D20: The Three-Raise Dice Pool

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The System

When calling for an important challenge that would normally be a single roll, instead have the player make three rolls. The first is at normal difficulty, the second is at a -5 penalty, and the third is at a -10 penalty. Count each successful roll for a results range of 0-3*, and use those for the result rather than a single roll’s margin of success.

* or 0-6, if you’re having critical results count double

The Design Reasoning

I sort of arbitrarily generated this dice mechanic for my Beyond the Wall game and have been using it ever since because it worked out so well. The initial inspiration for it was simply that the party’s extremely charismatic fighter was haggling with a succession of highly-skilled merchants. BtW is a roll-under system, so the PC was trying to roll under 21 (i.e., would be automatic except 20s always fail) and the merchants were trying to make targets in the high teens. Essentially, it was very likely that they’d both just succeed, and if I applied a penalty to a single roll the swing of the dice would still likely drown out the difference in skill.

I tend to find this to be a huge problem with contested challenges in D20 in general: when there are two rolls and you’re just going for a simple highest result, there’s a lot of space in the 400 results for the lower-skilled individual to win. There’s nothing quite like your master thief regularly failing stealth rolls against unskilled opposition because you rolled low and they rolled high.

So the system is primarily for contested checks, but also serves as a decent system for knowledge checks and other rolls where you’d normally expect the results to be presented in a tiered table (e.g., “If she rolls 10, she learns… If she rolls 15, she learns…”). Similar to contests, those types of checks can result in annoyance when highly skilled characters roll low. The math on the tiers are weird anyway: your skill total impacts the chance of learning the minimum result, but each higher result is just a 25% chance because of the flat results on a d20.

Ultimately, this system is doing two things:

  • It’s adding in some normalization and curving so the swinginess of a d20 doesn’t have an outsized effect on an important challenge. Three rolls will have a much higher chance of providing a more average spread of results, so a single good or bad roll at the wrong moment doesn’t overwhelm the character’s skill.
  • It’s putting in some raises to pull apart the difference between highly skilled and exceptional. It’s particularly meaningful in a roll-under system like BtW, where scores above 19 only matter if you’re suffering a penalty. But it can also matter to highly-skilled characters in a roll-over system, where a really high bonus isn’t that different from a decent bonus at low DCs.

D&D 5e: Rested Dice


This system evolved out of discussions with Brandes about Colin’s Planescape life support rules. It’s also heavily informed by the resting bonuses from Pillars of Eternity. Finally, it also owes some obvious inspiration to the classic PVP strip.

This system has four primary goals:

  • Make players be more hesitant to just take a long rest even when there’s no time pressure or when traveling overland (i.e., make situations where there’s only an encounter or two between long rests less common)
  • Give players something useful to spend excess cash on
  • Provide a supplement to the Inspiration system
  • Encourage PCs to take more downtime (instead of rocketing up in level over a few days of frenzied adventuring)

The prices are based on the idea of characters moving to the next larger die size every four levels or so (e.g., d8 at 9th-12th level). Dice larger than what’s intended for your current level should be something you’d have to save for, while dice at your level should cost around the average proceeds from a single encounter (meaning it ought to be fairly affordable to use an average of one Rested Die per short rest).

Earning Rested Dice

When player characters take a long rest in a safe location, if that location features additional amenities to provide relaxation and/or stress relief, the characters may spend money to accumulate Rested Dice. These dice represent mental and physical health and readiness beyond the on-the-road standard.

A “safe location” usually means an inn, permanent residence, or other location where there’s no need to set a watch and the character can sleep deeply without much worry of being harmed in her sleep. Amenities may include a wide range of entertainment opportunities relevant to that particular character’s interests (e.g., one PC may get the bonus from a night of carousing and then sleeping at a friendly flophouse, while another has a quiet evening being pampered at the best inn available).

Each character may accumulate one Rested Die per long rest, and the die earned is based on the amount of money spent (this includes fixed costs of lodgings and food):

  • d4 (20 gp)
  • d6 (60 gp)
  • d8 (250 gp)
  • d10 (1000 gp)
  • d12 (4000 gp)

Characters may only accumulate a maximum number of Rested Dice equal to level/hit dice at any one time. Larger dice can replace smaller dice once this maximum is reached (e.g., a 5th level character spends 20 gp each of the first three nights in town, then 60 gp each of the next three nights, ending with 2d4 and 3d6).

Taking downtime actions do not generally conflict with accumulating Rested Dice (i.e., you should be able to spend for a Rested Die every day of your downtime, if desired, unless the described method of relaxation would obviously conflict with the described downtime action).

Spending Rested Dice

A character can spend rested dice for four purposes:

  • Additional Hit Dice: One or more Rested Dice can be spent during a short rest to recover HP, exactly like hit dice (i.e., roll the Rested Die desired, add Con mod, and recover that many HP).
  • Spell Slot Recovery: One or more Rested Dice can be spent during a short rest to recover expended spell slots. This works similarly to the Arcane Recovery ability of Wizards. The character recovers a total number of expended spell slots equal to the result of the rolled die. Each die must be spent separately (e.g., rolling 2d4 to generate 2 and 3 does not allow the character to recover a 4th or 5th level slot). Unlike Arcane Recovery, the slots can be of any level the character has expended.
  • Rested Inspiration: Dice may be spent like Bardic Inspiration dice to add to the total of a roll after rolling but before the GM says whether the roll succeeds or fails. At the GM’s option, the rolls that these dice can be spent on may vary based on the source of the dice (e.g., places where you can spend your dice on attack rolls and death saves may be more valuable vacation spots than ones that just let you use them on ability checks). At the GM’s option, you can only roll one of these dice on any given roll, and they’re used instead of Bardic Inspiration (i.e., you cannot get an extremely high result by stacking Rested and Bardic Inspiration).
  • Long Rests in the Wilderness: At the GM’s option, a character must expend a Rested Die (of any size) to benefit from a long rest in any unsafe location (i.e., anywhere that’s not a safe location as described above). If not expended, sleeping for the night counts as a short rest.

