... now with 35% more arrogance!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Elegant Rolls?

So, Zak has a post about the BRP standard mechanic, or perhaps the standard mechanic as it stands now:

  1. Roll dice less than equal to your ability score or skill rating to succeed;
  2. ... But above any opposing rolls or difficulty number, if any;
  3. Critical or "mega" success is a die roll that matches your ability score exactly;
  4. A fumble is the highest roll possible (00 on d100.)

I say "as it stands now" because I remember it being a little different when I read and played a little of Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer. I distinctly remember that opposed rolls worked differently: you consulted a table that basically did some math for you, because your chance of success was 50% plus 5 times (your score - defender's score.) Also, I remember the critical/mega success being the lowest possible roll on the dice, not the highest; I think there was also a "special success" which was something like 10% of your score, or something like that. Not quite as elegant as what Zak describes.

I think a large part of the reason people didn't flock to Basic Roleplaying, aside from the lack of elegance mentioned above in the early versions of BRP, was the numeric range. d100-based skills in BRP appealed to engineering types, but seemed a little too precise for most people. Plus, before they adopted that Rule #2 about rolling as high as possible without going over, it was a roll-low system; people seem to like the idea of rolling high, and especially rolling high when your upper range is limitless. I think this is why a lot of people are attracted to the d20 dice+adds approach, despite the need to do arithmetic: you can have really big numbers, and that is psychologically appealing. That's probably why Rolemaster had as much pull as it did, when it should have just been a quickly-forgotten overly-complicated system that wasn't anywhere near as elegant as BRP: standard rolls could go as high as 150 to 200, as I recall.

Of course, there are ways of making D&D more like this elegant approach. As I've said before, the mechanics are the least important part of a roleplaying game, and it's not really that hard to substitute another conflict resolution mechanic into the D&D structure. I have some ideas I'll address later.


  1. Zaks post isn't describing the core BRP system.
    The resitance table (which is 50% +/- 5% of difference) is used for characterisitc tests.
    If two contestants are going head to head each rolls and the roller with the higher degree of sucess winning if both make the roll.
    Degress of success in BRP are:
    Sucess, roll <= to chance
    Special Success, roll <= to 20% of chance
    Critical Success, roll <= to 5% of chance.
    Zak is describing an optional system, for opposed skill roles, not the core system for skill checks or opposed rolls.

    I do agree people do like rolling high and doing well.

  2. I never got the 'rolling high is more fun' thing. I've seen people argue that but I wonder how much that really influenced any decision vs. being an afterthought to explain why they didn't want to move away from 'good ole d&d'... which is also why I don't think most folks give a crap about 'elegance'... otherwise d&d would have been a has-been long ago (or at least never changed to the convoluted mess it became).
    IMO it's got more to do with tribalism and sticking with your first love.

  3. With the exception of percentile thief skills, I actually think trad D&D is an amazingly elegant system. I mean, this is pretty much all of it:


    And with a bit of rationalization (Talysman's situation die, using hit dice as attack bonus, and so forth), there are few systems as tight.

    1. It's very simple and versatile. But I take Zak's use of the word "elegant" to refer to the way multiple results are packed into a single, easy-to-explain, intuitive mechanic that doesn't require math.

      And yeah, I love Talysman's situation die, too. =)