I have been giving some thought to the dice mechanism in FU lately. A lot of thought. In fact, I have been chasing myself in circles thinking about how actions are resolved, what is important and why. I decided I would write this post so that;

  • I could clarify for myself, just as much as anyone else, what some of the current options are, and
  • Get some feedback from you all on what you like and how you feel about some of these ideas.

This is a long article, where I spend as much time trying to clarify my own thoughts as I do trying to explain my ideas. Thank you to those of you who persevere! I want your feedback on dice rolling and action resolution – give me your opinion! Do you agree or disagree with something I have said? Do you feel strongly about something here? Comment below or over on Facebook!

First, though, let’s back up…

System does matter

I am a strong believer in the idea that “system does matter”. This is an approach to game design that says, basically, “it does matter what system you use when playing your game”. If you like highly realistic, simulation type stories, for example, then you will want a set of rules and systems that support that style of play. You can read more about system does matter here. (In fact, you probably should, I will be making reference to the article below.)

So what type of play does FU best support?

So, what is FU about, and what should the rules be supporting? To me, FU is a narrativist game. When I wrote it I was primarily interested in helping players and narrators tell awesome stories about cool characters. Sure, there is a little gamist in there, too, as everyone likes to win, and it feels great to overcome the big bad at the end. But mostly, its narrativist.
Supporting this style of play are (in my mind) two key features:

  • Tags let players create the characters they want, and help everyone describe an interesting world with a minimum of intrusion from the rules themselves.
  • Yes/No/And/But quickly tells the players the outcome of an action and helps to push the story into new and/or interesting places.

I am totally confident on this. For me, I know what the “outlook” of the game is. What I am less sure about, however, is the resolution method.

Dice? What dice?

In “system does matter” nomenclature, FU always has been fortune based – that is, you use a randomiser to determine the outcome. I like rolling dice, and so do a lot of other role players so that’s what I have gone with, and what I will probably go with in the future. It also helps to add that gamist edge to the game.
From personal experience, and getting to know you, the FU community, I have come to the following conclusions (please correct me if you disagree with any of this):

  • Dice rolling should be quick and then get out of the way so we can just tell the story.
  • Calculating positive and negative tags should be straightforward and clear.
  • Any result should be possible, no matter how awesome or awful a character is at a task.
  • Players like to know the chance of success before dice hit the table.

Now what?

What follows is a brief summary of a variety of systems that have been used to resolve actions in games of (or based on) FU. This is probably not a complete list, but a start. I offer a brief overview of the system, my thoughts on the pros and cons, and some opportunities I see from using the resolution system (ways to modify it, or cool things it might do).


This is the original system. Roll a d6 to find one of six results. Add dice for bonuses or penalties and take either the highest or lowest result.
Pros: it’s quick to pick out the highest or lowest die from a group. You only need one type of dice and it doesn’t matter what colour they are!
Cons: adding more than one or two bonus or penalty dice very quickly adjusts the probabilities.
Opportunities: a larger die could be used. A d12 would mean each of the possible six results would be allocated two numbers (1-2: No and, 3-4: No, 5-6: No but, 7-8: Yes but, 9-10 Yes, 11-12 Yes and). It is just as quick to spot the highest or lowest die, though it may take a fraction longer to determine the actual result as you think through the result (“A 3? That’s a… ‘No’ result.”).
Other dice could also be used…

Classic with bigger dice

This is similar to the classic system, but uses dice with more sides. A d8, d12 or d20 could be used by reducing the possible number of outcomes to four: Yes and, Yes but, No but or No and. You still roll the multiple dice and pick the highest or lowest (quick) and use the number to determine success;

Pros: still quick to pick out highest or lowest die. The broader range of numbers means that you can roll more than one or two dice without turning things too much one way or the other.
Cons: Lose the straight “yes” and “no” options. Takes a moment to align roll with actual result (“a roll of 4 is…”). This may get easier with time (and lots of rolls). Rolling multiple d20’s might actually make the results a little too random.
Opportunities: ummm…. gives you a use for all those d20’s….

Vagrant Workshop’s variant

This method is very close to classic FU. It uses a d6, the six possible results, and the classic “beat the odds” where even numbers are good and odd numbers are bad. The base die will determine what happens while bonus or penalty dice that roll a 5 or 6 will modify that result. One or more 5+ on bonus dice will let you change an odd number on the base die to the next highest even number (so turn a 3 into a 4, or a 1 into a 2). Penalty dice that roll 5+ will roll it down (turn a 4 into a 3). If two bonus or penalty dice roll 5+, you also get to add an “and” statement to the result.

Pros: similar to the classic system. Using customised +/- dice makes it quick to see if you get a bonus or penalty. Reduces the impact of bonus and penalty dice.
Cons: without custom dice it does take slightly longer to sort through options/results. Requires at least two different coloured/sized dice.
Opportunities: you could play with probabilities further by using a different sized die for bonus/penalties. The d6 with a bonus on 5 or 6 means you will get that advantage 33% of the time. A d8 with success on 7 or 8 is a 25% chance of a bonus. A d10 will easily let you give a bonus on anything between 10% to 90% in easy 10% increments. Of course, there is also the opportunity for funky custom bonus and penalty dice.
Instead of having bonus and penalty dice cancelling each other out you could roll them all together – just collect all the dice as you discuss/describe the situation and roll. + and – results cancel each other out and any remaining results modify the base die.
If the success ladder was “low numbers bad, high numbers good” (as opposed to traditional beat the odds), each + or – could modify the result up or down, rather than the current roll up an odd number to an even number.

