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So in my first two posts, I talked about different occasions for when to roll. But a common feature in RPGs that you add some numbers to the dice roll and these numbers depend on your character. Of course that isn’t strictly necessary. Most rolls on traditional random tables for example do not take any numbers to the die roll. And in a way a random table is a much more general representation on what we use dice in RPGs for. Success checks can be seen as random tables with some very generic results.

So let’s say that players should roll some dice and there should be a value added. How do we know what value that should be? There are are some options.

  • The value depends on the occasion or situation. These are your typical attributes and abilities. Depending on what the roll is about, it’s one on the list. I’ll call these statistics.
  • The acting player can more or less choose any value on their sheet. Often this is used with free-form traits, like in Risus, Wushu or The Pool. There should be some explanation on how the trait fits the situation at hand, but that might be rather far fetched.

In more complex games there might be several numbers combined that work on this scale. Games like World of Darkness combine attributes and abilities into combined statistics before each roll. In Fate you roll a skill depending on what you want to do, but you can pull in any aspects you like.

Like in Fate, traits often come with some mechanical limitations, because there are no hard fictional limits on their use. For example in Hearts of the Wulin your attributes, which are trait-like, are damaged when you fail a roll with them.

Another options to limit traits I have first seen in Fate Accelerated Edition: Approaches. Approaches are, according to their description, about how you do something. From a game design perspective that isn’t very useful, yet. Why shouldn’t a player always use their best approach?

The idea is that approaches form a certain set. Depedending on the approach you choose you give up on certain parameters. For example, if you act forcefully, you are not sneaky. FAE sadly doesn’t do a very good job explaining that, in my opinion.

These are approaches I made to play Nobilis with FAE.

  • Aspect – You bring to bear your miraculous body or mind. You lack range.
  • Domain – You rule your Estate to its full effect. You lack subtlety.
  • Persona – You call on subtle shifts or metaphorical extensions of your Estate. You lack immediacy.
  • Treasure – You have your toys do the job. You lack control.
  • Passions – You rely on your skills and connections to the mortal world. You lack power.