Vagrant Workshop have done a fantastic job on two amazing games that utilise the FU system. If you haven’t checked out Earthdawn: Age of Legend or the Equinox Storygame Guide, you should – they are beautiful products, evocative settings and well worth taking a look at.

Both games use a variant dice system that addresses the impact of bonus and penalty dice on the beat-the-odds roll. It works like this:

  • The standard beat the odds chart is used, with even numbers being good and odd numbers bad.
  • Bonus and penalty dice can be added to a roll as normal. These dice must be a different size or colour to the base die. When rolling bonus dice a result of 5 or 6 is a “+”. When rolling penalty dice each result of 5 or 6 is a “-“.
  • If a “+” is rolled, you may adjust the result “up” from a no result to a yes result. For example, from a 1 (No, and…) to a 2 (Yes, but…). Extra “+” results add bonus “and” statements.
  • If a “-” is rolled, you must adjust a yes result down to the next no result. For example, from a 4 (Yes…) to a 3 (No…). Extra “-” results add bonus “and” statements.

This is a pretty good variation of the classic system, building on all the stuff that we know and love. The rules suggest modifying Fudge dice, and Vagrant Workshop also released some wonderful custom dice.

For me, though, there is more that can be done here.

My riff on this already good idea

I really like the idea of bonus/penalty dice that modify a base die. This is a really elegant alternative to “roll a pool and take the highest (or lowest) result”. It still lets you roll a bunch of dice (such a lovely feeling!), but reduces the weight of these modifiers.

Personally, I would use the alternative outcome chart, where low numbers are bad and high numbers are good. Then, each “+” rolled will add +1 to the result, while a “-” would subtract -1 from the result.

For example, if you rolled with three bonus dice and got a 3 and two “+”, the new result would be 5. If you rolled with two penalty dice and got a 2 and one “-“, the new result would be 1.

If a player rolls enough “+” to take the result above 6, then they get a number of boons equal to the excess bonuses.

For example, you roll 5++, taking the result to 7. That actually counts as a 6 (Yes, and…) with one boon.

If the player rolls enough “-” to take the result below 1, the excess “-” create botches.

For example, you roll a 1- – which means the result is 1 (No, and) with two botches.


Boons are lucky breaks or significant advantages generated from a good roll. A single boon may be spent to immediately;

  • add an additional “and” result to the outcome, OR
  • give an ally a bonus die to their next action (if it makes sense), OR
  • gain a FU point

Any boon that is not spent on one of the above actions is lost.


Botches are extra trouble for the character(s). They allow the narrator to make life more difficult or the situation to escalate in some way. A botch may be spent to;

  • add an additional “and” result to the outcome, OR
  • remove a condition from an adversary, OR
  • give the narrator a threat point

Botches must be spent immediately.

Threat points

Threat points are like FU points for the narrator. When things go bad and a botch is rolled, a player may choose to delay the extra-bad outcome by giving the narrator a threat point. This is basically saying to the narrator, “Hey, things are bad enough at the moment, but you can totally screw us over later!”

A narrator may later spend a threat point to;

  • introduce a temporary tag that applies a penalty die to a single roll
  • remove a condition from an adversary
  • introduce a detail into the scene that makes things tougher for the characters

(SIDE NOTE: My main concern here is making narrators feel they have to have threat points available in order to adjust scenes, which I do not want! What other things could you do with threat points?)

Weird dice

If we want to get even crazier, we can start messing around with other kinds of dice. This is probably not necessary, but let’s take a look! I see two distinct possibilities here.

The first is to make the base die something other than a d6. If the main die rolled is a d8, d12 or d20 the impact of bonus/penalty dice will be significantly reduced.

Alternative FU Dice rolls

If you are rolling a d12 and get a 4, you will need three “+” to move the result into the “Yes, but…” territory. That’s pretty tough, but food for thought.

blank dice

The other option is to use a different type of die for the bonus/penalty dice. On a d6 there is a 33% chance of rolling a 5+. If that is still too much of a chance of success, you could try a d8 or d10.

  • If you use a d8 and grant a “+” or “-” on the roll of 7 or 8, there is only a 25% chance of a bonus or penalty.
  • If you roll a d10 and grant a “+” or “-” on the roll of 9 or 10, there is only a 20% chance of a bonus or penalty.

I bought a bunch of blank dice to experiment with. I could (try to) run some statistics, but sometimes it comes down to “gut feel” on what is right.

That just about covers my take on the Vagrant dice system. I am hoping to do some playtests with this and will have more ideas in the future. What are your thoughts?

This article was first publish June 4, 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.