Monday, 5 August 2019

Project Tarragon Oubliette: Dice Mechanic/Task Resolution

I've been talking lots on the OSR Discord about Tarragon Oubliette and in line with my goal of blogging more actual game design I thought I'd record how I'm doing the core of the system; the dice rolling.

Core 'Philosophies'.

Okay so first off I'm replacing the 1d20 roll with 3d6.

This is because I like how the bell curve pulls towards the middle, which means that character ability and skill becomes more important.

Secondly a high roll is good.

This means that bonuses and penalties act as they look; -4 to a roll is bad, and +4 good. I also don't have to set a cap on how high things can go. If I want to adapt this for say, super-powered heroics (and I do), the system still holds itself together and functions as long as everyone and thing is essentially on the same page.

This 'good' aspect currently breaks down when it comes to things like the Death & Dismemberment and Delirium & Dementia tables. But I can probably fix that in the edit.

Thirdly, fewer rolls are good, but player rolls are better.

Rolling dice is fun, and is what makes TTRPGs different from sitting around and just telling each other stories. But too many rolls can get in the way of, and slow down, everything else in the game.
My solution is to get the players to do the majority of the rolling.
So for the most part I'll present them with static difficulties/TNs (see below) which they'll have to overcome; most NPCs and minor monsters will be nameless "mooks" with static attack and defence scores. I've still to decide if they can be taken out by 5+ damage or not.

Task resolution.

Tasks are either uncontested or contested. Each must equal or exceed a Target Number (TN) or Difficulty to succeed. Rolling under the TN indicates the task was failed.
Currently, when all things are considered the most general, standard, default uncontested TN is 12. That is to say in many, if not most, cases an uncontested roll of 12+ will succeed.
The amount by which a roll succeeds or fails, that is to say is above or below the TN, is called the degree of success (or failure). This is useful in measuring how well the character did and if further rolls are required. It is applied as, what I like to call, a modifier to effect.
This is an important thing to note. Either for damage, or long tasks. The degree of success or failure of an attack is applied as a modifier to the damage done by that attack. While for extended or long tasks it is applied as a modifier to the TN (see below).

Uncontested Tasks.

An uncontested task is basically a character versus some passive or environmental thing. Such as attempting to navigate a forest, or scale a cliff. If there is nothing actively trying to thwart the task in question then it’s probably uncontested.

Uncontested Task:

3d6 + [Attribute Bonus] + [Skill Ranks] +/- [other modifiers]  ≥ TN

Contested Tasks.

A contested task happens when do or more characters are attempting to outdo one another. They happen most commonly in combat and the most frequent contested task will between two characters is when one attempts to strike the other.
In essence the other character's dice roll becomes the TN of the task.

Contested Task:

3d6 + [Attribute Bonus] + [Skill Ranks] +/- [other modifiers]  ≥ 3d6 + [Attribute Bonus] + [Skill Ranks] +/- [other modifiers]

Extended Tasks.

When it comes to tasks many of them could take more than a single roll to complete. Tasks such as repairing a device, climbing a wall, searching a room, negotiating a treaty, or something similar the TN is reduced by the degree of success (or increased by the degree of failure). So unless the degree of success of a task equals or exceeds the TN then there will be need for at least one additional roll. If, through repeated failure, the TN grows beyond the character's ability to succeed then they can't succeed at that task. It's just beyond them. At least for the time being.

For Example a character is attempting to climb a cliff. It’s typically a typical uncontested [Dexterity] + [Freerunning] roll. Let’s take a hypothetical character. He’s a Ninja called “Bob”. His dexterity is 15 and he has Freerunning 6 and this being an Action game he’s rolling 3d!6. The TN to climb this particular cliff is 16. Rolling three 4’s, a 12, and adding +2 from dexterity and +6 from his Freerunning skill Bob’s player has a total of 20. He succeeds in his task by 4 points. This reduces the TN to 12, implying that he’s covered about a quarter of the distance. His roll the next round is is 6, 3, and 6. Those two 6’s explode and he rerolls them, getting a 4 and a 2. That’s 21, +2+6, or a total of 29. He easily scales the remaining distance. 
Had "Bob" rolled a 6 for his first roll then his total would have been 14, 2 under the 16 TN. This would mean that the TN would go up to 18. The second roll of 29 would have had an effect modifier of 11, meaning that the TN would have been reduced to 7. 
This introduces another idea:

Automatic Successes: Taking 3 & Taking 10.

Simply put if a character is sufficiently capable that, all modifiers considered, a minimal roll of 3 would succeed the TN, and/or the effect doesn't matter, and/or there is no time pressure. Then they don't have to roll. They just add 3 to the modifiers and calculate the effect as normal. This simulates the minimal effort of the skilled at simple practiced tasks. Then taking 3 each action/'roll' still takes a "round" as normal for when it comes to initiative. Or the normal amount of time for longer rolls.
In the above example where Ninja Bob had TN 7 remaining on their climb, their total bonuses from attributes and skill equals +8. Taking 3 would give a total of 11 and an effect of 4. Taking 3 again they could reach the top at the end of the next "round".

