Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Photo of Me at Work

 

Photo of me running Shadows of Brimstone on our 3D Trederra board at DiceFest Online 2020 last month. Note the creepy alien soldier in the background.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Currently Gaming Nov 2020

 Other than that bit of math yesterday, I haven't really posted here in a while. Figure I should say a word or two about what gaming I'm doing.

D&D: Played the first session this week in a friend's campaign of D&D. I'm playing a flighty gullible Halfling Warlock. 

For those who know D&D, my Warlock Patron is Archfey, and my background is Guild Artisan. Dimple Copperock was an apprentice to a Colton Smelt, a master smith who makes fey-killing magical cold-iron weapons. Titania offered me power in exchange for betraying my master and leaving his employ. 

The campaign world seems pretty cool, and the GM has a lot of good ideas... but for some reason really likes the idea of the skill challenges from D&D 4th and has ported them over to 5th. I hope they don't come up too often. He did one in the first session, and it was clunky. Maybe they'll get better as we get more practice with them, but it felt arbitrary and flavorless to me. Definitely the weak-point of an otherwise excellent first session. The rest of it was more than enough fun to justify letting the GM do his thing with his favorite mechanical concept. Who knows, maybe once we've got a few skill challenges under our belts I'll grow to like them.

As I'm now playing a Warlock, I am eagerly awaiting the imminent release of Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, a new D&D rulebook that has a bunch of cool Warlock stuff in it.

Torg: I really like my playgroup, and am having a lot of fun, but I'm also having a hard time wrapping my head around Torg some nights. Not just because the rules are sometimes weird, but because I don't always understand the setting real well. This is my first Torg campaign, and most of the rest of the group have played Torg for decades. So they all grok the setting inside out, and I feel like I'm constantly playing catch-up. The GM threw a really interesting "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" plot at us recently, and I had the darnedest time figuring out if my PC (a dinosaur-man who worships a nature goddess I don't really know much about) should honestly be upset about body-snatching plant-clones. I guess it's an intruding reality, and as a Storm Knight I should be generally against that, but I also kind of felt like "Law of the Jungle" suggests mind-whammy plant-monsters gotta eat, too.

More D&D: I have a big campaign we play marathon sessions of on long holiday weekends. Had to convert it all to Roll20 because with the Pandemic nobody wants to get together for Thanksgiving Dinner. It was a ton of work taking my graph-paper (and Dwarven Forge) dungeon online... but now that I've got the tools/campaign built, I'm almost certainly going to want to keep using them even when things feel safe to play at the same table. Roll20 is pretty great.

Amber: We're 5 sessions into the campaign, and having a lot of fun. Nearly every scene has taken place in Amber itself, which is kinda weird, and probably my fault. I encouraged the players to get invested in Amber the place so that the big plot would matter to them, and I set a lot of interesting schemes in motion within walking distance of the castle, so they're sticking nearby thus far. It's cool, but I'm hoping to dive into the improvisational poetry of a hellride soon, as that's always a lot of fun to GM.

Shadows of Brimstone: Ran a bunch of Trederra adventures during DiceFest Online. I don't tend to talk too much here about work, but we did some almost theatrical productions this time. Fancy 3D board, 4 cameras, cool stage lights, creepy life-size Trederran Legionnaire standing right behind me, and a fun custom scenario with Darkstone Mortar fire. It was a lot of work, but also a ton of fun.

Mansquito -- I mean, Night's Black Agents: In recent sessions, the PCs slew The Man In The Iron Mask and a Moroccan Djinn. We've taken about a month off for various scheduling conflicts, but will return next week. The PCs have successfully infiltrated the power structure of Graf Orlok (the monster from the silent film Nosferatu), but they betrayed his bride while hunting those other baddies I mentioned, so next session will be a painful reckoning unless the players come up with a really clever cover story for what went "wrong".


Saturday, November 7, 2020

Advantage Math (It's not +5)

 I'm sure this is posted elsewhere on the internet, but I'm putting it here so I can remember so I don't have to do the math again if I forget it. In D&D 5th, Advantage is roughly equal to +3.325 on your roll on average, and Disadvantage works out to -3.325 on your roll on average.

