Unpredictable Dice

I’ve been thinking since my last post about the Star Wars RPG dice system. Shortly after I published that, I had a realization. Fantasy Flight’s custom dice do the same thing that Apocalypse World does with moves.

Dice have often been described as the source of randomness in games. Most systems only use dice to generate either binary results (i.e., success or failure) or numerical degrees of success (i.e., damage). Very few games use dice to generate results that offer prompts for the narrative. The games rely on the players to generate these lateral results. Certainly players can provide more varied and random responses than any pre-programmed system. The benefit to a pre-programmed system of prompts is that it promotes cohesion in the themes of the narrative by constraining choices to those appropriate for the game.

Apocalypse World uses dice as narrative prompts by outlining every roll of the dice along three degrees of success (failure, partial success, and substantial success) where each degree is a broad prompt for story progression. Aside from the specifics of each move, which outlines the success options, the MC has a list of universal prompts that guide the options for failure. All of this constrains the narrative to progression appropriate to the game.

Edge of the Empire is doing the same thing. The dice offer results lateral to success and failure through advantage, triumph, threat, and despair. Advantage and threat do not directly affect success or failure and both take effect regardless of the success of the action. They change the scene to make things more beneficial or difficult. Multiple advantages may be combined for a single large benefit and multiple despair can seriously put the characters at disadvantage. Triumph and despair count as success or failure respectively but also count as more powerful versions of advantage and threat, effects that require multiple of those only need a single triumph or despair. Similarly to Apocalypse World, the text of Edge of the Empire gives guidelines as to how the dice should be interpreted for every skill.

It occurs to me that using a tarot deck could accomplish the same thing. It contains built-in thematic cues.

That’s some powerful stuff right there, when it’s done well. Can’t wait to give Edge of the Empire a shot to see how well they’ve done with the design.

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
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