Taking 10. 

Related to this is the idea of Taking 10. 
Mostly this is for NPCs, so I don't have to roll for them. I just add 10 to their bonuses and the result is the TN for when the PCs interact with them.
When PCs take 10 there's a little more to it. Primarily, it always takes the maximum amount of time. So in combat they'd always go last. Secondly, in uncontested rolls it must be able to succeed. [There should probably be more here, but right now I'm coming up blank.]
So going back to Ninja Bob and his wall. If he had taken 10's it he'd have made 4 rolls of 18 and it'd have taken 24 seconds to climb.

Dealing With Failure.

A few weeks back I was reading a review of and about how Mouse Guard deals with failure. (If I can find it then I'll post a link here.) What that does is apply a narrative event to any failures. So if you fail to pick a lock a guard wanders by, or something.
That's all well and good but not what I'm interested in for Project Tarragon Oubliette. However it does raise issues about how to deal with failure within the game. 

A game should never hang on the success or failure of a single dice roll. It is always better for the players to win through their own skill rather than fail due to the skill of their character. However the players will invariably set themselves a goal that requires skill rolls to overcome. This should never be their main goal; if sent to free a princess from a bandit lair then nobody should need to roll to free her from her manacles. She should know where the keys are to be found if nothing else. However if they decide to raid the bandit’s treasure vault on their way then they should certainly need to roll to pick the locked door.
What happens if they fail to pick that lock? In most games in the style of the Old School that would be that. Too bad, so sad. Try again (and again and again until the dice roll in your favour). This is something I wish to avoid. So instead, in order:

0. Let Them Take 10.

If taking 10 would be a success then why are they rolling? Just let them get it done.

1. Burn Resources: Stamina & Resolve.

Both these pools of points exist to do stuff with. Normally they soak damage or boost saving throws but the option exists to use either, or both, to boost other rolls too. Something that can be done retroactively. Stamina for physical activities and resolve for mental. Some tasks, such as lockpicking, could arguably use both. If they have the points and are willing to spend them then let them. +1 per point spent.

2. Burn Resources: Tools.

Tools exist to help  us get things done, from hammers to, well, lockpicks and a whole variety in between. Some of these tools give bonuses to their related tasks. If these bonuses are insufficient then increase them by +1 temporarily, for one roll, but permanently reduce the bonus by -1 thereafter. Once the bonus goes below +0 then the tool is broken/destroyed. Thus you can increase the bonus to twice its normal rate, +1 for one roll. So if you have lockpicks +2, you can increase them to +5, but then they're gone.

3. Extend the Task.

Turn the task into an extended one. This is akin to rolling again as mentioned above which is why it comes here. If the players can't succeed in one roll then obviously they need to take their time. Turn the task into an extended one, as above and proceed as normal.

4. Let The Players Choose To Fail.

Sometimes a task just can't be completed. Some things are just beyond some people. And that's fine. Present the options above to the players and if they don't want to use them then fine. That's good.


Greebling is a scratch-built model maker term for the little decorative bits on the model that gives it texture and depth. In this case I'm using it as a term for all the little extra subsystems that make games interesting.

Explod!ing D!ice!

You may have notice in the first Ninja Bob example I used an unfamiliar dice notation 3d!6. The d! is the notation for exploding dice.
Exploding dice are open ended rolls where extra dice are can be rolled and added or subtracted from the total.
In this case any roll of 6 on d!6 is rolled again, or an extra d6 rolled, and the result added to the existing total.
meanwhile any roll of 1 on d!6 is rolled again and the result subtracted from the total. 
This can result in chain-reactions of exploding dice. As long as 1's and/or 6's are continued to be rolled then the additional rolls are made. However once they start exploding in one direction or another they can't reverse. A 6 followed by a 1 is just +1 and no more dice are rolled. A 1 followed by a 6 is just -6. Again no further dice are rolled. This can result in very high rolls and very low rolls. But not too low, as rolling 5 1's in a row and then a 2 is still only -6.
Exploding dice are intended for Action and (super) Heroic games.

Advantage & Disadvantage.

An idea nicked from the recent edition of the world's most popular TTRPG, but done differently. Instead of rolling twice and picking the best/worst result an extra die is added to the roll what you so with that die pulls the lovely bell curve out of shape. It also doesn't work well with exploding dice.
Some of you are looking at me like "What?" so let me break it down.


Rolling 3d6 with Advantage means you actually roll 4d6 and discard the lowest die (4d6-L, in common notation). This pushes the average roll out to around 13.


Rolling 3d6 with Disadvantage means actually rolling 4d6 and discarding the highest die (4d6-H). This pushes the average down to around 8.

What this means is... well I'm not entirely sure. I suppose it means I can implement the Advantage and Disadvantage stuff which will make some people happy.

That's all for now. 

Next time I'll write about Stamina and Vitality. TTFN!

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