Table of Contents
- The flavor of this dice system
- Buying skills
- Sample skill list
- Optional Rules
The flavor of this dice system
Before reading this article, you may want to review the dice primer
These two articles are intended to offer an incredibly basic dice ruleset. Feel free to take these rules back to your RP group, either exactly as-is or tweaked to suit your needs. If you want an example of how these numbers will be used in play, check out the previous article on dice.
This ruleset has been kept intentionally simple, because I recognize that many of you think of your RP as a writing exercise, and don't want confusing rules making your creativity burdensome.
It is intentionally designed to be used infrequently, under special circumstances where you need an unbiased mediator or want more surprise, so that it is not disruptive to the back-and-forth flow you are already comfortable with.
And it is intentionally flexible, as I know each of your groups are unique, and you will inevitably want something tailored to your needs. I have left suggestions for ways to change the rules throughout the article, with even more suggestions for adding (or removing) complexity at the end, so that you can find exactly what feels comfortable to you.
For the most part, you won't need to use dice at all. Dice come into the picture under unusual circumstances, when there is a real chance of your character failing. I included a list of examples for when you might want to require dice in my last article on this topic if you want more specifics.
When one of those situations comes up where you need a fair ruling or a surprise result, a difficulty will be selected from the difficulty chart. Then the player will roll a 1d20 (one die with 20 sides) and add their skill in that action, to see if they can meet or beat the target. The last dice article also included a very detailed example of what different results might mean for your story. Check it out, it's a good read!
You have 10 points to spend on any skills you want. In most games, you'll want to have a cap on the number of points people can put into any one skill -- 5 is a good choice, especially if all your characters are human (or human equivalent).
You may want to let 10 to spend, 5 maximum in one skill, just be the rule for everyone when they join. On the other hand, if you want to get fancy, you might establish different guidelines for all of the common species in your world. An elf over a certain age might be able to amass more knowledge or skill than their human counterparts, and be able to reach a cap of 6 in a skill.
If you want a higher "power level" in your game, you might also offer your players more points to spend right out of the gate. Remember, you'll be awarding people more points to spend over time as well, so characters can learn and grow over time.
Exceptions are also a possibility. If someone in your game wants to create a character that has only one skill into which they will put all ten points, you as the group leader, your council of storytellers, or your playerbase as a whole - whatever form of rulership or democracy you've established - may vote to allow that exception. Make sure that that character has a really good reason to be given that exception, like a great backstory!
As you'll recall, zero on the skill scale is "human average in the setting." There are characters that have below average knowledge or skill!
A great example is illiteracy. If you are playing in a modern setting, then literacy is probably the norm. An illiterate character in that setting might take a -2 to reading and writing.
Since flaws are such great way to round out a character, you can encourage your players to use them - and avoid cases where characters that are well balanced in terms of story are numerically worse off than characters who are written without nuance - by offering a "cash back" system: One extra point to spend for every negative you take, up to a maximum of 5 (or else half of your starting pool, if you've chosen to give new characters more than 10 to start with.)
Sample skill list
It will make everyone's life easier if all the characters in the group have the same "menu" of skills to choose. This is a list from the D20 system, an open source gaming system. It's a pretty comprehensive selection, but of course, feel free to add and remove things to suit your setting.
- Appraise (int)
- Balance (dex)
- Bluff (cha)
- Climb (str)
- Concentration (con)
- Craft (int)
- Decipher Script (int)
- Diplomacy (cha)
- Disable Device (int)
- Disguise (cha)
- Escape Artist (dex)
- Forgery (int)
- Gather Information (cha)
- Handle Animal (cha)
- Heal (wis)
- Hide (dex)
- Intimidate (cha)
- Jump (str)
- Knowledge (int) (specify what field or topic)
- Listen (wis)
- Move Silently (dex)
- Open Lock (dex)
- Perform (cha)
- Profession (wis)
- Ride (dex)
- Search (int)
- Sense Motive (wis)
- Sleight Of Hand (dex)
- Speak Language (specify)
- Spellcraft (int) (specify school, element, etc.)
- Spot (wis)
- Survival (wis)
- Swim (str)
- Tumble (dex)
- Use Magic Device (cha)
- Use Rope (dex)
- Ranged Weapons (dex)
- Melee Weapons (also parry) (str)
One situation where you will almost aways benefit from the use of dice is in combat. Dice will almost entirely eliminate the most common combat-related complaints that freeform RPers tend to have, such as characters that miraculously dodge every blow even if they have no combat skills and their opponent does, arguments over fairness and balance, and indeed, can remove some of the worries about appearing to be unfair for the most careful writers.
