RPG Design - Resolution system

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Hi!

I have no idea if this is the kind of topic that's allowed on ENWorld, but as there's many folks here with publishing and design experience, I figure I might ask.

Short background, I work as a game designer in the videogame industry. I'm pretty confident in my abilities and methods in that context, but I've started working on two TTRPG projects lately. One by myself, and one with a coworker. I'll focus on my personal project even though I've hit the same wall in both projects.

So far, I've been doing pretty good in navigating these new waters. There's many aspects to designing a TTRPG and I'm doing pretty good with many of them: creating the setting, establishing some core design pillars, identifying the level of complexity I'm interested in, identifying some of the systems needed for the fantasy of the game to be fulfilled, identifying existing versions of these systems, what I like about them, what I dislike about them.

However, the one aspect that I really have trouble navigating and which is kind of unique to TTRPG (to a certain way) is their resolution systems. I'm not a stranger to understanding some of the nuances and differences that a d20 system has over a dice pool system for example, but I absolutely don't fully understand all the subtleties. I have to either create one or borrow an existing one and it's hard for me to identify what I'm looking for in a resolution system? There's broad qualities like a system that allows for a lot of granularity in bonuses and progression, one that's fast, etc. But in the end I'm looking at similar options like a 2D6 system, or a 1D6 system and I'm struggling to see why I would choose one over the other?

Alot of the design thoughts that I have are more focused on the layer above the resolution system. I don't want to just blindly pick, I feel there must be some criterias that allows at least to move in a direction intently and explore a more defined space.

Anyone has experience with this challenge? Designed their own system? Had to choose one? Why did you choose that one?

Thanks!
 

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Puddles

Adventurer
My thoughts are if the game is a typical adventure RPG with combat, you should focus first on your attack sequence and then derive your general resolution mechanic from that.

For example, D&D uses a variation of D20+modifiers vs a target number for both combat and for general resolution. The attack sequence has 2 steps, attack roll and damage roll, whereas the general resolution mechanic has 1 step that is similar to the attack roll.

The reason I would focus on the attack sequence first, is that it usually has a bit more going on and it also opens up more design space (mainly weapons and damage allocation) that is good to get nailed down early.

For example, you might want certain weapons to have specific roles such as one that is better against a well armoured foe but worse against a unarmed foe. Fleshing out your attack sequence will help you solve these questions first, and once that’s starting to take shape you can then look to deriving a simpler mechanic from it as your general resolution mechanic.

For me that’s the easier approach than creating a general resolution mechanic first and then struggling with weapon design down the road because the design space is too limited.

I appreciate this is very combat focused, but it’s how I always approach TTRPG design myself.

I hope that helps!
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
The reason I would focus on the attack sequence first, is that it usually has a bit more going on and it also opens up more design space (mainly weapons and damage allocation) that is good to get nailed down early.
I'm not going to focus on the attack sequence, but you're describing exactly my thought process. I'm focusing on the situations and fantasies I want to create and I'm trying to give myself design space.

One example is that I want to gravitate towards a style of play where rolls are quite frequent. A game with a good dose of proceduralism. So I think dice pools tend to take a little bit longer to build your pool and interpret the result. For that reason I'm leaning towards a roll + bonus system. But once again, I fail to be able to really see the subtleties between the different rolling methods. There's the probability spread, but I can't seem to make my decision solely on that.
 

Composer99

Adventurer
If you want to have lots of rolling, then you probably want:
(1) A simple die roll - whether that's a d20, a d6, 2d6, a d10, 2d10, or something similar. Best bets are likely d6/d10 or 2d6/2d10 for easy probability calculations.
(2) Very few modifiers.

A follow-up question is, are there follow-up rolls to establish magnitudes of resolution (the way damage rolls follow attack rolls in D&D), or is that supposed to follow from the in-game fiction (somewhat like Moves in a PbtA game)?
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
However, the one aspect that I really have trouble navigating and which is kind of unique to TTRPG (to a certain way) is their resolution systems. I'm not a stranger to understanding some of the nuances and differences that a d20 system has over a dice pool system for example, but I absolutely don't fully understand all the subtleties. I have to either create one or borrow an existing one and it's hard for me to identify what I'm looking for in a resolution system? There's broad qualities like a system that allows for a lot of granularity in bonuses and progression, one that's fast, etc. But in the end I'm looking at similar options like a 2D6 system, or a 1D6 system and I'm struggling to see why I would choose one over the other?

