Thursday, June 2, 2011

Roll percentile dice and let's see what you get

It's been said of Professor Barker's Tékumel games that he used a very rules light approach...basically "roll percentile dice and let's see what you get."

I've been experimenting with this  in the PbP Humanspace games and I'm thinking of writing it into the rules to handle unplanned WTF kind of situations.

Currently, in the Ancient Astronauts campaign, the party was on the run from a group of cold blooded Shen assassins. migellito came up with this plan:

"Quickly scanning above and around the shen as they step out of the dust, Sungam looks for a structural element to hit with his old disruptor. Will he find a way to bring down a bit of the Old Quarter on top of their pursuers? Perhaps he can at least put some rubble between them, buying the impromptu group some time to lose the shen in the bazaar."

I was a bit skeptical of this plan and wasn't clear on what Martian architectural elements might be overhanging the street so I left it up to the Professor's "roll percentile dice and let's see what you get" mechanic.

The roll was "02" so I decided something pretty favorable should happen.  It turns out the Shen were standing next to a parked standard utility marked "Abuzek's Best Liquid Oxygen."

Too much fiat? Does anyone use this or a similar method in their games? What about building this into the Humanspace rules for certain situations?


  1. Sounds legit to me. I do the same thing with a d6 multiple times per game.

  2. I do this a lot, actually. And it is the core mechanic that drives the Mythic GME.

  3. I think that interpreting a roll like this is much easier when the result lies at one extreme or the other.

    However, what would have happened had the player rolled a 52 instead of an 02?

  4. I frequently do this too, my "what are the gods of chance saying?" attitude.

    If it's just a straight WTF event I roll percentiles in this way, if it relies on the strength of a player's logic I use the Engle Matrix:

  5. Yeah this is the way to handle things, very old school & nicely causes a quick turn of events!

  6. I believe that this might be what you are referring to...

  7. I think the idea works nicely (not just because it worked out for me this time.. heh) and I've always used a very similar method in all the rpg's I've run.

    I think in any game with a gm or referee, the fun depends on them being even-handed and sensible. Although a super-light mechanic like this makes the gm's hand very obvious, a gm with an agenda can easily skew a more complex 'anti-fiat' system as well.

    In fact, the more complex a system is, the easier it is for a gm to skew things without it being noticed, or sometimes without even noticing it themselves.

  8. @Jeff: A d6 is servicable but sort of limits the range of probabilities.

    @Risus: I'll have to look at this Mythic GME...

    @Alan: Good point. I said I was skeptical about Migellito's plan so I had already decided there was only a 15% chance that something favorable would occur. I think it is important to define expectations before rolling with this mechanic.

    @ckutlaik: I had forgotten about the Engel matrix...hmmm

    @needles: I agree.

    @woþbora: That's awesome. Thanks for the link. Perhaps I could work elements of this into the skills system too...

    @migellito: I see where you're coming from. I think I have rarely used this because I'm usually pretty prepared and have a good mental image of the props and scenery even in sandbox mode.

    Rarely, something like trying to shoot stone gargoyles off a building onto the head of a Shen comes up...

  9. I do this often as well, and feel it's the opposite of DM fiat. Miguelito came up with the plan, the dice said yes, you just watched it happen. The DM ought to be surprised fairly often, I think.


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