Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Attribute Checks: The Simple Route

“Senior moments” seem to be coming harder and faster for me after turning around that four decade mark. I failed to mention in yesterday's post kicking off the Pendragon D&D thread (the follow-up sections are being worked on tonight) that I had adapted the stress saving throw from AD&D house rules used by the Lord of Green Dragons, Rob Kuntz.

A couple weeks back I had played a less-than-heroic role in the Saturday evening session judged by Kuntz at the North Texas RPG rumpus. One of the more interesting things I noticed from playing with the man was his frequent use of attribute checks.

Depending on the situation he would call for a throw of 3d6, 4d6, or 5d6 against a particular attribute—the dice being added for the relative difficulty of the task at hand. Exceeding the number meant failure. I wasn't entirely sure, but beating a roll handily or failing it badly seemed to have consequences.

Here a 3d6 against would be thrown against CHA for attempting to cajole some information from a hooded servant, there a 4d6 would be thrown against DEX to avoid dropping into an invisible pit of certain death. 

INT checks of various proportions were frequently used to see if he would feed us metagamey knowledge (a sudden perception of a weakness in a trap, the direction that the air currents were taking a cloud of sulfurous gas, etc)

Not rocket science, nothing earth-shattering, but a far simpler and more elegant solution than the constant addition and subtraction of modifiers on a d20 roll or the matching of various challenge systems. 

Consider it borrowed, oh Lord.  


  1. This is precisely the same system I am using in both of the games currently under development; one with d6 and the other with d10. Nice to see it is so beloved.

  2. Great reminder of a great concept. Thanks!

  3. I was a player in a guy's Fringeworthy Addendum game, and he also utilised that method.
    --Man, 5d6 is pretty much a sure failure at 17.5 average. :o

    Perhaps if Level, or another Modifier (a la Rainswept's idea on Cyclo's post) is added to the Score before a roll, the 5+ dice range of tasks can be attempted with something resembling a chance for non-Ubermenschen?

  4. How do you account for increasing character level, though? For instance, in the Castles & Crusades RPG's core mechanic, you roll a d20 against either a base difficulty of 12 or 18 (depending on whether the attribute being tested is a primary or secondary) and add your level to the die roll. Adding your level is a reflection of how your character has improved with time. How can you reflect improvement over time with the xd6 versus attribute number system? Would you perhaps subtract character level from the die roll? I just think that not accounting for a character's level of experience in attribute checks misses something important.

  5. Levels? Pafh...we were 12th level (sad admission time, much higher than I have played in the entirety of my time) in Rob's game and had none.

    Modifiers spoil the elegance of a dice pool. Perhaps you account for levels by subtracting a die every fifth level or so?

  6. @ Timeshadow

    In the game I am working on called Forlorn Hope, the attribute is underneath a skill rating that can be up to 10 points at max; creating a 3-28 range that fits perfectly under 5 dice. :D

  7. @Ckutalik: As far as I can tell, the 'die-pool' is simply additive, there is no feature of that pool that makes any die result different than another, as they are simply numbers. Mods affect things only once they reach or exceed the average of one die (3.5).
    --If 1's cancelled 6's which would otherwise explode, then yes, the mod would throw things; or if, like ORE, runs of the same number did something different than the same total of dissimilar die-faces.

    But, I've been wrong before. :D

    Your 'Lower by 1d per 5 Levels' is an interesting idea. 5th through 9th, 10th-14th, etc.

  8. @Timeshadows
    "As far as I can tell, the 'die-pool' is simply additive, there is no feature of that pool that makes any die result different than another, as they are simply numbers."

    No it has nothing to do with the statistical range of numbers and more to do with the visceral feel at the table. Mixing mechanics tends to annoy.

  9. As a big "d6 mechanic" fan, I LOVE this idea. PDF-ized and stolen, thanks!

  10. Accounting for levels in a multi-dice ability check is fairly easy. Set a threshold level of the check this is the level at which n-dice are rolled. If a character is a certain # levels higher they get to roll one less die. Lower level range and they have to roll one more die.

    Example A lvl4 4d-STR check in a campaign with a 2 level difference was significant would have characters of 3-5th level rolling 4d dice vs STR, 1st&2nd level would be rolling 5dice vs STR and level 6 or more would be rolling 3dice vs STR.

  11. Been using this for a few years now. Players love it and so do I.

    @DRANCE - you don't. Higher level characters may have magics and enhancements found through adventuring, but you're as strong as you're strong. The raw strength or dex of a 10th level character isn't going to differ much than the 1st level (in fact, due to aging, you might see it less.) Rather, the higher level character *should* have the know-how, resources or henchmen to throw at a problem that requires the attrib check.

    You see, DRANCE, the attrib check should never happen. Smart players don't want dice thrown, they want to just hear a "yes" because of their plans, resources, and ability to figure out a puzzle without resorting to the clatter.

  12. So, you're basically playing HERO/GURPS! I cannot tell you how much I have started to despise flat distributions; give me a bell-curve any day.

  13. Added to Links to Wisdom under:

    An oldie but a goodie and clear sensible wisdom IMO.

  14. This was the primary mechanic in The Fantasy Trip, a precursor to GURPS. I like using it with D&D too.