As someone who has extensively played Fantasy Flight Game’s Warhammer Fantasy 3rd edition–and even worked on the latest Star Wars roleplaying game lines–I’m a big fan of the custom narrative dice created by Jay Little. The multiple axes of resolution are famous for spurring narrative description at the table and giving people something to do on their turn even if they fail–or something to worry about on a success.
Last Monday I threw a CR5 Shambling Mound at the party of five level-fives. In addition to being a fairly tough fight, there were a lot of missed opportunities for some flavorful fight descriptions because things boiled down to a simple pass/fail. I know you can do stunts and such without the need for an extra die, but it’s nice to have a randomization element of whether something good, something bad, something awesome, or something terrible also happens.
It was during a conversation with Andy Fischer and Dan Clark that we realized there was a simple way to add a small amount of variety to normal d20-based games. All you’d need is a d3 or d6 for “good,” “bad,” and “null” side effects. You could also raid your WFRP3 or Star Wars dice collection, or even create custom dice of your own!
It turns out that Evil Hat Production’s Fate Dice are perfectly suited for this purpose (and come in a bunch of awesome colors, to boot). A plus sign is a “boon,” to be spent by the player, a minus sign is a “bane,” to be spent by the DM, and blank is null. You have advantage or disadvantage? Roll two Fudge dice and combine both results. Alternatively, only roll one die and get an automatic plus or minus from advantage or disadvantage, respectively. You can choose to have pluses cancel minuses, or not, depending on how much extra description you want to worry about.
The key is that you have to narrate both why you have the “boon” or “bane” and what the outcome looks like. For example:
Dan rolls high, a 22 to hit, along with a minus sign. “Got him! Uh-oh. Determined to protect my cousin, I press the attack with my axe! But this leaves me wide open for a counter attack.” The DM elaborates from there: “The other hobgoblin takes his time to line up a shot with his longbow, aiming squarely at you! He’ll get advantage on his next attack against you.”
We tried this at our lunch game on Friday as an optional rule and it seemed to work well, but it could probably use some additional playtesting or refinement.
Here is a list of possible ways to spend those boons and banes mechanically in combat, but obviously they can and should be adapted to social or investigative situations. As a DM you have final say over whether the result makes sense, and you should feel free to be selective about which ones you want to include in your game. They might make combat longer or more deadly, but hopefully because you have equal odds of getting each result, the bonuses and penalties even out over the long run.
What options would you add to these lists? Have you used something like this in your games? How did it go?