My two favorite dice systems from the last year have been the ones featured in the A Song of Ice and Fire RPG and the Arcane Legions wargame, and I think they might be even better together:

Roll and Keep (ASoIaF RPG): On each roll, a player rolls a number of d6s equal to one stat and keeps his choice of a number of dice equal to another (equal or smaller) stat.

  • For example, if you roll Melee (5) and keep Dexterity (3)  for swinging a sword, you’d roll five dice (getting perhaps 6 5 4 2 1) and keep three (the 6 5 4).
  • Bonuses don’t raise the Keep cap, they just give you extra dice to roll.
  • Penalties give you extra dice but require you to skim off the highest rolls before keeping (e.g., if you had a penalty of 2 dice on the previous roll example, you’d actually roll 7 dice and remove the two highest before keeping the next best three).

Linear Comparison (Arcane Legions): After keeping the best dice, arrange them in order from highest to lowest.

  • For a simple contest with no opposition, every die with a 3+ is a success.
  • When opposed by another actor (or a situation difficult enough to actively oppose the character), compare the player’s roll to the opposition’s roll: highest die to highest die, second highest to second highest, etc. Every die that the player has higher than the opponent is a success for the player, and vice versa. Every die that is the same is canceled out. If one side has more dice, any unopposed dice must roll 3+ to be successful (even though a 2 beats a 1 when opposed).
  • For example, the player rolls 6 5 4 2 1 and the opponent rolls 4 4 3 3 2 1. The player’s first three dice are higher than the opponent’s first 3, so that’s 3 points for the player. The opponent’s fourth and fifth die are higher than the player’s, so that’s 2 points for the opponent. The opponent’s sixth, unopposed die is not 3+, so does not count.

Essentially, this combined dice system should do a few things:

  • It creates a simplified, White Wolf-style dice pool system rather than requiring adding at the table. Successes will range from 0 to the maximum number of keep dice, rather than from 0 to the number of keep dice x6 sides. Because the dice work independently, it should have a decent spread of success likelihood, rather than strongly trending towards the average as adding d6s does (That is, in this system 6 5 4 3 2 is a different result than 4 4 4 4 4, even though they’re the same in an additive system).
  • It provides a high likelihood of success in unopposed tests (where the question is often how quickly or how much rather than if success is possible at all) while turning any kind of opposition into an interesting prospect (even someone with many more keep dice than an opponent still has a possibility of giving up a couple of successes if the opponent rolls well).
  • It creates an interesting partial success or Pyrrhic victory mechanic where a player can still succeed but take damage or have an opponent also get closer to success, where most RPG systems use binary decisions based on highest roll.