Dealing With Die Results
Okay, I rolled but what does it mean?
There are several different basic ways to treat results, but most of them are simply based on trying to roll over or under some kind of target numbers. Where these target numbers come from is more often the distinguishing factor of the system and not that they are simply trying to roll high or low. There are some other methods, like trying to roll central (with extremes in either direction being bad), but these are far less common.
Flat rolls and bell curve style rolls are used for both trying to roll high and trying to roll low based systems, but remember that the more dice involved in a bell curve the more average the rolls will be. Adding style die pools usually only work well for trying to roll high. Success/failure style die pools can work for both, but the numbers are always much smaller that way.
Choosing a method of target number selection is important, as it sets the tone for the whole game. It can be a set number, using modifiers or adding dice to create the level of difficulty or likelihood reaching it. It can be a floating variable, which changes depending on the situation and difficulty. It can be an opposing roll of some kind, be it opponent or object. It all depends on the style of the game and feel you are going for.
The most basic method is the straight opposing rolls. Two rolls are made for each task (often with modifiers or varied number of dice to account for one side being better than the other) and the higher of the two is successful. In cases where it is not two characters opposing the GM would make the second roll to represent the opposing force, even if it is a lock you are trying to pick or a computer with data in it you are trying to access. This tends to make for a very active and tense system, but it also makes for some very unrealistic situations because of wild rolls from static objects.
The next option is the static difficulty, where there are set numbers for difficulty that the rolls have to try and reach or pass. This can be a single set number (in which modifiers become very important) or a set of numbers that represent different difficulties (often set by the GM for each task attempted). This makes for a very easy to understand system, but it can sometimes feel a little static since there is no real control over the numbers. Having lots of modifier options or variable number of dice involved can add some action back into it. This can work great with the right dice system.
There is then the personal level of target numbers, where each character has their own set of target numbers (usually for skills). This allows for each character to truly feel individual and that they have more control over certain things in their growth, but it can also become confusing for some groups since nobody knows what is being rolled against all the time. This method works best with a die roll that is static (even if it has a few possible modifiers), where you always roll the same dice. Die pools generally are not a great way to go about this method.
Finally there is the arbitrary (or at least seemingly arbitrary) target level method. This is where the rolls are more of a guideline and the GM (or even the group consensus) determines if it was good enough to do what they were attempting. This can be a strong tool for more story based games, where hard rules are not important, as this can be used as more of a guideline to base how they are going to tell the story of what happened as a result of the roll. Things are not clear cut success or fail with this method, but it can also easily lead to arguments.
No matter which of these set difficulty number methods you go with the actual numbers need to fit well with the type of die roll method you chose. You should figure out what the normal range of numbers that are going to be achieved in the game are and at what frequency they hit at. Then make sure the difficulty numbers you choose are appropriately achievable within this range, depending on the feel and style of the game. If they are too hard to reach you may frustrate and alienate players, but if you make them too easy you might also bore and alienate players. So finding that balance, or multiple levels of difficulty, is the hardest part of working this out and requires a lot of math and statistical work get just right.
I am sure there are other methods, combinations of methods, and sub-methods that I have not even touched on here, but these are the four basic ways of handing the reading of die results in most RPGs you will find. Choosing the one that captures the feel of the game you are making is just as important as choosing the die roll method you want to use, and most of the time they should be chosen hand in hand.
The second thing to consider when choosing which method you are going to use is how or if you are going to include modifiers as part of the system. They can have a great effect on how the system works, depending on how much of an effect on things you allow them to have. Finding the right balance is very important.
The main reason to have modifiers is to make a system feel less rigid and able to react to different situations. This can be for both realism or to add more excitement and action to the system, but it can also cause some games to start to fall apart if it isn't integrated well. It all depends on what feel you are going for and how much control you want the players to have over each rolled outcome based situation.
Modifiers can be a rare and subtle altering of the possible outcomes or they can be made to be main reason for success or failure of something (or somewhere in between). The more dependant you make the success of things on modifiers, the less important the rolls actually become (which can be the point of the system you are going for). Where you place this line in the game will greatly affect the feel of the system and should be seriously taken into consideration.
Modifiers tend to come in two styles: Those that modify the roll and those that modify the target. They basically do the same thing, but can have different subtle effects on how the system works (especially if a bell curve of any kind is involved). The main thing to remember is that you really should be consistent on which one you choose. It confuses things too much if it depends on the situation each time as to which way it goes.
The source of the modifiers should also be looked into. Do the players control them, at least to some level, (such as from skill levels they have or choosing to attempt certain extra actions) or are they entirely up to the GM based on the situation (such as environmental or even difficulty levels). It is possible to include all kinds of them, but the more you include the more dependant the system becomes on them.
There are also other aspects you need to think about when including modifiers of some kind. Do you want them to be able to stack or do you want to limit each roll to one? Is there a cap to how much they can modify? Are the based on character aspects or are they rigid set numbers or are they arbitrarily set by he GM based on the situation?
Lastly I want to talk about something that most games include without seemingly thinking about it, but that actually has a great affect on the outcomes of rolls. Sometimes the entire system becomes about these, evnen if that wasn't the intent. That is the use of Critical rolls, both successes and failures (sometimes called fumbles). The inclusion of these should be handled with great care or else they can completely unbalance your system.
Criticals are usually rolls that mean your character automatically succeeds or fails, no matter the situation, when rolled. Sometimes they are based off the flat results of the roll (like a "natural 20" on a D20), no matter what modifier may be on them. Other times they are based on the roll total with modifiers factored in (like a roll "over 24" on a D20 with modifiers). Either way (or even both) will end with a result that makes a critical possible some of the time.
How often this result can be achieved is what will have the greatest affect on the system. If they are relatively common (like 10% of the time) they can have a real strong affect on the game and how it runs, where as if they are rare (like <1% of the time) they will be a special boon that creates excitement because of the rarity of it. This balance has to be really thought about because the frequency it happens will be a strong part of the feel of the game. Yes, I know, this Math again, but math is a major part of any part of an RPG system that uses anything but freeform storytelling.
The second part of the critical that has to be thought of is what the effect of a critical roll is. Are they simply a guaranteed success or failure, or are they something that has a great bonus effect or horrible problem attached? It is also possible to have it be a range of effects, often done with a chart or something. This should be directly attached to the frequency option since the more common they are, the less powerful they should be unless you want that jumpy uneven feeling to be part of the system. For example: You don't want 10% of your strikes to be instant kills in most systems.
Criticals can be a great part of a system and make for many of the most memorable stories to come out of it, but that's usually because they are not super common or near impossible. Finding that balance is the important part.
In the end it all comes down to the difficulty and feel you want your rolling to have in the game. Do the math, no matter how much it hurts, and figure out exactly how your choices are going to work in the game you are making. Then test it like crazy, but don't be afraid to tweak or even change it completely if you need to. What's actually best for the game is not always what you think it's going to be at first. I know this one first hand.
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