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Game Designers Notebook: Six Sided Dice and Design Philosophy

My first round of custom dice for Broken Contract. The -# dice
are for Critical Fumbles and the 7/8 dice are for Critical Hits.

I watch a lot of "how to play" videos on YouTube. I think it's important to know what's going on out there even if I don't have the opportunity to try every game available for myself, so this is a great way to stay up on the industry. One of my favorite sources for these videos is the "Let's Play!" series on Guerrilla Miniature Games YouTube channel. By demand, Ash did a video of a game of his own design that he's been developing called, Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse. It's a great looking game and the video is very entertaining. It just seems like it will be very fun to play. But a question came up in the comments: "Why D6?"

Ash didn't answer that I saw, but I'm sure there will be those out there who will wonder the same thing about Broken Contract. I figured I would take the time to discuss the D6 design decision and also go into some detail about the custom dice I'm working on because these choices tie into each other.

The biggest reason to choose the D6 as the basis for Broken Contract was familiarity. The six sided die is comfortable to most people. Almost everyone has played a game or rolled a D6 at some point in their life. Unfamiliar elements make new experiences seem more complex and/or alien. That feeling creates a barrier to entry.

My feelings on this were recently reinforced. I started playing D&D with some friends here in Milwaukee and not all of them are experienced with either D&D or the polyhedral dice used to play the game. As DM, I'd say "Roll a D8" or "Roll a D12" and they'd look at me confused and say, "is that this one?", often holding up the wrong die. Long time gamers don't have that issue, but if you want to court new people, it is a serious consideration.

Some of you will balk and say, "But D10 and D20 systems give way more options, and allow for more modifiers for more gradual bonuses and advancement." I agree, this is all true. but more modifiers mean more math, and that can be a barrier to entry too. The one area where I will clearly agree is that simple D6 systems with target numbers that only fall in the 1-6 range do severely limit character advancement. We worked around that by having a robust collection of characteristics that could be advanced so that a character can continue to improve in skill over time. They just will progress in a more well rounded way instead of just being a Shooting or Close Combat expert like most people try to devote their increases to. At the end of the day, the D6 keeps things simple, but it has limitations. That's where simple charts can come into play.

The original ruleset for Broken Contract had a general 1's and 6's rule, where 1's on a D6 were always a Critical Fumble, and 6's were always a Critical Hit. This rule existed to give a heightened sense of action where things went really well, or could go really badly. The problem was that Fumbles were so frequent, games sometimes felt more like slapstick comedy than action movie glory. This needed to be fixed. My solution was to make it more nuanced. Fumbling meant rolling a 2nd D6 to determine the result. Originally, all of the D6 results were bad, but in this new incarnation 1 was awful, 2 was crappy but not as bad as 1, and a 3 was just an inconvenience. Any result from 4-6 was just a miss. This meant that on natural 1, something bad only happened 50% of the time, and when something bad happened, it didn't always have to be something awful.

First sketch of a Critical Fumble and Hit Chart in my own
game shorthand.

Along the same thinking, a natural 6 was always awesome, and in some cases that didn't fit because the Character might need a target number of 6 just to succeed in the action - so why should it be Critical? This was rectified by adding a D3-1 roll to the result. For those of you not familiar with a D3 roll, a D3 is simply rolling a D6 and halving the result. So 1-2=1, 3-4=2, and 5-6=3. Subtracting 1 from this result gives you a range of 0-2 which is then added to 6, giving a final result of 6-8. This is the kind of math that can push people away from gaming as feeling too complex, so I decided to get some custom dice made. This 2nd roll meant that a natural 6 could still just be a 6, or it could be bumped up to a 7 or 8. And that means that a 7 could be designated a soft critical hit and an 8 could be an awesome critical hit.

In the final incarnation of these dice that go along with the Kickstarter, I may switch over from numbers to symbols. The Fumble dice might have 3 blank sides and then 1 exclamation point, 2 exclamation points and finally 3 exclamation points to indicate the severity of the fumble. The Critical Hit die would have 2 blank sides, 2 sides with small explosions, and 2 sides with large explosions, once again to indicate the magnitude of the critical hit. By switching to symbols it should reduce that confusion. In fact, a player could roll three dice for one attack all at once, the Critical Fumble die, Critical Hit Die, and D6 and ignore the results of the two Critical dice unless a 1 or 6 are rolled, just to speed up game play.

Which brings me to one final note that you may have picked up on... Critical Hits are more frequent than Critical Fumbles. There is a 50% chance of the 2nd roll being a fumble and a 66% chance of the 2nd roll being a Critical Hit. It's only a 16% improvement but you might ask, "Why?" The answer is that players prefer to be rewarded than punished and I want the game to capture "action movie glory" over "3 Stooges slapstick" and this was a nuanced way to do just that.

That's my take. Thanks for reading!


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