Are Dice Pools Good, Actually?

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Okay, so I’ve seen a few people tag on dice pools lately, especially those that you count up the dice to reach a target number, and I don’t really get it.

I’m not sure I buy the idea that “count successes” is simpler than “count numbers”, unless the game always has the same numbers be success (eg, success is 5 or 6), and honestly I just can’t like a system where I fail a task because I only succeeded twice, and needed to do 3 times. And yes, that still bugs me even a dozen sessions into a campaign in such a system.

so, what’s up with dice pools? Why is the bell curve not worth the trivial additional math? Is there something else about it that I’m missing?
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
You can't like a system in which you fail because you were 1 short? That's what we're looking at here - you missed the role and because it's being done with a dice pool rather than adding some numbers up straight off a die/multiple dice - that breaks it for you?

Seriously?

I get preferences and all that, but honestly, the gaming community gets so fussy.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I don't really have a problem with any resolution system, as long as it's working as intended, and it's not too onerous or convoluted.
Yeah, usability is what's important for me as well. Sometimes that comes in just having an easy method of resolution, but sometimes it also comes with the system making it easy to calculate/estimate my chances. Adding a modifier to a d20 is easy. Rolling a dice pool for successes can also be easy - success on 5 or 6 on a d6? I can take the # of dice in my pool, divide by 3, and that's my expected number of successes. Easy. Rolling a d100 under a skill rating? Easy.

Add too many modifiers, too many dice to add every trial - all of that starts to get more and more distracting. I can work through it if the game is good enough, but I find I start to like simplicity in my old age.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
You can't like a system in which you fail because you were 1 short? That's what we're looking at here - you missed the role and because it's being done with a dice pool rather than adding some numbers up straight off a die/multiple dice - that breaks it for you?

Seriously?

I get preferences and all that, but honestly, the gaming community gets so fussy.
I think it's more that you get two successes, but still fail. The game tells you that you've succeeded some, but not enough, and that's the same as not succeeding at all. It's an odd dichotomy, when viewed that way.

I don't have that hitch, but I see it.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
You can't like a system in which you fail because you were 1 short? That's what we're looking at here - you missed the role and because it's being done with a dice pool rather than adding some numbers up straight off a die/multiple dice - that breaks it for you?

Seriously?

I get preferences and all that, but honestly, the gaming community gets so fussy.
I think it's more that you get two successes, but still fail. The game tells you that you've succeeded some, but not enough, and that's the same as not succeeding at all. It's an odd dichotomy, when viewed that way.

I don't have that hitch, but I see it.
That’s exactly it. I didn’t get any successes. If I had, I’d have succeeded. It shouldn’t be called a success if it doesn’t denote success. It’s weird as hell.

but also I just don’t like the way it runs compared to, say, the dice pool in The One Ring, where you have a TN and add numbers, but the math stays in low numbers, and degree of success can be determined by adding any maximal results on the dice. I hate systems wherein degree of success is a matter of “succeeding or failing by X or more”.
 

Nimblegrund

Explorer
I’m not sure I buy the idea that “count successes” is simpler than “count numbers”, unless the game always has the same numbers be success (eg, success is 5 or 6), and honestly I just can’t like a system where I fail a task because I only succeeded twice, and needed to do 3 times.
Is it a matter of terminology? Some RPGs call dice "hits" rather than successes, because rolling a "success" and the task failing seems a little strange, and makes things ambiguous when someone says they "rolled a success."

All i can say is rolling lots of dice is fun, and i dont find the math any more or less arduous, so long as modifiers to the roll are consistent. Modifying the target number you need to roll on the die with one modifier and changing the die pool with another can feel a bit disjointed.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Is it a matter of terminology? Some RPGs call dice "hits" rather than successes, because rolling a "success" and the task failing seems a little strange, and makes things ambiguous when someone says they "rolled a success."

All i can say is rolling lots of dice is fun, and i dont find the math any more or less arduous, so long as modifiers to the roll are consistent. Modifying the target number you need to roll on the die with one modifier and changing the die pool with another can feel a bit disjointed.
Yeah, the terminology, but also just...it feels like I could just as easily be rolling to hit a target number instead of rolling to count the number of times I hit a given result to then compare that derived number to a target. Even “hit” is counterintuitive, IMO.

