Home > Gaming, Writing > Rebuilding Vampire: Dice Mechanics

Rebuilding Vampire: Dice Mechanics

Because I’ve been writing about this game as I go along in a very piecemeal process, a lot of the systems have evolved as I set them down to “paper” from whatever I’ve been brainstorming in my head. The good thing about this approach is that it has let me focus on the different aspects of the game, making the process less daunting; the drawback is that there is a certain disconnect between the parts, and especially between things that are still in my head but not written down yet. Dice mechanics is the biggest item falling into that category at the moment; without knowing how the dice move during the game, a lot of the things I have already described just float in mid-air above the game. It’s time to bring them down to earth and tie them together. Let’s talk dice.

At the risk of this sounding like a preemptive apology, the dice mechanics is the one area where I am very unsure of how efficient the system is. Visualizing the complex interactions of dice probabilities is not something that my mind can do without considerable effort (I’m just right-brained, what can I say). The dice mechanics I settled on for this game are a mishmash of a couple of games whose dice mechanics I like and admire. Enough game designer angst, let’s go.

Drawing on the original source of inspiration, this is a dice pool-based system at its core, though it has a couple of modifications drawn from some more experimental, small-press games.

Characters have a pool of dice equal to 10, corresponding to the total score of their Humanity/Beast stat. Humanity dice and Beast dice should be of different colors, and as Humanity is lost during the game, Humanity dice are swapped out for Beast dice to reflect this.

Whenever you wish to perform any task, from fast-talking your way past the security guards to using your vampiric powers to end a fight in one fell swoop, you roll dice from your pool. You get to decide how many dice you want to allocate to a particular action, and the particular mix of Humanity and Beast dice, then roll. Note some actions have a minimum Humanity and/or Beast dice component that you must use before allocating more dice to said action. The maximum number of dice you can allocate to any action is 10.

Once you have settled on the amount of dice you wish to allocate to an action, you roll your dice. Any Humanity die that comes up a 7 or higher (7, 8, 9, 10) scores one success. Any Beast die that comes up a 6 or higher (6, 7, 8, 9, 10) scores one success. Yes, it is easier to succeed when you use the power of the Beast inside, but there are consequences. If you roll a 10, you may re-roll that die to see if you score another additional success.

The Game Master sets a difficulty for each action, determining the number of successes you need in order to accomplish it. There are no modifiers; a Game Master simply sets the level of difficulty taking into account all the applicable circumstances. The range is:

  • Easy (2)
  • Average (3)
  • Challenging (4)
  • Difficult (5)
  • Hard (6)
  • Extremely Hard (7)
  • Almost Impossible (8)
  • Epic (9)
  • Legendary (10)

A player may spend one point (and only one point) of Willpower per roll to either get one assured success (if spent before making the roll) or re-roll any one die (if spent after the roll). Note that when re-rolling a die after the fact, it can be any die, whether it scored a success or not. Also note that more points of Willpower may be spent for other effects before or after the roll; the one-point limit applies only to affecting a single roll of the dice.

When counting successes, note which type of die scored the most, if Humanity or Beast. That will inform the manner in which the action was successfully achieved when it is time to narrate the outcome.

In any situation where there is a conflict (and in this game, it’s all about conflicts, not individual tasks, though a larger conflict can be broken down into smaller parts) both parties involved make their rolls and compare number of successes. Whoever has the most successes wins, and the difference between the number of successes of the winner and the loser is the amount of damage inflicted on the loser on their Willpower stat.

If there are more Beast dice successes than the character has current Willpower points, it triggers a possible Humanity loss. If there are more Beast dice successes than Humanity dice successes, this also triggers a possible Humanity loss. This is a separate roll and I have not settled on the precise mechanics of it yet.

I think that’s the basics right there. I know I still have to develop the subsystem for Humanity loss, so if you have suggestions, feel free to make them. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind more math-inclined minds to take a look at all this and offer any comments they can offer. I think the sources from which I’m drawing the dice mechanic elements are good and sound, but then I’m combining them here and it’s that hodgepodge that worries me.

Let me know what you think.

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  1. May 7, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    I see a few points in the system that could be smoothed out and streamlined, but I don’t know if my solution would be of much use. Here’s how I’d approach it:

    * Each player has 10 dice. Humanity and Beast dice are noted by separate colors.
    * You roll all ten dice for any particular action.
    * Any dice results over 7 are successes.
    * The Twist: You must choose to accept either the Humanity dice or the Beast dice.