That said, for typical difficulties of your character level in a thing your PC is built to be good at, the effect of Advantage is probably functionally better than that +3.325 suggests. Example: if you need to roll a natural 11+ (just counting the die, not considering modifiers) to hit, you'd normally hit 50% of the time, but with Advantage you'd be hitting 75% of the time. Which feels like it's a +5 bonus (a +25% success chance, since each +1 on a linear d20 = +5% success rate) in that situation, and if you look online you'll see people talk about it as if +5 were accurate.

I'd argue that +5 equivalency is really more of an illusion or an ideal, than an actual mechanical reality. You can't count on it reliably. Those people are just wrong.

I mean, the "it's practically +5" notion is predicated on a very middle-of-the-bell-curve target number, and aside from the fact that 1d20 isn't an actual bell curve, you also can't really expect to ideal mathematically balanced scenario to show up at the table with any consistency. Yes, if you built your character really well, and your GM is very careful about the Difficulties they set and Monsters you encounter, then, sure, pretty often you'll find Advantage pays off roughly like it were a +5 boost to your average. But not every time. The moment the DM picks an above-average challenge for your climactic final encounter (or, for that matter, a real low-ball DC because they want you to succeed and some minor hurdle), or rolls on a Random Encounter Table, or the situation causes you to try something "outside the box" rather than what your PC is actually good at, this whole notion of it being equal to +5 is out the window. 

Lets say the GM puts a high DC on something, and you need a natural 18+ on the die to succeed. Your base chance of success is 15%. If you have Advantage, your chance of success goes to 27.75%. So that's just a hair better than a flat +2 boost. On the rolls where it really matters because you're trying to do the impossible, thinking of Advantage as being +5 will make you badly overestimate your odds of success. It's not only more accurate, but also safer, to think of it as if it were +3.

This fact is of greatest importance for GMs. If you plan out your scenarios thinking Advantage is +5, you'll end up making things impossibly hard for the PCs by mistake, and do so fairly often.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

A Sneaky Little Thing With The Birds

 I should have put this in the Amber post last night, but forgot to mention it then. It's okay, that post was mostly about how great my players are, and in this post I'm going to beam some arrogant pride about a fun thing I did.

When I got to first scene for one of the players, I told him that he'd just gotten back to his office from a short vacation, and asked him to tell us what he'd done to relax on that trip. He said that his character, who does falconry and raises birds, had found a wild bird of a species he'd never seen before, a big hawk with a beak longer than any he'd seen before in a bird of its size. He then a few moments later showed the bird to a minor improvised NPC who shared his love of birds. I had that NPC gush over it, and reinforced his description by having them say that its beak was at least a full inch and a half larger than he'd ever seen on a bird of that size. I put just a little bit of extra emphasis on the words to make them stand out.

I did this, because I knew that I was leading in to a scene later where someone else was going to receive a messenger bird. In Amber, these are usually a semi-magical "bird of my desire" found via the use of the Pattern, they don't have to be a species you'd normally use for sending a message. 

So when a messenger bird arrives in another scene, for another player, with a note tied around its leg, I describe it as a large hawk, "with a beak a full inch and a half larger than you've ever seen on a bird of that size". Suddenly, the fun little detail that the player had improvised to describe what their character did on their vacation became invested with extra meaning and connection. Does this mean the message-sender was in the other character's world? That seemed clever, but too easy to get forgotten. Thankfully, I had another plot element ready in my toolbox.

Earlier, in a previous scene that neither of those characters were in, a different PC found a black unicorn, that was wounded and being chased by nasty cat-monsters. They saved it from the creepy cat-monsters.

When I got back around to the PC who introduced the bird again, I now narrated that one of these same cat-monsters had somehow managed to get into his building, and tried to get to his new bird. Thereby making the detail the player introduced somehow now tied directly to three characters' plots, one of them by way of a thing that happened before the 1st player improvised the bird detail. It's a little thing, but I'm really proud of myself for weaving this together like that. The birds are clearly linked, the cats are clearly linked, but how does the unicorn tie in?

The players picked up on it, despite the three characters having not yet met, and therefore not had a chance to compare notes. I'm looking forward to that connection in a future session. It feels like something straight out of a carefully structured novel, not stitched together in largely-improvised RPG sessions, so please allow me a moment to show-off and gloat about it. 

Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! 

Thank you.


I love my new Amberites!

Ran the first session of my new Amber campaign tonight. I love my players! They're really engaged and give a damn about the NPCs already. They've got developed personalities, and some solid back stories, and they just all feel like bonafide Amber characters: several of them are cagey, nearly all of them have oversized egos, and the players have taken to the setting like fish to the River Oisen. Only 3 of the 7 players have read any of the novels before, and only 1 of the 7 has played the game, so I'm blessedly lucky that they've picked up the feel and the tone so quickly. 

