Thursday, March 13, 2014

Story Telling and Dice in Super Five

So several of the story telling games that I have looked at take the "yes" and "no" of task resolution and evolve it to include something more. Many of the games FU and Itras By for example, expand on the results ... not just "yes" but, "yes ... and" ... not just "no" it's "no ... but." More is implied by every roll to encourage the forward movement of the story.

I am trying to consider what that might look like within the context of the 5x5 roll.

Here's what I've come up with.


Generally a Five by Five session is a series of narrative exchanges bridged together by gamey-wamey tests involving dice. The GM (Game Manager) will set a scene, present an opportunity, or tease the sensibilities of the other players in some manner so as to illicit a response.

To facilitate this, the GM will usually describe a scene and then ask the players, “What do you do?” But, what he is really asking them is, “What do you want from this scene, and how will your characters go about getting it?”

I usually address my players one at a time in this fashion moving from one player to the next until I have made it all the way around the room. If the player asks for something that plays into the scene as I have imagined it, is logically possible for their character and doesn't disrupt or change the scene's current flow or momentum, I will usually just say, “Okay, you can do that … no problem.”

If the player asks for something that is going to counter the flow of the scene that I have placed in motion, then I need to know how, the character hopes to accomplish this, what skills, abilities, powers or experiences they might have to influence the scene in such a way. Once this ability is identified, I call for a roll of the dice. Players like to roll dice. We want this to happen.

Usually, the idea of a scene is to resolve a conflict. You want to create situations that your players will try to change and influence. If your players choose to do something that doesn't seem like it will have an impact on the scene's momentum or outcome, chances are they are waiting to see what is going to happen. If the players feel comfortable waiting, it's time to raise the stakes.

When the players are no longer spectators and leap into action to impact the scene. Then they are playing the game, and you can ask them to roll the dice.

Rolling Dice!

Before you roll the dice, it is important to know what's going to happen. Ask the player, “What do you do?” But be sure you understand what that means within the context of the scene. What direction is the player trying to take the scene. What will the scene look like once it's resolved based on the players course of action? Have these things in mind and discuss them before making a roll.

The Five by Five Roll answers the question, “Did the player succeed?”

Interpreting the 5x5 roll


I rolled “0” - Mixed Results.

Yes, BUT … something else unexpected happens.

I rolled “under” my Trait (greater than '0') - Generic Result.

Yes ... The outcome is acceptable. This is what you were expecting.

I rolled my Trait “exactly” - Spectacular Results!

Yes, AND … something more happens, better than you had planned.

I rolled “over” my Trait - Anticipation!

No, BUT … you didn't get what you wanted, but you can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I rolled “doubles” - Complication!

No, AND … things just got worse!

These 5x5 roll results are meant to help a scene maintain stability and momentum. If the player rolls higher than “0” and stays under the Trait that they called upon to influence the scene, then they have managed to do exactly what was intended by the player. But, what does that mean?

Well, exactly how much or how little a player can accomplish with a single roll of the dice depends a lot on the scene itself, but generally speaking it's a good idea to try to keep a scene going for 3 or 4 turns (where you give everyone 3 or 4 chances to influence the scene and roll dice) so anything that would wrap up the conflict too quickly should be broken down into more manageable pieces.

Five by Five isn't a wargame simulation. It doesn't use miniatures or count every sword thrust. Players should do more than say, “I swing my sword.” That doesn't influence the momentum of the scene.

“I rush over to the villain with sword in hand and stand between him and the princess, ready to exchange blows if necessary.” 

That's more like what we want.

Rolling a “Generic Result” means the player gets what they want, and the action happens as they described it. This is good, quick. Things are moving along. But, the Five by Five roll can do more than this.

Rolling “0” produces “Mixed Results.” The Five by Five rules say that “0” always succeeds, sure … but that doesn't mean the success needs to come easy. When resolving a scene, “0” means that the outcome that the player intended carried with it a price. Something else happens in the scene. The stakes are raised. Actions bring consequences. Talk it out and decide what this might look like. It's important to do this when you are telling an adventure story. It increases urgency and makes the game more exciting.

“You rush the villain, but he sees you coming and pulls the princess to him. Gripping her tightly he runs his drooling tongue up the side of her perfect rose colored cheek, grinning evilly before throwing her behind him and stepping forward to meet you.”

On the flip side, rolling a player's “trait” exactly, brings “Spectacular Results.” Something awesome just happened! The scene takes a bigger leap in the player's favor than would normally be possible in a single turn. A Spectacular Result can even resolve a scene completely if that feels right for the story.

“Your sudden charge takes the villain by surprise and he jumps back allowing you to take the princess in your arms. The princess gives you a passionate kiss, before stepping safely behind your guard to watch you dispatch her captor. The villain drops his sword in a panic and turns to run.”

But things won't always go the players' way. What if the roll indicates failure rather than success? First you might notice, that there is no “Generic Failure” result. If Generic Success means the players get what they want, then Generic Failure would mean they don't. They don't. What does that mean? How does it help the scene? The answer is, “It doesn't.” To simply say to a player, “You don't succeed.” is just a stall. It doesn't add anything. It doesn't improve the story. So, we don't do it.

Instead, we call rolling over your trait, “Anticipation.” Things move forward a little … the player didn't get what they were after, but they accomplished something. Their action advanced their situation in some way that teases and taunts them and makes them want the outcome that they were attempting all the more.

“The villain anticipated your charge pulls the princess back thrusting her into the arms of two of his guards who usher her even further from your grasp, before he steps up to greet your steel with his own.”

And finally, rolling “doubles” is the epic fail. “Complication” means things just got worse. This is the GM's chance to raise the stakes, and give the players a setback. Complications balloon a scene and can make it grow bigger and bigger, and ever more dangerous.

“The villain is not taking any chances. He pulls the princess close and puts a dagger to her throat before you can cross the distance to reach him. “Drop your sword!” he demands, “Or your princess is dead!”


Another thing I noticed about the Wonder Twins game is that there was not as much die rolling as there would have been had I forced the players to adhere to combat rounds. Less rolling meant fewer "doubles" and less Karma. If that's going to be the way of things, I need to give each individual Karma point a bit more "bang." So, for my next play-test (using the guidelines for scene resolution that I describe above,) I am going to make each Karma point worth a re-roll of a 5x5 roll for the player. And since it's a re-roll and not a roll modifier, it can be used for "doubles" rolls as well.

(If I do that, I will need to amend the Karma award rules to state that you only gain a Karma Point when you accept the consequences of a "doubles" result. If you choose to re-roll, then it's like the "doubles" didn't happen and you don't gain the Karma point.)

This is the stuff I am looking at incorporating into Five by Five as I work to develop the Super Five spin off. I already have a superhero RPG with hit-points and initiative and combat rounds and lists of powers and all that. It's called Hi/Lo Heroes. I want to come at Super Five totally differently.



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