One thing that dice will not do is replace writing and storytelling. You must continue to declare the actions and decisions that your character is making just as before -- it's just that instead of the other player deciding whether the punch your character threw landed or not, both of you will get a chance to apply your skills and get an answer as to which won out in a completely unbiased way.
Here's what you need to know. When two characters come into direct conflict, you won't pick a number off the difficulty chart. You'll do opposed rolls.
If a character throws a punch at another character, both characters will make a roll. The attacker adds their skill in unarmed combat, and the defender adds their skill in dodging. The "dodge roll" becomes the difficulty number that the attacker needs to meet or beat. Everyone has some chance, but the odds are skewed in the direction of the combat-skilled.
In general, each character will get to attempt one action, and then it will be the other character's turn to respond.
Most people will prefer to say what action they are going to make, do the opposed roll, and then write their post that includes both the action and the result. (See the Han & Leia example in the previous article).
This article has sought to give you a basic dice system to implement in a group. If this feels like plenty to you, you're done. Worry not about these optional extras.
If you want to add a little more complexity to your rules to get more nuanced answers from your dice, consider adding some of the following rule ideas to your group's system:
It is often traditional to give the maximum and minimum numbers on a die special meaning. In our 1d20 system, the special numbers would be 1 and 20.
If you choose to implement botching and critical successes in your group, a roll of 1 means that the character does not get to add any bonuses to the roll. It is considered a "botch". A tragic failure. Write something that makes your character truly miserable. If they were playing darts, they don't just miss the target, they accidentally skewer a friend in the leg.
On the other hand, if they roll a 20, you may consider that a critical success, where the outcome is better than they had hoped. If they were trying to disable a security camera, they not only succeeded, they shut off the security system for the whole building.
These only apply to "natural" rolls, meaning the number was 1 or 20 on the die before any skill modifiers are applied.
If you want a system more nuanced than simply skills, consider adding "attributes." These are a representation of a character's core natural abilities, physical, mental and social. One classic version of attributes has six categories in which you can spend your points:
Used for any action that requires brute force, and in melee combat.
This attribute generally represents physical precision or flexibility. Examples include writing, fine manipulation, stabbing someone with a rapier, shooting an arrow, or dodging)
This relates to the character's overall health and endurance. A character with a high constitution will be healthy as a horse, able to withstand a bigger beating, fend off illness, and imbibe more spirits before they have to worship at the porcelain altar.
This attribute represents the innate ability to acquire knowledge through instruction and learning. It tends to deal with theoretical, academic or technical knowledge and skills, including mathematics, logic, science and history. Wizards tend to have high intelligence attributes.
This attribute represents the ability to apply acquired knowledge to practical situations, whether that knowledge came from books or experience. It has to do with sorting out the right thing to do at the right time, such as the ability to make decisions that are morally correct. Where intelligence is theoretical, wisdom is practical. It is possible to have a high intelligence but low wisdom character, the classic example being an absent minded professor who knows everything about quantum physics but can't remember where he put his shoes (even when they're on his feet). And where wizards favor intelligence, clerics favor wisdom -- you go to a wizard for a spell or a history of monsters and a priest for practical advice on how to live your life.
Although charisma is commonly thought to represent beauty, it's actually more like a character's force of personality. A character might use their charisma to lead armies, strike fear into hearts with only a glance, seduce enemy agents, or give convincing speeches. It is used when trying to illicit a social response. In some cases, arcane magic users who didn't learn their trade from a book or a university may use charisma as their bonus to casting rather than intelligence.
When a player makes a roll, they would not only get to add their skill bonus, they would also be allowed to add the bonus that they get from the most closely related attribute. The skill list above has suggestions for which attribute to add to each skill.
Because attributes apply to broad categories, and give bonuses to many more actions than a skill might, they are also vastly more valuable than skills alone. To keep your game balanced, you must keep this in mind and charge accordingly.
I suggest that you once again use 0 as the human average. Attributes may then range from -3 to +3, with 3 being Stephen Hawking (-3 strength, +3 intelligence.) Most characters will never realistically have more than +2 in an attribute.
Here's a suggested attribute chart for intelligence:
- - 3 Frankenstein's monster-like intelligence.
- - 2 Forest Gump
- - 1 The guy who failed pre-algebra twice.
- 0 Average. This is a very broad category.
