Thursday 25 August 2011

Who Rolls When?

My last series of posts seems to have gone down like a lead balloon, so let's get back to something more familiar.

Consider the situation. The GM has declared that an ogre is attacking Unmer the Glum, a player-character. Assuming the system calls for a roll to see if the attack is successful (let's ignore damage rolls for now), there are a few ways this could be handled. Some more often explored than others.

Attacker rolls against Defender's Stat.
This is the D&D method, which I've also used for shooting in Xenofringe. The attacker is completely active in the exchange and the defender completely passive. In this way it's possible for a player to be killed without having taken any action in the process. Of course, their prior action may have helped this come to pass, but that killing blow was entirely in the hands of their attacker. You can tell from how I'm writing this that I think this may not be the ideal approach.

Attacker rolls against Defender's Roll.
This is what I've used in The Adventurer's Tale and A Wanderer's Romance. Both parties take an active role in the exchange and if the defender rolls badly they're in for a nasty consequence. You might think, as I've used it so often, I favour this technique. While I do like it there's a certain clunkiness I find with opposed rolls like this, especially if you're running a PbP or IRC game where players' attentions are often divided. I consider this a good choice on paper but imperfect in practice.

Attacker compares Stat against Defender's Stat.
I've included this option for a sense of symmetry but removing the random element altogether doesn't work for me. Next.

Defender rolls against Attacker's Stat.
Here's what I wanted to get to. I don't know of any systems that use this method, but I think it poses a few possibilities.

- The Attacker remains active, declaring and describing their action.
- The Defender is engaged and has active input into the process.
- Something about it just makes combat feel more deadly. It's like the attack is assumed to hit unless you can do something about it.
- It's easily convertible, if not perfectly. Try it with 3e onwards D&D today by having the "Attack Score" be 10+ attack bonus and a character's "Save vs Attack" be 1d20+ AC modifiers.

But one possibly crushing downside looms over me. Would players be happy not making attack rolls? Everyone loves rolling a 20 and can the possible advantages of this system outweigh the pleasure in that moment? Would be interested to hear thoughts.


  1. Hey, I'm still decompressing your last 5 posts (is it 5? I think?). It had a HUGE effect on me.

    I think preaching to the choir might be what slowed things down but thinking outside the box you have motivated me to design something on the side to see how it goes.

    There are BIG changes going on right now and the club house might seem crowded to some but I love the company. :)

    For a sneak peek:

    And thank you for the posts. They have jump started me out of a bad burnout session.

    More to come...

  2. Good to know it had a positive impact on someone! Looks like you've got an interesting project underway. I'll be keeping an eye on it.

  3. I personally like a combination of the "Attacker roll against Defender's Stat" and "Defender Rolls against Attackers stat".

    Using both of these you are able to have the players make all the rolls by rolling both their own attacks and defenses, which leaves the GM free to focus on story and action.

    I think the basic mechanic in the Fate games are like this.

  4. I do like the idea of "player always rolls". Perhaps something I'll need to investigate in future.

  5. I haven't heard of a system like that last idea, but it is cool. It's sort of counter-intuitive, but I like the pressure that the attack hits by default. However, I can't see that going down well with players attacking a baddie - nothing quite like making an attack roll against the big bad when you're low on HP and so is he.

    I like the suggested modification of "the players always roll." This makes it a little more work to make the system, but less work to run as the GM.