Savage Worlds : There's something funky with those dice...

Savage Worlds assigns characters values for their attributes and skills based on a die type, from the usual collection, d4 through d12. That always seemed like a bad idea, but I couldn't put my finger on why until I started doing the math.

Now, granted, player characters are, by default, special, and roll their skill or attribute die plus a d6, and take the best result. SW dice are also exploding, adding the result of another roll every time they roll their highest value. Most common tasks use a Target Number of 4 to indicate success, and every 4 that it's beaten by is one Raise, for a better result. Skills at default roll with a d4-2, and apply the same -2 to the Wild Die d6.

This leads to a situation where you have the following occur:

TN=4
d4-2 + WD = 20% success + 13% raise = 8- on 3d6 (more like 8.5)
d4 + WD = 43% + 19% = 11- on 3d6
d6 + WD = 49% + 26% = 12-
d8 + WD = 57% + 25% = 13-
d10 + WD = 45% + 40% = 13- (a little more, but closer to 13 than 14)
d12 + WD = 38% + 50% = 14-

When you're performing normal tasks, even the most highly trained individuals in most games are going to be facing a 14- roll. If the TN was raised to 8, that expert drops to 10-.

So, my gut feeling that there were some oddities being introduced to the game system by reliance on our old standby dice seems to be a valid one (I won't get into the situations where it's actually better to be rolling a smaller die...) The system doesn't support as broad a range of ability as it might, and tends to hew quite closely to the middle ground, with even the most rudimentary of expertise only available at the highest end.

Comments

  1. I agree with your calculation. Something I should have said under "RPG Litmus Tests": if there's a funky die mechanic, especially if it involves rolling multiple dice and taking the best result, that's a bad smell for me because the probabilities are almost certainly not what the author expected. In fact I'd say that if you're designing a game, you should make quite sure that one of your playtesters is the sort of person who works out the odds.

    Savage Worlds shows another of the classic problems: if your open-ended system is "roll another die and add", then the odds of getting at least (die size) are the same as the odds of getting (die size + 1). Early editions of Shadowrun did the same thing.

    (And yes, it does look worryingly as though a target number of 6 is more achievable with a d4 (0.25 * 0.75 = 0.1875) than with a d6 (0.16667). Similarly at TN8, a d6 is better than a d8.)

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