Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Skills revisited: Dice pools and the LotFP playtest rules

So obviously the first thing I should do once I say that I want to play some more 5E is to start analyzing the rules for Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Just a few days ago, I grabbed a copy of LotFP's Free RPG Day supplement for the year, Eldritch Cock.  It has a whole bunch of spells in it, but also what I think is the first unrestricted release of the LotFP playtest rules, a set of backwards-compatible rules changes for the game.

One of the coolest things, in my opinion, is the update of Saving Throws. They are now based on a d6 dice pool. Number of successes determines the result (2+ = full save, 1 = partial save, 0=fail). The only variable is, are you saving against a magical effect or not? I am a bit biased since I love dice pools inherently, but I think that this is a great improvement, at least on paper. Saving throws have always been a high hurdle to clear for lower-level characters. I want to see exactly how this plays out at the table.

Meanwhile, of all the great things in LotFP, the skill checks were the one thing that I never really liked. you have an n-in-6 chance, a single d6 roll. So (a) you want to roll low, and (b) you could end up with a 6-in-6 chance to do something if you buy enough of a single skill as a Specialist.

I mused on a potential upgrade to that here.

The playtest document (at least the one I scanned a while back; I don't know if James updated the rules in Eldritch Cock since I don't have it on me right now), essentially boils down to the following paraphrased rules:

- One random skill starts with a +3 bonus, and another begins with +2. If this is the same skill, it adds together to only be +4. (Target number for everything is 6 on a roll of d6, by the way. So in this case, failure only occurs on a 1.)

- For each bonus skill point (affected by INT), determine the skill randomly. negative modifiers start wiping out the starting bonuses from the last step.

- Specialists get 4 +1 bonuses to distribute at will at level 1, and add +2 per level.

- Roll 2d6 with 2x6's/2x1's being successes/failures if your total bonuses for a particular skill are less than 0/greater than +5. (Don't worry if I wrote it out confusingly because I kind of ignore this moving forward in my thought experiment.)

I wanted to see if I could keep the dice pool idea going from my original idea, and then see if I can adapt the playtest rule to follow the same model. We're already set to use a dice pool for saves, so why not skills?

(Forgive me because I'm now kind of writing this as I go...)

So first off, realize that the default skills follow a linear progression. 1 skill point is the same value (a 1-in-6 increase in probability) for all time. Your chance of success is 16.7%, 33.3%, 50%, etc. So in these playtest rules, every character has a 66.7% of success at a single skill, and a 50% chance on a second skill. Or they get the same result twice and get a single skill at 83.3%. Everything else stays at 16.7%.

So imagine we're using dice pools instead. The default of +0 Dice to a skill still gives you a base success chance of 16.7%, so that's good. In order to get closest to a 66.7% and a 50% chance for two separate skills, we'd need to add +5 dice and +3 dice, respectively, to each skill to yield success chances of 66.5% and 51.8%, the probabilities of success of dice pool sizes of 6 and 4. Let's accept that as our baseline, pre-tweaking value of dice for everyone.

Then comes Specialists. They get four +1 bonuses that they can arrange to taste. It's not easy to convert this to a dice pool, since they could add all +4 to a single skill, making a 1-in-6 chance a 5-in-6 chance. In dice pool terms, that's adding 9 dice to get your chances of success up to 83.8%...

(Before we move on, here's the incremental success percentage increase with each new die added to your pool: 2nd die = +13.9%; 3rd = +11.6%; 4th = +9.6%; 5th = +8.0%; 6th = +6.7%; 7th = +5.6%; 8th = +4.7%; 9th = +3.9%; 10th = +3.2%. If we average all these, we get about 7.5% per die.)

So back to Specialists. It looks like, to keep the +4 starting bonus consistent, we should convert it to +8 or +9 dice in my suggested dice pool system. They would clearly have the most benefit if you spread them all out over eight or nine different skills, with each one getting, therefore, a 31% chance of success. In this extreme, they're almost twice as effective as the +4 dice of the playtest rules. The playtest dice are more effective per skill (33.3%>31%), but you can only apply that bonus to four skills at most.

I... actually kind of like that approach. I think that the jack-of-all-trades seems more consistent with my idea of what a Specialist class brings to the table, which is the guy you hire to do the tricky stuff. I'm going to assume players will game the system, most likely spreading their bonus dice far and wide. However, if they want to tailor their character to fit a particular archetype, they can shift that pool around quite a bit. (Translator, Sailor, Acrobat, etc. are all merely different skill distributions.)

One last thing that I really like: in keeping the mechanics of skill rolls consistent with that of saving throws, not only are we unifying mechanics a bit, but we can also introduce variable results for skill rolls. 2+ successes means the skill is executed perfectly, whereas one success means there is a complication that develops. The downside to this, of course, is that most skills used by non-specialists are going to forever remain at 1 die, leading to automatic complications. I don't know how I feel about that yet.

What remains to be seen after this first thought experiment: (1) Do I want to tweak the amount of bonus dice for non-Specialist classes? It depends on whether the Specialist seems too crucial compared to the Fighter and Magic-User. (2) What about that INT bonus? Keep it consistent? Again, more playtesting required. (3) Maybe I'll give fighters bonus dice for Leadership, another new skill.

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