I will claim a tiny bit of assisted credit there, as I did handle the Attribute Auction very differently this game (and will do so likewise for all Amber campaigns going forward). We did Powers first, so people were all-but-guaranteed to have enough points available for Pattern if they wanted it, and I really leaned into how great Pattern is for first-time players, instead of trying to "trick" them into overbidding on Attributes like the rules encourage. So this is the highest number/percentage of genuine Amberites I've ever had in a campaign. It seems like every Amber campaign I've run before has always had at least two players who wanted to be Shadow Sorcerors with zero links to Amber or Chaos, at least one player with Advanced Shapeshifting but no other links to Amber or Chaos, and at least one character (usually one of the previous three) with zero ability to move through worlds (not even Trump Artistry). It's a pretty serious stumbling block to getting the plot going if half the player base has no reason to interact with the NPCs or each other. This time, we avoided that better than ever before, and I think it's playing out really well.

But I can only a tiny thimble-full of the credit for helping set that up, because my players are just generally awesome and all I did was not screw them over during the Auction. The rest is all them.  Everyone already has their 1st session's Pledges up on the site. All the journal entries, campaign log, and quotes page are top-notch. (I want to share some of those here, but should probably check with the players first to get permission.) My players are doing great work, and really diving in head-first. I cannot sing their praises loudly enough. Great job, folks!

The plot is off to a rollicking start, with a couple good fights already, and lots of scheming plots and mysteries. I got most of the characters to meet each other in the first session, in a way that's got a little tension going between various parties, but not got any PCs gun for each other just yet. 5 of the 7 characters ended up in the middle of the city of Amber during a bit of diplomacy gone bad. 

The 2 that didn't get involved in that each got their own interesting mystery subplot, which show some signs of being interwoven with each other, and also possibly with what was happening with one of the characters.

Here's some other random plot points:

Uncle Caine is up to something nefarious, and faced a bad setback already when the envoy from chaos escaped what sure seems to have been an attempted ambush.

Aunt Fiona is feeding clues to one PC that all seem to be pointing towards some sort of presumably-unrelated doppleganger mystery. She refused to talk directly about it, but the clues would have been really hard to miss.

Strange birds have arrived at two characters worlds, one bearing a message from dead Aunt Deidre, the other possibly pursued by a cat-monster.

A black unicorn arrived in a different characters world, definitely pursued by two cat-monsters. After the monsters were slain by the PCs, the unicorn fled.

And just to add a little more complexity, Eric's weir have been stirring up trouble in Arden. 

I was very pleased to pack all that in to a single session. I am incredibly excited for the rest of this game!


Saturday, August 29, 2020

Chateau What-d'If!

 Super happy with the Night's Black Agents session. Had two simultaneous thriller scenes: A fight on Chateau d'If with 3 PCs against the Man In The Iron Mask*, at the same time a 3-way fight in downtown Marseilles between 2 PCs, a team from the British vampire program, and a corrupt cop on the take from a French vampire, which then turned into a chase sequence. Two PCs got mauled by a vamp, 1 got tased by spy, sniper fire broke out on a city street, and a group of characters had to jump off the cliffs of Chateau d'If and swim to safety.


*= It turns out the Man In The Iron Mask is a vampire that's been locked up beneath Chateau d'If for hundreds of years. Also locked beneath the castle was a beheaded Moroccan Djinn, and the animate mummy of Jean-Baptiste Kleber. Their warden is one of Les Immortals (the 40 influential people in charge of the French Language) who happens to be a Karcist (Goetic Mage) who has been tending their prison since the French Revolution. He was originally their warden, but has sort of fallen under the influence of the Djinn. It's complicated. Also more creepy, and less campy, than this short summary would lead you to conclude.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Table for 8

 I just ran my first Amber Attribute Auction in more than a decade. I had invited a large group of players, but as of this morning, only 3 had confirmed that they'd definitely be playing, and one of those 3 said he unfortunately was probably going to have to miss the character creation system. 3 dependable players is enough to run a good Amber campaign, but it's not really enough to run an Attribute Auction, so I spent a good chunk of the day unnecessarily prepping for how I might handle character creation for 2 or 3 in a way that would allow me to seamlessly add another player or two at a later date. 