    That tempts the players if their Beast dice rolled well, but the Humanity dice did not. Which, in turn, could lead to a downward spiral towards the beast. Just a thought.

  2. May 7, 2010 at 9:39 AM

    As far as a Humanity Loss mechanic goes, I have a quick thought:

    You compare the number of Humanity successes to the number of Beast successes. If the Beast accrued more successes, then you roll your Humanity dice pool with a Difficulty of your Beast dice pool + the difference between Beast and Humanity successes. All that is necessary to keep from losing your Humanity is 1 success.

    Example: My PC has Humanity and Beast scores of 7 & 3, respectively. I have a Superhuman Prowess of 3 (I sunk all my Beast dice into that power). I attack some guy in a night club restroom to feed off him, so I roll my dice pool (with at least 3 Beast dice because I’m using my Prowess to grapple him).

    I get 4 successes: 1 Humanity die and all three of my Beast dice. Since my Beast successes are greater than my Humanity successes, I now have to roll to see if I lose a point of Humanity. I roll my Humanity dice pool (7 dice) with a difficulty of 5 (3 Beast dice pool + the difference of 3 Beast successes – 1 Humanity success). If I get at least 1 success, I’m safe.

    Obviously, it is really easy to succeed when you have a low Beast score, but becomes exponentially more difficult the more Beast you gain. The GM could raise or lower the difficulty depending on situational modifiers (i.e. lower the difficulty if the action is related to protecting the character’s Joy).

  3. Tim Jensen
    May 7, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    I really like Daniel’s solution. It puts the choice in the player’s hands.

    Are you still considering using Willpower in a Fate-like stress track, with player-authored Consequences to deflect damage?

  4. May 7, 2010 at 10:25 AM

    @Daniel Solis
    Rolling all 10 dice for any action occurred to me as well. In that case, the minimum dice requirements (eg. vampiric powers or Joy/Sorrow) would then be minimum success dice that you must take. The only problem is that while there is a danger to having a lot of Beast successes, there is no danger/side-effect to having a lot of Humanity successes.

    With your idea, the biggest difference I see from my (way too verbose explanation, after seeing how succinctly you summarized everything) own way is the last step. I’d just have to think about that a bit. I mean, I like the all-or-nothing sense it has–there is no compromise between the two sides, it’s one or the other–I just gotta think about the implications. Maybe, in such a system, spending a point of Willpower would allow you to swap one success die from one type for the other (trade one Beast die success for one Humanity die success), providing some gradient of effects (a bit of tempering of the Beast, or a bit of ferocity to the Human).

    Thanks for the idea. Let me marinate on it a bit.

  5. May 7, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    @Tim Jensen
    Yes, Willpower is still the damage sink and consequences are the way in which you protect it from dwindling too much.

    And as I just wrote to Daniel, I like his idea as well. I just need to think about it so I can put it through the mental paces I put the other one.

  6. May 7, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    @Mad Brew
    I like that. The only thing that gives me pause is that it *seems* to have a bit complicated math in the X-Y+Z=Target Difficulty dept, but that might be just cause I’m not seeing it. But in general I like it.

  7. May 7, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    Heh. Sorry to throw a monkeywrench into the works. 😛

    I actually play with that basic structure quite a bit. It generally breaks down to this setup:

    1) Randomly generate two sets of results simultaneously.
    2) Player chooses one set to accept as official result.
    3) The choice feeds into immediate resolution.
    4) The choice also feeds into a long-term tracking system.

    And yeah, I don’t know what the side effects of turning to humanity might be. Perhaps there are social ramifications when facing other vampires. After all, humans are a vampire’s prey, nothing more. So if you are perceived as more “human” by your peers, then you are really perceived as “prey.” Is that a good direction to go?

  8. May 7, 2010 at 10:57 AM

    @Daniel Solis
    It certainly is a good direction, yes.
    The “monkey-wrench” is appreciated, trust me. I just need to chew on it a bit, that’s all.

  9. May 7, 2010 at 12:49 PM

    Yeah, I tend to be crunchy with mechanics (probably related to why I enjoy programming too). It looks complicated, but I think if it was played out it wouldn’t be bad.

