Over the last day or so, I’ve been puzzling over the relationship with adjustable character statistics (ability scores and such), a variable dice pool that hovers between four and eight dice, and differences between summing results and automatic successes. If you followed all that, you deserve a cookie.

See, I have this idea for a dice pool similar to the one found in Elder Sign, but rather than tying successes to tasks or adventures, a character’s skills, abilities, powers, and allies would determine which dice were a success or not. For example, your warrior dice come up “swords” and you succeed. If they’re “magic,” you have to try again.

That’s a really simplistic example, but it’s the basic idea. Now, say you get to choose all of your character’s statistics, from swords and sorcery to prayer and politics, and some tasks call for certain skills while others ask for, well, … others. Sometimes the task determines difficulty (number of dice), but success is based on your character.

I’m of the opinion that Arkham Horror goes a little bit overboard with the number of dice and the difficulty of tasks, and Elder Sign is a bit to abstract, detached, and uncharacteristically bland in its selection of tasks and assignment of dice. In other words, Arkham Horror is too complex and Elder Sign isn’t enough.

Dungeons & Dragons, by comparison, has far too much riding on individual dice results with an illusion of depth, for what is otherwise a “duel of the spreadsheets.” Magic: the Gathering has many of the problems of Elder Sign, in that its values for powers and abilities are detached, inconsistent, or artifacts of bad design legacy.

Other games that use pools, such as the Airship Pirates and Serenity roleplaying games, or most White Wold products, leave the difficulty of tasks in the hands of the game master, which is a trap in and of itself. Most game masters don’t necessarily have the time to work out the probability of success for challenge or fairness.

Where to draw the line? I think a constrained dice pool, one with the flexibility to change based on whim or strategy, with realistic goals that can be modified in predictable and manageable ways, such as other player characters contributing toward the success of a challenge, with otherwise consistent pass/fail conditions.

In other words, the thief triggers a trap, and has between four and eight dice to roll. She wants to get mostly “trap” results on the dice, but it’s a tough trap that threatens the whole party. Thankfully, that does mean the warrior, mage, and priest can help.

The thief rolls and gets only one “trap” result, but the warrior adds one “fight,” and the mage and priest add “magic” results. The challenge is passed by a narrow margin of success but the party lives to adventure another day.

In that example, four players contributed to one player’s turn, and a number of dice somewhere between the number of players and twice their number were rolled. One trap was disarmed or disabled, and everyone had the chance to sweat.

In other words, a typical adventure. Over and out.