For those unaware of the intricacies of Amber, the auction has 4 major Attributes (Psyche, Strength, Endurance, and Warfare) and player bid against each other to be "1st Rank" in each. This is fundamentally broken with less than 4 players, and can easily fall apart even with 4. Basically, if one player manages to be first rank in 3 of the 4 attributes, you'll potentially have some very painful balance issues should those characters come to cross purposes. So I was worried.

Needlessly.

When the appointed time arrived, people just kept showing up to the google hangout and Roll20. I ended up with 7 players!

The auction went smoothly, despite my being a decade out of practice. If anything, my being rusty may have actually helped. I didn't oversell the attributes, so people had enough points to get Powers. Here's the Attribute "rungs" we ended up with:

Psyche rungs: 4 / 7 / 10 / 12 / 17

Strength rungs:  1 / 3 / 6 / 7 / 8

Endurance rungs: 5 / 7 / 10 / 12 / 15 / 16 / 17 / 18 / 19 / 20

Warfare rungs: 2 / 5 / 7 / 10 / 12 / 15

It's kind of "weird" that 1st Rank didn't cost more than 20 for anything, and that Endurance was the highly competitive stat. Neither of those feels "normal", but they don't strike me as problematic either. Nearly every character ended up with Pattern, so they'll be able to move around the universe easily and they have reasons to interact. They're all cousins, and they have a vested interest in the prosperity of Amber.

This current batch of characters just feels like they are going to be so much easier to build stories for, than the crazy mixed-up groups of disconnected characters at the start of all my previous campaigns. No inexplicable enigma characters without a connection to either Amber or Chaos. No worries about anyone being "Shadow Lame" and unable to travel to the worlds where the plots are. No one caught in the unfortunate bind of having 60 points of Psyche and no Powers to use with it. This seems pretty great.

My only concern is in running a game for 7 players, especially a game like Amber where those 7 players are likely to frequently scatter to the ends of the universe. It's going to give me a serious workout each session, but thankfully we're only meeting every second week and I'll have plenty of time to catch my breath on off weeks. Should be fun. Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 9, 2020

A Horse Of Another Timbre

 I'm going to be starting a new Amber campaign soon. I've sent out a few invites, and started building the campaign on Roll20. Not that an Amber game really needs Roll20, given that it's diceless and the rules are minimalist, but I've been so happy with the clue-storage and relationship-mapping aspects used in my Night's Black Agents campaign on Roll20 that I've decided something similar for this campaign is a good idea. The Roll20 will be a place to share images, if nothing else. 

I've decided the campaign will be called A Horse of Another Timbre, which just struck me as a clever thing to call an Amber game. The "horse" being the unicorn, of course, of course, and the music-term "timbre" is properly pronounced "tamber" and means the characteristic quality or "tone color" of a sound. It's a pun-inside-a-rhyme and cries out to be used for an Amber game.

I'll be running a Logrus-less Chaos, because I kind of hate the way Merlin's descriptions of the Logrus really invalidate the plot of Corwin's tale. (As in, we're told in the first 5 books that Chaos needs the Black Road and Dara's blood of Amber to be able to invade... but if Logrus is common in the Courts and functions as it does in Merlin's tale, that invasion should have been easy to start without Brand or Dara.) So I'm currently pouring over my old Amber documents here, looking for things that need updating. 

I'm also looking over the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow rulebook, and mulling over if there's a way to use the Grand Stair from that book, without it creating the same problem the Logrus does. I'm thinking maybe the Grand Stair is like a secret backdoor that Dworkin or Oberon created? 

One other change I'm going to make is just a rename of an ability. It will be Tarot Artistry, because the old name is unfortunately a homonym for the criminal-in-chief, and I don't want that constant reminder ruining scenes.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Quiet Conclusion

I just realized I don't think I ever did a post from the end of The Quiet Year game that I played with my buddy Brendan from Chicago. It was a lot of fun. Here's a picture from the end of the game, to save me from writing a thousand words of play-by-play for a game we finished up a few weeks back:
We played on Roll20. Just a heads-up for anyone thinking of doing the same: the game is a lot of fun on Roll20, but it does have some technical hurdles you'll want to prepare for. Drawing is clumsier in the Roll20 interface than it is face-to-face, and labeling things with text is super-easy and more legible than it would be in-person, so we ended up with quick little scribbles and relied a lot more on our ability to put text on the map (than the rulebook officially discourages labeling, but on Roll20 it's a welcome tool). You'll notice that the fence on the map was drawn in by a couple hundred strokes of the drawing tool. By the end of the game, things were lagging a tiny bit, so it might be better to not draw every individual fence-post next time.

