Friday, September 6, 2013

Stupid Dice Tricks: Quick Thoughts On Stat Ranges

It's been a long time since I've had any new Stupid Dice Tricks, mostly because I haven't needed to invent any new uses for my dice, that whole necessity being the mother of invention thing. Well, lately, I've had a couple of problems that I've wanted an on-the-fly mechanism to handle and so I've gone back to the ol' Stupid Dice Tricks well to make it happen.  First, a quick and dirty way to crank out NPC stats on demand for my ACKS Iron Coast game where I already know what the rough stats will be. Second, we have the issue of the relatively boring static DCs in DCC and how to make them a little more interesting.Effectively, both of these problems amount to "nailing down precise numbers on top of vague ideas," something that Stupid Dice Tricks perform exceptionally well at.

Here, have a Russ Nicholson Rhinoman
Russ Nicholson Rhinoman.
It's either that or no pics.
Get over it. 
But first, an aside. Remember when you first read through the 1e books and saw some of the strange dice expressions (pre-dX notation) in there that listed merely the value ranges and not how to generate them? Some were pretty straightforward and could only represent one sort of dice roll (such as "1-6" for d6 or "3-8" for d6+2), but some could be interpreted a few different ways. "3-12," for example, could be 3d4 or d10+2, with the difference between the results being the shape of the probability curve (d10+2 would give a flat curve since every number between 3 and 12 are equally likely, whereas 3d4 would follow normal rules for central tendency and have a bell-like curve). In my book, bell curved results are great for determining values within a wide range so that, most likely the results will be between certain values in the range, but they stand a chance of being outside that range fairly easily. On the other hand, if you know what sort of result you're looking for, say a value that implies a positive Ability Score modifier, then what you're less interested in is the wider range and more interested in the magnitude of the modifier. And here's where we dip into the issue with generating Ability Scores for my Iron Coast ACKS game.

Expected Ability Score Ranges for OSR-Style Games

So, in ACKS, I've had it pop up a few times where a player wanted to know what someone's particular stats were but, since they hadn't been important before, I didn't know them. Often, I've been using ye olde "3d6 straight" for all these stats, particularly for things like henchmen or NPCs, but there comes a time when "3d6 straight" misses the fact that 5 Wisdom you rolled doesn't quite match up with the village cleric; we know he's probably a little wiser than average. And so, when I want an NPC to particular strengths and weaknesses, here's my go to rule for the exact numbers.

Weak Stat: d6+2 (3-8; Ability Score mod -3 to -1)
Average Stat: d4+8 (9-12; no Ability Score mod)
Strong Stat: d6+12 (13-18; Ability Score mod +1 to +3)

This isn't the sort of thing that I use to generate a planned set of stats for my NPCs, but rather to fill in specific stats that I feel are supposed to be higher than average, lower than average or just plain average. When +Scott Cambers asks me what his henchmen Ranulf's Strength score is, this is how I'll generate it (Average) and his Wisdom (Weak), but not the rest of his stats, since I don't know anything about them already. Before we gave him any stats, Ranulf was just a random result from Meatshields that told us a little bit about who he was and these values just give me a little better ability than "3d6 straight" to make his stats reflect how I interpret the Meatshield.

Random DCs In DCC

My last experiment in skill checks for DCC didn't pan out very well, mostly because no one else could follow what was going on. I felt like I was trying to cram a system down everyone's throats and it didn't feel terribly useful. So, I'm scrapping that one. Live and learn, I guess. Furthermore, at GenCon, I saw +Jobe Bittman & +Doug Kovacs running DCC using the actual Difficulty Classes mentioned in the DCC rulebook. Holy crap. I didn't think anyone actually did that. As a refresher, here are the basic DCs in DCC:

  • DC 5 - Child's play
  • DC 10 - "A man's deed"
  • DC 15 - Feats of derring-do
  • DC 20 - Heroic deeds
As it stands, these are pretty solid, descriptive benchmarks. You could also think of them as "hard to fail," "50/50 ish for an average guy," "unlikely without skill" and "pretty damn unlikely without a bunch of luck and ability." Or whatever you want to call them. When you look at published DCC adventures, though, you see a lot of deviation from these normative Difficulty Classes and lots of things coming in at, say DC 8 or 12 or what have you. Given the appropriate descriptor above, we can give ranges to these numbers and then figure out dice expressions that fit them, treating each benchmark DC as the median for their particular distribution. Here we go:
  • Child's play - (Median 5), 3-7, 1d5+2
  • "A man's deed" - (Median 10), 8-12, 1d5+7
  • Feats of derring-do - (Median 15), 13-17, 1d5+12
  • Heroic deeds - (Median 20), 18-20, 1d3+17
A few notes: I get to use my funky dice! This value distribution really worked out well for the funky dice, so more d5s and d3s can get rolled at my table. Second, note that the Heroic deeds category tops out at 20. I'm never going to make something in DCC require a player to roll something higher than a 20 (except maybe on a to-hit roll, but AC is a different beast than a DC) because, in my book, a 20 always spells out success.