logo

How to Add Narrative Dice to d20 Systems

logo

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.

Plus Sign

  • Add 1 to your check or damage result.
  • Grant advantage to the next check made by an ally.
  • Grant disadvantage to the next check made by the target.
  • Gain a bonus action that can be spent to disengage, hide, or move into cover within 5 ft.
  • Notice an important detail in the scene, such as an enemy’s weakness or a trapdoor.

Double Pluses

  • Add +1d6 to your check or damage result.
  • Disarm your opponent.
  • Knock your opponent prone.
  • Ignore your opponent’s cover.
  • Do something vital to help turn the tide of the scene in your favor.

Minus Sign

  • Subtract 1 from your check or damage result.
  • Grant advantage to the next check made by an enemy.
  • Grant disadvantage to the next check made by the PC.
  • The enemy gains a bonus action that can be spent to disengage, hide, or move into cover within 5 ft
  • Your enemy notices an important detail in the scene, such as a tactical advantage or an aspect of your personality to use against you.

Double Minuses

  • Subtract 1d4 from your check or damage result
  • You drop your weapon or it jams.
  • You trip or your enemy is able to knock you prone.
  • You lose the benefit of cover.
  • You accidentally do something vital to help turn the tide of the scene in your enemy’s favor.

What options would you add to these lists? Have you used something like this in your games? How did it go?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

logo
logo
Powered by WordPress | Designed by Elegant Themes