I was surprised the Roll20 version isn't quite ready-to-play straight-off-the-shelf. The default page has nowhere for you to note scarcities, abundances, or characters, so I changed the page size (landscape rather than portrait fit my screen better anyway) and added a section for notes on the side. It also doesn't come with anything to represent the Contempt tokens, and no placeable dice. So I used a token I'd uploaded for an old Warhammer RPG for Contempt, and slapped together a rollable table token of a d6. It was all pretty simple, but just be advised that if you do want to play it on Roll20, you can't just fire-and-forget at the marketplace, someone in the group is going to have to do a few minutes of work to prep the game before the first time you play. Thankfully, the deck is already loaded up, so it does save you a whole bunch of time and effort by not having to scan the deck in. It does feel worth the 8$ or 10$ it costs on the Roll20 marketplace, and I'm glad I bought it, but I was a little surprised that I had to provide my own dice and tokens. It seems like if the publisher had included those in the Roll20 assets, it wouldn't have cost them much time or effort, yet would have resulted in a much more polished product.

About half way through the second session, we realized that we should have been making notes in the chat window of each turn's development and what all Projects and Discoveries were. If we had done so from the beginning, then we'd have a nice chat log of what had happened, and it would have been much easier to pick back up when we came back two weeks later for the second half of the game. So file that tip away for next time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Byzantine Dice of Torg

I played in a session of the new edition of Torg last night (well, a few nights ago now, but it was last night when I wrote the first 2000 words that follow). It was fun, but, man, are the die rolls complicated and weird in this RPG. I'm really glad we were playing over Roll20, because I wouldn't want to try to engage with the core mechanic of Torg without die-rolling software.

To use a skill in Torg, you: Start with your Attribute value, add your skill value,  and add any miscellaneous modifiers (like +4 for an All-Out Attack that leaves you Very Vulnerable afterwards).

So far, so good, it's not sounding any more complicated than d20 games.

Now you roll a d20, but instead of adding your roll to the total above, instead you look at a chart that converts your 1d20 roll into a Bonus from -10 to +7.
 
Okay, that's a little weird. Not horrible, but already a tiny bit clunky and hard to intuit what your average roll will actually be. At first, I thought the chart was flattening the roll by making the average roll more common... but on studying the math of the chart, I quickly realized it doesn't do that at all.

Things are going to get a whole lot stranger from here on out.

If your die roll was a 10 or a 20, it "explodes", giving you another die to roll, which can also explode if it rolls a 10 or 20. So it's a system with the potential for arbitrarily large successes, big memorable die rolls where you out-perform anyone's expectations. This is technically infinitely open-ended, but the progression of the resulting modifier slows down once you go further up the chart than a 20. So while a natural roll of 20 is +7 bonus, a total of 50 (which requires exploding at least twice to accomplish) is just +13.

Except, you can't actually roll a 20, because the natural 20 would explode, as would any roll of 50 (20+20+10 explodes for a 4th die, for example). So as near as I can tell, the entry for the +7 result (which only happens on a 20) is almost never needed, and the entry for the +13 result actually happens on 46-49, not 46-50 as the chart indicates. For that matter, the chart says a of 9 or 10 roll is a -1 bonus, but you can't normally actually roll the 10, so that's also somewhat misleading.  Well, you can roll a 20, 30, 50, etc, but only if you've got a bonus die from an Ups or Possibility (both of which are described below). Rolling an exact 10 is even harder to do (and requires an Ups).

So what is the actual average roll? The math is kind of tricky, but I made a big spreadsheet to figure it out.  The average rolled bonus is... -0.26127955.  Yep, on average, you'll roll slightly less than your Attribute+Skill combination. Which is counter-intuitive, because the potential for big memorable high-value rolls makes you expect that you ought to be averaging rather higher than your stats. That is not the case at all.

