Monday, December 12, 2016

Alternate 2d10 Resolution for H+I

I'm trying to post a bit more frequently so I am looking for inspiration for topics. Last month I posted about campaign statistics, which prompted one reader, Andy, to ask a question which I haven't yet answered. The simple answer, "2d6" would have been easy to give, but I wanted to provide a bit more meat and thought behind my answer. Now I am finally doing that.

The Question

Here's Andy's question: "I was wondering, given the length of your campaign, have you been using 2d6 as written or the 2d10 alternative?"

H+I Resolution

By default Honor + Intrigue uses a 2d6 roll to resolve actions and a random die roll for damage. The designer, Chris Rutowsky, included several alternate resolution methods: 2d10, D6-D6, and fixed damage which are listed on page 114 of the rules. At the end of this article I'll post a comparison of the 2d6 and 2d10 resolution methods. If you like numbers you may want to read that before proceeding with the rest of this post. Or not.

Starting a Campaign

Like virtually every campaign I have ever run over the past 42 years I don't start a campaign with a duration or end in mind. We keep playing the same campaign (or occasionally alternating between 2 campaigns) until we feel the need for a change. Sometimes the players want to try something different, or more often to go back to their characters from a previous campaign. More often, I as the GM either feel the need for a change or I get excited by some new and shiny thing. The latter is what happened to trigger the current H+I campaign.

When I started the campaign I decided I wanted to play using the rules as written. The game was different from anything else I'd played or run both in the resolution method and in the degree of what I would call narrative mechanics. By this I mean mechanics that allow the player (not the character) a chance to control some aspect of the world or setting e.g. the PC leaps out a window without looking first, only to safely land on a hay wagon that conveniently happens to be there because the player spent a Fortune Point.

Learning Curves and Switching Costs

So we started out using the basic 2d6 resolution method. We spent a fair bit of time in the beginning getting used to the system. We did some practice combats and I often asked to players to run NPCs in combat if their PC was not involved so they would get to experience first hand some of the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of characters. H+I combat uses a series of set maneuvers in combat e.g. a character may act using a basic Bladework attack or one of several dozen other maneuvers e.g. Disarm, Hilt Punch, Moulinet, Quick Cut, Tag, Beat, Feint, or Shove/Trip. For each maneuver the Qualities and Combat abilities that apply will vary. So there are mechanical reasons for a brave, strong duelist to use different maneuvers in combat from those chosen by a stylish and foppish courtier. And the most optimal maneuver will also vary depending on the opponent. So disarming a strong, skilled duelist might be harder than disarming a stylish, but delicate fop.

This meant the players had to devote some time, effort, and memory to learning the mechanics of the rules. It can be fun in and of itself if everyone at the table has some degree of rules mastery. (My typical GM experience is that most players have little rules mastery and often less interest in acquiring any.) But there is a downside to rules mastery. It is what in business terms is called higher switching costs.

For those unfamiliar with biz jargon switching cost is the cost to the buyer for switching to a different product or service. Mobile phone plans are one example of switching costs. If you signed up for a 3 year plan, and if you can't get out of the 3 year plan, then you are stuck with the cost of the old plan as well as the cost of the new plan if you switch providers. That extra cost is the switching cost and it acts as a disincentive to switching providers. That's also why you may see providers who will buy you out of your old plan. They are trying to lower your switching cost as a promotional sales incentive. But enough of a digression.

What this means in game terms is that switching from the 2d6 resolution to the 2d10 resolution would invalidate a lot of the hands-on experience and the intuitive sense of probabilities and risks that the players (and the GM) have learned to date. This has inclined me not to switch mechanics.

Why Use 2d10

So what would be the advantage of switching resolution methods?

Well as Andy hints in his question, as a campaign continues with the same set of PCs, they gain in power. That's not unique to H+I, any system where the PCs improve will have that issue to some degree. Lots of ink and electrons have been spilled talking about whether various systems D&D, Runequest, pretty much take your pick, fail to work well or break down after significant PC improvement. There are two ways this will manifest in H+I (though this is true in other systems, I'm limiting my discussion to H+I). 

