One of the aspects of the new 7th Sea RPG I'm looking forward to is the rolling system. It's been under a lot of scrutiny for fans, and seems to be a polarizing element. Some people hate it, seeing it as making failure a thing of the past and overloading the GM with more to do. Other people love it, seeing it as an interesting way to take a game where failure may be optional, but that doesn't mean the hero gets everything he wants. Today, I want to talk about how the dice system works and how that is different from other games.
Two Ways Of Resolving Action
The way most games work is pretty straight forward: You declare your action, and then roll dice to see if you pull it off. If you don't roll well enough you don't do what you said you did. Easy peasy.
The other way of rolling though is to roll the dice first, and then decide what you're going to do. This is most often seen in games like Clue where you roll the dice and then choose where and how you are moving with what you rolled. Maybe you want to go to the Conservatory but when you see your roll decide to go somewhere else since time is of the essence. That sort of thing.
It is this second type of dice rolling that 7th Sea is using as the core of it's engine.
Wait, What Do I Roll First Then?
In truth, 7th Sea is kind of a hybrid of the two. What happens is you tell the GM what you want to do. For example "I want to outrun these guards," or "I want to navigate the maze and traps to the golden idol." The GM then tells you what to roll (if it is in question) but also lays out the consequences of your action.
Using the outrun the guards example, the GM might say to roll Brawn + Athletics, and that while running from the guard you are going to take 2 wounds from hard landings and sharp corners, lose your hat, and have the map your holding knocked out of your hand. You now roll. From your dice roll you get a number of points called raises and you spend them. You can now choose to spend your raises to: succeed at your original intent, or to remove any of the consequences.
In my example I listed four consequences (the two wounds, the hat, and the map.) So if you only have 4 raises you now have some choices to make. Do you succeed at your task but take some of the consequences? If so, which ones. Do you instead choose to not get away from the guards (making it a fight, presumably) The fun part is, that choice is yours.
Why People Hate It
The way the system works, you make a dice pool out of your trait and your skill and roll that. On average you'll likely have 1 raise for every 2 dice you have. Because of this people think failure is gone, and a thing of the past. It's not an unfair point. Half the point of the system is that the player won't fail often because they're supposed to be swashbuckling heroes - and those aren't known for failing. I mean, watch the Princess Bride, 3 Musketeers, or Errol Flynn movies. How many rolls do you see those guys failing? Not many right? And the few times they do, it's in combat to major villains - who have equal access to the power of this system.
There is also the thought that the GM has to do too much. In a normal game the PC says they want to outrun the guards, the GM gives them a roll, the PC makes a roll and either succeeds or fails. In this the GM has to come up with these consequences and other things. This is more work for the GM. But it's not much more work than the way that scene would break down in other games where you'd be doing multiple rolls or otherwise having to handle all the mechanics. Basically, I don't disagree with this claim, it's just not something I see as a huge problem when compared to the mountain of responsibility a GM has already.
Why I Love It
I love it, because I like the idea of player choice being involved. I like that the system gives me a chance to interject other problems and hiccups into the narrative to spice up a scene. I'm intrigued by the concept, and while I expect a harsh transition to how it works I think it will pay off.
This is one of the reasons I love the new Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars system as well. The dice system gives me the option to throw more things into the mix based on threats or advantages and triumphs and despairs coming into the roll. Anything that spices the narrative up, even in mechanics, is great by me.
I'm also intrigued by having PCs end up in situations where they'll want to choose failure. What situations will come up to make them do it? What consequences? What opportunities? I imagine it will be different for every PC and every story, but it's still going to be fun finding it.