AN OFFBEAT WRITING TOOL




Remember how we discussed roleplaying games (RPGs) in the last post? Most of them, if you recall, require dice rolls to see whether actions succeed or fail. Most commonly, it's a numbers game: you roll a numbered die and add or subtract certain modifiers to see whether you match or exceed a target number. If you do, the action succeeds; if you don't, the action fails.


In the Star Wars RPG that I currently play, the dice are completely different. (In person, of course, you'd use physical dice.) For each action, instead of rolling one die, you build a pool of dice. Each color represents a factor influencing the success or failure of the action:


  • the character's natural skill and training (green and yellow dice)

  • the character's special talents and any other beneficial circumstances (blue dice)

  • the character's use of the Force, if applicable (white dice)

  • any detrimental circumstances (black dice)

  • the inherent difficulty of the task (purple and red dice)


Instead of numbers, the dice have symbols representing different factors in the outcome:


  • Success (most of these terms are capitalized in the game)

  • Failure

  • Advantage

  • Threat

  • Triumph

  • Despair

  • Light Side (Force points)

  • Dark Side (Force points)


The net results tell you not only whether the action succeeds or fails, but they also give you ways to expand the story--because the player and/or the GM decides what exactly Advantage, Threat, Triumph, Despair, and (if applicable) Light Side and Dark Side look like in the current situation. The rulebooks give some ideas, but ultimately, the decision is in the participants' hands.


For example, in the game I'm GM-ing with some people online, the player characters (PCs--Drastan, Tarlo, Elavs'moo, and Xant) were investigating a murder on a starship when I asked them to make a check using the Perception skill. Each player built a dice pool for his (they're all guys) PC and rolled. The net results were as follows:


  • Drastan: 1 Success, 1 Advantage

  • Tarlo: 3 Advantages, 2 Failures

  • Elavs'moo: 3 Successes, 1 Threat

  • Xant: 3 Successes, 1 Threat


At the very least, I knew from the results that these things would happen:


  • Everyone but Tarlo would hear the noise I was about to describe.

  • Some small beneficial thing would happen to Drastan.

  • Some larger beneficial thing would happen to Tarlo.

  • Elavs'moo and Xant would each suffer a minor difficulty.


So here's what I wrote in our shared document:


Drastan, Elav'smoo, and Xant, you hear a loud clanking of metal on metal coming down the hall from the aft section of the ship. 
(1 Advantage) Drastan, you've heard sounds like these in your past career . . . from battle droids.
(1 Threat) Elav'smoo, as you turn toward the noise, you step on the edge of the blanket you're holding and trip, twisting your ankle. Take 1 strain.
(1 Threat) Xant, apparently your body hasn't quite recovered from [a dose of knockout gas earlier in the adventure] yet, because as you turn, your head spins and takes longer to settle than it should. Take 1 Setback on your next skill check.
Tarlo, you don't hear anything, but (3 Advantage) you do notice something odd about the corpse as you take another look: despite the blood on [the murder weapon], there are no visible injuries on the body except the blaster burns on the man's chest.

In contrast, if we'd been playing an RPG that uses just numbered dice, the story would've been much less rich. Three players would've succeeded, one would've failed, and that would've been it.


As in the game, real people don't typically experience just success or just failure. There are nuances to both outcomes. And if we want our writing to be true to life, we need to include those nuances in our characters' experiences.


If you're not sure how to do this in your story, pick a scene and try treating it like a check from this game. First, using this online dice roller, build a dice pool for the scene:


  • Use purple dice to represent the difficulty of the character's/characters' goal (one die for easy, two for medium, three for hard, and so on).

  • If the goal is particularly difficult, remove one or more purple dice and replace them with red dice.

  • Add green dice to represent the applicable character's/characters' relevant natural abilities (strength for scaling a cliff, charisma for talking one's way out of trouble, etc.). 

  • If the character(s) has/have special training in a relevant area, remove one or more green dice and replace them with yellow dice.

  • Add blue dice to represent any situational advantages the character(s) has/have, such as having good weather conditions or being owed a favor by the person they're trying to negotiate with. The more advantages available, the more dice you add.

  • Add black dice to represent any situational disadvantages the character(s) has/have, such as being low on supplies or dealing with someone who's prejudiced against them. The more disadvantages in the mix, the more dice you add.

  • You can ignore the white dice if you want, or you can add them to represent how high the moral stakes are in this scene. The more the character's/characters' morality or values are being tested, the more dice you add.


Then roll the dice pool and use the net results to brainstorm how you can add nuance to a scene. For example, if the result includes both Successes and Threats, your character might recruit a powerful ally to their cause, only to realize that the two of them fundamentally disagree about what methods are acceptable. If your result includes both Failures and Advantages, perhaps your character rear-ends someone, but the damage to the vehicles turns out to be mostly cosmetic. If you include the white dice and the result includes Dark Side points, perhaps your character violates their own moral code in this situation to get what they want, or maybe their faith in that code, their religion, their cause, or whatever is shaken. 


Try it and let me know what happens. I'd love to hear about your results!


Write on,

Candice


(Picture, for once, is my own)

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