An aside about approximations: I only calculated rolls of 80 or less, so I'm probably low-balling it by a few one-thousandths of a percent. Rolling above an 80 requires rolling a "20" four times in a row, or a "10" eight times in a row, or some combination splitting the difference like 10-20-10-10-20-10. The odds of scoring above an 80 are less than 1 in 10,000, so I figure it's probably safe to round off at that point. Calculating it only to rolls of 70 or less returned an average of -0.26271358, a variation of only one one-thousandth of a point of bonus, and I'm pretty sure the math runs out to diminishing returns even as you approach infinity.

Yes, you could technically roll a one-million Bonus, but if you ever did the game would grind to a halt of multi-hour die-rolls and a re-enactment straight out of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen, and I don't feel I need to extrapolate the math out that far, either, just for the sake of accuracy.

So at that point, I'm already really glad that Roll20 has a die-rolling function that calculates it all in the blink of an eye. In our session, we had two rolls that were above 60. While rolling a d20 three to five times and counting up the math out loud would have been dramatic and awesome, it's also likely to feel weirdly clunky, and kinda suspicious. Like, if the same person rolled a 61+ twice in the same session, as GM I'd start wanting a closer look at his dice. Maybe I'm just an untrusting jerk, though. Roll20 eliminates the chance of dice-deception, so I didn't have to worry about it.

So the next question that springs to mind is how often you succeed at the standard difficulty. For that we need to know a bit about Character Creation. Characters are made with a point-buy method, and your point budget matches an average Attribute of 8. You're given 16 skill points to spend, with an initial cap of 3 in any skill. In my limited experience from making a single character, it seems like there are more than 8 skills that you'll want on any given character (I ended up putting points in 10 skills for my fairly simple fighter-y Edeinos character, because it would have taken 13 different skills to represent the more ranger-y concept I'd wanted), so you're almost certainly going to have a 2 or less in any skill that's not the centerpiece of your character. 8+2=10, and the Standard Difficulty listed as default is a 10, and the average roll reduces your Total, so you can expect to have a less than 50% chance to succeed at a random task. You will, of course, likely focus your character, getting an 11 or so in your best attribute, brought up to a 14 by the skill bonus. This comes at the cost of most likely having a 6 on some attribute (4 out of 5 PCs last night had a 6 in Charisma, and my character had two 6s and a 7 to afford his 10 Dex and 11 Str), so there are definitely going to be critical rolls that face a very low chance of success, and those will pop up from time to time regardless of your efforts to avoid them (unless you give your PC an 8 in all 5 stats and spread your skill points thin, too). Succeeding at an average Difficulty with a 6 attribute and no skill requires rolling a 17 or higher (or an exploding 10 followed by a 7 or higher) on the die, which works a 23.5% chance of success.

That is assuming that Difficulty 10 is the norm. While it is the stated Standard Difficulty, there's plenty of reason to expect that the actual Difficulty you're shooting at is going to vary from that quite often. Instead of a single Armor Class and maybe a few kinds of Saving Throw, each character has about 10 different defensive values calculated from their other stats, and the potential to take an Active Defense Action to raise the difficulty from an attack.

But it gets even weirder and more elaborate from there, as Torg has degrees of success, so it's not just hit or miss, succeed or fail. It's failure vs standard success vs good success vs outstanding success, with increasing degrees of success adding on extra beneficial results. Contrast this with D&D. In D&D, once I know the enemy's AC is 15, if I roll high I don't have to do any math and can skip straight to damage. In Torg, even if I know the enemy Melee Defense is 12, and I just rolled a 18, I still have to look at the chart, find that 18 = +5 bonus, add that to my 10 Dexterity and 3 Unarmed skill to know my total post-bonus is 18, then subtract his Defense of 12 to get 6 and know that I have a Good-ranked hit, which will do bonus damage. Again, with Roll20's lovely die-roller and the output from the automated character sheets this is pretty painless, but I imagine all that math would murder the pacing of a face-to-face game.

Torg also gives you a lot of ways to reroll or add a die, and all of those rerolls have special rules of their own. Before we can discuss these rerolls, however, we need to explore the Mishap rule, which can shut down your rerolls completely. Certain types of Actions are prone to Mishaps. These are generally high-risk Actions like full-auto gunfire, and spellcasting. These Actions will trigger a Mishap if the first die rolled is a "1", and some Actions may have a higher Mishap range (up to a 4 on the die in some cases). Mishaps are automatic failures (regardless of stats) that can't be rerolled, and they usually also trigger some sort of critical fumble consequence. None of my Actions were Mishap-applicable last night, but I was involved in a shooting-into-a-Melee situation, which we will discuss later, because it interacts very strangely with some of the reroll options.

