Tuesday, August 24, 2021

321 Hero* Dice: A post about unusual dice anatomy.

This post briefly mentions HeroQuest. As such, we must begin by viewing the sacred liturgy. Once this is done, you may return for the rest of this blogpost.

The structure of the dice:

Several games use six-sided dice with the following properties:
  • 3 of the faces share the same symbol, usually indicating a successful 'attack' result.
  • 2 of the other faces share a second symbol, usually indicating a successful 'defense' result.
  • The final singular face has its own distinct marking.
An example of what these dice look like. Photo credit to Eric on BGG.

What follows are some examples, and my thoughts about adapting these dice for RPGs.

The games I've noticed this in:

3 of: 2 of: 1 of:
HeroQuest Skull Shield Rabbit
Heroscape Skull Shield Blank/Special
Funkoverse Burst Shield !!!
Cthulhu Wars* Blank "Pain" (Claw Marks) "Kill" (Tentacle Skull)
*This game uses similarly structured dice, but otherwise the combat mechanics are very different from HeroQuest/scape.
Combat works in HeroQuest works like so: The attacker and defender each roll a number of dice determined by their stats and equipment. Each Skull rolled by the attacker is a "hit", which will reduce the defender's 'Body points' (HP) if it isn't cancelled. If the defender is a player, then each Shield they roll cancels a hit. If the defender is a monster npc, then each Rabbit cancels a hit.
Combat works similarly to HeroQuest. But because the game is PvP, there is no asymmetry in defensive rolls. Shields always cancel hits. Some units have abilities which do something special when the singular face is rolled.
As above, but with two changes.
Firstly, there is no HP; attack success is binary. A character is either Standing Up, Knocked Down, or Knocked Out. If the number of Bursts (Skulls) rolled by the attacker is greater than the number of Shields rolled by the defender, the attack is successful. A successful attack knocks down the defender, or if they're already knocked down, knocks them out.
Secondly, the singular face is marked with triple exclamation points "!!!". When rolled by the attacker, this counts as three Bursts, and when rolled by the defender, this counts as three Shields. This makes the combat swingier to make up for the variance lost by the first change.
Cthulhu Wars
In combat, both players roll a number dice based on their units in the contested space. Each Kill rolled means that one of the opponent's units is removed. Each Pain rolled means the opposing player must retreat a unit to an adjacent space, or remove it if there is nowhere valid to retreat to.
(If you are familiar with any other games that use this 3-2-1 dice-face distribtion, leave a comment down below.)

Thoughts on adapting this to tabletop RPGs:

Dice pools are satisfying to roll, and this framework makes it easy to resolve giant rolls.

Thanks to the clearance bins at the local grocery store, I'm come into possession of a decently large pile of these dice. So I wonder if these mechanics can be cleanly adapted into a more general GLoG-style tabletop rpg.

Here's a little javascript doodad for rolling these kinds of dice. I use ☠️ to refer to when one of the 3 attack faces is rolled, 🔰 to refer to when one of the 2 defense faces is rolled, and ❗ to refer to when the singular face is rolled. If you're using normal six-sided dice, then consult the following table:

3 of: 2 of: 1 of:
Result Offense Defense Special
Symbol ☠️ 🔰
Roll on a d6 4,5,6 2,3 1


Combat can be directly transferred over from one of the above systems. The number of attack or defense dice rolled by PCs could depend on their equipment and/or their stats. Easy.

Saves, Skill Checks, Diplomacy, etc.:

What about non-combat conflict resolution? How can these dice be used to adjucate a PC trying to persuade someone to join their cause, flee from persuers, or safely trigger an elaborate trap?

The obvious solution is to resolve these forms of conflict the same way that an attack is resolved. When two characters oppose each other in some way:

  1. Determine who is challenger and who is challengee.
    • The character who initiates the conflict, or the more proactive character, is the "challenger".
    • The more defensive, reactive, character is the "challengee".
    • In symmetrical conflicts, like an arm-wrestling match, both characters can be challengers.
  2. Roll!
    • Determine which stat (STR, DEX, etc.) is most relevant to what each character is trying to do.
    • The number of dice rolled for each character depends on their value in that stat.
    • Perhaps a character has some special ability or condition that alters the number of dice they roll.
    • Perhaps there are some narrative factors that alter how many dice the characters roll.
  3. Count Successes.
    • The challenger gets 1 Success for each of their ☠️s.
    • The challengee gets 1 Success for each of their 🔰s.
    • Perhaps a character has some special training that makes❗s count as Successes for certain kinds of challenge.
  4. Determine the winner, and narrate the appropriate consequences.
    • For exach of the Challengee's Successes, cancel one of the Challenger's Successes.
    • If the Challenger has any un-cancelled Successes, then they win the challenge. Otherwise, the challengee wins the challenge.
    • (In other words, whoever rolls the most Successes wins. The challengee wins ties.
    • If there aren't interesting narrative consequences for both outcomes, then you shouldn't have rolled a challenge in the first place. That's just general GM advice.
The most finnangly bit would be determining how many dice to roll. You could either use a table to map 3d6-style stats to a smaller number of dice, or you could tweak character creation so that STR, DEX, CHA, and the like are manageably small numbers. I like this latter option because if all stats are on a scale of 0-5, then I can use the lovely Dungeons and Drawings as a gameable bestiary:
Some example challenges:
  • A thief wants to pilfer the contents of a guard's pockets. Challenge the thief's DEX vs the guard's WIS.
  • A guard is chasing after a thief. Challenge the guard's DEX vs the thief's DEX.
  • A guard is chasing after a thief. The thief scatters a handful of gold coins on the ground, hoping that the ensuing crowd of people will hamper the guard's pursuit. Challenge the guard's DEX vs the thief's DEX+1.

