Rolling 1s and Botching

One of the systems that varies the most across iterations of the White Wolf system is what happens with dice that roll a 1. Off the top of my head, permutations include:

  • Every 1 counts as -1 success. If total successes are negative, the roll counts as a Botch.
  • Every 1 counts as -1 success. However, if any successes were rolled, a negative result is just a normal failure.
  • Rolling 1s does not subtract successes, but if a result has no successes, any 1s indicate a Botch.
  • Rolling 1s doesn’t mean anything.

Botches are expected to generally screw the character and be worse than failures in all ways.

If each 1 subtracts a success, the system normalizes much more towards a binary state, in that it is more likely to have outright failure at all difficulties. This does, however, tend to make calculating probabilities much harder.

The interesting thing about all the variations of botching and 1s (save for ignoring them all together) is that they have odd effects with larger dice pools. Each of them means that a higher dice pool makes a higher percentage of your failure a botch (because you fail less often, and have more dice that can be 1). At certain difficulties, they may even mean that higher skill makes you more likely to botch, overall, than lower skill, at certain difficulties (again, because you have more dice that might roll a 1). This is generally considered dissonant by all system-minded players, and nobody ever much seemed to like having their dice betray them, so botching became progressively less important over the editions. I don’t believe the new WoD games feature it.

Rolling 10s

In most versions of the original White Wolf systems, rolling a 10 might allow you to roll an additional die. While the feature itself was little changed until the new WoD, the trigger for it varied significantly across revisions. Effectively, 10s worked similarly to games like Deadlands or Earthdawn that featured exploding dice, but only if you had an applicable specialty (later, quality) that fit the situation at hand. A character with Melee (Swords) would not explode 10s when wielding an axe, for example.

Like 1s, the special rule for 10s played merry hell with calculating dice probabilities. Essentially, it meant that, under variable circumstances, each die a character rolled had a (100% – ((difficulty – 1)  x 10) ) chance of rolling at least 1 success, the same chance divided by 10 of rolling at least 2 successes, that chance divided by 10 of rolling at least three successes, and so on. Exploding dice quickly make probability calculation very complicated.

Exploding 10s generally 0nly happened on rolls where the player had at least 4 dice (because you needed a 4 attribute or ability to trigger the explosion), so the permutations of possible results were always quite complicated.

Unlike 1s, players really loved having something special happen on a 10, even if it really only amounted to a 10% chance for an extra die on a roll you already succeeded at, so the system has remained in place in some form or another throughout the system’s lifespan. It’s interesting to note that just rolling an extra die for a specialty was mechanically superior in many ways up to 10 dice, and, once you’re over 10 dice, exploding 10s becomes time consuming, so, of course, Exalted (which invented the standard of a double fistful of dice) was the first White Wolf system to switch specialties away from exploding 10s.

White Wolf’s use of 1s and 10s as special cases seems to have inspired a lot of later systems, or at least evolved in parallel. The new Warhammer Fantasy RPG uses a lot of dice where the special cases are hard-coded as symbols on the custom dice, but which could be easily represented by a die where each number was special based on a table. The new Smallville RPG triggers special complications on every die that rolls a 1. Ultimately, though, in White Wolf, these special cases were fairly time consuming to adjudicate, made the probabilities much harder to determine, and added very little overall. The use of 1s got dropped gradually all together, and the use of 10s has increasingly changed to happen only in very special cases. Even the designers at White Wolf seem to agree that the core of the system is more interesting with a cleaner mechanic.