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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Horror's dice mechanic

It's time for me to take a break from Mars to talk about my next rpg, Horrors.

Just like The Robotic Age, Horrors uses it own original system to help pull you into the theme and setting. You won't be rolling percentiles or handfuls of d10s... well, unless your character is really skilled.

As a PC you will be making a fairly average person in a world that seemed fairly normal until a 6-foot tall owl man started eating your friends. Maybe you are playing a college student, or a rookie cop, or maybe a holy man fresh out of training. You wont be doing crazy stunts or over the top action, you are just hoping to not die a horrible, screaming, Owl Man related death.

He's out there.

Every character (PC or otherwise) has the same six attributes:
  • Vigor - How strong you are
  • Vitality - How fit you are
  • Perception - How quick your mind works
  • Reaction - How quick your body works
  • Feeling - How well you relate with others
  • Thinking -  How smart you are
These attributes range from 1 to 6, and determine how many dice you get to roll for a specific action.

You also have 30 skills that will range between 0 to 4. These skills are everything from Driving, to Mythology, to Shooting. The rank of the skill determines what dice you get to roll.
  • Skill 0 = d4
  • Skill 1 = d6
  • Skill 2 = d8
  • Skill 3 = d10
  • Skill 4 = d10 + 1 free success
For every action you will pick one attribute and one skill, rolling that number of that specific dice.
For example: Say you wanted to shoot the owl man. He's a bit fast so the GM decides that is Reaction + Shooting.  Your Reaction is at 3, and your Shooting is at 2, giving you 3d8's to roll.
However, if the Owl Man was sitting unaware in it's nest, the GM might have you use Perception instead, to line up a better shot. 

All skills can be used with all attributes, depending on the situation. A Thinking + Shooting roll would be used to identify a murder weapon, a Vigor + Medical roll could be used to stake a vampire in the heart, and a Reaction + Mythology roll could be used to avoid a Medusa's glare.

Once you have your dice pool you now have to roll them. Don't worry about adding it all up, we are working with Successes. There are two types of Successes, a Lucky Success and Skilled Successes

Lucky Successes happen when you roll the highest number on the die. This would be a 4 on a d4, 6 on a d6, 8 on a d8, etc.

Skilled Successes happen when you roll a 5 or higher on a die. That would be a 5/6 on a d6, 5/6/7/8 on a d8, and 5/6/7/8/9/10 on a d10. It also means it's impossible to roll a Skilled Success on a d4, as they can't roll a 5 or higher.

 So each roll of a 5 on a d6 would give you a skilled success.

While the roll of a 6 would give you both a skilled success and a lucky success! Two success with one die!

You count up the number of successes (lucky and skilled) and hope it's higher then the target number (or your opponent's roll).

That's the basics of it. There are of course various modifiers and bonuses, and don't expect your dice pool to stay that high when the Horror is around. 

There is one more rule when it comes to dice rolling, and it's an important one to the theme, but this post has gone on long enough so I'll talk about it later. Lets just say it has something to do with this image and what happens in every horror movie every made.


  1. 2 questions:
    1. In what way do these fairly typical mechanics enhance the tension and draw people into a horror game?
    For example, Dread has the single most brilliant horror mechanic I've ever heard of where you are pulling blocks from a jenga tower to complete actions. This serves as a visual metaphor for the building tension and keeps everyone on edge because too much errant movement could knock the tower over killing your character. Further, Dread's mechanic is very visceral and immediate, there's little abstraction to pull you out of the game. When I say abstraction pulling you out of the game I am specifically referring to hit points and skills. Any time I have to think about how many dice I'm rolling to beat some target number and what my skill represents in that equation (or if I could get away with using another skill because it's similar enough and I have a higher rating in it) then I'm not thinking about the narrative, I'm not thinking in character and I'm sure as hell not thinking about how tense and scary the atmosphere we've created is.

    2. Why is this different from running a horror game in any number of other different, existing systems like Fate, Savage Worlds, Little Fears, Monster of the Week, Dread, Over the Edge, Don't Rest Your Head, My Life With Master (sort of) etc...?
    I ask this because I was excited by the artwork and initial premise and once I came here I felt quite a bit of disappointment because of the standard looking mechanics. The only new idea I see, as far as gaming goes, is a warmed over dice mechanic that doesn't seem well suited to tension building or horror gaming at all.
    I mentioned Dread before as an example of an interesting Idea that ended up being well executed. On the other hand, Little Fears is a more traditional game but it still has the hook of playing mostly powerless kids fighting their imaginations.
    Your few decent Ideas (terror aura) seem much more suited to a setting or expansion for another game rather than making people learn a whole new system just for you.
    Horror is one of the hardest genres to pull off at the table and Horrors, as far as I can tell, would only make it harder.
    I know all of those comments seem harsh but I stand by them; after all, argument/criticism is the forge where Ideas get tempered and tested.

    Thanks for your time, Will P.

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  3. 1: There are actually a couple of important ways the mechanics fit the theme. The first is the Fumbling mechanic, where your character can immediately try to take the same action again, but with a weaker dice pool, at the risk of fucking up royally. The second would be how your current Willpower affects your die pools. The more scared and injured your character gets, the smaller dice pools they will have as they stop thinking rationally and stop acting carefully.
    Plus dice add a level of uncertainty that the jenga tower doesn't. Dread may be unique but that tower can be easily manipulated, resulting in very little tension early on and no way for huge catastrophes to cause several deaths at once.
    I'm also a bit confused how you can think that pulling a jenga block is LESS abstract then rolling your character's collective ability.

    2: Id say that it's different because Horrors sits comfortably between "Too generic to include theme-specific mechanics" (like Fate or Savage Worlds) and "So specific you can only play it one way" (like Little Fears or Don't Rest Your Head). Horrors allows you to craft the horror game you want to run while still having it remain horror. You have jump scares, you have the fear aura causing you to fail simple checks at important times, you have desperately fumbling with an action hoping it succeeds before it fails spectacularly, and you have a monster creation system so no two campaigns are ever the same.
    The tension comes when you are fail a Running check and have to decide if you want to fumble the roll, knowing you will either barely pull away at the last second or trip and fall on your face with the monster right behind you.
    The tension comes from being caught in the Horror's fear aura and knowing the quickest ways of escape are now the hardest to pull off.
    The tension comes from deciding if you want to sacrifice a point of willpower to remove all penalties from a roll, knowing your willpower effects your dice pool.
    The tension comes from not knowing what the Horror will be able to do this game and having to find the answers before it can kill you.
    The tension comes from the hard decisions your character will have to make to stay alive.

    If you like Dread that's fine, but when I tried it only seemed like a gimmick that pulled me out of the game. It did not cause tension, it did not cause atmosphere, and it certainly didn't make me feel in character. When you fail in Dread it wasn't because of your decision in character, and it wasn't even because of bad luck, it was because there we no more safe moves in Jenga. And then the survivors know how safe they are because they have a new tower.