Alternate/Supplementary System: Fortune Dice

In addition to or instead of granting Rested Dice via expending money to relax, you could also assign them as minor rewards for various actions for which you don’t want to grant XP or treasure. This can be especially useful as a way to reward optional encounters and quests when you’re using some form of milestone XP. If using them entirely as Fortune Dice, you may wish to increase the cap on the total number available, particularly at low level (since players are going to be more likely to hoard them when they are no longer in complete control of the next time they may get more, and you may want to give out more than one at a time).

Group Skill Checks as Dice Pool


I tried something at my weekend Beyond the Wall game that may need to have a few more iterations before I’m totally happy with it, but seemed to work well enough to mention here.

I’ve never been a fan of using margin of success in D20. For one thing, it makes skills work differently than the other reasons you roll a d20 in the system. When you attack or save, you care about whether you met the target number or not, and often what number the die displays (for auto-miss or crit), but you don’t typically get any benefit from rolling significantly better than the target number. So having to track how much your result exceeded the DC for increased success immediately makes the skill system feel bolted on, like it came from another game.

And, in general, those other games that use margin of success for skill results have some kind of weighting to the roll, such as a dice pool or adding together multiple dice. In those systems, there is usually one level of success that’s much more likely than the others based on how the dice are weighted (e.g., in Fate, you’re very likely to get a margin of success equal to how much your skill exceeds the target, and much less likely to get four higher or four lower than that). But when you use a d20, there’s a 20-point range of margins of success that are equally likely. Particularly for non-iterated checks (like most Knowledge checks), the results can wind up feeling very swingy (e.g., “Sorry, you missed out on getting really useful clues because you rolled low and only just made the DC; you would have gotten much more information if you’d rolled higher.”).

So I was very interested when I noticed (via Shieldhaven using it in his game) that 5e had added* the concept of the group skill check. In the base rules, it’s something you can do when the whole group is trying to accomplish the same thing that requires a skill (e.g., stealth, climbing, etc.). If at least half the party succeeds, everyone succeeds (the higher-skilled individuals are assumed to cover for the lower-skilled).

As written, this is a useful addition that solves a lot of standard issues (such as always having to leave the armor-wearers behind when trying to sneak around). But the variation I tried goes even further:

  • Virtually anything that the whole group could work together on can be a group skill check (e.g., perception, knowledge, persuasion, etc.).
  • Instead of rolling, a character can Help another character, and share the results of that success or failure (in BtW, helping is a specific action that can only be done if you have the skill or spend a Fortune Point, but I don’t think it would break anything if you allowed your D20 variant of choice’s version of helping). You can’t combine helping in this way (i.e., you can’t pile help on the person with the highest skill check to push her to no chance of failure; at least half the party needs to actually roll).
  • Instead of requiring a simple pass/fail based on party size, before the roll the GM has in mind the general spectrum of what it means if no one is successful up to everyone being successful. Very difficult results may require the whole party, easy ones may only require one success, and more successes might grant a better result over the minimum pass.

This essentially winds up splitting the difference between a dice pool roll and a 4e skill challenge. And it allows the GM to give out better results for more successful rolls without any actual roll caring about anything other than pass/fail (and maybe crits, if you use skill crits). Importantly, it doesn’t incentivize low-skill players to avoid participating the way 4e skill challenges did (because each player only gets one roll, so you can’t sit out to let someone else go multiple times, and because helping is as good as succeeding yourself). My players seemed to dig it, so I’ll probably keep experimenting with it. I welcome thoughts on possible improvements in the comments.

* This is the first place I saw it; apologies if it originated somewhere else.

D20: Advantage as Caution


The mechanic of rolling 2d20 instead of one is very helpful in both the newest edition of D&D (where it’s used for Advantage and Disadvantage), and for other games that use an uncurved die for a single roll. By rolling 2d20 (or even more), you’re essentially adding a curve to a roll whose results would otherwise be linear. Particularly if you read the dice independently, you’ve made the results much more similar to a dice pool or iterated series of rolls. This serves to reduce swinginess, by further reducing the chance of fluke successes or failures (I suspect most players are more likely to try rolls on their high skills when given the option than their low ones, so are going to have a roll swing into a failure on a high skill more often than it swings into a success on a low skill).

Ultimately, there are a decent number of traits on a character sheet that get rolled far less often than others (e.g., you make attack rolls and perception checks all the time, but other skills maybe only a couple of times a session unless you’ve really built the character to make use of it as part of a combat mechanic). For frequently-rolled traits, averages are likely to kick in, but for something you roll once a session, you could wind up having a disappointing tally of failures over time on something that ought to regularly succeed. Particularly when something important hinges on your once-per-session roll of a high skill, it might be preferable to have some way to accentuate the curve.

This house rule adds the following options to a D20 game (particularly low-powered, high-whiff stuff like Beyond the Wall):

A player may roll a single d20 normally if not acting particularly cautiously.

A player may instead choose to act cautiously, rolling 2d20. The player can only do this in non-surprise situations (e.g., not on saves unless the source is obvious and the target is not flat-footed, or on rolls to notice something if the character isn’t actively searching).

When acting cautiously:

  • If both dice are successes, it’s a full success.
  • If both dice are failures, it’s a full failure.
  • If one die succeeds and the other fails, it’s a partial success/success with consequences (glancing blow for half damage in combat, resist the worst but not everything on a save, etc.).
  • Both dice must be a critical result for the action to count as a crit (success or failure).

Essentially, acting cautiously means that you’re lowering your chance of a crit (from 1 in 20 to 1 in 400), reducing the chance that you’ll fail outright, but adding in a decent chance of partial success. For rolls you’d normally fail 75% of the time, you drop total failure down to a 56% chance (but most of your successes are only partial). For rolls where you’d only have a 50/50 shot, you change full failure and full success to both be 25%, with partial filling up the middle 50% of results. For rolls with only a 25% chance of failure (which is still pretty risky on a roll that a lot hangs on), you lower full failure to only around 6% (but move 40% of your successes to partial ones).