Alot of the design thoughts that I have are more focused on the layer above the resolution system. I don't want to just blindly pick, I feel there must be some criterias that allows at least to move in a direction intently and explore a more defined space.

Anyone has experience with this challenge? Designed their own system? Had to choose one? Why did you choose that one?
I’ve found AnyDice very helpful while working on my homebrew system. I used that quite a bit to look at the distribution of results and to see what the probabilities are at certain thresholds. I started with different mechanics for in- and out-of-combat before settling on 2d6 + modifiers. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it. I picked 2d6 because it’s quick and easy, and I like the non-uniform distribution of results.

One example is that I want to gravitate towards a style of play where rolls are quite frequent. A game with a good dose of proceduralism. So I think dice pools tend to take a little bit longer to build your pool and interpret the result. For that reason I'm leaning towards a roll + bonus system. But once again, I fail to be able to really see the subtleties between the different rolling methods. There's the probability spread, but I can't seem to make my decision solely on that.
What does character progression look like? Will the players be able to influence the bonus when they roll? What determines the difficulty of the roll? What kind of range of modifiers do you expect the players to have? Knowing the answer to some of those questions will help you decide what kind of roll mechanics will work for you.

For example, if the range of modifiers between an average and an expert character is too great, you can end up with situations where the average character has no chance of success while the expert is guaranteed success. That’s usually not good. What that looks like will depend on the dice mechanics. A +2 and a +10 is too large for a d6, probably okay with a d20, and basically negligible with a d100.
 

aia_2

Custom title
Hi, in my current designing experience i had the luck to figure out a resolution system which fits my need! I can't say it is unique as i don't know whetheror not someone else already designed it but it is somehow unhortodox (compared to any version of d&d!).

Ok, now my 2 cents:
1st cent: first think to the main achievements you want to get with your game and the resolution system will come out by only sticking to them... In a nutshell: if you want a system which needs speed, you will look for a 1-roll system...
2nd cent: i have already started a thread on this topic but it had no luck...
However i do reccomend you to read the essay i linked! I did get in touch with the author who is a really kind guy! He can help you for sure!
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
...I can't say it is unique as i don't know whetheror not someone else already designed it but it is somehow unhortodox (compared to any version of d&d!).
Don't worry - someone has already designed it. Originality isn't as important as meeting your design goals these days.

@kenada asks some good questions. I'd recommend keeping all the rules in their own silos to start, so that when you want to change something you don't have to tear everything else apart to do it.

Still wondering where to start? Try the Rule of Cool, do some gedanken experiments, and see what happens! Let's see...

Basic conflict resolution: when an outcome is uncertain, roll a "Triforce" (d4). 1 means opponent wins. 2 is neutral and 3 is your win. 4, however, since it contains its own triangle, means that magic (internal or external) is affecting the outcome, and another d4 determines 1 - magical loss, 2 - add to 4 and compare, 3 - add to 4 and compare, 4 - add to 4 and compare, as well as discovering a helpful fairie or heart (HP) recovery.
 

Puddles

Adventurer
I'm not going to focus on the attack sequence, but you're describing exactly my thought process. I'm focusing on the situations and fantasies I want to create and I'm trying to give myself design space.

One example is that I want to gravitate towards a style of play where rolls are quite frequent. A game with a good dose of proceduralism. So I think dice pools tend to take a little bit longer to build your pool and interpret the result. For that reason I'm leaning towards a roll + bonus system. But once again, I fail to be able to really see the subtleties between the different rolling methods. There's the probability spread, but I can't seem to make my decision solely on that.
In that case, another thing you might want to consider is the spread of outcomes from your resolution mechanic and how you want them to scale.

For example, the single roll + modifiers might have a crit on the highest natural roll (e.g a “Nat 20”), in this case you have 3 outcomes: failure, success, critical success. The interesting part is the critical success stays static regardless of how many modifiers there are.

