Whitebox20 and the Q&A that goes in my head

So, what’s going on here?

Oh it’s just me showing what a bit of what went through my head while designing W20.

Oh, right, yes, I was there when we decided this. Let’s start with: what kind of resolution mechanic do you want?

Possibly based on a d20. Stat in the 3d6 range, roll under stat to succeed, because stats are often underused in those games. Also, roll-under but high is good for contests because if you succeed the margin of success is whatever your die shows. That’s good. And of course from 1 to 5 becomes a marginal success, 6-10 a success, 11-15 a great success (or double success), 16-20 phenomenal (triple), over 20 extraordinary (quadruple). Also, it’s a system you can “lean on”: if in doubt, just ask for a roll, and a “yes/no/how good” result will come out, no need for contests or establishing difficulties beforehand.

That means that that if my strength is 5 I can’t do more than a marginal success at, say, brawling. How is that good?

Yes, it’s intended. It makes stats somewhat more important. You can still get more than a marginal success if you play dirty, say bring a lightsabre to a fistfight.

how do you get a margin of over 20 if the stats are rolled with 3d6?

You can risk. You can basically say “ok, I risk X”, so if you roll from 1 to X on the d20, you fail. But if you pass, that’s great, because you get a +X to the success. If you have strength 5 and want to risk 3, you now fail on anything over 5 AND on 3 or less, but if you succeed (with a 4 or 5 in this case) you would get a +3 to the success, bringing the success to 7 or 8. We playtested risk in a very long campaign and it was amazeballs. “IT WORKS ON THE TABLE” SHALL BE MY ULTIMATE METRIC.

And for people with say intelligence 37?

If whatever you have to roll under is over 20, add the difference to the margin. Your supersmartpants would get +17 to the margin. If you’re tricking Coyote, prepare to lose hard.

So for checks you have roll under stats, and for combat you have… roll under what?

Probably roll under descending armour, so we can use this thing. So if the target armour is 3, you need to roll 3 or less. Which makes it a bit annoying, because it means that good melee modifiers are negative: if you have a to-hit bonus of 3, and you roll a 4, you hit armour 1. Which is ok, but conterintuitive. And modifier are pants and I want to get away from them as much as possible.

Alternatives? I want solutions, not problems.

An alternative is to give multiple attacks instead of attack bonuses, but it’s unexplored territory.

Or have the attack roll under combat, and defence rolls a defence roll, which could be used also for blocking/dodging maybe.

Or have the attack roll under combat, and have the armour reduce damage. And maybe you get a free block attempt.

Ugh game design is hard sometimes. Not because I can’t come up with alternatives, but because the alternative are too many, and…

Didn’t you say something about “working at the table”?

Ok, I need to playtest.

What about skills and other things?

Well, you can roll under the related stat. And if you’re untrained, under half stat. And if you’re trained, under stat + 4 or whatever.

Don’t you have a system that proved itself at the table like that you could plug in?

Oh, yeah. I could work something like 5MORE in.

Let me do some math. 5MORE requires on average 3*3*6 = 54 tests to get +1 on a d6 (+17%) on a task. Which is a lot of padlocks or climb walls or enchanting or downtime practice. That means that using the same progression to get a +4 on a d20 (+20%) you’d need 54/17%*20% = 64 rolls or so. That turns out to be a +4 modifier spread over 64 rolls, which is 1 in 16 rolls.

1 in 16 is unfortunate. 1 in 20 is slower but better because we can have an automatic skill improvement on a natural 1.  Which is when you succeed by your teeth. Seems good. Roll a 1, barely succeed and get a +1 on the relevant skill forever.

Isn’t 1 in 20 a bit too low?

Maybe the +1 can be gained also on a 20? is 1 in 10 ok? Playtesting is needed.

What about untrained improvement through use?

If you do this while untrained, you just pile up some +1 to compensate that you’re rolling under stat/2. And when you get enough +1s to counter the stat/2 penalty, you’ve done enough to be trained. And you can get +1 training pips when you practice and someone teaches you, until you roll against stat+4.

Doesn’t that mean that a less gifted, lower-statted PC will be trained before someone that is more gifted?

Yes, but it’s irrelevant because they also will be worse than some. This means that if you are less gifted, you benefit from training up to a certain point, but more gifted people will benefit from more training. Being untrained does not give penalties but training give you bonuses instead, and the more gifted you are the more training you can get.

So, why can’t you get training in Melee and Missile instead of leveling up as a fighter? Can you?

I think it really depends on the kind of game you want to design. Maybe you can. We’ll see.


2 thoughts on “Whitebox20 and the Q&A that goes in my head

  1. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

    An observation: if you reversed the nature of ability scores (i.e. low = better) and made high rolls better on d20 checks, you would effectively have the same system for task resolution but could then use it alongside roll high d20 combat rolls + additive bonuses vs ascending AC. Perhaps a little too unintuitive?

    Two other interesting roll under ability score approaches that come to mind are Whitehack (5e-like advantage/disadvantage for specialised/untrained skill checks) and Alternity (success under ability score, greater success under ability score /2 and critical success under ability score /4)

    • The first is definitely conterintuitive (mind -3 is better than mind 5? right?!?)

      Rolling extra dice does weird things to math, benefiting mostly those in the middle of the range and less those at the extremes. I like the mechanic, but I don’t like how the distribution works for this specific situation.

      The Alternity system is neat, but has its own little two problems I’ll discuss in the next post.

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