    I can visualize myself rolling 10 dice, “counting out” Humanity/Beast successes that cancel each other out, adding the remaining dice to my Beast score and then rolling my Humanity score. Works swiftly in my mind.

  10. May 7, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    @Mad Brew
    Yeah, I think it’s a matter of visualization, that’s all. X-Y+Z is a fairly easy formula to calculate at the table.

  11. May 7, 2010 at 3:52 PM

    If the game is about Humanity/Beast dicotomy, don’t make humanity loss a possibility on certain outcomes. Make it what happens. You roll a more beast than humanity successes, BAM! you lose humanity. No maybe, and the only way you can stop it is by spending something precious. Say it is a ratio, for each Beast Success over Humanity Success, you lose one humanity and to stop that from happening you have to burn your precious Willpower. Then the really becomes about the struggle, not just what happens on the side when you are punching your fist through someone’s chest.

  12. May 7, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    @Keith
    As I mentioned over email, that is brutal, but I like it. That is the kind of violent tension I am shooting for. Early on it will be very hard for this to happen, as you only start with 3 Beast dice, but as the Beast grows, man, that’s gonna get vicious really fast, forcing consequences left and right, and more dramatic scenes for the characters to regain their Willpower and perhaps, just perhaps, regain a point of Humanity.

    Thanks for the comment, Keith.

  13. May 8, 2010 at 10:05 AM

    Keith’s idea is pretty brutal, but if you could spend Willpower to negate it then it would be a constant struggle of Will & Humanity vs. the Beast. Want to talk about a game where you HAVE to watch ALL your resources…

  14. May 8, 2010 at 9:50 PM

    @Mad Brew
    I’m actually leaning very much towards Keith’s idea. I think between Willpower and consequences there’s enough there to stave off a too-quick slip downward.

    I’m also still considering Daniel’s idea of rolling all 10 dice and choosing Beast or Humanity dice to determine success. The wall I’ve yet to circumvent is what to do with the minimum dice ratings of vampiric powers or Joy/Sorrow, ie. what do these ratings mean under this dice rolling paradigm.

  15. May 9, 2010 at 7:42 PM

    I need to think a bit about what you’re trying to accomplish with the humanity/beast dynamic. If you want to go with something as nasty as Keith suggests (and no doubt, that’s got some mojo) then I’m not sure you want to put the burden of choice _after_ the roll. I worry that making consequences too frequent robs them off their punch, unless the goal is to really drive players towards “I am a soulless shell, making friends only so I can kill them to sate the beast” where friendship is just a numbers game. I mean, if so, great, that’s pretty fucking bleak, but that’s maybe overwhelmingly so.

    I say this because I am more intrigued by the choice of how many beast dice to roll _before_ you roll, and with that in mind I propose something pretty drastic – Beast dice succeed on a 3+.

    This addresses several things – first, your difficulty chart is crazy high (probably too high) but this puts some of it more in reach for someone going to the beast. Second, it makes the beast POTENT but DANGEROUS – using even a little bit of it is more likely to win, but also more likely to trump your humanity. But when it does, it feels like you’ve unleashed too much. By making the beast advantage overwhelming, you make it tempting, but you also avoid the sense that you’re really only going to go to the beast when the dice fuck you. In this case, if you go to the beast, it’s because YOU fucked you.

    That said, it also demands you be rock solid about required humanity levels for things, otherwise players are gonna chase the beast.

    -Rob D.

  16. May 10, 2010 at 6:48 PM

    @Rob Donoghue
    Hey, Rob. Thanks for taking the time to drop by.

    As I continue to consider the various suggestions (which I value greatly), I find that yeah, that one aspect of my original dice system proposal is one of the things that I find most grabby. Having a limited pool of dice means you’ll need to make hard choices about what you’re willing to risk when making a dice roll. That also continues to make vampiric powers and their Beast dice rating a viable mechanic.

    I was wondering if you could explain more on why do you say the difficulty chart is crazy high. I based it on a survey of other d10-based games, with a healthy consultation to other difficulty charts I came across. I don’t want to make things too easy either, so perhaps rolling everything down one on the scale is a bit more achievable?

    Beast dice succeeding on a 3+ is wow. There you *certainly* have that temptation of power.

