There are many essays, and even whole websites devoted to discussions of game design, I am going to add to it, in my own way, but instead of delving into the realm of GNS theory, I want instead to talk about dice.
Dice are cool.
Dice are fun.
Many gamers have fond memories of rolling a d20, and hoping against hope for a natural 20.
It is an incredible feeling, getting that 20 at just the right moment.
The newest version of that game many of us hold fondly in our hearts has recently been released, and it uses a d20. However, unlike (most) previous iterations of this game, this d20 can do fun things. Instead of having to add in modifiers, positive and negative (and waiting for Alan to add them all up, or for some Madden math [defined as announcing your total several times, each time adding in yet another positive modifier: “I rolled a 10, plus my BAB of 3, 13! Plus my weapon bonus of +2… 15! Pause Plus my flanking bonus… 17! And so on.]) The 5th edition of D&D asks players to sometimes roll two d20s, and depending on the situation, keep the highest or lowest. This is their Advantage/ Disadvantage system.
Discussion of it being too subject to GM fiat and player manipulation is neither here nor there, it is a change. Cool(er) things can happen now, less reliant on the math, and speeding things up.
The game I wrote, does some similar things (and for those keeping track at home, predates this innovation). In my game, players may roll multiple dice, and keep the best (if they are doing well) or worst. And, if the get a natural 12 (yes, the game uses d12 instead of d20s, and I didn’t want to assume everyone would understand what a nat12 was), even cooler things happen, mainly that their final total will be bumped up quite a bit, depending on the level of the Trait they are using. The more powerful the Trait, the more significant the increase. In play, it is always fun and exciting when this happens, big numbers are exciting and dramatic.
So, feeling the crunch of an AoG deadline, I thought I would briefly go over my top three systems for dice mechanics, and one honorable mention!
13th Age, a favorite here at AoG uses that one d20 roll, but often has cool abilities that kick in at different points, perhaps if the natural die result is greater than 15, perhaps an odd number greater that 11, all sorts of coolness. Now, take the Advantage/ Disadvantage system from that 5e game, and you have the super awesomest FRP ever!
Brave New World, one of my favorite systems for awesome excitement, where the drama of a dice roll directly influences the drama of the action that follows. Roll a number of d6s, natural 6s explode, every 5 points above a target number, one can activate tricks, which means your action does super awesome cool stuff. I love it! This is what I wish a lot of systems did, although the narrative isn’t as dramatic as an Exalted roll where one announces their attack (perhaps by standing on a chair, gathering up 24 dive, and rolling them with authority), what sucks in that system is if you miss. I like that success determines the effect! Not declared effect and then roll for success.
Monsterhearts, a child of the Apocalypse World phenomenon, is, IME and IMHO, the most elegant spinoff “Powered by the Apocalypse.” Why? Not because of the subject matter, but because of the simplicity of every action being defined in a very small number of ways, and the die roll for that action having very specific outcomes. It forces the players into a very rigid way of thinking, which is so rigid as to be freeing. I do love this game, and not (necessarily) because of the content matter or implied setting, but because of the real sense of danger every die roll brings, because of the simplicity in executing the result of those die rolls. There is no escaping danger in Monsterhearts, no dump stat.
The One Roll Engine used in several different games is a beautiful piece of design. One roll determines where you go in the initiative order, where you hit, and how well you hit. It is a really bold idea and execution. However, with Hard Dice, every attack is a head shot, which makes it very deadly. Granted, that makes game play have a very distinct feel, but isn’t 100% there for me, but it is a lot of fun, and very innovative.
Now, having my words out there for all internet eternity, I try and be careful. Are there dice systems I don’t like? Sure, of course. This makes me human. And can I write long dissertations on why I do not like them? Yes. But, I won’t, because, in life, we can be positive, or we can be negative, and I am going to focus on the positive. Maybe you like a system I do not, and maybe we could have a long “discussion” about the merits and flaws of said system. I do enjoy these discussions as long as they are positive and contain civil discourse. But, for now, I am going to focus on the positive. And, at the end of the day, when you sit down to roll dice, the system you like is the best system for you, and I will always support you for that. Because, I always try and remember, the most important part of RPGs is that G, it stands for Game, and a Game is supposed to be fun, and no one should tell you how to have fun!