An Aftermath! Digression - the First House Rule

In a game so full of tiny, situational rules that are bound to have verisimilitude-busting unintended consequences, it’s weird to get so hung up on one of the more transparent mechanics, and probably dangerous to tinker with one so fundamental to the game, but neither of those sensible considerations has stopped me before, so, in for a penny, in for a pound.

The very first mechanic that you’ll encounter in Aftermath! after the description of what dice are and how to use them, is the Attribute Group Chart. Aftermath! uses a number of figured characteristics based on your Attributes, and one of them is assigning a Group value (equal to Attribute/10, round nearest, plus 1). In addition to factoring into the determination of a number of secondary characteristics - for example, a character’s Wit Group determines his Learning Rate, and his Strength Group determines the size of weapons he can wield effectively. In addition to this, each Group has an associated Effect Die that determines the overall effectiveness of an action, including melee weapon damage. And that’s where the rub arises for me.

The dice chosen are an interesting progression:

Group Effect Die
1 1d3
2 1d6
3 1d10
4 2d6...

And here is where we insert the record scratch sound effect and begin our dissection. Aftermath! came out at a time when dice that didn’t have six sides were a rarity, and is premised on the notion that while you’ll have a couple of those six-siders, you’ll also have a couple of old-school, 0-9 twice d20’s, and that’s it. None of the others are available as far as the designers are concerned. It’s an interesting choice, and may well have made sense then, but it does lead to some odd artifacts in the game design, and here’s the first one.

The shift from one die to two introduces a curve to the results. 2d6 heavily favors a result of 7, while a d12 in the same role would have given equal odds to all twelve results, as well as allowing for a 1, which the multi-die situation does not.

Proceeding, the oddities mount:

Group Effect Die
5 2d10
6 2d10+1
7 2d10+2
8 2d10+2

The jump from 2d6 to 2d10 is a significant one, out of line with every other margin we’ve seen so far, from a fairly linear progression to a major one at Group 5 - a level that’s rarely seen in most starting PCs, so rarely encountered in play I would suspect. Then they level off, sharply, with fixed value adds, the eventual refuge of the game designer who lacks creative vision (or perhaps they merely lack an idiosyncratic fixation on probabilities and distributions, but I digress).

As a young gamer, I always assumed that the plateau at 2d10+2 as a typographical error, and the designers had intended for the chart to continue on forever, adding one per Group increase. Not that we ever ran into a need to test that hypothesis. So let’s assume the designers meant what they said, and even if your Attribute exceeds 64, you’ll never go past 2d10+2.

So, we have a mix and match of proportional result rolls (single dice) and curves (multiple dice, added together) and fixed value adds. We also have a jagged and inconsistent progression of maximum values (base is 3 (from 1d3), then +3, +4, +2, +8, +1, +1, +0...) which, frankly, bother me more than they likely bother anyone else in the entire history of gaming.

So, being a gamer, I of course came up with a house rule. Or rather, three different alternate house rules for different tastes.

The first flattens the curve entirely, and leads to slightly lower performance beginning with, arguably, the most likely “sweet spot” for most player characters who haven’t chosen to optimize against a single Attribute, group 3.

Group Effect Die
1 1d4
2 1d6
3 1d8
4 1d10
5 1d12
6 1d12+1 (or 1d14 if you’re wicked)
7 1d12+2 (or 1d16)
etc

By default I bow to the same pressures that Hume and Charrette did - not everyone is going to have the fun, unusual dice that I do (the d14, d16 and d24 are particularly nifty, and I will add a d18 and d22 to my collection based on how much I like the former three) nor are they going to necessarily want them, so a fixed add is the next best solution - it’s popular enough with the Savage Worlds crowd, at least, that it isn’t likely to be remotely controversial a decision.

This change isn’t subtle, but it does offer consistency and the absence of the most jarring of leaps in maximum effect roll results. I’d have gone for a straight 3 point increase in maximum values instead of 2, but if you think people would be up in arms over d14, try telling them they need a d9...

The second option I came up with allows for the idea that perhaps the effect die should have a bit of an exponential curve:

Group Effect Die
1 1d4
2 1d6
3 1d8
4 1d12
5 1d16
6 1d20
7 1d24
8 1d30

Yes, I’ve used those non-standard dice again, but I did demur this time and only use those that could be easily modeled with the existing dice (d24 = roll a d12 and a d6, if the d6 is 4-6, add 12 to the d12 result; d16 = do the same with a d8 and a d6, adding 8; d30 = same, with a d10 and add 10 on a 3 or 4, add 20 on a 5 or 6). This provides many benefits - a steadily growing power curve, with truly impressive results possible at the highest, superhuman levels, while always remaining a single die (in theory) and always allowing for a result of 1, no matter how powerful you might be.

But while both of these options are entirely workable, and in my experience unlikely to break the game in any significant way, a thought kept beating itself around in the back of my skull. As much as I insist upon effect rolls having a base value of 1 (the hottest bullet or sharpest sword should have the ability to graze or nick, after all), is it really accurate to have there be an equal likelihood of all possible results, or is it in fact more likely to be more accurate to model the effects with even the simplest of two-die curves, allowing the probabilities to pile up on the middle results, with grazes and perfect placement being the least likely outcomes? From which the third option was born:

Group Effect Die
1 2d2-1 (1d3 equivalent)
2 2d4-1 (like a d6 on steroids)
3 2d6-1 (the “sweet spot” gets something akin to a d10 still)
4 2d8-1 (from 2-12 to 1-15, seems a fair trade)
5 2d10-1 (only one off from the original 2d10)
6 2d12-1
7 2d14-1 (or, if you’re not down with the d14, 2d12)
8 2d16-1 (or 2d12+1)

And you can stop the progression there or continue on as suits your temperament.

There’s something viscerally satisfying about the results of those curves. Even in the absence of any reality checking, a Group 4 effect roll is most likely (1 time in 8) to produce a result of 8, with the extreme values of 1 and 15 only happening every now and again (1 time in 64 each). Again, I can’t say these arguments are true, but they are truthy - they feel right.

So, when I finally get ‘round to running a game using this system, that will be my first house rule. And if we get to a rule change to something that central to the system by page 4 of the rules, I suspect it will not be my last.

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