Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Liar's Dice: Rerolled

There are a lot of games out there with their own customised dice, which is fine for the game they are designed for, but what about using them in other ways? 'Rerolled' is all about re-purposing custom dice to get more game play out of them, focusing on dice included with board or card games rather than those designed for promotional purposes or for use with a specific role-playing game.

Liar's Dice is a well-known, globally popular game that you can play with any set of d6s, but some of the commercial sets have a special feature: they use a symbol in place of the 6-face, to enable the 'wild face' rules, where the wild symbol adds to the number of any face bid, e.g. if you bid "Five 4s", then all the 4s and all the wild faces count as part of that bid. There are also a lot of promotional dice produced by game companies, role-playing groups and game conventions that have the organisation's symbol take the place of either the 1-face or the 6-face. All these work as regular dice and you can use them in any game that uses d6s, but you do have to remember which number is indicated by the symbol or just check the die every time it's rolled.

A Custom Chessex Die
What can be done to exploit the wild face on these dice? It's disadvantageous to use them as ordinary numbered dice, since they require extra attention to read the results properly, but the symbol enables you to do something special: you can step outside the realm of numbers entirely. Instead of being a mere random number generator, which it still is, this type of dice also becomes a random outcome generator, with a 1 in 6 chance of getting a result that doesn't exist on any numerical scale of success or failure.

Another unique quirk of any die with a wild face is that it has an odd range of numerical outcomes; that is, it's literally an odd number. All regular dice generate outcomes in an even range, starting at 1 and ending at 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 or 20: there's no middle result and the average of rolling them always includes a fraction, e.g. the average result on a d4 is 2.5; the average on a d6 is 3.5 and so on. If we can treat a wild-faced d6 as a d5+symbol, then the average result is 3, which is also the exact middle number of the range.

To really exploit wild-faced d6s, we want a game that makes use of both these features, something that makes use of the unusual, odd scale of results and the existence of a result that lies outside the scale of numbers entirely.


In a world of fairy folk and familiars, size really matters: in fact, Size is the only stat you'll ever need. When you create a character for this game, you're also creating their entire species, by stating what their average Size is: very small pixies might have an average Size of 1, goblins and cats might lie in the middle of the spectrum at Size 3, whilst dwarves and dogs are the biggest at Size 5. There are bigger things in the world, including humans, but the point of this game is that you live below human society and you survive by serving them or stealing from them. Whatever Size you are, when it comes time to do something, you roll one or more d6s.

Big & Strong
When you want to do something that requires strength, toughness, endurance or just reaching a high shelf, you succeed if your result is less than or equal to your Size: the bigger you are, the stronger and tougher you are too.

Small & Quick
When you want to do something that requires speed, stealth, dexterity or just slipping through a narrow gap, you succeed if your result is greater than or equal to your Size: the smaller you are, the faster and less noticeable you are too.

Charm & Fate
The wild-face always means you fail, so the odds remain balanced for all types of characters, no matter what their Size; a burly kobold is just as good at armed combat as a tricksy sprite is at escaping from it's pursuers, because a roll that is exactly equal to your Size is always a success, no matter what you are trying to do.

The wild-side, known as the charm, exists off the numerical scale and indicates the presence of magical forces in the situation: you fail when you roll a charm, but you're compensated by accruing a little charge of magic that you can use to pull off a trick later on.

Customising Characters

All members of your chosen species might share the same Size, but that doesn't make them all the same and there are ways to customise your character; even if all the players are fairies, ravens or whatever, you're not all identical to each other.

First off, each species is allowed one ability, which is shared by all characters of that species: typically, the ability is something straightforward and obvious, so ravens and pixies can all Fly, dwarves and cats have Night Vision and so on. The shared ability of any species is a narrative effect as much as anything else, but when it comes into play in a significant way, you get a bonus die as if you had a point of skill in it. Note that this doesn't apply in all situations, only where it gives the character some advantage, so ravens don't get a bonus die to Fly through a small gap, but they would if they were flying rings around an opponent who was on foot.

You can opt to lose the bonus die associated with this ability, however, in return for which you can be 1 Size larger or smaller than the average for your species; for example, goblins might have a Size of 3 and an ability of Shape Changing, which lets them appear as other creatures or things of about the same Size, but you could play a goblin of Size 2 or Size 4 who retains the Shape Changing ability, but gets no bonus die from it when it gives them the advantage.