One of the reroll options my character had available was that I was able to make "Favored" rolls in melee and stealth. During character creation, I read this sort of like having Advantage in D&D, but I was very wrong, as functionally it's quite different and not nearly as strong. Favored is a re-roll, rather than rolling twice and taking the better result. Since more than half the rolls in Torg have a negative "Bonus" (and the average Bonus is negative as well), Favored rolls are somewhat unlikely to produce a good result. Let's say I roll a 13, for a meager Bonus of +1. If I invoke my Favored ability, I will improve my total only 34% of the time. I will break even 10.5%, and I have a 55.5% chance of actually hurting my results. So invoking my Favored reroll is usually a poor choice in that situation.

So it seems like Favored is mostly useful to prevent really bad results, but you'll recall that a Mishap cannot be re-rolled, so for some types of die rolls, Favored doesn't actually mitigate the worst results, either. Which more or less means that Favored is only useful if the GM is very transparent about the Difficulty Numbers. Thankfully, page 260 of the Torg Eternity rules specify that the GM should be very forthcoming with difficulties. I didn't realize that last night, and as a result I felt like my Favored abilities were actually pretty useless. After all, I'm only willing to risk using Favored to reroll a +1 roll if I'm pretty certain that the +1 is a failure.

Having read the rulebook since last night, I now know that I can actually quiz the GM about the monster's stats. That seems weird to me, as it is very gamist and spoils some of the mystery that most RPGs provide by default. That said, I spent both of the two Perks you get in character creation to buy Favored status on die rolls, so if I don't want to feel like I wasted my choices, I'm going to have to invoke page 260 a lot (even if it does feel a little weird to me to do so). Honestly, having such non-intuitive math at the core of the game probably means you do have to be forthcoming with mechanics and target numbers if you want the players to ever be able to make the intelligent decisions that skilled characters should be making in-universe. The math is so fiddly, you can't really be sure your gut instincts are going to be probabilistically accurate.

Let's move on to the next type of reroll: The Up. Ups are really more of a bonus die than a reroll. They are triggered by certain cards, and generally affect the entire party of Heroes for a round.

Yep, eagle-eyed viewer, you read that right. We are 1,800 words into a discussion of the complicated mechanics of Torg Eternity, and I am just now making my first mention of any of the three major card-based mechanics in the system. Man, this game is weird.

Ups add a second die to every roll. These are combined into a single die roll value, but the rules say the second die is added after the first roll, probably to preserve the chance of a Mishap. Either or both dice may explode. So what do Ups do to the success rate? That math makes my previous calculations look like child's play. After a lot of number crunching, I think it works out to the average roll with an Ups being about +6.185. The doubled opportunity for exploding dice really gives it a shot in the arm, pushing it above the value of simply being double the roll. Going from -0.26 to +6.2 is a very strong swing in the PCs favor.

Again, I didn't take the math out terribly far (nothing above a roll of a 63 in this case, but it still took a hell of a lot more number-crunching to get that far than it did to get to 80 on a normal roll), so if anything I'm possibly underestimating the results by possibly as much as a few one-hundredths of a point.

Ups are rare, but I don't have ready access to the cards that trigger them, so I'm not sure how rare. When they kick in they often (maybe always?) affect the rolls of the entire side. So GMs need to be aware that when the card comes up that gives the PCs all Ups, they will crush the opposition mightily that round, and it may end your fight scene (and your major villain) earlier than expected.

The rules implied this Ups only appears on cards that help the Heroes, but I don't have the cards in front of me to be certain of that.  In the unlikely event that a card exists that gives Ups to all NPCs, the GM would likewise need to be prepared for the TPK that would likely cause. That threat of a TPK makes me suspect that bad-guy across-the-board Ups cards probably don't exist. For the most part, the cards exist to make the PCs look like badasses, not to randomly end your campaign anti-climactically. Or at least, that's the impression I get from the percentage of the cards that I have seen after 1 session of play.

The final, and probably most common, form of reroll is spending Possibilities. These are like Bennies in Savage Worlds or like Drama Dice in 7th Sea. You spend one to roll an extra die and add it to your total, and what's more, if the extra die rolls less than a 10, you get to count it as a 10. So in that way, it's even better than an Ups. The thing about the minimum value of a 10 is kind of crazy in that it is super good if your original roll was pretty awful, and only provides a very modest bump if your original roll was strong. It's a weird system, but kind of beautiful.