    Both Ralph and now you have brought up the idea of required Humanity levels for things. I am revising Joy/Sorrow to have a Humanity dice component equivalent to what vampiric powers have with Beast dice, but I was wondering if you could expand a bit on this as well.

  17. JJ
    May 12, 2010 at 9:51 AM

    Daniel, just a couple of random thoughts since I’m coming into this thread late in the game:

    *Overall, your basic approach feels right.

    *If you have exploding dice for 10’s have you given any thought to what happens when you get lots of 1’s? (as a point, I’m not sold on exploding dice in general)

    *It may be too early for this, but to get a better idea of how this will play out it would be helpful to see what sort of minimums you were thinking for BeastHumanity requirements and what would failure without Frenzy look like.

    *In an effort to keep things simple (and brutal) to keep the game moving – if you get more Beast success than Humanity you _must_ spend Willpower to stave off a Frenzy; no Willpower left = Frenzy + lose 1 Humanity.

    *I’m not sure where I stand yet on rolling all 10 dice every time (I like the idea of having to always roll all Beast dice, like DRYH Madness); it may take some number crunching to see what this would entail – I might also take a look again at DRYH for some inspiration.

    *If you always roll all Beast dice you may want to keep the success number static (7+).

  18. May 12, 2010 at 5:35 PM

    While there can be a lot of arguments over details, one thing I think was a _clear_ improvement from OWoD to NWoD was the changes in success counting. 1 success is a success. 5 (I think, might be less) is a critical success. Done. No niggling over what the right difficult for a particular situation might be. Quickly, and without looking, what’s the difference between a difficult and a challenging maneuver in a car? In practice, that kind of sliding sale of difficulty turns into the GM’s gut making decisions – 4 successes seems “about right” and they go with it. A smaller, more easily grasped model is a lot more useful than a fuzzy sliding scale (and I’m aware of the irony of my saying that).

    Also, the numbers you have interact poorly with things as you’re describing them. With a fixed cap of 10 on dice pools and each die giving a success only 40% of the time, the high end results are out o reach, and will reflect only flukes of luck, not skill or investment in the situation. If you really want legendary results to be legendary, you need to reflect them in some fashion other than a simple scale.

    (all of which is to say, you’ll see scales like that a LOT because they work great on paper, but they suck out in practice, which comes back to why GMs end up winging it).

    -Rob D.

  19. May 12, 2010 at 5:41 PM

    @Rob Donoghue
    So you’d suggest just dropping the scale and letting the GM decide on how many successes are needed for any particular action? Lady Blackbird works like this and when we played we found it was very organic for Rich (the GM) to come up with the difficulty of any given situation.

    Ease of use is something I’m aiming for, so this suggestion works fine.

  20. May 12, 2010 at 5:42 PM

    @JJ
    I’ll come back to your comment later. I’m rethinking the whole thing and may end up writing a new post, in which case my reply to you would be “read the new one and comment on that design now.”

  21. May 13, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    I suggest either switching to loose guidelines for number of successes (for the GM, organic approach) OR strict guidelines that are simpler to use (and remember) and more in line with the actual probabilities of the dice (for cleaner crunch). Either approach works, but the middle ground is a poor foundation.

    -Rob D.

  22. May 13, 2010 at 11:06 AM

    @Rob Donoghue
    I think you saw my ordeal with statistics this semester, which tells you how good I am at figuring out dice probabilities, so the loose guidelines approach fits more my design abilities/limitations. 🙂

  23. May 28, 2010 at 11:03 AM

    Not sure if its too late to weigh in on this, but it got me thinking of something. What if you used multiple thresholds on the die? By this I mean, what if a success is 7-10 but 3 and below means something else?

    In the case of the Beast you could add more dice to your pool, but each die added increases that lower threshold. Each die that comes up in the lower threshold range then generates a Beast Success. The Beast Success is the Beast gaining ground against the human nature and it must be sated or it will consume Humanity (say once it hits 10 successes built up). To sate the beast you must indulge it’s hunger or fly into a rage or some other vampire nature. That way, the more you tap into it, the more chance you will have to act like the vampire.

  24. May 28, 2010 at 12:11 PM

    @Dave Bozarth
    Not to late at all. I’m still thinking through the dice mechanics, so your feedback is handy as I chew on this. Thanks!

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