If you want to be a little pixie who is nevertheless a fearsome warrior or a stocky dwarf who can still outrun most pursuers, then you need some skills to personalise your character. Everyone gets 5 skill points with which to customise and refine their role: a skill can be pretty much anything you can imagine, as long as it a subset of a 'Big & Strong' or 'Small & Fast' check, so Carrying, Lifting, Pushing and Holding Fast might all be skills, but not Strength itself as that would be too broad.

Assign your points to your chosen skills: when you make a test that uses that skill, you roll extra dice, one for each skill point, e.g. if your skill is Climbing: 2, then you roll a total of 3 dice to climb. Note that the skill would apply whether you were climbing up a long way, requiring a 'Big & Strong' check or climbing quickly away from pursuers, requiring a 'Small & Fast' check. As long as any one of your dice succeeds on the roll, then your action succeeds; if you roll any charms, you record the charm points earned but it doesn't mean you automatically fail the task, as some of the other results could still indicate a success.

Some talents require magic, knowledge, luck or pure cunning: every character gets one such trick, but they can have more if they want, with each additional trick requiring 1 skill point, e.g. you can spend 3 skill points and have a total of 4 tricks but only 2 points total in your skills.

Tricks are like abilities, with the effect being mostly narrative, but unlike abilities, it costs you to use them, whether that's a cost in fatigue, forethought or magic power: all these costs are represented by charm points, which you gain for each charm you roll when acting. You start with 1 charm point and earn 1 for each charm you roll but you must spend 1 point each time you use a trick; tricks don't automatically give you bonus dice the way abilities do, but you can spend more charm points in order to buy bonus dice. The GM might also require a test from you if there's resistance to you using your trick.

For example, Serina the Pixie has Sleep Dust as one of her tricks: she can spend 1 charm point to put any creature to sleep by sprinkling the dust in their eyes. She wants to sneak past the guard on a gold vault, so she spends 1 charm point to make use of the trick, but the GM says that she'll still need to make a 'Small & Fast' check to sneak up to the guard in the first place. Serina is Size 1, so she's got a good chance of success here, but she has no skills for this, so she's only rolling 1 die; it's important to her that she achieves this however, as it's only step one of her plan, so she spends an extra charm point on the trick and rolls 2 dice, just to make sure.

You can even take your own ability as a trick, enabling you to spend charm points on it whenever you use it; in this way, characters who are above or below the average size of their species can still get bonus dice for their ability, but they have to spend charm points to do so.


GMing the game means two things:
  1. Enabling the kind of story the players want to tell.
  2. Challenging the actions the characters try to take.
Note that it says 'enable', not 'roll over': you're there to help the players colour in the details of their world, but also to make your own contributions to it and not just echo them. Also, the other key-word is 'challenge', not 'frustrate', so make them roll, but don't always make them roll; say yes to good ideas that can lead to bad situations, e.g. don't make them roll to follow a mark to their secret stash, save the rolls for when they get lead into the trap the mark has laid for any pursuers.

What kind of story is this? Well, the characters are living on the fringes of a robust & expanding human civilisation: the wilds might still be there, but, like urban foxes, the characters are seeking new opportunities in the big city. Some of them might offer their services to the humans, such as being the familiar to a powerful wizard or the servant to a wealthy family; some might turn to a life of crime, using their diminutive stature to rob & cheat the bigjobs; and of course, some might do both.

When the characters succeed, they get what they want; when they fail though, it should still lead to something interesting, not just, "That didn't work; now what?" A regular failure should provoke a reaction from the bigjobs or lead to a loss by the acting character: they might get imprisoned, injured, chased off, lose the trust of others, lose their tools & treasures or anything else that represents a setback.

When they roll a charm though, it's not necessarily a failure, it just means that fate has squatted over their lives and dropped a big one on them: this could be a truly epic failure of legendary proportions, so they're not just chased, they're hunted by a mob, or they don't just get bruised, they are bleeding and about to die. On the other hand, a charmed failure is a good time to offer them a hard choice: say, "That could succeed, but..." and then tell them what they'll have to do to achieve their goal. They might have to abandon their friends, spend all their hard-earned cash, trust a stranger, cut through the darkest & most dangerous part of town or whatever else it is that hits the character's triggers. As the GM, it's always your job to lead the characters into temptation and, if they're not already between a rock & a hard place, start building a rockery.