Two Fisted Fate

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Today’s idea is a quick, somewhat silly one that I had when traveling without my 4dF and thinking about running a game. Fate is rules- and trait-light enough that it would be a good game to run places where dice and even character sheets are hard to manage: camping, road trip, etc. With a background in LARPing, my group’s natural fallback for resolution in a diceless situation is Paper-Rock-Scissors. I realized that if you’re playing it fairly randomly, it actually generates three results, just like dF. The problem is that you’d have to iterate it four times to generate 4dF. If you do, the distribution of results should be pretty identical to 4dF (barring unrandom choices of signs), but that might bog the game down more than getting all the results at once.

Thus, use two fists at once (do not do this if you are the driver in the road trip!). Compare each hand independently to each of your opponent’s hands, and add up to the total results like so:

PP 0 2 -2 2 4 0 -2 0 -4
PR -2 0 -1 0 2 1 -1 1 0
PS 2 1 0 1 0 -1 0 -1 -2
RP -2 0 -1 0 2 1 -1 1 0
RR -4 -2 0 -2 0 2 0 2 4
RS 0 -1 1 -1 -2 0 1 0 2
SP 2 1 0 1 0 -1 0 -1 -2
SR 0 -1 1 -1 -2 0 1 0 2
SS 4 0 2 0 -4 -2 2 -2 0

So, for example, if I throw Rock and Paper, and the opponent throws Rock and Scissors, my Rock ties his and beats his Scissors, for a net +1, and my Paper beats his Rock but loses to his Scissors for a net 0, for a total +1 result.

The numbers are much more contingent than normal dice rolls, so the probabilities are a little skewed and notably lack +3/-3 results:

Result Standard RPS
-4 1.2% 3.7%
-3 4.9% 0.0%
-2 12.3% 14.8%
-1 19.8% 14.8%
0 23.5% 33.3%
1 19.8% 14.8%
2 12.3% 14.8%
3 4.9% 0.0%
4 1.2% 3.7%

But they’re close enough, I think, for the situations where you’re likely to use it. Also, the ranges of -4 to -2, -1 to 1, and 2-4 all add up to the same totals (so you’ll get a result of -1, 0, or 1 just as often, it will just be distributed differently).

Group Random D&D Chargen

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A bit of a simple idea this week as I recover from GenCon and gear up for PAX.

As a GM, I tend to favor point buy over randomly rolled D&D/Pathfinder character creation primarily because it leads to imbalance among the PCs. Inevitably, someone’s going to roll a character with stats much lower than someone else’s (and even lower than he could have gotten in point buy) and resent either his character or the player with the best rolls. Since I don’t run games with much lethality, getting stuck with a subpar character has enduring ramifications over the course of a whole campaign.

This system is designed to allow players the thrill of random rolls, but to distribute those rolls among the party so everyone comes out at a similar point buy total. However, rather than rolling them and distributing them totally equitably, there’s an element of strategy involved that may result in players putting higher or lower scores in different abilities than they would have if they got all six rolls up front…

The process is:

  1. Have each of your players roll two sets of 4d6 (drop lowest) and put the results in the middle of the table (either just leave the dice there, or write down the result if you don’t have enough sets of d6s). If you have four players, there should be eight ability scores on the table.
  2. Randomly decide an order among the players for the first turn.
  3. The players each pick one number from the table in their sorted order (which will leave a number of sets on the table equal to the number of players once they’ve all taken one).
  4. Each player goes ahead and assigns the chosen number to an ability score (this is where the strategy comes in; if you grabbed a 16, do you go ahead and assign it to your prime requisite, or do you put it somewhere else and hope that a 17 or 18 comes around for you on a later turn?).
  5. Once everyone has picked and assigned a score, have each player roll another 4d6 (drop lowest) and place it in the middle of the table (returning the number of sets back to where it started).
  6. Have each player total up what their current set of ability scores would be worth in point buy (e.g., someone that currently has an 18 and a 13 has 20 points).
  7. Change the player sort order from lowest point buy total to highest (this is another point of strategy; a player might deliberately take a low number rather than the highest one available hoping to get first pick on a later round with better rolls).
    1. Break ties based on who has the smallest big number (e.g., an 18 + 13 goes after a 16 + 16, even though they both have 20 points).
    2. If that’s still tied, break based on who has the smallest low number (e.g., 13 + 15 + 16 goes after 10 + 16 + 16).
    3. If they’re still tied, just go in the original sort order for the first round.
  8. Repeat steps 3-7 until everyone has five scores and there is only one set per player left on the table.
  9. For the last round, simply repeat steps 3 and 4 (i.e., don’t roll another set; on the last round, the players have to fill in their last score from the leavings of the whole process).
  10. Continue with the normal process of making a character.

For example:

