Mercenary Mondays: Dice!

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an going series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

As any good roleplayer knows, dice are the key element of any game. The chance of randomness, failure and success is delivered, and interpreted through dice. The Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game uses 3 six-sided dice (abbreviated as 3d6). All rolls in the game use this particular combination of dice.


The particular color combination you see in the picture to your right is important. The odd color out is what we call “the complication dice”. It’s the dice that tells you when bad things happen! I’m not going to go into mechanical specifics, because that’s not important here. The important part is why did we chose this particular dice mechanic of 3d6 over the many other options. To do so, let’s look at the various options we have.

One of the classic dice options is the single dice roll. The most common iteration of this dice mechanic is found in the d20 system used by Wizards of the Coast for their Dungeons and Dragons products. You also find it in several Eden Studios games, and various offshoots of the d20 system (Mutants and Masterminds, any of the OSR revival products). The benefit of the d20 (and by proxy any single dice roll system) system is two-fold. The first is that every time you roll the dice, you have a 5% chance of any given number out of the 20. This provides a wide ranging level of effects and results.

The second is much simpler. You always roll the same dice. Never having to count, or pool your dice is easy. Never underestimate simple.

However, the d20 system has some pretty hefty drawbacks. The first is the same as a benefit. You generate a large number of with ranging effects. It’s possible to hit that 20 result, do great, or hit the 1 result, and do awful. You can have the same chance every time. The second is the reliance on one particular dice. That can be problematic occassional.

The next option is the dice pool system. West End Games, White Wolf, and Shadowrun are all examples of a dice pool system. The general idea is that you generate the number of dice you roll (either in d6, d10s or others), and roll the entire pool of dice, attempting to achieve success through either a target number, or looking for a set amount of results. The dice pool system has a major benefit in that you have a strong amount of averages. Check out the graph below: 
dice pool

As you can see on the graph, the multiple dice mechanic causes a bellcurve. A bellcurve provides more reliable results, and a greater chance of average success which is something we wanted in Schlock from day one.

However, we aren’t using a dice pool, instead, we’re using a fixed roll system, where in every roll in the game uses 3d6. This gives us the bellcurve of the dice pool, with the simplicity of the d20 roll. Several other games have used similar systems (Hero, the ill-fated Fuzion system) and the average curve of success allows encounters, stats, and characters to be balanced and built the same from the ground up.

I hope that helps you understand why we used the particular mechanics we did, and what they bring to the game! As usual, any questions? Throw ’em at us below.

6 thoughts on “Mercenary Mondays: Dice!

  1. Oh, good. I’m fond of bell curves. The dice systems that drive me up the wall are those like Cortex where you have no idea what the actual probability of making your target number is. 3d6 is a nice bell curve and you just might make that 1 in 216 chance . . .

  2. My only problem with using a bell curve system like this is that it makes it harder to balance the DCs and ACs the player is trying to hit. I was making my own game at one point, and found that using a Xd6 dice pool worked fine for the ‘average’ stats I was using, but if you added a couple points either way the hit rates would fall off or rise drastically.

    • And I can certainly empathize with that viewpoint. However, the balancing act is actually very simple, and that’s a subject for a later post.

      The benefit of the fixed pool allows us to scale. We know that we will either get a 3 to 18, and we know the cap on characters. We can simply use probability and statistics to determine how the averages come into play, and scale the game from there.

      YAY! Math!

      • By Xd6 I meant a roll with multiple dice in general, as compared to a single dice like a d20. For example, with 3d6 you’re average roll is a 10.5, the same as a d20. However, a small change in target in either direction will throw the odds pretty quickly with a 3d6 as opposed to a d20. If you have a target roll that you expect the player to make half the time, or your monster is expected to hit the player half the tim, then things start off the same; say an AC of 20. In a d20 system a +2 or +3 AC increases my avoidance by a similar ratio; I have about a +1/20 chance of missing/being missed for each +1 to AC. With 3d6 the odds change a lot more; if the AC goes up by 3, the odds of missing go up by a lot more than 1/20.

  3. Right, I completely understand that. However, you still play with averages, so the scaling can be made safer via the use of scaling costs too.

    Don’t worry! We’re handling it very carefully. We want this game to be fun for everyone involved. Casual and serious gamers alike.

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