Monday, April 18, 2011

Blog Highlights - Simple Domino Mechanic

I'm going to be housesitting for friends the next few days and since I'm also approaching 600 posts I thought it might be a good time to slow down and reflect on some of the stuff I've blogged about.  I'll start with stuff I've used in my game and share my experiences with them.  So, let's start with something from a year ago:

Simple Domino Mechanic
This allows my Divine-petitioners to ask for aid with a diminishing likelihood of the requests being answered.  I need to ask my players how it feels to be denied at times, but they don't seem disgruntled.

I've also allowed them to ask for aid above their level of ability, with each additional order of miracle (what I call their levels) reducing likelihood of answer by a step.  This has been cool, with one party avoiding a TPK only because a cleric miraculously Held some foul creatures.

The combination of uncertainty of answer and fuzziness of "level" has made clerics work more the way I think they should and makes them feel completely different than Magic-users.

Difficulties with the Diminishing Returns Mechanic
There have been a few difficulties with the diminishing returns, though.  First, allowing it to apply to multiple prayer requests (down) and more powerful requests (across) can make it harder for players to know which step they are at. They may have asked for Hold Person (2nd order) and now they're asking to Heal Light Wounds (1st order).  I'm thinking of giving them a poker chip of a certain color to represent the chance of their next petition succeeding.

Second, you can't really apply Jeff's big purple d30 rule to dominoes.  Although, talking with my player, she said, "Yeah, you let me roll it instead of drawing." So I guess I made a ruling on the fly converting probability to a result on the d30.  Heh, I don't remember doing it.  Maybe I'm a good DM but just don't remember it away from the table :)

The third difficulty is the thorniest-- how to scale these diminishing returns to level.  I'm still working on an answer to this. As the highest level DP is just now 3rd level and they don't ask for aid all that often, I've gotten by, but it needs to be solved.

Using the Bones
As far as the logistics of using the dominoes, they work great.  Get yourself a set of thick, bone-like, plastic ones, no colored pips, no travel size.  Get yourself a sheet of green craft felt.  Have the player shake them up and pull when they ask for aid.  There is something oracular about it and more involved than a die roll.  Sucks when God doesn't heal your plague, but it's cool when God gives you a golden halo of holy light when you're in a dungeon with a roaming witch and you have a broken arm.

At first I thought I would need a set of bones for each DP being played, but unless you have a super big group or table, it doesn't take long to slide them over, and it adds to the drama.

Final Thoughts
If you're playing a one-off game with clerics of low level I don't see any reason not to try it out.  If you're planning on a whole campaign, you need to think about the level problem.

I think the reluctance to use a diminishing resource (and the chance that it might fail) has made Divine magic a rare thing in my campaign.  This makes clerics more like constrained fighters.

I'm thinking of adding permanent saint-like abilities at key levels (5th/9th?), so characters might be able to permanently talk to animals, or lay on hands once a day, or whatever players want to negotiate with me.  This could add a little more power back to the class as well as help them fulfil my vision of the archetype.


  1. So I like this idea a lot, but I just want to make sure I have it straight. Normal priest miracles don't use the dominoes. But if they want extra miracles, or greater affects than they usually have access to then they can try their luck with the dominoes. Each time they try it, or for each step they're up it increases the difficulty and after the third time/step it's just impossible.

    Am I understanding right?

    If I am understanding right, it seems like it's a neat, flavorful bonus for priests. I wonder though, where is the drawback for bothering your god for still more favors and failing? It may be adding unwanted complexity, but what if there was a chance to irk your god by pestering them too much?

  2. Thanks for the comment. Actually, no that's the only aid they get: 1 70%, 1 30%, and 1 15%. At least the first couple levels. An additional, desperate petition with possible consequences sounds like a good idea though.

  3. Okay, that makes sense now with your comments about what to do at higher levels. I haven't looked at this stuff in a while, I forgot how few spells low level casters get. Thanks.