First, the PCs may outstrip the NPCs. There are three categories of characters in the game Heroes which are the PCs, Villains (their major nemesis or opponents), Retainers (important other NPCs and the lieutenants or major minions of a Villain), and Pawns (which the the less important or nameless guards, shopkeepers, townspeople, and peasants of the world). H+I is not a zero to hero system. The PCs are already powerful, competent, and tough. More so than most NPCs they will encounter. There are fixed limits to how powerful Retainers and Pawns can get. In my campaign I've change that with some house rules, but that only shifts out the point at which the limits pertain. What that means is that as PCs and increase or gain new abilities they may reach a point where one or even several Retainers and Pawns are no challenge and have a statistically very small chance of injuring a PC. In fact starting combat focused PC will usually be able to defeat on their own, 1 Retainer plus 4 Pawns which is what you see in a movie hero such as Errol Flynn in Robin Hood. 

Villains are a bit different as they, like heroes, have no maximum and their stats can be whatever the GM thinks are suitable, which depending on the setting could make them much more powerful than any of the PCs. So how powerful can the PCs get? 

A Look at PC Combat Bonuses

Let's look at combat bonuses. In my campaign the highest combat bonus ( +7) is by one of the most experienced, combat focused characters. What does this mean in system terms? Well roll 2d6+7. If you roll 9+ you succeed. So this character never fails? Close, but not quite. First any roll of 2 on 2d6 automatically fails just as any roll of 12 automatically succeeds.* In addition, combat rolls are always opposed by some quality or combat ability or both. So some characters will have a modifier of (-3) which now means that character succeeds on a 5+, fails on a 3-4 (14%), and has a Calamitous Failure on a 2 (3%). So the character succeeds about 80% of the time. Not too outrageous. In fact though, the success chance is practically speaking even lower as their opponent can often use a reaction like Dodge or Parry to lower the odds or to oppose the PCs roll with a roll of their own. 

Now with a 2d10 resolution the character with +7 rolls 2d10+7 and succeeds on a 12+ (94%), they fail on a 4 (3%), and have a Calamitous Failure on a 2-3 (3%). Automatic success (which really means a roll of 2-3 always fails without calamitous failure) is not reached until the character achieves a bonus of +10.  So the 2d10 method allows more room for higher bonuses. It also considerably decreases the effect of the bonus throughout the range +1% in 2d10 vs. +3% in 2d6.

To put this in context let's look at two starting characters: the King's Musketeer and The Fop. As starting characters each have a bonus of (+6) with certain combat maneuvers. Those two starting characters are almost as good as that combat focused, PC who has been running for over 4 years and has participated in over 150 sessions.

The Tendency to Generalize

Because improvements increase in cost the higher one goes, there is a mechanical disincentive to spending all the advancement points in just one or a few areas. In addition, a PC in my campaign is going to face challenges outside those few areas on which they have focused. This provides another  incentive towards generalizing rather than just specializing.

This tendency to generalize with some advancement points keeps the bonuses from climbing too far above any starting PC for me to get uncomfortable with the 2d6 method.

Aesthetics and Genre

Aesthetically I prefer the bonuses to have a higher effect. I think it is more in keeping with a heroic swashbuckling style of play. However if I was going for a grittier style or something closer to reality the 2d10 method seems more suitable. Also I've come to associate 2d6 with H+I in the same way that I associate 1d20 with D&D, d6s with Traveler, 1d100 with Runequest and Call of Cthulhu, and a stack of d6s for Star Wars. To some extent, I like different systems having different resolution methods. As our H+I characters would say vive la difference!

* If the roll of 2 (or 2-3 in the 2d10 method) plus modifiers is equal or greater than 9+ (12+ in 2d10) 
the roll is a simple failure, not a Calamitous Failure.

The Nitty Gritty of Probabilities

2d6 Probabilities

2d10 Probabilities


  1. Thanks for such a comprehensive answer! My question was indeed intended to avoid the switching cost that would be incurred if we decided to change from 2d6 to 2d10 sometime in the future.

    You make a good point about generalisation helping to prevent the PCs from getting out of hand. I think it is definitely to be encouraged in a swashbuckling setting with plenty of intrigue, derring-do, and hair's-breadth escapes.

    I think you're right about the greater effect of bonuses fitting a more "heroic" (or cinematic) sort of game, so we will probably stick with using 2d6. If doubt we'll be playing for long enough for the PCs to gain enough power to overwhelm the system.

    (Apologies for not commenting sooner - we had to move house over the Christmas/New Year period so I've been focused on other things!)

  2. Hi Andy! I hope your move was not difficult and you are settling into your new place. Please feel free to ask other questions about H+I. I like having questions to answer as a source for new posts and comments help me to know what readers find interesting.

    1. We're more or less settled in now thanks. Still unpacking boxes of books though - we have a lot of books!