Monday, June 26, 2017

Character progression in the Black Swan System

Last post I introduced the Black Swan System and it's resolution mechanics based on a skill system that maps to a particular 3d8 die roll. Instead of adding more dice, the skill mechanism allows you to reroll and add low values, the higher your skill the higher the values you can reroll. For example the "trained" skill level allows you to reroll any ones rolled. The next level, "skilled", allows you to reroll ones and twos. In turn "experienced" allows you to reroll ones, twos and threes, and so forth until you get to "legendary" which allows you to reroll values between one and six (inclusive).

It was also pointed out that there is no upper limit to any of the rolls. A "trained" roll can equal a "legendary" roll since, improbable as it may be, the player rolling for "trained" can get a streak of 20 ones and just keep adding to the roll and in that manner inch its way to beating an opposing "legendary" opponent that just happens to roll a low or at best an average "legendary" roll. But how far apart is the average "skilled" roll from an average "legendary" roll? In other words how much do I need in modifiers to (on the average) equal one with the other.

Turns out the modifier bonus required to equal a "skilled" roll to a "legendary" roll is in the order of +23. That's quite a bit! Thinking in D&D combat terms, that's like matching a 1st level fighter with a 20th level fighter!

The chart below shows the difference between the rolls' mean values.

Unqualified Trained Skilled Experienced Expert Master Legendary
Unqualified 0 2 4.5 8 12.5 19 27.5
0 2.5 6 10.5 17 25.5

0 3.5 8 14.5 23

0 4.5 11 19.5

0 6.5 15

0 8.5


I like to see things graphically rather than laid out on a table, so the next graph shows the information in a radial layout on which each spoke graphs the mean difference between its level and the skill levels above it. Starting with unqualified on top and moving counter-clockwise we see that all points are at zero since unqualified is above no other skill level. The next skill counter-clockwise is trained which is slightly above trained as you can see the blue line begin to spiral downwards. Skilled is above the yellow and blue lines, and so forth. You can clearly see how much faster the lines circle downwards as we approach the master and legendary skill levels. This means these higher levels are distancing themselves faster and faster from the lower levels. In other words you'll need exponentially more and more modifiers in the form of weapon bonuses, magic modifiers, blessings from the gods, etc., just to keep up to the skill's improvement rate.

You can't just buy yourself into master or legendary skill levels, you've got to sweat it out through adventures, learning and training.

So what do I seek to achieve with this?

For starters a simple skill representation with levels that aren't just +1 points away from each other. This makes reaching each a significant milestone, specially for the upper tier. It's something you can be proud of as a player. It's not easy for an NPC or another player to simply stack up modifiers and reach the roll values of a master or legendary. But don't feel 100% safe in your master or legendary skill level! Remember that the Black Swan System allows lower levels to reach higher levels if they keep getting low rolls and adding these to the total (called a black swan roll in the game, an unexpected and highly impacting event). As a high level character you can feel confident, but not 100% safe, in your high skills. A lowly goblin can always happen to roll a black swan and beat your master roll!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Black Swan System

The Black Swan System is the roleplay game engine I developed for Itza (a prehispanic roleplaying game) that picks up from the red-blue dice mechanics used in Saints and Sinners. It builds on the concept of representing skill levels with adjectives which in turn relate to a die roll and not a specific value. It simplifies the dice by using only 3d8 and addition only, instead multiple d6 and addition and subtraction as with the red-blue mechanics of Saints and Sinners, yet the most distinctive feature is its reroll lows and add rule which is core to the representation of skill.

Skill is represented by the low die values you're allowed to reroll and add. Less skilled characters are allowed to reroll and add all rolled ones, more skilled characters are allowed to reroll ones and twos, and so forth until legendary which are allowed to reroll and add any value between 1 and 6 inclusive. What this does is remove all low die rolls from your roll and actually reward you with an additional die you may roll and add. If the next roll is also low you may add this value and roll again. This is quite intuitive as you'd expect characters with higher skills to be less affected by low values in their dice.

Lets do an example to clarify this. My character, a novice thief who has basic lock-picking skills (is just "skilled") would roll 3d8 and reroll all ones. On the other hand my character is also an "experienced" pick-pocket. Experienced characters roll 3d8 and reroll and add all ones and twos. When picking a lock my character rolls the following:

3, 4, 1

The one is rerolled and I get an 2 and I stop rerolling. The total is now:

3+4+1+2 = 10

When pick pocketing my character rolls the following:

2, 4, 1

The one and two are rerolled and I get 1 and 1, so I roll both again and get 5 and 8 at which point I stop rolling and adding. The total is the following (rolls have been grouped with parenthesis for clarity):

(2+4+1) + (1+1) + (5+8) = 22

This is quite a high roll, almost near the max for a natural 3d8 which is 24. Being experienced at something sure pays off!

The keen observer will notice that technically I can keep rolling and adding ones and twos to infinity and obtain very large die rolls. Indeed it is a correct observation. Skill rolls are bounded at the bottom, there is always a minimum value you can get, but there is no maximum value. Odds of getting ever higher rolls drop off to infinitesimal odds but they do exits.

Simply put I don't want my character to hit a home run, I want my character to send that ball out the park, break through the roof if need be. I'm looking for dice mechanics that will surprise me. I want to spend a luck point on a roll or use some magic item or invoke the favor of the gods and boom something amazing happens.

Imagine the following for a moment. I have a "luck point", the gods' blessing if you will. I don't use it to get an extra roll or add a bonus or activate some extra fixed modifier roll. What I do is use it to increase my reroll value from 2 to 3. Now I get to reroll ones, twos and all threes too.

I roll:

8, 7 and 3

Great initial roll and I get that three which I reroll and get a 2, and I reroll again and get another two, then a one, then another three, a two, a two, a three, a one and finally an 8 at which point I can't reroll anymore. Let's see how that looks all laid out:

8+7+3+2+2+1+3+2+2+3+1+8 = 42

I just inched my character's roll by 16 (2+2+1+3+2+2+3+1) points and then had the cherry on the pie of rolling a closing 8 for a whooping +24 modifier! Had I not had the benefit of rerolling threes on top of ones and twos the roll would have stuck at 18, a good roll nevertheless, but nothing to call home about. A 42 on the other hand is good enough to overcome a typical epic or legendary challenge.

Thoughts? How do you like to handle your perks, bonus points and modifiers and how much of the story's control do you expect to get when you use them? Personally I'm hooked on this type of die rolls with unlimited top values because a small modifier, luck point or similar element when applied to the dice can potentiate the outcome considerably and go way beyond expectations, send that ball right out of the park, and make for an epic storyline worth remembering.