Crit and Botch

Regular readers know that I love little differences with big effects. Elegance in design is a thing of beauty, and tracing the secondary effects of a small change can yield big results.

Our friend Tesh has a good example with critical hits in Zomblobs! (under development):

Criticals in Zomblobs! happen when all of the dice you roll show the same number. … Most curiously, these criticals are easier to score the fewer dice you roll. Weaker attacks have greater potential to hit a little bigger. This particular “crit” design is therefore more of an “underdog” mechanism, rather than a “win more” mechanism. Instead of harder hits probably hitting even harder, it’s the weak hits that are most likely to slip in a little extra punch.

Simple, elegant, effective. On the other side, it reminds me of the old World of Darkness botch mechanic. Under the previous generation of their system, 1s cancelled out successes, and having negative successes led to a critical failure. Higher skill gave you more dice to roll, and higher difficulty meant needing a higher number to succeed. The net effect was that, for very difficult tasks, having more dice meant a greater botch chance. In some sense, this made sense. If you are an utter novice, it is hard to get far enough in to really mess things up; it is the middling-low range of competence that is really dangerous. On the other hand, you can see the statistical perversity of a system where getting better can hurt you. The designers there did not have the numeracy and/or interest to trace through the effects of their system.

: Zubon

7 thoughts on “Crit and Botch”

  1. Thanks for the mention! I sure hope it works as intended, to provide a little extra flavor, help the underdog a little bit, and make attack decisions more interesting. I’m not sure if it will provide enough of an interesting decision point between “hope for crit on a smaller attack” and “use a bigger attack and hope for a good base roll”, but it seems to me that the fundamentals are there, at least.

    I definitely like that possibly complex decisions can come from basic, easy to remember rules. That, to me, is good design. It means the core play mechanics are easy to remember, but depth and fun come from how they get applied to varied situations. I’ve always liked that sort of game.

  2. Or maybe the old World of Darkness designers did know what they were doing. A constant challenge of designing games where players level up is keeping the game fun once the player characters become too good to fail. One way to do that is to make what are usually safe bets sometimes go spectacularly wrong.

    Do we want to sneak in through that ventilation duct, or try to talk our way past the guards? Cal and I get eight dice for climbing, and you two get seven and ten for telling bald-faced lies. Ho hum, we’ll split up and meet you inside. I made my climb roll easily. Cal did, too. Lewis, roll your ten dice… oh, crap! Um, maybe Jake’s story will cover for yours? Crap! That’s a lot of guards that just showed up. What do we do? Wait, I’ve got it! I leap off the building, tackle Lewis and Jake to the ground, and shout, “Everyone back! He’s got a grenade!” I only get four dice for bluffing, but maybe I can at least buy us a head start on retreating.

    1. That math did not apply to “usually safe bets.” The link explains. The effect also goes away at “too good to fail”; it is only at the intermediate levels where getting better makes you worse. If you are very powerful or very weak, the math works in your favor.

      1. Well, that will teach me to read all the links before I comment. :P

  3. We always used to play WoD with the rule that if 1s cancelled out successes it was a failure with some negative consequences, but getting no successes and 1’s meant critical failure. Yes, a modification of the rules, but it always seemed to work fairly well.

    1. Going by my copy of Mage, it is actually only ever a botch if you roll no successes AND get a 1, rather than having more 1’s than successes. Though we played it as the latter as we always found that botches only ever drove the story forward (examples being accidentally releasing a coma virus in a motel, predicting the death of our characters when trying to see if the heroin we stole was actually heroin by looking into the future and the obvious spiralling into awesome quiets.) I guess one of the things I like about WoD is that every group plays the core rules differently and that however you play roll things they always help to enforce your playstyle rather than your playstyle conforming to the system.

  4. Nice! Feels similar to exploding or open-ended die rolls where you re-roll a max die roll. With a d4, there is a 25% chance to roll a 4 to get to re-roll the die. With a d20, there is only a 5% chance to get a 20. Now, of course I would much rather roll a 20 to roll another 20, but this system does lend itself to a similar situation.

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