Turn Pool Amy Brad Cora Dan
1 8, 9, 12, 12,
12, 13, 13, 16
CHA 16
(Point Buy 10)
CON 13
(Point Buy 3)
(Point Buy -1)
INT 13
(Point Buy 3)
2 8, 9, 10, 12,
12, 12, 15, 17
DEX 15
CHA 16
(Point Buy 17)
DEX 10
CON 13
(Point Buy 3)
DEX 17
(Point Buy 12)
INT 13
(Point Buy 2)
3 6, 8, 11, 12,
12, 12, 14, 14
DEX 15
CON 12
CHA 16
(Point Buy 19)
DEX 10
CON 13
CHA 14
(Point Buy 8)
DEX 17
CHA 12
(Point Buy 14)
STR 14
INT 13
(Point Buy 7)
4 6, 7, 8, 10,
11, 12, 12, 15
DEX 15
CON 12
INT 11
CHA 16
(Point Buy 20)
STR 12
DEX 10
CON 13
CHA 14
(Point Buy 10)
DEX 17
INT 12
CHA 12
(Point Buy 16)
STR 14
CON 15
INT 13
(Point Buy 14)
5 6, 7, 8, 9,
10, 12, 14, 15
DEX 15
CON 12
INT 11
WIS 10
CHA 16
(Point Buy 20)
STR 12
DEX 10
CON 13
WIS 15
CHA 14
(Point Buy 17)
STR 12
DEX 17
INT 12
CHA 12
(Point Buy 18)
STR 14
DEX 14
CON 15
INT 13
(Point Buy 19)
6 6, 7, 8, 9 STR 6
DEX 15
CON 12
INT 11
WIS 10
CHA 16
(Point Buy 14)
STR 12
DEX 10
CON 13
WIS 15
CHA 14
(Point Buy 16)
STR 12
DEX 17
INT 12
CHA 12
(Point Buy 16)
STR 14
DEX 14
CON 15
INT 13
(Point Buy 15)

Amy wants to play a Sorcerer, Brad wants a Cleric, Cora wants a Rogue, and Dan wants a Fighter. For the example, their initial sorting winds up in alphabetical order.

In turn:

  1. Amy goes ahead and assumes 16 is good enough to put in her Charisma. Brad grabs a 13 and puts it in Constitution, hoping for higher scores later. Cora doesn’t like what’s left, so goes ahead and puts a 9 into Wisdom, assuming that will give her first choice once some better options show up. Dan goes ahead and grabs the last 13 and puts it into Intelligence, knowing that at least he’s covered for the Combat Expertise feats.
  2. Cora’s choice last round immediately pays off, and she puts the new 17 into Dexterity. Dan and Brad are tied, so Brad goes first according to the initial order and takes Cora’s strategy; he grabs the 10 and dumps it into Dex, hoping for better rolls later where he gets first pick. Not to be outdone, Dan grabs the 9; now he gets to go first next turn. Amy shrugs at the guys leaving her a nice 15 and puts it into Dex.
  3. Halfway through, suddenly it’s starting to look like it might be dangerous to count on some more 17s and 18s showing up, and nobody wants to be the one stuck with that 6. Dan goes ahead and grudgingly puts a 14 into Strength, starting to plan for being a generalist Fighter rather than a big pile of Strength. Brad goes ahead and grabs the 14 for his Cha, but is still holding out hope for something better to put into Wisdom. Cora grabs the 12 to put into Cha. Amy puts another 12 into Con.
  4. This is starting to be a pretty bad set of rolls; the whole group starts to wonder whether they should have insisted on point buy as a 7 comes up to add to the 6 and the 8. Dan goes ahead and grabs the 15 for his Con. Brad grabs the 12 for his Str. Cora takes the other 12 for her Int. Finally, Amy’s left with an 11 and also throws it into Int.
  5. The last round of rolls comes up and the best results are a 14 and 15; at least the lowest was only a 9 this time. Brad very grudgingly puts the 15 into his Wisdom. Dan puts the 14 into Dex and starts thinking seriously about a two weapon fighting Rogue multiclass or Whirlwind build. Cora drops the 12 into Strength. Amy agonizes about Strength vs. Wisdom, and finally decides to be weak rather than blind, putting the 10 into Wis.
  6. With only the sub-10 stats left, the table completely agrees that next time they need to totally roll better, but at least they’re in this mess together. Brad gets the 9 for his Int. Cora gets the 8 for her Con. Dan gets the 7 for his Wis. And Amy is, indeed, stuck with the 6 for her Str.

Overall, the whole group wound up within 2 point buy points of one another. Given that the same set of rolls reserved to individual players could have had one player with a character worth well over 20 while another was worth zero or less, at least everyone’s in the sub-standard boat together. And the uncertain placement of scores resulted in some interesting choices that the players might not have made if they’d known in advance exactly what their numbers were.

Fatenoir: Dresden Files with Technoir Dice

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If you haven’t read Technoir, some of this might make more sense after this week’s review.

While I’m a big fan of Fate in general, sometimes I want a dice system that doesn’t owe so much to FUDGE. Particularly for the Dresden Files, I’d potentially like something without as much swing on the low granularity traits (i.e., having a 1 higher skill is meant to indicate a huge difference in competence). Further, perhaps something that makes spending Fate good but not as overwhelming as it is normally, something that’s not so much work on the GM to remember to compel, and something that makes more use out of situational tags. Fortunately, the Technoir dice system suggests the following mods that should affect all of these nitpicks. This is completely untested, and might result in some wonkiness at low and high skills.

For this system, you will need a lot of d6s. These are preferably in three distinguishable colors (and will be passing around the table a lot).

At the beginning of each story/scenario, each player has Fate dice equal to his or her character’s adjusted Refresh (even if the total was higher at the end of the last scenario). The GM does not get any Fate dice to start with: the total Refresh of all the PCs is the total available Fate dice. All Fate dice begin “charged.”

Players can “discharge” Fate dice to use them in rolls.

  • Do this at any point in the roll: they can be rolled one at a time after seeing the total.
  • They can be used for active or reactive/defensive rolls.
  • See the system below for how they are interpreted.
  • Discharged dice return in two ways:
    • All available dice recharge at the beginning of a session.
    • One Fate die recharges for every Consequence die a player voluntarily adds to a roll as a self-compel (e.g., “Because I’m a Drunk, I think this roll would be harder for me, I’m adding 1 Consequence die”). As usual with self-compels, the GM can deny the addition/refresh (typically because the roll isn’t particularly important).

Players can “spend” Fate dice (giving them to the GM) to make Consequences, Maneuvers, or other generated tags sticky.

