House rule: Die rolls

So, as I mentioned before, I have recently started a saga. On the few occasions where we actually find we need to roll a die, this sometimes happens:

[Player rolls a 1.]
Player: 'I rolled a 1. Is that good or bad?'
Me: 'Erm, err...' [flicking through rulebook to find out whether this should be a stress die or a simple die]

Even if I knew the rules better and could make a call on this more quickly, players being players will inevitably sometimes roll a die before I have declared whether it is a simple or stress roll. If the roll then does come up with a 0 or a 1 then they don't immediately know whether they are likely to have done well or not, which is a pity. Die rolls should be clear and decisive and it is best if everyone can interpret whether the roll is good or bad (before all the maths is in) just by staring at the lump of plastic in front of them.

We decided gameplay would flow better if 1 was always low and 0 was always high so now on a stress roll we roll again and double the result after rolling a zero, while a 1 is potentially a botch. There is still the matter of potentially not being told of the possibility of a botch before the roll, but at least my players go into a roll knowing that 1 is bad and 0 is good.

I wonder whether anyone else has used this house rule, or whether anyone can see a problem with making this change. I can see that the average result is going to be pushed very slightly higher for stress rolls with this system as if you get a result where you have to roll for a botch but it turns out it isn't a botch, then you are left with a roll of 1 rather than a roll of 0. This seems such a slight matter I can't imagine it causing problems but you might well tell me I am wrong!


PS I guess I should just be thankful that Ars Magica doesn't have Quality die rolls any more.

PPS My group has used some of the Ars Magica mechanics in a homebrew system and for this we used 2d6 rather than 1d10 because it seemed more realistic and satisfactory for characters to be more likely to perform around the middle of the range of possible results, and only rarely perform especially well or especially badly. We might end up introducing this for ability and combat rolls for our ArM saga (I will probably keep to 1d10 for magic).

Tim Ferguson wrote about a die rolling house rule which I have since adopted. It begins with exactly what you describe: 1 is a potential botch, 0 is good. But instead of rolling again and doubling, a 0 is "roll again and add 10." This means that exploding dice can't go as insanely high as they can when doubling, but it also means that if your die explodes, you're guaranteed to get a result higher than you could otherwise get. No more rolling a 1, then rolling a 3 and getting "6 the hard way." We obviously still use the RAW die conventions when rolling on tables, like the Aging table.

This has become seamless for us now and I have no regrets. I didn't like it when my rules-lawyers rolled a 1 and then began lobbying me for a stress die, and so on. If I wanted negotiation on every die roll, I'd be playing Catalyst. 1 is always bad. 0 is always good.

On your other point: I agree that a flat d10 is problematic. The die roll matters more than skill. The difference between Attack +14 and Defense +12 is overwhelmed by the d10. I've considered changing the die roll for Abilities.

I assume, then, that a second 0 would not explode, but would simply add 0 (or 10, I can't tell) to your initial die roll.

Every 0 adds +10, yes. You can keep rolling 0, and keep adding 10, instead of doubling.

Since the rather well-known 2d6 variant has been mentioned, I'll ask if anyone has played with 3d4-2? Roll 3d4, subtract 2.

The range is exactly 1-10

It bell-curves toward the average even more-strongly than 2d6 (3d4 max value rolled 1/64; 2d6 rolled 1/36).

It allows for various Virtue/Flaw, situational modifiers, and other mechanics wherein you roll an extra d4, keeping the best (or worst) 3d4 -- albeit this would be a VERY variant rule, not a mere die-replacement !!!

One other notion that came to me just now -- literally, as I wrote this! -- was to use FUDGE/Fate dice: 4dF+5 gives a 1-9 range... and again, it's even more strongly curved (apex/nadir values are 1/81 each), for those who like their bells...

Thanks for all the comments. I will be using the Timothy Ferguson method from now on starting with our next session this evening!

I am intrigued that the 2d6 method is well known. There was I thinking I had made it up all on my own. How does that work for people? The way I have used it in the past is as follows:

  1. Ease factors increase by 1 (or maybe 2).
  2. On a roll of 2 the player rolls one die again and if that comes up 1 then they have botched. If you are using multiple botch dice then you have to roll more dice but the number of dice should increase less steeply than with the RAW given the increased likelihood of hitting a 1 on a d6 over a 0 (or 1) on a d10.
  3. On a roll of 12 the player rolls another d6 and adds to the total. If that comes up with a 6 then you can roll again and add to the current total of 18. There is no upper limit to the number of dice rolled.

I imagine that would work fine for abilities and combat in Ars Magica, but I wouldn't begin applying it to the magic system without the approving nod of people who know the system much better than me! I suspect it wouldn't work straight as the range you get with casting totals is much wider than you get with abilities+characteristic or combat totals and therefore getting frequent results at the extremes of a 1-10 range is not going to skew things towards excessive randomisation.

3d4 sounds interesting, and rather than Fudge dice 4d3 would be possible (giving the same results curve).


PS Sorry for loose usage of maths terminology - not my forte.

Well, obviously "the 2d6 method" isn't well enough known -- you had to invent it yourself! :laughing: FWIW, a quick search of this board shows a couple of dozen mentions of the notion, stretching back to 2008. I'm pretty sure I recall the idea being discussed in fanzine, and maybe on the Berzerklist, even before that...