Saving throws, skill checks, and other risky interactions with the environment would work much the same. But instead of rolling against an opponent, the character simply needs enough successes to match the difficulty of the test.

  • An adventurer wants to jump over a small pit. Challenge their DEX vs 1. (They need at least one ☠️ to succeed.)
  • They want to kick down a door. Challenge their STR vs 3. (They need at least three ☠️s to succeed.)
  • Rocks are falling! The adventurer dodges! Challenge 2 vs their DEX. (They need at least two 🔰s to succeed.)

GLoG Magic:

See here or here for a more in-depth description, but the brief version of GLoG spellcasting is:

  1. Wizards have a pool of Magic Dice (MD), and choose how many to spend when casting a spell.
  2. They roll that many d6s and the result of the spell depends on both the number of [dice] invested and the total [sum] rolled across the dice.
  3. If doubles or triples are rolled, then the wizard suffers mishaps or dooms (magical backlash).
  4. Each dice that rolls a 1,2, or 3 is returned to the MD pool and can be spent again immediately. Any dice that rolls 4,5,6 is expended and doesn't return until the next day.

Spell-casting in GLoG already uses a dice pool mechanism. So this should be a perfect fit. But there are two major difficulties when it comes to the adaptation. The first issue is that doubles and triples are much more common with this style of dice. The second is that a handful of Hero* dice doesn't really have a [sum], and so spell effects will need some adaptation.

Mishaps and Dooms:

When rolling a pair of regular six-sided dice, the chance of rolling doubles is 1-in-6 (approximately 16%). When rolling a pair of these dice, doubles happen about 39% of the time. They're more than twice as common.

When rolling three regular six-sided dice, the chance of rolling at least doubles is about 44%, and the chance or rolling triples is a measly 1-in-36 (3%). When rolling three Hero* dice, the chance of at least doubles is 5-in-6 (83%), and the chance of triples is 1-in-6 (16%)

One option is to simply bite the bullet and let magical mishaps be more common. Maybe offset them with some artifact or class that lets the wizard manipulate their dice. But yeah, that sounds like it could be fun. The option is to swap out the mishap mechanism. I discuss a few alternatives in this post here.

Adapting the MD dice pool.

MD return to your pool on a 🔰 or❗. Simple adaptation.

Adapting spell-effects:

Take a look at this wizardpost by Skerples for some examples of GLoG spells.

The easiest category to adapt are the spells that only depend on the number of [dice] rolled, and which have entirely narrative effects. For example, the spell Feather Fall doesn't need any adaptation:

7. Feather Fall
R: 10’ T: [dice] creatures or objects D: 0
If you would take fall damage, you can cast this spell as a reaction to negate it. You float gently to the ground (possibly alarmingly late).

Spells which just deal [sum] damage are also straightforward to adapt. All that needs to be done is to have the spell act as an Attack with [dice] dice. For example, the spells for Magic Missile and Fireball are:

6. Magic Missile
R: 200' T: creature D: 0
Target takes [sum] + [dice] damage, no Save. As an Orthodox Wizard, your spell is unique to you, and can be any colour, shape, or pattern you describe.
12. Fireball
R: 200' T: 20' diameter D: 0
Does [sum] fire damage to all objects.
And can be adapted to something like:
Magic Missile
R: 200' T: creature D: 0
Attack [dice]+1 against the target.
R: 200' T: 20' diameter D: 0
Attack [dice] against all objects within the area of effect. Deals fire damage.
Or depending on the details of how combat is being handled, a more flavorful interpretation of Magic Missile (unavoidable magic attack) might be
Magic Missile
R: 200' T: creature D: 0
Target takes [dice] wounds, no Challenge.

The most difficult kind of spell to adapt would be the ones that have qualitatively different effects depending on the [sum] rolled. Take a look at the Light spell. I've emphasized the tricky bit:

9. Light
R: touch T: object or creature D: [dice]x2 hours
Object illuminates as a torch, with a radius of 20’+[dice]x10’. Alternatively, you can make an Attack roll against a sighted creature. If you succeed, the creature is blinded for [sum] rounds. If [sum] is greater than 12, the creature is permanently blinded. You can chose the colour of the light. If you invest 4 [dice] or more this light has all the qualities of natural sunlight. Alternatively, if you invest 4 [dice] or more the light can be purest octarine, although it will only last for 1 round. Octarine light is extremely dangerous.

We could adapt this so that the special effect depends on the magnitude of the success of the roll:

Alternatively, you can Challenge [dice] against a sighted creature's CON. For each of your uncancelled Successes, the creature is blinded for two rounds. If you have at least 4 uncancelled successes, the creature is permanently blinded.

Or we could use the qualitative nature of our dice faces to have a qualitative results table. Something like:

Alternatively, you can target a sighted creature. If you do, then the results of your spell roll have the following effect(s):
  • 🔰: The creature faintly glows for [dice] minutes.
  • 🔰🔰🔰: The creature permanently faintly glows.
  • ☠️: The creature is blinded for [dice] rounds.
  • ☠️☠️☠️: The creature is permanently blinded.
  • ❗: The creature pulses with a flash of light, blinding all sighted creatures within [dice]x10’ for [dice] rounds.
  • ❗❗❗: All sighted creatures within [dice]x10’ are permanently blinded.

Maybe all spells have inherently risky ❗ effects, and that's where the danger of high-MD casting comes from, instead of mishaps. I don't know. That sounds fun but also would make spell adaptation a load of work.

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