On the other hand, if you have a dice pool system, say, roll a pool of d6, if any are a 6 you are successful, any additional 6’s are critical successes. Then you have a system where the critical success scales (the more dice added to the pool, the more likely it becomes), and a system where there can be a wider range of outcomes: failure, success, critical success, 2x critical success and so on.

If that wider spread and scalability of outcomes is interesting for your game, you might want to consider a dice pool system.
 

pemerton

Legend
the one aspect that I really have trouble navigating and which is kind of unique to TTRPG (to a certain way) is their resolution systems. I'm not a stranger to understanding some of the nuances and differences that a d20 system has over a dice pool system for example, but I absolutely don't fully understand all the subtleties. I have to either create one or borrow an existing one and it's hard for me to identify what I'm looking for in a resolution system? There's broad qualities like a system that allows for a lot of granularity in bonuses and progression, one that's fast, etc. But in the end I'm looking at similar options like a 2D6 system, or a 1D6 system and I'm struggling to see why I would choose one over the other?

Alot of the design thoughts that I have are more focused on the layer above the resolution system. I don't want to just blindly pick, I feel there must be some criterias that allows at least to move in a direction intently and explore a more defined space.
If you're designing a RPG resolution system, and you haven't read Vincent Baker's extensive discussion of this, you should! Here's one way in: anyway: 3 Resolution Systems

As far as dice and probabilities go, those should (in my view) be the servant of what your resolution system is meant to do. Just as one example, if your resolution system is meant to foreground opposed checks, and you want ties to be significant, then you will want a resolution system that has a good chance of producing ties. An example of that is the dice pools used in the Burning Wheel family of games.
 

Art Waring

Redlined Ratrod
To keep it simple, dice pools take more time than a single die roll, and depending on what you want from the mechanics, this can potentially bog down your game.

Shadowrun is one example of a game that uses dice pools, and it gets to be that as the game progresses, you are potentially rolling a handful of dice, then counting any sixes for success. This takes time as each player must do this each turn.

A single roll is faster, but it also has its own detriments, namely being a bit swingy for d20's, but if you want to resolve challenges faster, its the way to go. This can still work with 2d6/3d6 resolution systems.

Other systems use a single die (like a d10), add a modifier, then check the result. If you roll a 10, the dice "explode" allowing you to roll a second die to add to the result. These are just some options to think over.

Hope it helps!
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
Why did you choose that one?
I chose Cepheus Engine for Solis People of the Sun because it is the Traveller OGL, I knew the Traveller community, and have been playing with that rules system for a long time. Nevertheless I have made it generic enough where I have played it with BRP based M-Space, and someone else told me they are using it with Mothership.

I think the criteria that you should ask is "who is this for?" If it is just for you, then you should do what makes you happy, if just generic, then I'd say something along the lines of 5e. If you are trying to appeal to a specific community, I'd use that rules set.
 


TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Alright, many good replies. Many questions, some to which I don't have answers.

Without going to much in the details, here's the pitch for what I'm working on.

The game comes with an expectation of a desertic/post-apolyptic setting ala Mad Max. The group of players are a group of survivors, nomads, and they all share one vehicle. I don't intend the characters themselves to have a ton of advancement, but that the progression be more on their vehicle, their stockpile of resources, etc.

I'm looking into a salvaging/crafting system, some vehicle combat (which includes actors moving around the vehicle, shooting, boarding) and some exploration rules as you're crossing a desert, I'm considering expectations of a hexcrawl or pointcrawl, but that's not clear yet.

I'm also very interested in having some rules for lackeys/sidekicks.
I'm not too interested on very binary resolution. "I try to jump on their vehicle." Roll. "You fail, you fall down and are left behind" is not what I'm going for. I want to have some clear procedures for all these parts of these encounters, or the exploration, or the crafting. But I'm more interested in how the player succeeds, or what complications his success brings.

I'm intending to have a a decent amount of granularity not in the characters themselves, but the different parts you can craft for the vehicle. Do you install additional nets under your wings to stock goods? Or do you install a fuel container? Resource management is one of my goals.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Alright, many good replies. Many questions, some to which I don't have answers.

