Dice systems are the most common conflict resolution system in tabletop due to their speed, ease of use, ability to produce a wide range of results, and easy-to-modify nature. Whilst not to be mistaken for the game’s core gameplay loop, it makes up a fundamental part, and so selecting a dice system should be done deliberately.
Defenders of the New Century has a large number of sub-systems, with one of the most fundamental splits being that that the game uses two dice systems. This adds a decent amount of complexity to the game, but allows for a lot of additional depth and diversity in representing situations. The reason why we bother with this is because Defenders of the New Century has 2 major game modes, in-combat and out-of-combat, and we want a different spread of results depending on which game mode we’re in.
In combat, we want to represent a high degree of dynamic chaos, and introduce opportunities for an underdog to potentially beat a well-trained warrior. That being said, a combat character should still defeat someone who isn’t an expert most of the time, with a % chance that’s easy to calculate. The easiest way to represent this chaos is by having a single die system, which gives rise to a flat distribution of results of equal probability that are hard to predict.
The most common of these systems is the d20 system, as the d20 is the largest platonic solid and gives rise to the greatest distribution of results. The result of a d20 is highly random, and to represent the expertise of the characters affecting the role, a flat modifier is then added to the roll depending on the proficiency of the character. If the flat modifier being added to the roll is fairly small, say +5, this only adds a 20% difference compared to someone who has +0. If this gap represents the gulf between a novice and a master, then the dice system has failed to effectively represent any situation that requires a degree of expertise, as a master shouldn’t only be 20% better than a complete novice.
Instead, Defenders of the New Century generally has higher modifiers, around the +15 range for a master & +3 for a novice. This does most of the work for representing chaos, but to ensure that an underdog still has a chance to win no matter how strong the competition, we can introduce the idea of crits to gameplay. If we say that the novice rolls a natural 20, or the novice a natural 1, this gives the novice has an ~10% chance to come out on top in any situation.
This is an ideal system for combat, but begins to fall apart when we want to represent situations that necessitate expertise. If we take the example of driving a car, a d20 would be woeful at representing such a circumstance, because there’s a 5% chance of automatically failing with crits, or potentially a 0% chance of failing without crits assuming there’s an appropriate modifier, neither of which are adequate. Driving isn’t likely to occur in tabletop, but replace that with ‘engineering’ or ‘social skills’ and the example is quite stark.
Instead, the dice system which is better suited would be a multi-dice system. This transforms the distribution of results from being uniform 1-20 to being a bell-curve distribution. Modifiers can instead change the number of dice which are rolled, or alternatively alter the way in which the ‘successes’ for each dice are counted. It doesn’t especially matter what method is picked, because all it does is change the distribution for successes. In the case of Defenders of the New Century, the game uses a fairly simple method of counting 1 success for each die that shows a result of 5 or 6.
We can keep a kind of crit system, but it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that a crit system should largely be reserved as a catchup mechanic. As nice as it is for someone who has put a lot of points into something to critically succeed, realistically they’re already going to have the feelings of success by continuously scoring highly. Instead, we actually want a crit system where it’s more likely for someone to score a crit if they are rolling fewer dice. This alters the dice system to instead have a crit succeed if over half of the results read a particular value, which in this case is reading a ‘6’.
Depth & Complexity
This discussion on dice mechanics alludes to a greater concern, fundamentally whether bothering to codify a mechanic like this is actually worth it. In the case of dice mechanics, it’s a very fundamental sub-system that gives a lot of depth, with the trade-off of introducing fairly little complexity, but on one of the next dev-logs we’ll go into more detail on the depth/complexity argument.