There are many dice systems in use across the TTRPG landscape, from a classic d20 to the fickle success measurer of FATE dice. Each one has its own merits and drawbacks and they have been developed to fit with their games preferred way of playing. In many cases you can see inspiration from older systems, if not a complete rework to suit a new game. As the most familiar to me, I will usually refer to a d20 comparison during this blog.
When devising the system that would be used to back our flagship product, Beyond the Veil, we spent a lot of time looking into existing, and commonly used, options that could form the basic concept. I personally spent way too much time writing testing scenarios and applying the different systems to it in order to find a good blend of success and failure that would lend itself to our desired play-style. Our brief was refreshingly simple:
- Able to reflect a wide array of checks with a single calculation
- Simple to remember, understand, and apply to atypical situations
- Flexible, to account for easy application of bonuses and penalties
And the winner is…
We’ve covered some of this in previous blogs but in case you are new here, or haven’t read our entire blog backlog¹, let’s summarise what defines the Wrenegade System. The core calculation operates like many ability driven game: Ability + Relevant Skill (if any) versus difficulty (which we have branded as a ‘Reality Check’)
Layered onto that calculation are the (hopefully) unique blend of spices that give the outcomes the flexibility we wanted:
- The actual die used for an ability can vary
- The choice of skill used to provide a bonus is open to interpretation and negotiable with the GM while remaining broad enough to cover the vast majority of actions without abstraction
- Abilities can be upgraded or downgraded situationally
- Skills can be shared to allow experts to be experts where required
- Critical successes can chain to allow for truly extraordinary outcomes
There was also a need to cover more complex situations, such as the general measure of physical wellbeing or the rising levels of fear and panic that add to the threat that the characters are exposed to during an investigation. Reusing the core mechanic to reflect combat was a must, the game needed to flow at pace to sustain an ongoing narrative and ensure immersion.
As this concept evolved we were able to develop a way in which the chance of hitting was in the hands of the aggressor, good rolls shouldn’t be punished by the target having high defensive attributes. Think of boxing, sometimes the aggressor will swing and miss as the defender ducks and weaves, more often they will land a blow but their opponent is able to absorb the blow somewhat harmlessly, and occasionally they will land a staggering blow to a vulnerable area that can lead to more hits while the defender recovers… or maybe even uses their aggressors opening to mount a counter attack of their own!
We wanted to capture the pure slugfest of untrained combat with mitigation for those who are predisposed to being able to operate in such scenarios, this wasn’t easy. Going back a d20 example of yore, when ‘weaker’ classes had limited health points available to them², it was possible to one-hit kill in a single attack. Even as that character grew in power, efficacy, and level, they would often find themselves an easy target. With the Wrenegade System you’ll still need to protect those who aren’t primed for combat but, most importantly, they will still be able to hold their own should they be caught alone.
The overall health value (Vitality) never actually changes in our system, instead the ability to limit the reduction from each instance does. Even as vitality decreases the ability to manifest that in a beneficial way then comes into play, representing that human ability to draw on inner-strength in times of dire situations. The combat system also does its best to encourage tactical group play in order to remove the trope of any encounter devolving into a static toe-to-toe event with ranged focused characters ever on the fringes. Of course some combat encounters will still end up that way but we want to encourage mobility and dynamic combat situations.
The only thing to fear is fear itself
Measuring fear was a harder prospect, we wanted to avoid our initial plan of leaning into existing ‘sanity’ based options, it just isn’t what we are wanting to represent with our system. While the situations the investigators will find themselves in will be terrifying, abnormal, and potentially maddening, we wanted to avoid inflicting effects that could be insensitive or excessive. As a result we dropped sanity as a measure and embraced fear. Using this we could represent the rising level of threat in an investigation and how that would affect a character’s anxiety levels.
As this level rises there is a tradeoff between cognitive abilities and the more physical responses to becoming panicked. Eventually this can culminate in a fight or flight response, however, we didn’t want this to remove the autonomy of playing an investigator so an element of control is retained… if slightly impaired!
An important part of our decision when creating the Wrenegade System came from the realisation that some actions are just so inherently basic that failure should be almost impossible without exceptional circumstances affecting a character’s ability to perform. As our core product is an investigation based game set, by default, in the modern world, we needed to be sure that simple things like turning on a video camera wasn’t difficult… even for the most technically inept of investigators.
Automatic success isn’t fun either so we introduced a way to grade successes for certain actions. This allows us to set a baseline for things like the installation of static equipment that can have a knockon effect on things like the quality of output. Of course, taking a basic success automatically remains an option if speed is a better option than putting more effort in.
By intentionally setting the bar low for common actions we allow amateurs to remain effective while also ensuring that experts in a given field have a chance to really shine. To compare to a d20 system, we somewhat mitigate the chance of a highly perceptive individual failing to spot the horrific ooze dripping from the ceiling when walking into a room, instead preferring to celebrate their ability to do the job they have chosen to specialise in.
Failure is, of course, still an option. More complex actions will require a higher level of ability, or just plain old dumb luck to pull off effectively.
So, with the Wrenegade System being perfect³, what could we do with it once Beyond the Veil is complete? Well, dear reader, the sky’s the limit. The aim was to create something that could be reskinned to suit any setting or genre with little effort and we feel that we’ve done that. There is a lot of testing to do (please do register your interest by signing up to our newsletter… we don’t do spam) and a long road ahead to get Beyond the Veil ready for general release. No doubt some things will evolve or change but the core essence of something exciting is there and we can’t wait to share it with you all.
Is the Wrenegade System unique? Possibly not, we don’t profess to know all of the documented dice systems out there, if you know of one that is identical please do let us know in the comments!
Until next time…
1 Probably not this one… right?
2 Showing my age here, there will be many who don’t remember mages ever having only d4 HP per level!
3 In the same way that everyone thinks their kids are the most beautiful ever…