English: Six dice of various colours. 4-sided ...

Zak has a post praising the elegance of Basic Role Playing‘s d20 system as implemented in the Pendragon RPG.  I think it’s fascinating to see what people have to say in the comments.  Zak is right when he talks about the system being elegant from a simplicity standpoint.   If you’re too lazy to RTFA, here’s a summary.  Your skills are rated on a scale of 1-20 (or whatever die you’re using for the core mechanic).  You attempt to roll under your skill to succeed at a check.  Opposed checks try rolling as high as possible, while still rolling under your skill.  While the comments are all over the place, most of my objections to the system are covered in some way:

1. Rolling High is Bad – this by itself is counter-intuitive to most players, and most players just don’t like it

2. Rolling Low isn’t always Good – so if rolling high is bad, rolling low is good right?  Nope, rolling your score is good, and on an opposed roll, rolling higher is better.  I get it – it’s like blackjack or the Price is Right, but it’s certainly trading away some “elegance” to be simple.

3. Difficult to scale improvement – this takes some explanation.  Obviously, you could have improvement constitute an increase in your skill number, so you’ll lower under it more often.  However, this means that at low levels you fail at everything, and at high levels you succeed at everything… not ideal.

4. Linear resolution – although to be fair, so is a normal d20 system

5. Still requires a second roll to determine effect because the scale of effect Zak praises is pretty weak or requires calculation


Bonus bit from Zak’s blog.  In this post, he talks about the fiction first vs fiction follows question with some good examples.  He starts with concrete examples, and then draws the conceptual questions out of it.

One thought on “Elegance

  1. wylliamjudd

    I’m not sure what you mean by 4. Linear Resolution. Unless your resolution system has a gradient of outcomes, any binary hit/miss succeed/fail win/lose system is linear. For instance, a 15% chance to hit/succeed/win is a 15% chance no matter how you get there.


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