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Gavin Greig [userpic]

Turning the Tables

February 11th, 2007 (09:29 pm)
current location: KY16 8SX

The first change I've made from the standard Forgotten Futures rules is pretty much cosmetic, but it stems from my knowledge of my own failings as a GM.

I'm not great at keeping on top of systems during a game, and I am prone to forget important details or - occasionally - misunderstand things. For most of the play-test at New Year, I was mishandling the way that Damage works.

So, how do you go about making a fairly simple system easier to use and understand?

Before I go any further, there are fairly important caveats. The restructuring I'm about to describe feels more natural and helpful to me, but it may not work for you; and even so far as I'm concerned, it remains unblooded for now - so take it with a pinch of salt.

However, there were a couple of things that felt awkward straight away regarding the way results are worked out.

Conflict resolution in Forgotten Futures relies on comparing an "attacking" value to a "defending" one. A table then shows the roll the "attacker" need to make on 2d6 (two six-sided dice) in order to succeed. Or you can work it out in your head; the arithmetic is fairly simple. "Attack" and "defence" are convenient labels that shouldn't be taken too literally - the defence score could represent the difficulty of a peaceful task that the "attacker" wants to accomplish.

The problem is that although the arithmetic is pretty simple, so am I when under pressure; and I know some players feel the same way.

The way to keep things simple from the GM's point of view is to let the players do as much of the work as possible. The way to keep things simple from the players' point of view is to make sure that most of what they have to do is shout out things they already know the answer to; don't make them perform more than one arithmetic operation, and if possible make it addition. Subtraction, multiplication and certainly division are too hard.

GMs may also have to fiddle with modifers and look up tables, but the closer you can keep to the player's ideal, the better.

In order to succeed in Forgotten Futures, you need to roll 2d6, add the Defence score, and subtract the Attack score. If the result is over 7, it's a success. A roll of 12 always fails.

2d6 + Defence - Attack <= 7

Let's assume that people know six-sided dice games well enough that adding the two dice together doesn't count as an arithmetic operation. I think it's safe to do that with 2d6, where it wouldn't be with (for example) 2d10.

That still leaves two different arithmetic operations - an addition and a subtraction - before making a comparison with a non-zero number.

The table is perhaps a bit simpler to use. It cross-references Attack against Defence, and shows what the highest successful roll could be. (Remember that Forgotten Futures is a roll-low system, so lower dice rolls are better.) However the table seems awkward to look up too, with its origin at the top left and failures more likely at the top right.

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Attack 1 7 6 5 4 3 2 2 2
2 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 2 2
3 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 2 2
4 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 2 2
5 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 2 2
6 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 2 2
7 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 2 2
8 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 2 2
9 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 2 2
10 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 2 2

What I've done is I've changed the table around so that instead of cross-referencing Attack and Defence skills, then comparing with a roll (which if it's called early by the player will be a third item of information vying for attention), the Attack and the roll can be called out straight away by the player, then the GM can look up on the table whether those are enough to beat the relevant Defence. Each entry in the table shows the highest Defence that can be defeated by a particular combination of Attack and dice roll.

(Before trying to make sense of the new table below, note that I've also reversed the meaning of the dice results so that a high roll, like 12, is good and 2 is a certain fail, because this feels more natural to me. While I've played in and enjoyed roll-low systems, I think it's a more natural assumption that rolling high is good. I've also changed the direction of the axes so that the origin is at the bottom left instead of the top left, and the numbers increase to the right and up along these axes.)

12 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
11 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
10 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
9 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
8 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
7 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
6 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
5 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
4 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
3 1 2 3 4 5 6
Roll 2
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

This change may sound underwhelming, and in a way, so it is, but it seems to have a number of advantages.

First of all, one of the axes is now strictly bounded. It can only have values between 2 and 12 (the possible results of a 2d6 roll), so if the table needs to be expanded to include higher values, it need only be expanded in one direction instead of two (as was the case with two open-ended scales on the axes).

The use of the dice roll as one of the axes also makes it easier to see what the probabilities of various results are. This is something players care about a lot, and of course it's also of interest to a GM in picking suitable opposition for his players. To scan the old table by probability of success means scanning along diagonals and referring back to both axes; to scan the new one by probability, I can follow a row and read off an appropriate maximum defence when I cross a column representative of the player's Attack skills.

When presented in this way, you can also see that the table is more compact. The version of the table in the Forgotten Futures rules shows results for Attack values up to 10, and Defence skills up to 18, which is the point where an Attack of 10 cannot succeed. That's a table of 180 cells. The same information can be shown on the new table in 110 cells - 11 possible dice rolls on one axis, and Attack skills of between 1 and 10 on the other.

You may be wondering what the yellow region on the new table is. In the Forgotten Futures rules, after a successful attack, Damage is calculated by having the Effect score of the weapon "Attack" against the Body score of the opponent. The result determines which of three columns in another table the actual Damage result should be read from.

It's not possible to entirely eliminate the need for another table for calculating Damage, but it is possible to reduce how often it needs to be referred to. If the Damage roll fails, the Damage result is read from column A of the Damage table. If the Damage roll succeeds, then a result from at least column B is assured. However, a result from column C is only possible if the combination of dice roll and damage Effect score fall within the yellow zone - so it's only when a result falls in the yellow zone that the other table need be referred to.

The mental arithmetic version of determining whether a Damage result from column C has occured requires division and possibly rounding - both simple when not under pressure, but easy to stumble over or get wrong when rushed.

Although these changes are entirely cosmetic, I am hopeful they'll make the system easier to use when I run my first game in March.

I apologise if any of this isn't clear, but I've rushed a little to get this post up today, and I'm limited a little by what formatting it's possible to easily apply to tables in a LiveJournal post, without the benefit of external CSS. These tables were exported from Excel, and I didn't have time to make them nicer. I'll be happy to answer any questions in comments, and may edit the post for clarification. Longer term, I may be able to make a more carefully formatted and written version available on a web page.