Roll and Keep dice system

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Vehem
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Roll and Keep dice system

Postby Vehem » Fri Apr 10, 2015 11:53 am UTC

Hello

Looking for a bit of a "gut reaction" here - I lurk around here a fair bit and hope it'll be an acceptable venue for the question (though we seem to be a lot more about computer games these days). I like to mess around with homebrew RPG systems and have one to a point that I was thinking it could be worth looking at polishing it and unleashing it as a PDF for sale. I'd been looking for some feedback from local players, at which point I hit upon an issue that the core mechanic is fairly close to the one used in another commercial product (Legend of Five Rings).

Background
Under the first iterations of the design, for any task you would have both a relevant attribute (Strength, Endurance, Empathy etc) and an appropriate skill (Athletics, Dodge, Bluff etc). To determine if you succeed, you would roll a number of d6 equal to the higher of Stat/Skill and keep a number of them equal to the lower of Stat/Skill. For instance, avoiding a falling rock would prompt a Nimbleness/Dodge check. If a character had Nimbleness 3 and Dodge 2, they would roll 3d6 and keep the highest 2 results as their total. Likewise if the stats were reversed (Nimbleness 2 and Dodge 3). In the instance that both stats are the same (NIM/Dodge 3), you'd roll that many dice and keep them all. There are mechanics included through special abilities, stances, feats and luck to either roll more dice or keep more of the dice that you rolled, allowing a player to push the probabilities around a little. In the case that you had no points in the relevant skill, you'd roll dice equal to your stat as normal, then keep 1 dice with a negative modifier (-1 or -2, depending on how mean I was feeling at the time of writing) and no chance to explode (see below).

On a later iteration I moved to d8s, mostly because I like d8s (octahedrons - who doesn't like them, really?) and then later (under some urging from the chap I tend to bounce ideas off of), moved to d10s because the probabilities are easier to fathom and it allows for a wider range of results (easier to add consequences for missing/exceeding a target by a set amount if the range of possible results is wider). In some instances (but not all) the dice are also "exploding" - rolling a max result (10 in the latest iteration) allows you to roll again and keep the new roll in addition to the original (critical success).

The Issue
Having spoken to a few more players outside my normal group, some thought it was actually just the L5R system with some tweaks. Under that system, rolls are dice equal to Stat, keeping a number equal to Skill, using exploding d10 and using in-game abilities to either roll or keep more dice. I had previously not played or used the L5R system (I knew of it, but the setting never interested me enough to look closely at it), but having now studied it, I can see there's a definite likeness. There are also a good many differences, but the core mechanic of the dice roll is closer than I'm comfortable with.

The Questions
If you've made it this far, the questions I'd like a reaction to are...

1. If you're familiar with L5R, does the system described above feel like L5R or do the differences make it feel like something else? (as I said, I don't really know L5R well enough to judge how much hangs on that dice roll - plus there seems to be resources involved that I don't fully understand)
2. Does it feel like something that would be an issue commercially? (both copyright and public perception of it being "ripped off" from the older system)
3. Having written all this and recounted the history of the project, I'm inclined to switch back to d6 and take the hit on the system being more "swingy" (more exploding dice/high results) - does that seem enough to distinguish the system from the other?
4. Does anyone know of any examples of a Roll/Keep system outside of L5R or AEG Publishing? I'm still not 100% sure if it's a system that's specific to them or that has been done throughout time.

Any feedback is appreciated - as I said, gut reactions from a group who "do games" is what I'm looking for mostly.

===
TL;DR - I made a thing that's like another thing and am worried that people will think my thing is their thing.

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pseudoidiot
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Re: Roll and Keep dice system

Postby pseudoidiot » Fri Apr 10, 2015 2:07 pm UTC

A few random thoughts.

First, I don't know anything about Legend of the Five Rings.

But with as many games as there are out there, there's very few purely unique mechanics coming out anymore. Everyone inspires everyone else. It's hard not to read a game nowadays and not see where something was inspired from something else.

If it's really super, super, close to L5R it could possibly come down to what sort of license the game is released under.

On the other hand my NOT-A-LAWYER instincts tell me that as long as the mechanics aren't 100% identical, you'd probably be okay.

