Giving up the d20

Games, RPGs, Tabletop

I’ve been pondering starting up a campaign for D&D again, and last week I ran the idea of a Guild Wars based campaign past my group and they gave the thumbs up to the idea — Now I just need to decide if I actually want to run a Guild Wars campaign, and what that would mean for the setting.

That’s not exactly what I wanted to talk about though. I’ve been mulling over running D&D with different dice systems — I’m kind of disillusioned with the d20, most notably because my dice have used up all their 20s long ago and nothing short of dipping them in the sacrificial blood of Polyhedro, the God of Dice, would be able to fix their consistently poor rolling.

I’ve been considering a couple of replacement systems:

  • 3d6. This is outlined in Unearthed Arcana (or is it Arcana Unearthed?), or available through the d20 SRD as a variant rolling method. This system’s got a couple of benefits. (1.) Everyone has plenty of d6s. (2.) A nice bell curve to decrease the chance that any one homicidal die will end up having your character fail at an easy task. (3.) All of the work behind figuring out this system has been worked out already.
  • 4d6. My main reasons for considering a 4d6 system are pretty superficial: 4d6 preserves the 20 point spread range of a traditional d20. You’ve also got an even larger bell curve, but I think at the point of 4d6 that might become as much of a liability as it would be a benefit: The dice are a constant source of amusement and twists and turns in RPGs … Too much averageness might reduce the importance of that. Not to mention I’d need to sit down and figure out the probabilities involved in 4d6 and figure out how that would affect weapons.
  • 2d10. This is a pretty obvious one, and though it’s not a full 20 point spread, it’s close. 2d10 was the first system I thought of when considering whether or not to run with an alternative rolling system. It has a curve, but it’s not as steep as either 3d6 or 4d6, and the probabilities are pretty intuitive as well, which is always a benefit to on-the-fly risk assessment.

I decided to go with a 2d10 system. It’s always a toss up to see how these things are going to work out, but a system that’s pretty quick to figure out on the fly, which has a bell curve but not a particularly steep one seems pretty ideal. On a purely visceral level, rolling 2d10 feels better to me than rolling 1d20, but it’s not like playing a game of Yahtzee with 4d6.

The major issue that needs to be resolved with 2d10 is weapon threat ranges. Although there’s room for improvement with d20’s weapons, for the most part I just to keep things simple. Things will look like so:

  • 20-20 -> 19-20, 18.H (Coin toss on 18s, heads threatens).
  • 19-20 -> 17-20
  • 18-20 -> 16-20
  • 17-20 -> 15-20

And so on. At some point I’d probably be compelled to cut the progression for large threat ranges down, but in terms of mechanical power a lot of the high threat range weapons are substandard anyway, so it doesn’t bother me all that much to give them a bit of a boost.

I think I might start outlining the sort of house rules I’m looking to go with…

Update: Redhammer the Old over at the Fear the Boot forums has this neat graphic illustrating 2d10 vs. 1d20…


4 Responses

  1. D&D 4 (4DVENTURE) will be released on May 2008.

  2. %name said:

    D&D 4 (4DVENTURE) will be released on May 2008.

    Thanks, caught this last night actually.

  3. Although I agree with (and have come to mostly the same conclusions for my game) your stance on the D20 vs 2D10 thing, I have to point out that you have one point wrong in your math in this article (not that it matters since you choose not to use the method in the end).

    The 4D6 method does not preserve the 20 point spread range. It is actually a 21 point spread. It gives a range from 4 to 24, subtract 3 and you have 1 to 21 and not 1 to 20. Common mistake as people think they can subtract one end from the other to get the spread, but that always leaves you one short because the range doesn’t start at 0.

    The only midrange die combination that would give a good 20 point spread is 2D8 1D6, for a range of 3 to 22. Subtract 2 and you have 1 to 20. But who would want to use a crappy mixed die set like that as the basis for their system?

  4. Awesome site you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics discussed here? I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get advice from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thank you!

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