Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Red Blue dice mechanics

Red & Blue is a dice mechanic I've been using in my latest games and it's at the core of the Saints & Sinners game. It uses up to 9 d6 in a combination of red and blue dice. The red dice represent the strength of your roll and the blue the weakness. The system revolves around opposing die rolls, one roll for the task being performed, which represents its difficulty, and one roll for the skill with which the task is being performed. The level of success is measured by how much the skill roll overcomes the task roll, and obviously failure is quite the opposite.

Now, to measure skill and difficulty blue dice are added or removed. The easier the task or the more unskilled the character the more blue dice the roll has. This makes for a very nice treat for players, the more skilled your character is, the less dice you have to roll and add. How many dice mechanics do you know that give you that benefit?

How does the Red & Blue mechanics work? Well on one end of the spectrum we have the unskilled character and the trivial task. They roll 4d6 - 5d6. That is we add 4d6 and we subtract 5d6. This might be a daunting task at first, but being d6s they cancel out quite quickly and you end up adding and subtracting very few dice.

In the roll the 4d6 are always constant, they're the red dice that are always added. The blue dice are subtracted from the red and as the skill increases we have less of them. Skills go as follows (amount of blue dice is noted in parenthesis): unskilled (5d6), skilled (4d6), professional (3d6), expert (2d6), master (1d6) and legendary (0d6).

Tasks follow the same pattern: trivial (5d6), easy (4d6), challenging (3d6), demanding (2d6), hard (1d6), epic (0d6). The first thing to notice is that there is no fixed difficulty value. It's a range that will depend on the roll. Not all tasks are equal and I've found out that this adds an interesting twist to things. The hardest of the easy tasks are similar to the easiest of the challenging tasks.

Players commit to the human term. As a GM I'll inform them the task is challenging. If they take it the dice are rolled and the difficulty is set. The player's roll must equal it or better the GM's to have success.

Success and failure is further divided into outstanding success and outstanding failure. If the skill roll beats the task roll by 10 or more then it's an outstanding success. If on the contrary it fails by -10 or less it's outstanding failure. These outcomes are interpreted according to the task and situation and hand. I will note that in combat there's a "specialization" of these rolls in such a way that a single roll reveals the outcome as miss, suppression, hits cover, hits target (and to what degree). In hand to hand combat these outcomes indicate how attacks are chained together, who does damage and who takes the lead. As you can see with such a broad spectrum of outcomes it is easy to customize the roll to your needs as a GM.

What features does the Red & Blue mechanics have?

1 - They have a lot of points so it's easy to add modifiers and not go off the chart. That is to saturate the roll in such a way that success or failure is guaranteed.
2 - The rolls behave in a way consistent with what you'd expect from higher skill. As skill increases the average value increases and the variance decreases. The rolls become tighter around the average. This is consistent with skill. The better the skill the less variability we should be expecting.
3 - As a GM you can maintain a level of secrecy from the players. There's no fixed difficulty from which they can immediately conclude if they succeeded or failed. Did you defuse the bomb? Only one way to find out. This adds tension to the game and makes it feel like a real action thriller.
4 - As a GM you don't have to mess with abstract values and target values. It's simple. If you think the task is difficult well just roll those dice and be done with it. Its very easy to convey the idea of difficulty and challenge.
5 - Teamwork. This is beyond the scope of this post, but I'll say that the mechanics include a means to determine the overall skill roll for a group of characters participating in a task. This is a really nice feature to promote teamwork among players and build multidisciplinary groups.
6 - Initiative. Another topic that's a bit beyond this post, but I'll say there's a clear rule to convert skill to time and back. This allows the player to take chances and convert odds of success to speed.
7 - I've said it before and I'll say it again as a closing point. The more skilled your character is at something the less dice you have to roll.

Take a look at these dice at work by downloading the latest playtest release of Saints & Sinners
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