  • Fate dice can only be spent in this way if the player used them in the roll that generated the Consequence (e.g., you can’t succeed with no Fate dice used and then spend a Fate die when that resulted in a Consequence).
  • The stickiness increases by the following factors (these replace the normal Consequence recovery rules):
    • A normal Maneuvered aspect  lasts for the number of shifts on the roll to apply it, or until the target makes a roll to remove it. A sticky Maneuver lasts until the end of the scene.
    • A normal Minor Consequence lasts until the end of the scene. A sticky Minor Consequence lasts until the end of the session.
    • A normal Moderate Consequence lasts until the end of the session. A sticky Moderate Consequence lasts until the end of the current scenario.
    • A normal Severe Consequence lasts until the end of the current scenario. A sticky Severe Consequence is permanent (like a normal Extreme Consequence).
    • A normal Extreme Consequence is permanent as per the basic rules. A sticky Extreme Consequence allows the target to be immediately taken out in the manner defined by the attacker (and remains permanent if this is non-fatal).
  • Any result of “Taken Out” for a named character (PC or NPC) must generally be backed by a spent Fate die to make it stick.
    • If an NPC is taken out but the active PC does not elect to spend Fate, the result is narrated in a way that removes the target from the scene but allows a return shortly thereafter (with any Consequences persisting but Stress emptied).
    • At the GM’s option (but it should be used sparingly), a NPC that has not taken all possible Consequences may choose to turn a player’s decision to make Taken Out sticky into sticky Consequences that remove the incoming Stress and a Concession (i.e., the NPC leaves the scene but with sticky Consequences instead of a fatal wound).
  • Players gain back Fate dice at the beginning of a scenario (up to Refresh), when the GM spends dice to make a Consequence sticky on a player (the die goes to the player with the Consequence), or when the GM suggests a non-roll-related Compel (giving the player the die if the Compel is accepted).

When performing an action:

  1. The active character’s player rolls 1 skill die.
  2. The player must roll 1 to 4 Consequence dice (take the worst Consequence currently suffered: 1 die for Minor, 2 for Moderate, 3 for Severe, and 4 for Extreme) to the roll.
  3. The player may discharge and roll up to 1 Fate die for every applicable Aspect (advantages possessed by the character, disadvantages and maneuvers on the target, and applicable aspects on the scene).
  4. The result (explained below) is compared to the target’s defensive skill (or the difficulty, if there is no target).
  5. The target does not roll a skill die, but must roll all Consequence dice.
  6. The target may discharge and roll Fate dice for defense-applicable aspects (personal, attacker, or scene).
  7. The final result of the active character’s roll is compared to the target’s final roll (or static difficulty) to generate Shifts. As usual with Fate, a tie is a 0-Shift success for the active character.

To interpret a roll:

  1. Find the base skill total.
  2. Read the skill die first. Treat it as a modifying skill (i.e., if it is higher than the base skill, add 1, and if it is lower, subtract 1). This is the new skill total.
  3. Arrange the Consequence dice from highest to lowest.
  4. For each Consequence die that is higher than the skill total, reduce the total by 1. Recalculate the skill total before each subsequent die (i.e., Consequence dice can penalize a roll even if they weren’t higher than the original total).
  5. Arrange the Fate dice from lowest to highest (and rearrange them as additional Fate dice are added).
  6. For each Fate die that is higher than the Consequence-adjusted skill total, increase the total by +1.

Thus, without additional flat bonuses and penalties, the highest possible roll is 6, and the lowest possible roll is -4. If you’d like higher possible totals, allow Fate dice that roll 6 to count as infinitely high (i.e., every 6 adds +1, even if the total is already 6).

An example roll: The base skill is Fair (+2), the skill die is 5 (new total +3), the Consequence dice are 4, 3 (reducing by -2 to +1), and the Fate dice are 2, 4, 6 (increasing to +4). If the 4 on the consequence dice had been lower, neither die would have been higher than the total, and the final result would have been a +5.

GMs use this system much like the players:

  • The GM does not have any Fate dice at the start of an adventure. He or she only gets them when players make enemy Consequences sticky.
  • Fate dice the GM acquires begin discharged.
  • The GM’s Fate dice recharge at the beginning of each scene.
  • The GM spends Fate dice used in an antagonist’s roll to make the player’s Consequences sticky.
  • The GM may spend Fate out of conflict to Compel a PC’s Aspect.

2d20 for Fading Suns

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Based on a suggestion from another Fading Suns GM, my preferred method of using the Victory Point system was with two d20s instead of one. The gist of the system (apart from accenting and wyrd mechanics explained at the link) was:

  • Roll 2d20, keep the highest die that’s still a success.
  • The roll is only a critical success if one die roll the target number and the other is also successful.
  • The roll is only a critical fumble if one die rolls a 20 and the other is also a failure.

Doing this changes the success rate pretty drastically:

Target 1d20 Success 2d20 Success
1 5.0% 9.8%
2 10.0% 19.0%
3 15.0% 27.8%
4 20.0% 36.0%
5 25.0% 43.8%
6 30.0% 51.0%
7 35.0% 57.8%
8 40.0% 64.0%
9 45.0% 69.8%
10 50.0% 75.0%
11 55.0% 79.8%
12 60.0% 84.0%
13 65.0% 87.8%
14 70.0% 91.0%
15 75.0% 93.8%
16 80.0% 96.0%
17 85.0% 97.8%
18 90.0% 99.0%

Just looking at the chance of success, it’s interesting how much it suddenly curves to look much more like a White Wolf-style dice pool mechanic than a percentile mechanic. Importantly, in my mind, this means that it’s not as drastically necessary for players to try to absolutely max out their skills to regularly succeed: in practice, a trait total of 10 is supposed to be pretty good for a starting character, and now that character has better than a 50/50 shot on rolls. It’s immersion-breaking in the extreme for the system to pretend that you have a good trait and then fail on it half the times it’s important, at least in my opinion.

Additionally, this method puts a curve on fumbles and criticals. In 1d20, you have a 5% chance of a crit and a 5% chance of a fumble, no matter what. In 2d20, the chance of crit goes from 0.3% at TN 1 to 9.3% at TN 19, while the chance of fumble does exactly the opposite. Effectively, the higher your TN, the bigger your chance to crit and the smaller your chance to fumble, which seems more logical.