I will say that counting successes can lead to easy “mixed success” mechanics, but so can a DC ladder, where if your DC was moderate and you beat the Hard DC, it’s a better success, and if you hit the Easy DC it’s a mixed success.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I like dice pool systems. And I prefer the tactile aspect of adding/rmeoving dice from a pool rather than applying modifiers.
I agree. And I like the ability of rank dice to still roll quite low, against all average expectations, and circumstances or help or whatever to make a task possible or just round out the averages in your favor. It just all feels good, to me.
 

Bilharzia

Villager
Try Forbidden Lands or Mutant Year Zero, both have large quickstarts which detail the mechanics. Give either one a go it might help you understand the appeal.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I’m not sure I buy the idea that “count successes” is simpler than “count numbers”
You can do the experiment, if you like. Get a handful of friends together, and a mess of dice . Each person will do two sets of ten rolls, each roll will be timed - one set is "roll 8 dice, and add them up" the other is "roll 8 dice, tell me how many are 5 or above". You can use anything d6 or higher - if you want to make the issue most clear, use d20s.

You will very probably find that the set of "roll and sum all" will be slower than the "roll and count hits".

When you are summing, for each die you are adding a number between 1 and N to the total, where N is the number of sides to the die. When you are counting hits, for each die you are adding 0 or 1 to a total. The latter is just faster for most people.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
I’m not a fan of dice pools because (1) it slows down resolution time and (2) makes it hard to eyeball probabilities. it also requires you to carry around tons of dice. I understand the visceral appeal of rolling lots of dice, but it’s not for me.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
You can do the experiment, if you like. Get a handful of friends together, and a mess of dice . Each person will do two sets of ten rolls, each roll will be timed - one set is "roll 8 dice, and add them up" the other is "roll 8 dice, tell me how many are 5 or above". You can use anything d6 or higher - if you want to make the issue most clear, use d20s.

You will very probably find that the set of "roll and sum all" will be slower than the "roll and count hits".

When you are summing, for each die you are adding a number between 1 and N to the total, where N is the number of sides to the die. When you are counting hits, for each die you are adding 0 or 1 to a total. The latter is just faster for most people.
Have done, but that’s the wrong experiment.

The right experiment is to take a set of d6s or d10s (the two most grokable dice), and compare “did you hit or miss X” (where x is a relatively low number), vs “were there at least X dice 5 or 6”.

IME, the ease of use is functionally identical, and the first method is more satisfying and less weird.
But it’s quite easy to eyeball whether your result was higher or lower than 15, or whatever.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker
I think I'll take a shot at this, though I won't pretend it's exactly what @doctorbadwolf is thinking (so please don't react as though I'm putting words in his mouth).

Pick up a handful of d10s (let's say six) and roll them. The questions are "Did you roll over 30?" and "How many dice rolled 8 or higher?" I can see someone having an easier time doing the addition (less weird) and preferring to have one success threshold (30) to compare to (more satisfying). I'll point out that doing the math by sight is likely to be quicker/easier with pipped d6s than something with numerals, but that's ... not really relevant here (unless it is, I guess).
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Have done, but that’s the wrong experiment.

The right experiment is to take a set of d6s or d10s (the two most grokable dice), and compare “did you hit or miss X” (where x is a relatively low number), vs “were there at least X dice 5 or 6”.
First - for dice pools, it typically isn't a low number. The bell curve of dice pools means that we are generally going to not bother using the dice when the target is notably below the middle of the distribution. For even a basic 3d6 and sum dice pool, you are interested in target numbers above ten. As soon as your additions are getting into double-digits, human mental addition slows down.

Second, to make your point, you are pushing the adjudication step to the player, when that's typically done by the GM.

When you are playing D&D, you roll a d20, add your modifiers, and report the result to the GM, who tells you whether you succeed. The GM is not usually telling you the AC of the monster, or the DC of the save or skill check.

Same thing here - the player generates the die result, but the GM is the one who does the adjudication. So, it is typically the player's responsibly to sum the dice, or count the hits, and report to the GM - the GM then tells you what happens.
 

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