Let’s talk a little bit about dice systems. The first thing to know about dice systems is that there are a lot of them and several of these systems are famous, and what this means is that playing these games doesn’t mean you have to pick up a d20 anymore. Let me by no means bash the d20 system, it’s clean, easy, and fun. The d20 is almost synonymous with RPGs and has done a lot for our community. With the proper amount of respect paid now it’s time to talk a little bit about one of my favourite systems, the narrative dice system.
The narrative dice system (NDS) is something that Fantasy Flight Games has completely integrated into their Star Wars game series and is going to be the basis for their new Genesys game which is an engine for bringing the NDS into any other game genre that you can think of, and personally I’m so very excited for that particular game to be released.
The first thing about the NDS that we have to understand is the dice themselves that are used. The highest dice that the NDS uses the d6, d8, and d12 with four total symbols. The negative symbols and positive symbols are on separate dice and building the dice pool requires a player to collect both the positive and negative dice and rolling all of the dice together to make a net result. We’ll break down the dice first and then move to the outcomes.
- The first dice is the d6 which represents a situational condition. These can be any positive conditions that a player can come up with that a GM will believe. These can also be awarded mechanically for things like weapon qualities. From a negative aspect the GM has to use narrative elements in the game to add these negative dice like having fog, or low light. Let’s draw two pictures from one event. A PC has to make a 600 yard shot, it is a bright sunny day, there is no wind and the player has a competent rifle with a fairly advanced scope on it. This can give the player up to three positive situational dice. On the other hand the PC has to make a 600 yard shot, it is in the middle of monsoon season on this planet, and the scope was broken in a previous fight so now it won’t do any advanced technical things like account for wind or bullet drop. This can create 3 negative dice for situational modifiers.
- The d8 is the basis for any skill roll. Anything that you do will be measured in upgraded and not upgraded. The d8 is the unmodified base level of the skill role in the dice pool.
- The d12 is the upgraded d8 so when a skill upgrades something then you get a d12. This dice has a much more likely chance to roll both successes and failures for each respective dice, and they are the only dice that have critical effects on them.
- In a particularly dangerous system there is room for you to upgrade or downgrade the dice pool. Also destiny points can be used to upgrade and downgrade pools as well.
Building a dice pool takes three steps. First you build the negative dice and upgrade for any extra challenge that the task represents. After that then build your pool based on your skills and characteristics and finally add in any situational modifiers. Now you’re ready to roll and determine the fate of the universe.
The other part of this roll is determining the results. After the dice are rolled a player gets any combination of success or failure with narrative success and failure as well. In the Star Wars games they have their own name for these narrative outcomes but for the sake of this post I will refer to them as advantage and disadvantage. When you determine the dice pool all you do is cancel disadvantages with advantages and success with failure, find your net results, and then decide success or failure.
The fun thing about the NDS though is that every result has effects the narrative degree to a degree through advantages and disadvantages. This makes the narrative collaborative with the GM and players working together with these advantages and disadvantages players need to come up with good and bad things that happen in a situation. A PC can succeed a check while still getting a critical fail so something like a successful attack kills an NPC but shatter a window into space can happen. Or a player gets spotted by a stormtrooper while sneaking but finds a vent to quickly hide in and get away from the pursuing baddy.
Then there’s one more mechanic that makes the NDS system hit home with the idea of a narrative economy is the destiny points. These are basically a pool of light side (player points) and dark side (GM points) that allow the party to affect the narrative to help or hurt player. Any light side point becomes a dark side point and vice versa as well so everyone has to think about how if they add a narrative element then the opposite is now potentially open to happen to them. This creates a narrative economy that will engage players to help make up details and add narrative direction to a story
Of course coming up with a narrative dice roll for any mundane encounter can be a little much. In this case there’s also mechanical things you can do such as using disadvantages to run out of ammunition or breaking a weapon or using advantages to add a d6 to your roll. There are other things like that that can be done and the core book also has suggestions on how to spend the various narrative results. What’s great is seeing these players grow into the narrative control and develop roleplaying if only just for mechanical advantage.
The best part about these games for me is that the setting focuses on Star Wars. Now I know about Star Wars d20 and all of its previous counterparts but this combination is just a win win for me. Now I know what you’re thinking “Star Wars? I’m more of a fantasy kind of person and I totally don’t have time for super awesome laser swords” well I will begrudgingly accept this about you, the reader, and encourage you to wait until around the end of the year. Genesys is coming out soon by FFG and will even be using the same dice as the Star Wars games (from what I have seen it’s the same dice with different symbols). It will be a multi setting NDS RPG built around being modified to any setting. The book itself comes with 5 different settings that you can play with from a netrunner type of setting to your classic fantasy setting and they have expressed the intention of adding more settings themselves. It also helps GMs make their own setting.
With all these new settings and Star Wars being so thoroughly locked down I would suggest the NDS to any of my friends, New and old GMs alike are guaranteed to enjoy these games!
Be sure to check out Star Wars Edge of The Empire RPG Core Rulebook, Star Wars: Age of Rebellion RPG Core Rulebook, and Star Wars Force and Destiny: Core Rulebook on Amazon and don’t forget your Star Wars RPG Dice as well!
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