Game mechanics tend to be a weird thing commercially.

As far as similar mechanics, I haven't actually seen any where the number of dice you keep is dependent on anything, but I've definitely seen games where it's generally static (usually 2 or 3) and then there are ways to keep more by spending more resources. Cortex Plus (the new Firefly rpg uses this) uses something like that. There's generally a pool of mixed dice and you keep the 2 highest. But you can spend points to keep more dice.

Then there's something like Tenra Bansho Zero where you roll a number of d6s equal to an attribute (power, speed, or whatever) and then the skill you're using (say melee weapons) determines the target number you want. So maybe you have a skill of 3. So any die with a 3 or lower is a success. Count successes to resolve a given test/conflict. Not quite the same, but I was reminded of it because of the way attributes and skills change how the die pool works.

As far as which die to use? That's going to depend largely on how you want your game to feel. Using d6s is going to feel a lot different from d10s. You need to decide which one produces the effect you want for the game you're trying to design.
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Tyndmyr
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Re: Roll and Keep dice system

Postby Tyndmyr » Fri Apr 10, 2015 3:56 pm UTC

Vehem wrote:Hello

Looking for a bit of a "gut reaction" here - I lurk around here a fair bit and hope it'll be an acceptable venue for the question (though we seem to be a lot more about computer games these days). I like to mess around with homebrew RPG systems and have one to a point that I was thinking it could be worth looking at polishing it and unleashing it as a PDF for sale. I'd been looking for some feedback from local players, at which point I hit upon an issue that the core mechanic is fairly close to the one used in another commercial product (Legend of Five Rings).


Oddly enough, I have a similar in development RPG, and am very familiar with the Roll and Keep system.

Also, I strongly suggest you check out 7th Sea, as that's also R&K, made by AEG, and while out of print, is still relevant from a marketplace/copyright perspective, etc. It lacks concepts such as Insight rank, and thus, is likely closer to what you have. I found trying to stay unique from both systems to be somewhat of a challenge, and I'm still not entirely satisfied with where I'm at.

On a later iteration I moved to d8s, mostly because I like d8s (octahedrons - who doesn't like them, really?) and then later (under some urging from the chap I tend to bounce ideas off of), moved to d10s because the probabilities are easier to fathom and it allows for a wider range of results (easier to add consequences for missing/exceeding a target by a set amount if the range of possible results is wider). In some instances (but not all) the dice are also "exploding" - rolling a max result (10 in the latest iteration) allows you to roll again and keep the new roll in addition to the original (critical success).

The Issue
Having spoken to a few more players outside my normal group, some thought it was actually just the L5R system with some tweaks. Under that system, rolls are dice equal to Stat, keeping a number equal to Skill, using exploding d10 and using in-game abilities to either roll or keep more dice. I had previously not played or used the L5R system (I knew of it, but the setting never interested me enough to look closely at it), but having now studied it, I can see there's a definite likeness. There are also a good many differences, but the core mechanic of the dice roll is closer than I'm comfortable with.


Basically yeah, it's an identical base mechanic, particularly when you have explosions. It's kind of awkward, in that d10s are preferable to d8s/d12s for several reasons(not least because you can actually buy a set of d10s), but you end up in a very similar space with existing games. This is particularly true if you end up using any mechanic for action dice, etc, as it feels like drama dice/void points.

1. If you're familiar with L5R, does the system described above feel like L5R or do the differences make it feel like something else? (as I said, I don't really know L5R well enough to judge how much hangs on that dice roll - plus there seems to be resources involved that I don't fully understand)


It feels like existing R&K systems. I suggest you survey them in detail to better understand how to avoid them, but it's a significant problem.

2. Does it feel like something that would be an issue commercially? (both copyright and public perception of it being "ripped off" from the older system)


Greatly. The tabletop game market is super hard to get into. I know publishers personally, and would still find it to be tedious to get published in a more serious way(my credits are minor things like proofreading and such). Any perception of being a copy is going to kill your chances, particularly due to the history of the industry. The d20 glut seriously killed goodwill towards anything perceived as a knock off product.

3. Having written all this and recounted the history of the project, I'm inclined to switch back to d6 and take the hit on the system being more "swingy" (more exploding dice/high results) - does that seem enough to distinguish the system from the other?