Let's say you have a combined attribute plus skill of 12. You rolled a 2 on your first die, resulting in a -8 "Bonus", so your final Action Total is a 4, which is almost always going to fail at anything. You spend a Possibility and roll poorly, so you get the minimum bump of turning your 2 into a 12. The Bonus on a 12 is +0, bringing your final Action Total up to a 12, so you've gone from a guaranteed failure to what is very likely a success.

Now let's say the same character rolls a 19 on your first die instead, resulting in a +6 Bonus, for a final Action Total of 18. You spend a Possibility and roll poorly, so you get the minimum bump of turning your 19 into a 29. The Bonus on a 29 is +8, so your final Action Total is 20. It's only an effective increase of +2 to your total, which might not even be enough to change the degree of success. 
 
There is definitely something really cool about how all the math works out on that. It's kind of awesome... but it's also just really arcane and complicated. I can admire how tightly and precise this system runs, and yet be really glad I'm not having to calculate it all by hand on the fly while people at the table are waiting for their turn. Once again, Roll20 makes an otherwise unwieldy mechanic very playable.

So now that I've explained all those different re-roll and added-die mechanics, I'm going to pivot and talk about a related rule in the game that really doesn't seem to fit well at all with everything else the game is doing. As described above, you have a mechanical base where rolls are open-ended, with varying degrees of success and lots of tools for turning a bad roll into a strong result. The game shines a spotlight on players, sometimes going so far as to empower the party to suddenly smash through against hardened enemies and wrap up a battle way early. So how do you imagine that game engine handles shooting into a melee? You might expect that firing into a melee scrum where a fellow PC is wrestling with a bad guy would mean that you had to be wary about the consequences of a Mishap. You'd be wrong. The Mishap rule doesn't apply in that situation. Instead, it's far worse. Seriously, shooting into a melee is damnably nasty in this game. Don't do it!

Whenever you shoot into a melee, if your die roll is odd, you hit a random participant instead of your target. So that right there is a little surprising, because the characters are mostly hypercompetent badasses, so the notion that they would have a close to 50-50 chance to shoot the wrong person by mistake seems odd. Again, the math turns out to be really complicated, because it's not just an equal distribution of odds and evens on a normal d20. You can't roll a 10 or 20, but you could roll a 37, so it's not 50-50 exactly.

In our session, the villain had taken a child hostage. I rushed forward to try to wrest the baby from their grasp, and succeeded, but the movement rules are a little vague (it's not really a map-and-miniatures game, at least not as our GM was running it), so when my action was done I was still arguably engaged with the villain. Another PC went to shoot him. They did a called shot to the head, and rolled an outstanding success... but the die was odd! So this effectively canceled out their success and their called shot, and meant they would instead hit a randomly determined person in the scrum: that being either the villain, or me, or the child. So a 2/3rds chance of disaster! It came up the bad way on the first roll, and the player's instinct was to spend a Possibility to add an extra die to the roll in hopes of making it even. At first glance they assumed it meant a 50-50 chance of fixing the problem. It doesn't however, because any roll less than 10 on the Possibility die is treated as a 10, meaning the overall total was still odd. Effectively, the extra die had 5 sides that would save my bacon and 15 sides that would kill me or the baby! Thanks to some card play, I survived. Obviously I'm not an objective observer, having been in the center of the target zone, but it definitely strikes me as a weird design choice to forgo the existing Mishap mechanic for something that's a lot more punishing.

3,100 words, and I still haven't gotten to the card mechanic. Damn. I guess this will have to just be an article on the dice, because if I dive into the card decks right now, who knows how deep I'll have to go before I can surface.  For now, let's just acknowledge that the cards enhance the game, but they also ramp up the complexity that much further.


TL;DR: Torg Eternity is math-intensive, card-driven, and chart-reliant. Playing on Roll20 with the button-programmed character sheets and custom die rolling API works like a charm, but I don't think I would want to play (or run) the game on the tabletop with nothing but dice and charts. Thankfully, online technology still works in my native Cosm.

On my Crunchometer, this is a big shiny c24. It looks weirder than it actually plays, and at first glance you might misjudge what it actually is. It's definitely not something that I feel every gamer needs in their collection, but I'm happy to have one in my dice bowl, even if it's mostly just to show off and gawk at. It's more complicated than the current edition of D&D.