Bad luck with dice?

Sly Flourish, one of my favorite gaming bloggers, tweeted the following today:

The many replies seem to fit one of these three ideas:

  1. adjusting difficulty: fudge things on the fly, behind the GM screen
  2. breaking the rules: give their character bonus options and actions
  3. doing nothing at all: tell the players to get over it and be tougher

None of those answers felt satisfying to me.

  1. Adjusting difficulty on the fly feels like the wrong solution. It comes across as condescending or patronizing. From my experience, I hated it when the GM ignored a failure or backtracked the narrative on my behalf. I can’t really explain why I felt this way.
  2. Breaking the rules means more management and record-keeping of house rules. If a ruling was made for one player, then it should be for anyone else in the same situation, right? This could lead to inconsistencies and even perceived unfairness.
  3. Doing nothing at all and macho posturing about gamers getting “tougher” or more “macho” is completely ludicrous to me so I won’t even address it.

So how can we fix it?

Well, here are some ideas:

Bonus experience points on a failed dice roll

This is from Apocalypse World-derived games, such as Dungeon World. It softens the blow a lot! I’ve seen it first hand with many different groups. You could even be consistent about it: give them some base amount multiplied by their level. Example: 10 x level. So 10xp at level 1, 100 at level 10, etc…

Let them expend “effort”

This is from the Cypher System. Basically, after a failed dice roll, let the character spend some kind of in-game resource to nudge that failure into a success. This could be:

  • A point of inspiration
  • One or more hit dice
  • Or a number of hit points equal to the difference (if the character failed their roll by 3, let them spend 3 hit points to succeed)

Each player gets their own “escalation” die

This is inspired by 13th Age. The idea is that each player gets a special d6 called an escalation die. When they fail a dice roll, they set their escalation die to “2” and places it on their character sheet. Their next dice roll gets a bonus of 2 to it.

If they fail their next dice roll too, then their escalation die goes up to 3, granting a bonus of +3 to their next dice roll.

For each successive failure, the die goes up, granting the bonus on its top face to the next roll. Up to a maximum of +6.

Once they actually succeed at a task, then their escalation die “resets” to 1 and gets removed from their character sheet.

Why not grant a bonus of +1? Because a 5% increase of chance is so minimal that I wouldn’t even bother. +2 is 10% and it “feels” more substantial.

imaginary player character gives the player the middle finger because their action failed on the result of a 1, again.
source: Penny Arcade

So what do you think? Have you ever tried something like this? Do any of these options appeal to you?

Please check out Sly Flourish’s website

My cultural awakening

I have decided that I’m no longer trying to produce anything that borrows artistic, lingual and religious traits from other cultures (than my own). As a North American White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, I am pretty much the very worst kind of creature to do that.

This isn’t out of fear, but respect.

I was undertaking a project that was a fantasy world inspired by Pacific aboriginal cultures (Koru). I thought I was being original and creating greater cultural diversity in a hobby rife with Northern European settings. I was doing my research and everything (or I thought that I was, but it was barely competent and from books and blogs, not people). It’s gross how much I was patting myself on the back.

Such works should only be made either in collaboration with people who are from those ethnic cultures, or wholly by them alone. If there aren’t any game designers from those groups, them maybe these works shouldn’t be made in the first place.

So where to go from here? I’ll be wholly avoiding creating works with analogues of real world indigenous peoples. It sounds racist, but I’m sticking to my own heritage: making an effort to find wonder and pride in my ancestors.

There’s still room for explorations of German, Swedish and Scottish culture and history. The mainstream has created stereotyped caricatures of them, but there’s a lot left to unearth. I have no ethical qualms about this: these are my histories, my people. I will make an effort to learn and find pride in my great-grandparents. There’s a lot to learn that isn’t in pop culture.

I sincerely hope that some day a game will be made inspired by Pacific Aboriginals, but more importantly, made by people from those cultures. If I ever see one in progress, I’ll give them my support from the sidelines.

I have to admit that I am a bit selfishly sad: my passion for Koru was genuine and huge. But it was the wrong project for a person of my identity.



Vampire: Flying Discipline

Something that has always bugged me about any World of Darkness Vampire edition (new, old, revised or anniversary). There’s never been any discipline that enables a power featured in vampire media all over: that of moving in a way that defies gravity.

A few scenes from famous media that grabbed me:

  • Interview with the Vampire: that fellow walking up a wall and even standing upside down under a bridge
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula: titular character climbing down a wall like a lizard or spider
  • Salem’s Lot: the kid vampire floating up to a window sinisterly waving
  • Underworld (1): vampire lady leaps up to ceiling and hangs there like a cat/spider
  • Lost Boys: hovering, floating vampire bad dudes

I also recall that in a few of the Anne Rice novels, Lestat actually flew through the air like Superman.

Now I’ve heard people argue that with a clever application of Discipline X and Thaumaturgy Y, or simply with great Potence and Protean, you can emulate flight or wall crawling. But I don’t accept that.

Here’s how I’d do it: Levitatus

That’s a working title. I need to find something pretentious and esoteric while using some words from Latin, French or Romanian. You get the idea.

This Discipline could work with any edition of White Wolf’s Vampire RPG.

The power comes on gradually:  it’s more about defying gravity in a supernatural sense while tapping into a few mythical tropes. It also isn’t just a flat progression of “you can fly a bit, then a bit faster/higher, then a bit MORE fast/high etc…” and instead, structured like some of the existing powers. I mean, look at Protean, Animalism, Dominate. They have different abilities at each dot that scale up in power but they’re not all the exact same effect.

Wallcrawl (one dot)

You can crawl on vertical surfaces; your hands and feet, even if clothed, somehow “stick”. Otherwise gravity still affects you and you can only move as quickly as you can walk. In addition, you can hang upside down from ceilings.

Glide (two dots)

You can move around without touching the ground. Rising one to three feet, you can propel yourself slowly in any direction (at the speed of walking). Extremely useful for theatrics and stealth.

Leap (two dots)

You can jump vertically upwards from a still position. The distance travelled is up to 10 feet (for every additional dot in Levitatus, the distance increases by another 10 feet). Alternatively, your regular horizontal leap gets a boost in distance of 5 feet per dot. This has nothing to do with physical athletic strength: the power comes from another source.

Hover (four dots)

Spend a point of blood to rise up into the air or float down at a speed of a slow walk. It is not possible to move around in a chosen direction but momentum is a factor. For example, if you take a running leap off a sky scraper and then invoke Hover, you’ll descend slowly across a distance (rather than straight down). The effect lasts until you land on a surface (horizontal or vertical).

Flight (five dots)

Spending a point of blood grants  you the ability to move freely about in the air.  You can fly as slowly as you wish or as quickly as a run.

What do you think?

Featured image from Phantom City Creative.

This is based on a thread that I started on the wonderful new gaming discussion forum called RPGPub. Here is a link to this thread.