The other interesting thing is what it does to expected success totals:

Target 1d20 Avg. VP 2d20 Avg. VP
1 0.0 0.0
2 0.0 0.0
3 0.3 0.4
4 0.5 0.5
5 0.6 0.6
6 0.8 0.9
7 1.0 1.1
8 1.1 1.2
9 1.3 1.5
10 1.5 1.7
11 1.6 1.9
12 1.8 2.1
13 2.0 2.4
14 2.1 2.6
15 2.3 2.8
16 2.5 3.1
17 2.6 3.3
18 2.8 3.7

The chart above is the average number of victory points for a successful roll (not counting criticals). The numbers don’t look terribly different, save that the 2d20 is slightly higher. In practice, this is because, with 1d20, success VPs are completely flat: if you succeed on 1-10, you a successful roll has a 10% chance for each result. In other words, any time you succeed, you will roll less than half your best result half the time. Conversely, with 2d20, you have at least a 75% chance of rolling over the halfway mark (because if both dice are under the target number, you choose the larger result).

Old school game design looks at the 1d20 and declares it adequate: the higher your score, the higher the chance of success and the result of success. But looking at the raw numbers doesn’t cover the feel at the table, where excessive swinginess results in player disappointment. Over multiple rolls, a flat die result evens out, giving an advantage to the better character, but how often do characters make multiple rolls on the same skill outside of combat? In practice, a player may get once chance to shine with a given non-combat skill per session, and, with a flat die, the result of the roll can feel almost completely disconnected from the score. Using 2d20 to curve the result creates a situation where, even on a single roll, a higher score feels meaningful.

D&D/Pathfinder: How much is +1 worth?

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A friend of mine is looking to play a dual wield fighter (I did try to talk him out of it), and was curious about the tradeoff between attack and damage: i.e., which feats should he take, when should he power attack, etc. So I started thinking about the math.

Basic Premise: In d20, unless you can only miss on a 1, each +1 is an additional 5% of your base effectiveness, per roll.

This is pretty easy to calculate:

  • Each roll has a chance of success based on the number you need to roll on the die to succeed. If you succeed on an 11 or better, that’s half the possible rolls on the die, so you have a 50% chance of success. If you only succeed on a 16 or better, you have a 25% chance of success. And so on.
  • Because there are 20 possible results, each represents 5% (100%/20).
  • Each +1 to your roll makes you 5% more likely to succeed (e.g., you go from needing a 11+ to a 10+ to hit, going from 50% chance to 55% chance to succeed).
  • Thus, over time, you can add 5% of base effectiveness (e.g., 50% hits at your normal value vs. 55% hits at your normal value). If you do an average of 10 damage, a +1 is going to give you half a point of damage per attack.

Attack bonus is, thus, more effective over time the more damage you do, base.


Basic Premise: In d20, each +1 damage is an additional X damage, per roll, where X is equal to 1 times your chance of success.

This is a similar calculation:

  • As above, over time you can base your expected damage on the chance to hit: if you hit 50% of the time, you will do 50% of your base damage over time.
  • At 50%, each point of damage is, therefore, actually worth half a point of damage per attack.
  • Meanwhile, if you have a higher or lower chance to hit, the worth of the point of damage scales accordingly.

Damage bonus is, therefore, more effective over time the greater your chance to hit.


Obviously, these two premises stack very nicely: if you have a higher attack, you’ll deliver your base damage more often, and if you have a higher damage, it will benefit more from having a high attack.

But what if you have to choose? Greater Weapon Focus or Weapon Specialization? Activate Power Attack or stick with regular hit bonus?

In these situations, attack bonus becomes more valuable the higher your damage already is, and damage bonus becomes more valuable the higher your chance to hit already is. Obvious based on the premises above, right? But where is the breakpoint?

Base Damage 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
Value of +1 Attack 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1
Necessary Roll to Hit 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
Value of +1 Damage 0.95 0.85 0.75 0.65 0.55 0.45 0.35 0.25 0.15 0.05

Effectively, at around 10-11 points of damage and having to roll 10-11 to hit, a point of damage and a point of attack are roughly equivalent. Lower base damage is equivalent to a higher chance to hit when trading off.

What about 2 damage? Power Attack in Pathfinder gives you +2 damage for each -1 attack (with one-handed weapons).

Roll Needed to Hit
Damage 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
2 19 17 15 13 11 9 7 5 3 1
4 9.5 8.5 7.5 6.5 5.5 4.5 3.5 2.5 1.5 0.5
6 6.3 5.7 5 4.3 3.7 3 2.3 1.7 1 0.3
8 4.8 4.3 3.8 3.3 2.8 2.3 1.8 1.3 0.8 0.3
10 3.8 3.4 3 2.6 2.2 1.8 1.4 1 0.6 0.2
12 3.2 2.8 2.5 2.2 1.8 1.5 1.2 0.8 0.5 0.2
14 2.7 2.4 2.1 1.9 1.6 1.3 1 0.7 0.4 0.1
16 2.4 2.1 1.9 1.6 1.4 1.1 0.9 0.6 0.4 0.1
18 2.1 1.9 1.7 1.4 1.2 1 0.8 0.6 0.3 0.1
20 1.9 1.7 1.5 1.3 1.1 0.9 0.7 0.5 0.3 0.1

The chart above shows the ratio of the value of 2 Points of Damage to 1 Point of Attack. So if you’re doing 2 points of damage and hit on a 2+, 2 points of damage is 19 times as good as +1 attack. Meanwhile, if you already do 20 damage and need a 20 to hit, 2 points of damage is less than 10% as good as +1 attack. The breakpoints are in red: past that number, you shouldn’t Power Attack (for example). If your chance to hit is decent, though, you need huge amounts of base damage to make Power Attacking a bad idea.

The more you know!