Sort of. However, at that point, you're feeling similar to extant d6 systems. These games are generally less well known though, so it's a smaller problem.

4. Does anyone know of any examples of a Roll/Keep system outside of L5R or AEG Publishing? I'm still not 100% sure if it's a system that's specific to them or that has been done throughout time.


Well, there's 7th Sea. It's been out of print for a decade and a half, and it was also by AEG. AEG is unlikely to sell or license shit, as they got seriously burned with selling IP to WotC and having to buy it back later(see also, certain oriental adventures books, l5r, etc) for more. So, dealing with them is likely out.

Other d10 systems exist as well, most notably the White Wolf games, but those aren't really roll and keep, so they feel distinct. I don't think roll and keep has been terribly genericized yet, so you may have to be cautious with terminology, etc to avoid getting close enough to attract legal attention(right or wrong, I don't think anyone wants to be embroiled in a lawsuit).

Oddly enough, exploding dice exist in several games, so that's a less problematic aspect of the mechanics.

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Re: Roll and Keep dice system

Postby pseudoidiot » Fri Apr 10, 2015 4:42 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Any perception of being a copy is going to kill your chances, particularly due to the history of the industry.
Not entirely, though depending on what niche you're going for it's certainly a concern. Hell, the Kickstarter for Blades in the Dark just finished at almost $180k. And that's a hack of Apocalypse World. Granted, John Harper is a great designer and has a lot of support, but I've certainly seen much lesser-known people (oftentimes first time game-designers/publishers) make very successful games that were direct hacks of other games.

Point being, if it's really a solid game, it'll stand on its own merits, whether it's seen has a hack or as having similar mechanics or not. The important thing will be making sure to set it apart in some way. Mechanical tweaks/differences. Tone differences. Setting differences. Whatever.
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Re: Roll and Keep dice system

Postby Tyndmyr » Fri Apr 10, 2015 5:10 pm UTC

pseudoidiot wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Any perception of being a copy is going to kill your chances, particularly due to the history of the industry.
Not entirely, though depending on what niche you're going for it's certainly a concern. Hell, the Kickstarter for Blades in the Dark just finished at almost $180k. And that's a hack of Apocalypse World. Granted, John Harper is a great designer and has a lot of support, but I've certainly seen much lesser-known people (oftentimes first time game-designers/publishers) make very successful games that were direct hacks of other games.

Point being, if it's really a solid game, it'll stand on its own merits, whether it's seen has a hack or as having similar mechanics or not. The important thing will be making sure to set it apart in some way. Mechanical tweaks/differences. Tone differences. Setting differences. Whatever.


Sold on Kickstarter is sort of the alternative to "sell it to a publisher". You can put literally whatever you want on Kickstarter, and so long as it doesn't get a takedown notice, the campaign will depend on how well you market it. Note that going the kickstarter route as an unknown RPG designer means the effective long term commercial success is likely to be limited, as you simply won't be picked up any distribution of importance. You can't sell IP to a publisher after you've already saturated the market, Impressions has ceased even taking applications from that category, so that leaves you with tertiary direct to consumer sales. If you have a big fanbase, sure, whatever. Big names can get away with more. That's not a path to success for anyone who isn't already successful, though.

And Apocalpyse World isn't on the same scale anyway. The more obscure the crap you're similar to, the less it matters. Rip off the escalation die from 13th Age, and odds are nobody will care. L5R, however, is pretty well known, and has been around for a goodly amount of time. It's also very distinctive. So, being similar to that is a LOT more noticable, and the OP is right to be concerned.

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Re: Roll and Keep dice system

Postby Vehem » Fri Apr 10, 2015 11:44 pm UTC

Some great feedback there - I'd spent a while today looking some more at the system and found a few more points where it differs, but that core system really isn't far off the same. I'd also read up a bit on the background of the system - as mentioned above it does look like they had "interesting times" with the license over the years. The more I looked into it, the more surprised I was actually not to have seen more of it over the years (the setting just really didn't interest, so I never looked closely - I did almost play 7th Sea once though).