I think I'd be inclined to roll it as "2d6 - 2" for a result from 0-10; then you have the center/average roll of 5, the maximum non-stress is 10. Possible botch on a "0" -- roll to confirm.

As to "how it works" -- well, it was never adopted as an official ruleset, so as far as I know every Troupe that has tried it has used slightly-different variations; e.g. do you need "boxcars" (12) to roll-up, or does each individual "6" roll-up independently? Is a roll-up a "doubling" or an "add to sum & keep rolling"? If you botch on a snakeyes (2), do you need to roll a pair of dice minimum, or single botch-dice? Given the 1/6 likelihood on d6'es, do you require 2-or-more "1"s before the Botch is confirmed? Etc Etc Etc! By and large, the reports I have seen have tended to run along the lines of "this works just fine as a straight-up replacement" ... But it's worth observing that these anecdotal self-reports of "just fine" tend to be coming from geeky RPG/math wonks who are wanting (and getting) a specific effect: of course it works fine for them! :wink:

About using 2d6 instead of 1d10 for magic: if it works reasonably for other stuff, it'll work reasonably for spellcasting; no need to worry about it!

RE 4d3 vs 4dF -- it's the same, literally; just how you mark (and then read) the pairs of d6 faces: 1/2/3 or -/ /+ . Or you could get those wonky "prism/ football" d3's I've seen... :smiley:

One of the key issues you seem to have raised is the rules-y / meta situation of "is this a stress roll?" There are actually only a few "mandatory" stress-rolls, such as when a player declares a spontaneous spell "with effort."

Mostly, just go with the rule of thumb: Is the situation stressful?

Is there time-pressure? Is the PC "showing off"? Is the PC working at the very edge of their ability?

Is there any other reason -- from an in-character/game-world/role-play perspective, NOT from a rulebook perspective -- for the character NOT to carefully and methodically do the best they can reasonably do?

By and large, the rules for "when to roll a stress die" just try to codify this basic concept.

The concept behind "Is this a stress die?" are simple. But, in application, it is very easy for a particular class of players to try and turn every 1 into a stress die. It's totally a table-thing. Some groups never have this problem. But perfectly good players, who are otherwise exemplary, can be prompted to try to negotiate something simple like this, and it comes up a lot.

I found that changing the conventions so that 1 is always bad and 0 is always good eliminated a point of decision-making for me. It was one less thing I had to negotiate, one less thing to slow down game play.

I am seriously considering moving to d6 or Fate dice or something for abilities, but since my personal rule is to only implement House Rules between long story arcs, I don't have to worry about it for a few months at best.

eyes you warily, slowly shifting hand towards grammar police badge

On-topic, I prefer the rules that keep the d10 as the only die used but make it so things critical by adding 10 rather than doubling. The d10 is elegant, simple, and the ease of criticals and botches reflects the story-based nature of the setting's own cosmology. Variance and chance are essential to making things properly dramatic, and Mythic Europe is exactly the sort of place where I expect that a PC might achieve the once-in-a-lifetime honor of felling a dragon in a single blow with an amazing crit. Call it God's hand, call it the work of the Faeries, but I and my troupe tend to like the distribution of botches and criticals.

And yes, it makes it nice and easy that 1 is always sad and 0 is always fantabulous. Unless it's your enemy's roll.

subtly drops his Warrant of I've Been Verbing Nouns and Nouning Verbs Since Before You Were Born

"Is there a problem here, Officer? I'm a friend of Sgt. Brickman..."

I've got to agree, though, that the simplicity of "1d10. Done." really trumps things for me; sure, my Inner SImulationist likes the "average things happen most of the time" effect of bell-curves, but the gleeful "I wanna see things go BOOM" in me thinks the more-frequent stress/botch of the linear die is actually better.

Well I give two dices to each player : 1 yellow dice for stress rolls and 1 white dice for simple rolls.

When they cast hermetic magic they roll with the yellow one. Otherwise, they don't know which die to use : and then they ask "which die must I roll ?", giving me time to think about it.

Even spellcasting rolls are only stress rolls when the situation calls for it; magi who have time to calmly reflect on a formulaic spell & the situation at-hand & then cast at their leisure, cast on a simple die.

Using different colored dice is a great solution, and if I did not run my games over video chat (usually Google Hangouts), I would totally implement that, and solve the problem.

Just seen this thread...

There's a 2D6 article in Sub Rosa 19 - Published just as soon as we can.

Definetly an improvement.

In retrospect, i SHOULD have, because i have another game that uses almost identical die roll mechanics.

Being a Battletech player, it´s just obvious i had to try that for ArsM. It works, but the reduced randomness is actually sometimes a bit problematic as i´ve seen it.
Also tried 2d10 with some mods, and 2d10/2, of those variants, i think i liked the last one best, more likely to be "average", but not quite as much so as with 2d6.
All those variants however creates a bit of a mess for how to handle botch and exploding die.
There´s also no obvious or simple way to fix that.

Botchrisk goes from 1/100 to 1/216?
Exploding die greatly nerfed.
That´s not automatically bad, but it is a major change from standard rules.