Dungeon Crawl, Part 3


Game Systems

Core System

Most systems in Dungeon Crawl work on one of three principles:

  • 3d6 + Bonus, try to equal or exceed a target number for success
  • 3×6, try to roll equal to or lower than an ability score:
    • For a high difficulty roll, choose the highest die
    • For a moderate difficulty roll, choose the middle die
    • For a low difficulty roll, choose the lowest die
  • 3×6, try to roll high:
    • For a very effective weapon or tactic, choose the highest die
    • For a normal weapon or tactic, choose the middle die
    • For a less effective weapon or tactic, choose the lowest die

As mentioned earlier, some rolls, such as for attack and damage, will use the same result on three dice for more than one effect.


Feats cover most situations in the game that are not combat. Based on the difficulty of the Feat, roll 3×6, keep the appropriate die (higher is more difficult), and compare the result to the appropriate ability score. If the result is equal to or lower than the score, the Feat succeeds. What success and failure mean is up to the GM.

Character with a 6 ability will normally never fail at even High difficulty Feats. This is intentional, as those characters are the pinnacle of quality at that ability, and shouldn’t have much difficulty with tasks surrounding it. However, when Wounded (see Dying and Recovery), the character’s abilities are lowered for the purposes of Feats, so failure has a chance to creep in. Even when success is assured, simply succeeding doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences of success or that it happens instantly (e.g., a rogue with Reflex 6 will be able to pick any lock, even a High difficulty one, but doing so may take several rounds and might provoke notice from the lock’s owner).

Feats generally cover tests of adeptness or resilience. What they don’t cover are perception, logic, cleverness, knowledge, and craft: these things should either be awarded automatically by the GM if appropriate to the character’s background and player’s descriptions, or should be left up to the player to roleplay as desired. There is no die roll in Dungeon Crawl to separate lies from truth, solve a riddle, or remember a monster’s weakness; however, a clever player may figure out how spells or Feats can make all of these things easier.


Each ability has multiple features. Most of these features are mentioned elsewhere, but they are summarized her for reference:

  • Fortitude:
    • Characters roll against Fortitude for Feats of strength and resistance.
    • Spellcasters target the character’s Fortitude to inflict poison, diseases, and wracking effects.
    • A character’s base HP is derived from Fortitude.
  • Reflex:
    • Characters roll against Reflex for Feats of agility and acrobatics.
    • Spellcasters target the character’s Reflex to inflict most aimed and area effects.
    • A character’s movement rate (overland and when using the Move action in combat) is based on Reflex.
  • Will:
    • Characters roll against Will for Feats of perseverance and concentration.
    • Spellcasters target the character’s Will to inflict mind control and confusion effects.
    • A spellcaster’s base SP is derived from Will.
  • Vigor:
    • Characters roll Vigor for Feats of physical endurance.
    • All characters regain HP and, if a caster, SP at a rate per hour equal to Vigor.
    • A character attempting to recover from Wounds may make one test against Vigor each day, success removing a Wound (The test is normally Hard, but becomes Moderate with full rest, and Easy with full rest and a healer’s attention).
  • Luck:
    • Characters roll Luck as a Feat to avoid completely randomly inflicted effects.
    • Whenever an NPC, monster, or effect chooses a random target (but will definitely choose one target), each potential target rolls 1d6 + Luck; the lowest roll indicates the target.
    • A character can permanently reduce Luck by one level (to a minimum of 1) to avoid certain doom.
  • Charm:
    • Characters roll Charm for Feats of persuasion (easy, moderate, or hard based on how convincing argument was)
    • Characters roll Charm as a Feat to see if hirelings will take a dangerous action (easy, moderate, hard based on the danger of the request).
    • Characters cannot attract more personal henchmen than Charm.


Combat takes place in rounds of roughly three seconds. Actions alternate between player characters and their enemies, each acting as a group.


Each round, one player and the GM roll 3d6 for initiative. On a tie, compare the highest die, then the middle die, then the low die (reroll if it’s a complete tie). Certain circumstances might give a bonus or penalty to the result.

The side that won initiative gets to act first. When the player characters act, they can briefly discuss their tactics if this seems reasonable, then actions are resolved clockwise from the GM. When the GM’s characters act, they act in the order required by the GM.

Since initiative is rolled each round, a group that goes last might go first the next round, essentially getting two turns in a row. Care should be taken to make sure turns aren’t skipped.


On any character’s turn, he or she can choose from several actions:

  • Attack: Use a melee weapon to attack a character in reach or a ranged weapon to attack a character in range. See the Attack section.
  • Move: Move a number of spaces (roughly 5 feet) equal to Speed. Movement may include a Feat (such as testing against Reflex to avoid obstacles or leap a pit), though the GM may require spaces of movement to be “spent” to perform the feat if it seems like it would slow the character down.
  • Spell: Cast a prepared spell, spending the requisite SP.
  • Dodge: Stand still but add you Speed to your AC on the opponents’ next turn.
  • Charge: Move up to your speed and then make a melee attack against a target in reach. Your AC is reduced by 2 during the opponents’ next turn.
  • Brace: Prepare to receive a Charge. Your AC is increased by 2 against any enemies that Charge on their next turn. If you have a weapon, such as a spear, that you can set, you deal +2 damage if you attack and hit on your next turn.
  • Guard: When wielding a melee weapon, designate a specific individual within reach who you are guarding. On the attackers’ next turn, if anyone attempts to attack your ward (who you can also reach), you may immediately make an attack against that target at a +2 bonus. If you hit, the target loses its intended action. You may make one such attack per Guard attempt (i.e., if multiple individuals try to attack your ward, you may only attack one of them).
  • Cover: When wielding a ranged weapon with which you have at least one level of Weapon Proficiency, you may cover one space within your range per level of proficiency (all spaces must be contiguous). If any enemy moves into a covered space, you may immediately make a ranged attack against at a +2 bonus. If the attack is successful, the enemy loses the rest of its movement. You may make one such attack per Cover attempt (i.e., if multiple individuals try to cross your area, you may only attack one of them).
  • Reload: If your weapon, such as a crossbow, requires a complicated reload, you muse use an action to do so.
  • Feat: You may attempt any Feat which could logically take place within a combat round of three seconds. The GM may rule that a particular Feat requires multiple rounds of using this action.
  • First Aid: You may give First Aid to a wounded character, preventing him or her from bleeding to death. See the Death rules.
  • Retrieve Item: If an item is buried in your pack or otherwise inaccessible, it may require one or more actions to retrieve it.
  • Use Item: You may use an item that is ready to hand, using the rules for that item.
  • Prepare: You may begin or continue an action that takes multiple rounds, such as a spell with a longer-than-normal casting time. These actions will typically require a certain number of turns in a row spent Preparing before they can be used.