Without going to much in the details, here's the pitch for what I'm working on.
There's a concept that Shawn Merwin & James Haeck discuss called "unity of effect" - they're borrowing from Edgar Allen Poe, and translating the idea that all the narrative, all the writing, the layout, and the game system should serve your design intent around the experience you want players to have.

For instance, I wrote a fun little one-page RPG called "Nine Whiskers in Juarez" about deputized cats facing off against villains in the Old West. Originally I had it as a dice pool d6 system, but then I realized that I could achieve better unity of effect by having the central mechanic be dice poker. Because that feels more "Old West", which is the tone I wanted to evoke, and creates a bit more tension in the bidding process where there's the risk of "busting" which feels more like cats pushing their luck.

For your purposes – whether resource management is a big gritty deal – a depleting dice pool or a d6 ammunition/resource depletion mechanic would serve you well.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
There's a concept that Shawn Merwin & James Haeck discuss called "unity of effect" - they're borrowing from Edgar Allen Poe, and translating the idea that all the narrative, all the writing, the layout, and the game system should serve your design intent around the experience you want players to have.
That's one of my guiding principle at work, and what I'm trying to apply here. But as I mentioned, it's harder for me to fully grasp how the different options for resolution system affect the experience. But I've got some good input from this thread so far.

a depleting dice pool or a d6 ammunition/resource depletion mechanic would serve you well
That's something I'm exploring right now! :)
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
If you're designing a RPG resolution system, and you haven't read Vincent Baker's extensive discussion of this, you should! Here's one way in: anyway: 3 Resolution Systems
I will definitely read this. Thank you.

I think the criteria that you should ask is "who is this for?" If it is just for you, then you should do what makes you happy, if just generic, then I'd say something along the lines of 5e. If you are trying to appeal to a specific community, I'd use that rules set.
I intend to turn it into a product. At first I was aiming for a smaller version for ZineQuest in february, but I don't think that leaves me enough time to test it.
 

pemerton

Legend
Without going to much in the details, here's the pitch for what I'm working on.
Given what you describe as your design goal, I'm sure you've looked at Apocalypse World. A system that has journey and exploration elements, and has an element of dice pool depletion (though probably not as front and centre as you're looking at) is Torchbearer.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I'm sure you've looked at Apocalypse World
I actually never have! I would have. But most of the time it's been recommended to me, it's been done in a zealous way that threw me off. But I do own Blades in the Dark, which if I'm right, is kind of a cousin of PbtA games?
 

pemerton

Legend
I actually never have! I would have. But most of the time it's been recommended to me, it's been done in a zealous way that threw me off. But I do own Blades in the Dark, which if I'm right, is kind of a cousin of PbtA games?
There are similarities between BitD and AW, yes, but also differences. I'm more familiar with AW. BitD uses much more structure around how consequences are established.

One feature of AW which (I think) BitD also has, is clear rules around when and how consequences of action declarations are established. In particular, the GM does not have the power to declare failure, independent of a dice roll, based on extrapolation from "secret" elements of the fiction that are known to the GM (either via prep, or because they make it up on the spot). This has significant implications for how salvaging, crafting and exploration are adjudicated - they're not done by way of "map-and-key" resolution.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
One feature of AW which (I think) BitD also has, is clear rules around when and how consequences of action declarations are established. In particular, the GM does not have the power to declare failure, independent of a dice roll, based on extrapolation from "secret" elements of the fiction that are known to the GM
I did a short one-shot of 2400 a little while ago. And the rules specified to always communicate to the players if there's any risk of injury or death in a roll and was very clear that if it wasn't explicitly stated before the roll, then it can't happen. I thought that was interesting. I don't do a ton of that stuff in my games. But in that one-shot it came up as one player tried to hack an elevator they were in and had a terrible roll, my first reflex was "The elevator starts falling down!" to create a tense situation, then I stopped and said "I can't actually do that, I didn't specify it before the rolls," and went with a different outcome.

Are you describing something similar?

of "map-and-key" resolution.
Can you elaborate a bit on what you mean by that? I'm not familiar with the expression.
 

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