Friday, December 08, 2023

Game Design Part 6 - The Round Die (Nope! The Scene Die)

To add some more variety to power effects without adding randomness, I am considering the inclusion of a special counter called, “The Round Die.”

I am basing this idea on a rules innovation from what is arguably my favorite fantasy based RPG: 13th Age. 13th Age has this thing called, “The Escalation Die.” The Escalation Die is a D6 that is added to the table starting in the second round of play. The die is placed on the number 1 and all players get to add +1 to their dice rolls. This bonus isn’t for the NPCs. It’s for the players only, making all the players get just a little stronger.

In each subsequent round, the die face on the Escalation Die is increased by +1, to a maximum of +6. In this way, the players build momentum every round. It’s a genius idea. In your RPG of choice, if you find that combat takes too long or seems to drag, consider adding the escalation die. It’s an easy addition to almost any game system, and it’s brilliant.

I am stealing the Escalation Die for my game design, but making it my own. I am going to call it the Round Die because it’s value will count the number of the current round. It won’t provide a flat bonus because I don’t think the math in my game is going to work this way. Instead, I want to use it as a means to control the build of tension within a scene.

In my previous entry, I talked about game flow and I introduced what I think is a really interesting concept for an RPG (stolen from many board games.) The idea that on the active player’s turn that player gets to do something cool, but then every other player also gets to do something too, but that something is a lesser degree of cool. I have the active player controlling the arrangement of the shared dice and taking two actions. Then each other player takes one action.

That’s fine, but in a traditional RPG there is no mechanism to control the number of rounds of play. What if game play is over and some players never got the chance to be the active player? They would feel cheated. In traditional games rounds of combat persist until all monsters are defeated. This is controlled by the number of monsters and how many hit points each monster has, and how much damage each player inflicts, yada, yada, yada.

My game is not going to be a combat game. My game is not going to track things like hit points and damage. So how will I handle the ebb and flow of a scene? When will the players be victorious or suffer a defeat? This is where the Round Die will come in. I want all players to get the chance to be the active player. What if all players get to be the active player twice before the end of a scene? That sounds good to me. I’m going to do that with the Round Die.

The Round Die is always of a die type equal to 2x the number of players. This means that in a two player game, the Round Die is a d4. In a three player game, the Round Die is a d6. In a four player game, the Round Die is a d8. In a five player game, the Round Die is a d10. Finally, in a 6 player game, the Round Die is a 12. (Don’t play with more than 6 players and 1 GM. That’s just too much.)

Step 3 in the FLOW of PLAY would become:
The active player increases the Round Die by +1 (If this is the first turn in the scene, set the Round Die to 1 instead.) The active player then rolls four Action Dice and divides the dice into two sets of two.

I have added the term: Action Dice to differentiate the four six sided dice rolled each round to perform actions as distinctive from the Round Die.

The round die can act as a limiter controlling the flow and progression of the scene.

Round Die Type

Round Die Value


























Green represents the start of the scene. Things are just getting started, and the stakes don’t seem too dire. Yellow represents things heating up. Orange is even higher stakes, and red means the scene has reached critical mass. Certain player powers will only be usable during specific “colors” during the scene, with the best abilities only accessible during the “red” rounds.

Once the Round Die reaches it’s maximum value, the scene ends. This would mean that step 8 in my FLOW of PLAY might read:

The GM provides a scene update, based on the options resolved so far. If the Round Die has reached its Maximum Value, then the GM will describe how the scene ends. Did the players achieve their goals, or do they suffer a setback?


So, I realized almost as quickly as I pressed “publish” on this latest post, that it just isn’t going to work. The idea of everyone getting two shots at being the active player during a scene is cool and all, but the variable scene length across player counts just isn’t going to fly.

In a two player game (with the GM as the third “player”) a scene would reach a conclusion far too quickly compared to a six player game. Scene pacing would end up feeling radically different between the different player counts … too different. That’s a problem.

I am going to use the Escalation Die. My desire to use this mechanism as a pacing mechanic during a scene hasn’t changed. I can still have player options that only trigger when the Escalation Die reaches a certain value. I can still get all the benefits that I want, but I need to retain a more consistent scene length.

I may need to update the "starting player" rules so that whoever ended the last scene as the active player is recorded, and the person to their left is guaranteed to be the starting player in the next scene. This will make sure everyone gets a fair shake by the end of a game session.

One idea might be to structure game sessions with three scenes each. The first scene uses the d4, the second uses the d6, and the final scene the d8. This makes the scenes feel different, but isn't based on player count, it's based on story escalation. (This is a good idea.) It might make sense in this case to rename the "Round Die" as the "Scene Die."

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