might be good examples. On any given roll you are more likely to have nothing happen than you are to have something happen (1d4: 1/4 is -1, 1/2 is +0, 1/4 is +1; 2d4: 1/16 is -2, 1/4 is -1, 5/8 is +0, 1/4 is +1, 1/16 is +2… and the more dice you have, the more likely you are to roll net 0). For purposes of magic, most likely nothing happens, or something does happen (with complication), or you fail and have complications. The odds of a clean success are diminishingly small. Which sucks, but might explain why so few people develop the skill…

… and developing the skill lets you improve your rolls. A Basic character with a casting tradition cornerstone talent or bloodline cornerstone talent would roll 2d6 instead of 2d4. Instead of expecting to break even, this character could expect to see some success, if not very much (this is still a hard ability to develop). If this character also has, say, a domain common talent or arcane school common talent at basic tier, the character could roll 2d8 for relevant checks.

Admittedly, this is still only about as good as a Basic character doing something else ‘untrained’, but hey, bending reality is hard.

This gives me a useful addition to the toolbox.

Enhanced (Critical?) Success

I have normal failure and critical failure (complications), but nothing representing a lucky roll. This made me think, and I believe I’ve found a workable approach.

Normally each die that rolls a 1 is a complication, and this becomes more unlikely as the dice get bigger. At the same time, the more dice you roll the more likely you are to see a complication. I’m okay with that because you can expect to have more successes to buy them off. You have greater capacity for failure, but way more capacity to deal with it. Also, honestly, if I’m a legendary character I don’t want piddly little complications when things go wrong, I want Things To Go Wrong. Make it interesting.

I digress.

There are two very similar models for granting critical success, shown below.

Predictable Results

One is to simply rule than any natural 8 is a critical success, worth two normal successes toward your goal. Normally you have a 1/8 chance on each die of a complication, 3/8 of no success, 3/8 of a success, and 1/8 of two successes. Net value of 0.5 successes per die. As dice get bigger the chance of a complication goes down, the chance of no success goes down, the chance of one success goes up, and the chance of two successes… goes down.

This actually is okay, if you view bigger dice as meaning you more predictably succeed. You are more likely to succeed in the first place, without wild luck coming into it. It gives the per-die result table shown below.

Expected Net -1/4 0 1/6 1/2 6/10 9/12 16/20
Result d4 d4 (4 succeeds) d6 d8 d10 d12 d20
Complication 1/4 1/4 1/6 1/8 1/10 1/12 1/20
Failure 3/4 2/4 3/6 3/8 3/10 3/12 3/20
Success 0/4 1/4 2/6 3/8 5/10 8/12 15/20
Critical 0 0 0 1/8 1/10 1/12 1/20

This seems imminently workable. It’s not entirely to my taste, though.

Increasing Criticals

The previous models a situation where greater skill means you are likely to see more predictable success, with less wild luck involved.

I think I’d rather see bigger dice mean you are not only likely to see success, but likely to see more success. Instead of a critical success happening only on an 8, let’s have it happen on all even numbers greater than 8 (all rolls of 8 or more gets crazy, and all successes that are multiples of 4 is a bit odd in that frequency drops at d10 but improves at d12 and d20). That gives the per-die result table shown below.

Expected Net -1/4 0 1/6 1/2 7/10 11/12 21/20
(Previous) -1/4 0 1/6 1/2 6/10 9/12 16/20
Result d4 d4 (4 succeeds) d6 d8 d10 d12 d20
Complication 1/4 1/4 1/6 1/8 1/10 1/12 1/20
Failure 3/4 2/4 3/6 3/8 3/10 3/12 3/20
Success 0/4 1/4 2/6 3/8 4/10 6/12 10/20
Critical 0 0 0 1/8 2/10 3/12 6/20

… I didn’t anticipate the expected net to exceed the number of dice being rolled. My first instinct is that it could be a problem, but I don’t trust that instinct: if you’re rolling d20s on something (such as Amren-ja, superbly trained and wielding magic weapons) you probably should expect ideal results. I’ll call it tentatively okay.

Closing Comments

Three adjustments to the dice pool mechanism. The first changes how various rolls are inherently advantaged or disadvantaged in order to model certain styles of campaign. The second extends that by adding an option for things that should be theoretically possible but not likely to succeed without a great deal of talent or luck. The third allows more capable characters to more predictably succeed, or more predictably have critical success.

Each of which should work well in my favor, especially in how it could tie into some ideas I have for spell casting.

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