Attack and Defense

To make an attack roll, the player of the attacking character rolls 3d6 and adds any applicable bonuses, such as from weapon proficiency. If at least two of the dice have a result of 6, and the result hits the target’s AC, the attack is a critical hit (see below).

The target’s Armor Class (AC) is equal to 10 plus bonuses from armor, shield, and other sources. The result of the attack is compared to the target’s AC. If it equals or exceeds this number, it is a hit. The attacker will consult the 3d6 roll as a 3×6 roll to generate damage.


If an attack successfully hits, the attacker deals damage. Based on the size of the weapon (small, normal, or large), the attacker chooses the low, middle, or high die from the 3d6 roll used to make the attack. This result, plus any bonuses, is the damage dealt to the target: his or her HP is reduced by that amount. If the target is reduced to 0 or fewer HP, see the Dying rules, below.

For example, a character with a +2 Blades proficiency attacks a target when wielding a sword. He rolls 4, 2, and 5 for a total of 13 (the 3d6 result plus the proficiency). The target is wearing padded armor (+1 AC), for a total AC of 11, so the attack hits. Since the sword is a normal sized weapon, the character picks the middle die from the attack roll (the 4) and deals 4 damage. If the target has 4 or less HP, he is now dying.

Critical Hits

Any attack roll that results in at least two 6s and hits is considered a critical hit, and has additional effects based on the weapon type:

  • Blunt: The target is stunned and loses his or her next turn.
  • Slashing: The target is bleeding and takes one point of damage at the end of its next turn and for a number of turns equal to the damage dealt. The target can stop this bleeding by spending a First Aid action on himself or herself.
  • Piercing: The attack may have hit a vital organ. After applying damage, roll 1d6. If the result would be enough damage to take the target to 0 HP or less, apply it (otherwise, nothing vital was hit and no additional damage is dealt).
  • Large: In addition to the effect of whether the weapon is blunt, slashing, or piercing, a critical hit with a large weapon knocks the target down (and, at the GM’s discretion, into any nearby hazards). He or she must use an action to stand up.


Spellcasters typically have to overcome a target’s defenses to affect him or her with an attack spell. Each spell will designate a primary ability score as its target. Each spell will also designate its attack potency as Strong (High), Moderate (Middle), or Weak (Low).

To attack with a spell, roll 3×6, keep the appropriate die based on is potency, and add the caster’s level. Compare the result to the target’s appropriate ability score added to the target’s level. If the result equals or exceeds the difficulty, the spell delivers its effect. Some spells have a reduced effect on a failure.

Area of effect spells make a single roll and compare the results to every target in the area. Some such spells have a Strong effect within a certain area, a Moderate effect in an area beyond that, and a Weak effect at the fringes. In these cases, determine which region of the effect each target is in, and select the correct result from the 3×6 roll.

For example, a 5th level wizard casts Burning Hands at a group of monsters. This spell has a Strong effect that will hit two monsters directly in front of the caster, a Moderate effect against another monster further away, and a Weak effect against two monsters at the fringe of the explosion. The Wizard rolls 5, 1, and 4. At the center, the spell has a total of 10, in the middle band it has a total of 9, and at the fringe it has a total of 6. These numbers are compared to the Reflex + Level of the monsters in the areas of effect to see if the spell hits.


A character reduced to 0 or fewer HP is dying.

Each time the character is reduced to dying, or takes additional damage while dying:

  • Roll a Hard test against the absolute current negative value of HP:
    • If the roll succeeds (rolls less than the negative value of HP), the character dies.
    • Essentially, a character at 0 HP is not in danger of dying, and a character at -6 or more HP automatically dies.
  • If the character is still alive after the test, he or she is Unconscious and also takes a Wound.
  • If the character is Unconscious at less than 0 HP, repeat the test at the end of the round each round.
    • In this case, the character dies if the test is failed, but does not take an additional Wound if it succeeds.
    • Another character can prevent this test by taking a First Aid action to try to stabilize the dying character.
    • Each First Aid action heals the dying character by 1 HP, to a maximum of 0 HP (essentially, healing the character to the point he or she is no longer in danger of bleeding to death).


  • A character at 0 HP heals normally according to Vigor.
    • The character remains unconscious until healed to at least 1 HP.
    • The character retains all Wounds suffered even after being healed.
  • Each Wound currently suffered by the character imposes a cumulative -1 penalty to all Feats based on primary abilities.
    • For example, a character with two Wounds would treat Fortitude, Reflex, and Will all as two points lower than normal when attempting to succeed at Feats.
    • If a character has an effective 0 in an ability, he or she automatically fails at feats using that ability.
  • Once per day, while sleeping, the character may roll a Feat of Vigor to remove a single Wound:
    • While adventuring, the difficulty of the Feat is High.
    • If the character has full bed rest and/or very limited exertion (i.e., is safe and not adventuring or doing otherwise strenuous activity), the difficulty of the Feat is Moderate.
    • If the character is tended by a healer while getting full rest (as above), the difficulty of the Feat is Low.
  • Some magic and other effects may speed recovery of both HP and Wounds.

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