Friday, January 17, 2014

Playing the Odds in Five by Five

Upon creating the new character sheet for the Five by Five Fast Play version, I included a row on the character sheet that shows the percentage chance of rolling that product or less on a 5x5 roll.

One of the reasons that I have strayed away from the rank descriptors for each product in this version of Five by Five (besides the fact that no one I played with bothered to use them) is that they really weren't useful as indicators of value except in relationship to each other.

If you went by the descriptors literally, it wouldn't make much sense that a "Master" at something only has roughly a 60% chance to succeed in the majority of relative tasks. Also, when you look at the array of abilities assigned to a new character you see these chances for success: 33%, 39%, 44%, 50% and 56%. That's only 2 of 5 abilities with an even chance for success. At first glance this might make it seem like characters in Five by Five can't really do anything very well.

And, that's why I thought it might be helpful to write this entry and talk a bit about the numbers. First, in all instances task rolls are never meant to represent the mundane or the ordinary. Routine tasks that require little effort or involve minimal risk, shouldn't require a die roll for success ... they should just succeed automatically.

These numbers represent difficult or dangerous tasks that a hero in an adventure story attempts at some risk. I believe that most RPG players began this hobby playing some form of Dungeons and Dragons or similar D20 system game and can generally relate to that as a basis for comparison. So, I have decided to compare the Five by Five product array to the D&D d20 roll.

I will make some notes based on my impressions of the numbers here, and the "sense of danger" they might represent in a D&D game. It should be noted, that I cut my teeth on 1st Ed. AD&D and that my "impression" of the numbers is still indicative of that version of the game. So maybe think of much of this as an OSR comparison if that helps.

Five by Five vs. Roll to Hit

Five by Five roll:  "Doubles" (for the Trouble Trait)
= D20 roll "to Hit":  18+

18 is a tough number to hit, but I have entered a fair number of combats in D&D where that was my target and I managed to emerge triumphant. Remember ... this is the "Trouble Trait" the hardest roll in the game!

Five by Five roll:  "0" (for any unskilled task)
= D20 roll "to Hit":  15+

15 is doable. I have played many games where 15 was my target to hit the enemy and managed to roll the number enough to make a difference. This is the default unskilled difficulty when you try to do something dangerous that you don't really have any affinity for. This is the barmaid with no combat experience taking a swing at the first level adventurer. Her chances aren't supposed to be very good.

Five by Five roll "2 or less" (the lowest actual trait for a beginning character)
= D20 roll "to Hit" 14+

How many D&D combats have you entered where you needed a 14 to hit? Did you ever think, "Man this is too hard!" Nah! In D&D combat a 14 seems a pretty standard target. This is your lowest starting trait in Five by Five.

Five by Five roll "3 or less"
= D20 roll "to Hit" 13+

Five by Five roll "4 or less"
= D20 roll "to Hit" 12+

Five by Five roll "5 or less"
= D20 roll "to Hit" 11+

11+ is 50% and for a first level character in D&D, having an even chance to hit an enemy usually makes for an assured victory for the players.

Five by Five roll "6 or less" (the highest trait for a starting character)
= D20 roll "to Hit" 10+

In modern versions of D&D (3.x and later) you could take a "10" and get automatic success on tasks that didn't seem too dangerous or that you could take your own sweet time to complete. In D&D rolling a 10 or better is considered pretty common place. In Five by Five your character begins play with one trait of this value. This will usually be your best thing ... the thing that your character will want to do the most, and even starting out as a beginning character, you can feel pretty good about your chances for success.

Your odds for success only get better from here.

Five by Five roll "8 or less"
= D20 roll "to Hit" 9+

In Five by Five, this is our best trait with a single rank shift. It will cost you 3 character points to get here ... not a bad place to be. Once we are in single digits in D&D, we really start to feel super confident about what we are doing. Rolling a 9 on a D20 "feels" like it should be easy. It's never too risky to try something when the DM says, "You need to roll a 9 or better." If this were blackjack we'd have a 17 and just have to go for that extra card.

Five by Five roll "10 or less"
= D20 roll "to Hit" 8+

Five by Five roll "12 or less"
= D20 roll "to Hit" 7+

Five by Five roll "15 or less"
= D20 roll "to Hit" 6+

Five by Five roll 20 or less"
= D20 roll "to Hit" 5+

This is the best you can be in Five by Five. In D&D, if you enter combat and only need to roll a 5 to hit ... you can almost guarantee the enemy will be turning tail and running as soon as you swing your sword.

The D20 "Sweet Spot"

Notice how the 5x5 roll rests in the middle range of the D20, nested between 5 and 15? It doesn't have as broad a range as the D20, but it sits in the most useful portion where things are neither too easy, nor too hard. It has a slightly greater progression (5.6% instead of 5%) from number to number, but it's close enough to allow for a useful comparison, and the number progression is consistent like on the D20, not a bell curve, despite being rolled on 2 dice.

So, if your players are like mine, and feel the need to know "the odds," tell them what they would need to "Roll to Hit" if this were D&D. It puts things in perspective, and takes some of the mystery out of the 5x5 roll.



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