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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Elegant Rolls IV: The Fantasy Trip

One of the things I've been thinking about from the very beginning of the elegant rolls series is how, instead of using a d20 for a "roll under ability score" mechanic, you could use the mechanic from The Fantasy Trip, with a view modifications, to create something really elegant.

The Fantasy Trip -- Melee, Wizard, the advanced versions of both, and In the Labyrinth -- used 3d6 by default. Roll under an ability score (there were only three;) the highest possible roll is a fumble. The mechanic has two "lapses of elegance": there are little modifiers to add or subtract from your target score, and the critical success is the lowest possible roll, instead of an exact match with your ability score. Those are easily fixed. But more importantly, aside from a few modifiers, difficult or easy tasks add or drop dice; a parry or dodge increases the number of dice that the attacker rolls to 4 or 5 dice, for example. In the Labyrinth added Talents, which generally drop a die from the roll. As it so happens, one of the "classic" D&D lines, BECMI I believe, included ability checks that worked almost the same way: roll 3d6 under an ability score, or 4 dice for difficult tasks, 2 dice for easy tasks. It's this dice trick that's key to making a more elegant system.

Here's my modified version of the TFT mechanic:
  1. Roll 3d6 under ability, 4 dice for unfavorable situations, 2 dice for favorable situations. An Expert drops one die, a Master drops 2 dice. Add 2 dice if task is difficult even under perfect conditions or completely outside character's experience/training.
  2. Exact Match = critical success, All dice matching on a failed roll = fumble (all 6s = automatic fumble, regardless of skill.)
  3. Higher is better for opposed rolls; having a higher class level counts as a favorable situation.
If an ability is a class ability, that counts as "Expert" (name level counts as "Master".)

If the roll is less than 2 dice, don't bother to roll.

For combat, wearing any armor at all or using a shield adds 1 die (these are cumulative.) Low AC (2 to 5) also acts as a damage cap. Use standard damage rolls. For Ascending AC, use opposed rolls: attacker rolls under Dex, defender rolls under AC, highest wins.) For ranged attacks, treat short and long ranges as favorable/unfavorable situations.


  1. Hm. The problem with matching on a bell curve is that "average" skill/ability characters will match much more often than "high" skill/ability characters. On 3d6, a 10 is much more likely than, say, a 15. And a 15 is more likely on 4d6 (the "difficult" roll) than on 3d6 (the "typical" roll), and impossible on 2d6 (the "easy" roll). This one needs work, I think.

    1. Possibly. On the other hand, maybe the fact that high skill hits more often compensates for the fact that their hits aren't always critical hits. If it's changed, it has to be changed in a way so that the chance of a critical doesn't increase with skill.

    2. Enjoying the series of posts! Thanks. Just for an example, as I understand it and according to my quick calculations:

      Ability score 10, normal situation:

      Regular guy - roll 3d6
      "Regular" (non-critical) Success: 37.5%
      Critical Success: 12.5%
      Failure: 50%

      Expert - drop one die, roll 2d6
      "Regular" Success: 83.3%
      Critical Success: 8.3%
      Failure: 8.3%

      (Adds to 99.9 because of rounding)

      Master - drop two dice, i.e., don't roll
      "Regular" Success: 100%
      Critical Success: 0%
      Failure: 0%

      From player's POV, I don't think I'd care for the higher likelyhood of criticals when battling garden variety foes than when faced with more capable opponents.

      Also, in non-combat situations, whatever a 'critical' might mean, I'm not too sure it is suitable that a Master has no chance of one.

      I generally do not like criticals (my opinion).

    3. Talysman: The thing is that criticals will increase with skill and then decrease with skill. A skill/ability 8 character will have a given chance of a critical, while a skill/ability 10 character will have a higher chance, but a skill/ability 13 character will then drop back down to the same odds as the skill/ability 8 character. Now, why shouldn't crits (if you use them at all) increase with greater skill/ability? It seems to me that, as one gains in ability, one's likelihood of creating a masterpiece (or whatever) increases over that of a tyro. Similarly, to address the matter of fumbles below, it seems to me that attempting a more difficult feat increases the likelihood of catastrophically failing over an easier feat: juggling balls isn't likely to hurt you much, but juggling flaming chainsaws is both more difficult and more likely to result in severe consequences.

  2. Also, it is harder to fumble on difficult tasks, since more dice need to match. Perhaps--failing and two of the dice are '6's. A more likely result with 4 or 5 dice, than with 3.

    1. You may be thinking only of automatic fumbles (all 6s.) An Ability Score 10 character will fumble on triple 4, 5, or 6 when rolling 3d6, but on quadruple 3, 4, 5, or 6 on 4d6.

      I thought about requiring triple 6s, regardless of number of dice, but that would mean that the chance of a fumble would increase with task difficulty. I'm OK with it staying constant, but not with it increasing.

  3. To my mind the fiddling with criticals is unnecessary and departs from the elegance of TFT. TFT has critical success on 3 and 4 (triple and double damage, respectively) and auto-hit on 5. TFT also has critical misses on 17 and 18 (drop weapon and break weapon, respectively) and auto-miss on 16. If you are a sword master (a skill), your critical hit goes up to 3-4 for triple damage and 5-7 for double damage. That's the only way to improve your crit chances. I like it. Easy to remember.

    The only thing I might think about is pulling in the GURPS critical rolls. 3-4 is always critical success, 5 is critical if skill is 15+, and 6 is critical if skill is 16+. 18 is always critical failure, 17 is critical failure if skill is 15- and normal failure if skill is 16+. A roll that is 10 greater than your skill is also a critical failure, so a roll of 16 is critical failure if your skill is 6.

    Both of these methods are good for me, with GURPS accomplishing what what you are trying to do.

    1. No, GURPS doesn't accomplish what I'm trying to do at all. First, that's actually quite a complicated way of figuring out criticals; it also violates the "criticals aren't affected by skill" principal I talked about elsewhere. Second, the main point of moving criticals to rolls that match the target number exactly is so that you can make "roll higher than your opponent" the rule for opposed roles, so that players are always thinking "higher is better" (higher target number, higher roll in opposed rolls, criticals are high numbers) instead of jumping back and forth (roll as low as possible to get critical success, but roll as high as possible for opposed rolls.) GURPS opposed rolls are based on "degree of success", which isn't elegant at all.

      As for TFT criticals, there's the added problem of the way the criticals change with the number of dice rolled. Either you just let critical target numbers stay the same, regardless of dice, in which case they get rarer (which some people have objected to above,) or you use the table on p. 38 of In The Labyrinth:

      1 die: automatic success, always, on a 1-die saving roll.
      2 dice: 2 = automatic success; 12 = automatic failure.
      3 dice: 5 and below = success; 16 and up = failure.
      4 dice: 8 and below = success; 20 and up = failure.
      5 dice: 11 and below = success; 24 and up = failure.
      6 dice: 14 and below = success; 28 and up = failure.
      7 dice: 17 and below = success; 32 and up = failure.
      8 dice: 20 and below = success; 36 and up = failure.

      Immediate loss of elegance detected.