There's a certain irony in that part of what I was originally concerned about was being too similar to a different system - Deadlands (original editions, not the D20, Reloaded or Noir). In the end I think I only appropriated the love of exploding dice from that system, but the first version we were playing had roll n-dice with x-sides each, rather than roll n, keep x.

==

I'll continue to have a play around with it and see what I can come up with. Worst case I'll dig up one of the other txt files full of scribbled notes (had a good chunk of a d8-roll-under system worked out too at one point and a poker-inspired roll, hold-some/reroll-some thing I seem to remember) and see how that would work. Thanks again for the feedback - much appreciated.

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Re: Roll and Keep dice system

Postby Xanthir » Sat Apr 11, 2015 3:29 pm UTC

pseudoidiot wrote:On the other hand my NOT-A-LAWYER instincts tell me that as long as the mechanics aren't 100% identical, you'd probably be okay.

Correct. You can't copyright mechanics, just text (or rather, "creative expression" of an idea). You can theoretically *patent* a game mechanic, but I doubt that's happened for any game mechanics. (Plus, that would essentially be a software patent, and those are on much iffier grounds these days.)
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Re: Roll and Keep dice system

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Apr 15, 2015 8:38 pm UTC

Vehem wrote:Some great feedback there - I'd spent a while today looking some more at the system and found a few more points where it differs, but that core system really isn't far off the same. I'd also read up a bit on the background of the system - as mentioned above it does look like they had "interesting times" with the license over the years. The more I looked into it, the more surprised I was actually not to have seen more of it over the years (the setting just really didn't interest, so I never looked closely - I did almost play 7th Sea once though).


Yeah, not really being as into oriental settings, I never played it until about a year and a half ago. It's a very good game though, both setting-wise and mechanically, definitely not a bad thing to check out. 7th Sea has some really cool ideas, but they only had one edition of it, so there are some...nasty balance problems. In particular, two of the magic systems have exploits that allow you to earn significant and increasing amounts of extra xp.

There's a certain irony in that part of what I was originally concerned about was being too similar to a different system - Deadlands (original editions, not the D20, Reloaded or Noir). In the end I think I only appropriated the love of exploding dice from that system, but the first version we were playing had roll n-dice with x-sides each, rather than roll n, keep x.


Likewise. It's...difficult. There's only so many ways to use basic dice without getting into strange custom crap. There's your basic roll and add, like d20(and some others). There's roll and keep. There's dice pools(where you count successes). There's poker hands(like dice pool, but with collecting runs or something instead of x+ is a success.).

Optionally, you can add dice chaining, to swap out the size of dice, as per deadlands, dcc, etc. That's...pretty much it, so long as you're restraining it to strictly rolling dice and using the results for core systems. And mechanically, each of these has pros and cons that kind of line up with your game, so sometimes it's hard to swap arbitrarily.

I dabbled with variants like roll skill, keep stat, instead of roll skill+stat, keep stat. Also dabbled in roll skill+stat, keep skill, both to try some differentiation, but both severely crush anyone making an unskilled roll, which is kind of a problem. A "always keep one die at minimum" rule somewhat helps, but anything more than that, and you start severely devaluing getting the skills at all. So, that's the direction I'm going. Also heavily looking into pools of dice that can be just added to things at will(as rolled and kept dice). So, such and such a specialty would give you 5 dice a session that can be added to any shooting roll or whatever. The idea being that it won't matter so much if the base roll is similar if there are significant elements that feel very different. Not really sure I'm there yet, but workin' on it.

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Re: Roll and Keep dice system

Postby BedderDanu » Fri Apr 17, 2015 7:35 pm UTC

I know it wouldn't quite be the same, but you could always make exploded dice not count against your keep total instead of allowing them to roll again.

So your 3/2 challenge, you roll 10,8,2. Because 10 "Exploded", you get to keep all three dice, for 20.

On that note, to make it really different, instead of exploding, allow you to stack doubles.
So if I have 5/3 and roll 8,10,8,3,6 my total becomes 10,8+8,6 for 32.
If I instead roll 10, 10, 5, 5, 10 my total becomes 10+10,10,5+5 for 40.
If I instead roll 8, 9, 10, 2, 2 my total becomes 10, 9, 8 for 27.


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