Buckets of dice

The buckets of dice variant uses pools of d10 to resolve actions. The player rolls 3d10 versus an opposition pool of 3d10. Bonuses add dice to the player’s pool while penalties add dice to the opposition pool. Roll and see how many of the player’s dice are higher than the opposition’s highest roll:

Pros: minimises the impact of bonus and penalty dice. Is a more traditional “versus” dice rolling situation. Only requires d6.
Cons: is a more traditional “versus” dice rolling situation (narrators have to roll dice). There is potentially buckets of dice clattering the table. Need to compare two pools does take longer.
Opportunities: it doesn’t have to use d10s, so other dice could work (though smaller sided dice will draw results towards the middle more).
You could have asynchronous dice pools, where a player rolls one type of die and the narrator a different type (d10’s vs d12’s, for example) depending on the difficulty. In fact, rolling dice up or down to the next larger or smaller might be an alternative to adding dice to the pool. You can use polyhedral dice as bonuses or modifiers to take into account power scale or other abilities.
“Left over” dice (beyond the 3+) could be used for other effects such as damage, special rules, etc.

FUBAR variant

Roll five dice and count up how many roll an even number. Positive and negative descriptors add bonus or penalty dice to the base dice pool and you read the best (bonus) or worst (penalty) 5 results.

Pros: impact of bonuses and penalties is reduced. Get to roll a handful of dice. Only requires d6.
Cons: sorting through a lot of dice, which can take time.
Opportunities: rather than look for even numbers, look for 4+ as it is slightly quicker to look for the highest dice. Doing this could let you use polyhedral as modifiers/bonus/penalty dice to account for power scale.
Removing the straight “yes” and “no” results means the same system can be achieved with a base pool of 3 dice. 0 successes = No and, 1 = No but, 2 = Yes but, 3 = Yes and.
Extra dice in the pool that roll 6 (bonus dice) or 1 (penalty dice) could be used for additional “and” phrases or other effects.
A variation on the above: Use the 3-dice resolution above but do not have a pre-set pool. Just roll one die, add more dice for bonuses and remove dice for penalties (to a minimum of one die). Rolls of 6 let you roll an extra d6 (meaning even when starting with just one die you might get a “yes and…”).

Dice Pool

This is the system described here. Begin with a dice pool of one positive and one negative die (dice of different colours). Add positive and negative dice based on descriptors etc as normal (they don’t cancel each other out). Roll the pool. Match pairs of positive and negative dice that rolled the same number and discard them. Look at the remaining dice – if the highest die is positive the result is a “yes”, while if it is a negative die the result is a “no”. If the next highest die is the same type (positive or negative), add “and”. If the next highest die is the opposite type add “but”.
Pros: relatively quick to assemble pools as you just gather dice as discussing. Quite random.
Cons: quite random. Possibility to cancel out all dice leaving an outcome not covered in the traditional rules. Straight “yes” and “no” results can only occur when an odd number of dice are rolled. Requires at least two different coloured/sized dice. Difficult to determine probabilities.
Opportunities: the ability to succeed with low dice rolls means the results could be used to determine effects such as damage, power drain etc.
You can use polyhedral dice as bonuses or modifiers to take into account power scale or other abilities.

Wastburg variant

This is the system used in Cedric Ferrand’s Wastburg RPG. The basic 6 results are possible, but the number of dice the player rolls depends on the difficulty of the action, determined by the narrator. There are 5 difficulties for a closed question: (- -), (-), (0), (+) and (++):

(- -) Roll 3d6 and keep the lowest die
(-) Roll 2d6 and keep the lowest die
(0) Roll d6 and keep it
(+) Roll 2d6 and keep the highest die
(++) Roll 3 6 and keep the highest die

Descriptors can either add +1/-1 to whatever the result die rolled. (This is a slight variation on the actual Wastburg rules as descriptors and FU points work differently to classic FU.)
Pros: very close to the classic system. Only ever need 3 dice. Finding the lowest or highest die is quick.
Cons: two steps to resolution – determine difficulty and roll, then add modifiers. Even 3d6 will heavily swing results (as it does in classic FU) and the addition of a modifier on top may further impact this. Using a difficulty means there is no need to calculate penalty descriptors for opposition/scenery etc.
Opportunities: have the narrator indicate difficulty, then modify that scale by your character’s descriptors (The task is difficulty “- -“, but I have a Magic Sword, improving it to just “-“, so I roll 2d6 and keep the lowest result…).

Roll + modifiers

Roll a die (probably a d8, d12 or d20), add modifiers for bonuses or penalties, and compare final result to outcome chart. A roll of “1” is always a “No, and…” (even if modified to a larger number). A roll of the highest number on the die (8, 12 or 20) is always a “Yes, and…”.

Pros: very familiar process to role players. Relatively quick. Only requires a single die which makes it quick (no searching for results). Easy to determine odds as each bonus adds a clear % increase to the result (e.g. +1 when rolling a d20 increases your chances by 5%)
Cons: requires some math before the roll (adding and subtracting modifiers). Requires referencing a chart until players are familiar with outcomes.
Opportunities: special effects on a natural 1 or maximum result. The larger the die the more modifiers that can be added.

Almost done…

Ron Edwards suggests in the article mentioned earlier that game system should consider search time and handling time. I personally think that handling time is pretty quick in FU, no matter what system is used – as soon as you have your yes/no/and/but answer the story moves on (perhaps with a small amount of book keeping).
Search time, which is the process of selecting dice, calculating modifiers and counting up the result is where attention needs to go. I am beginning to think that it almost doesn’t matter how you get to your yes/no/and/but result, so long as it does not take very long or require too much brain power. How much brain power? How long? They are the million dollar questions!

This article was first published on March 1, 2017

This article originally appeared on a website dedicated to Freeform Universal. I have consolidated that material here in order to bring everything into one easy-to-find location.