- 1 High school math teacher
- 2 Advanced calculus professor, exceptionally bright scientist.
- 3 Frankenstein (The brilliant scientist who found a way to revive the dead). Tesla. Saruman the White.
In this system, it is also suggested that characters only be able to purchase attributes with "cash back" points they got from taking negatives in other attributes. In other words, for every negative point they give their own attributes, they get back 1 to spend elsewhere. This encourages the building of realistic characters, who are naturally gifted in some areas but not others. It is also perfectly fine for a character to take zeros across the board.
When combat starts, everyone rolls a d20. Highest roller gets first action. This means that if one character decides to pull a gun, everyone rolls initiative. If any other character in the scene has a higher initiative than the aggressor, they noticed the character reaching for a gun before it is aimed, and have a chance to run, attack or throw themselves onto the assailant before a shot is fired.
If using the attributes system, all players add their dexterity bonus to their initiative roll.
Movement is a serious PITA in text based RPing. It is very hard to know exactly how far each character is from another. That being said, some characters rely on ranged weapons, while others have melee weapons. One of the main advantages of ranged weapons is that you get to shoot your target a bunch of times before it can punch you in the face.
Because of this, it is typically in the target's best interest to argue that they are super fast, have long legs, and were actually closer than you thought to begin with. Fairness arguments ensue.
If it becomes critically important to determine how long it takes to get somewhere, then you might want to implement a system for measuring movement speed. For short distances, such as those in the typical combat, miles per hour is not practical. A handy rule of thumb is that an average human can walk 30 feet in 6 seconds, which is also a handy amount of time for completing actions. That gives you ten actions per character, per minute. During combat, you might use the rule that each posting round describes 6 seconds worth of time. 6 seconds is eons in a fight.
It is useful to combine the movement rule with the initiative rule, found above, to determine who gets to take the first action when speed is critical.
Magic is as wild and varied as pictures of puppies on the internet. Any character that uses magic will have one or several areas in which they focus. Each kind of magic should be represented by its own skill. "Magic" is simply too broad -- add subcategories to your skill menu such as healing magic, divine magic, necromancy, etc. You could also use air magic, water magic, fire magic, etc. How specific you want to get will depend on your setting and how difficult magic is intended to be to learn in that setting. Breaking it into more subcategories will mean that characters have to spend more experience points to have more types of spells.
Defenses are important, and not all defenses work against all things. In the fantasy realm, a common dichotomy is physical versus magical. A shield and a set of full plate armor is very useful against a sword, but much less so against a bolt of lightning.
If you want to use bonuses for equipment, characters should receive a total bonus between 0 and 5 for the thoroughness, efficiency or quality of the equipment they are using.
A heavily armored night with a shield and a sword might get a full +5 bonus against physical attacks, no bonus at all against magic attacks, and only a +2 physical bonus from the sword when he's attacking.
A barbarian wearing leather armor, magic blue facepaint and carrying a giant axe might receive a +2 bonus against both physical attacks and magical attacks (courtesy of his shaman) but have a +5 physical bonus when he's attacking.
These bonuses are added to attack and defense rolls, along with melee skill, dodge or parry as appropriate.
If you wish characters to progress and learn over time, you will want to establish a method for characters to gain more skill points to spend.
There are many wonderful ways to accomplish this. Pick the combination that you like best from these suggestions, or invent your own.
One of the popular story-driven methods of awarding experience is to reward players for particularly remarkable or archetypal moments. This can be done by giving each player a number of votes to use every (choose your time frame here) which they then use to vote for the top 3 players that they most enjoyed playing with during that time frame. Short explanations are usually expected. This can be done privately, by sending all votes to an admin. If you have a very active player population, you may have to create some rolls relating to how many votes a character needs before they are given a point. You'll also have to adjust how many votes each person gets based on how many people there are to vote for, and how often the pool is replenished. This system is great because it encourages and rewards excellent writing.
Another method is to simply give every character (who has been active) one point per time increment. That increment is determined by how rapid your posting rate is. This is nice because it is fair, rewards players for turning up to play, and does not create any concerns of "popularity contests". It also doesn't discriminate between writing quality, which may be a bonus or a detriment in your group's eyes.
Sometimes characters are given points to spend at the conclusion of a plot arc or discrete adventure that they have participated in. Number of points depends on the complexity, length or risk involved in the story. Ridding the wastelands of a minor band of bandits might result in one or two extra points, while overthrowing a corrupt king and replacing him with your own candidate could be worth 5 to 10 points.