Tag Archives: Fantasy Flight Games

Destiny Dice

A while ago I tried out the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game, and a while before that I tried out WFRP3e too. Warhammer was downright overwhelming for its preponderance of board game style components, more in line with one of FFG’s Lovecraftian board games than any prior RPG, but as unconventional as it was, I really liked the dice mechanic. The basic idea is that you roll a pool of various types of special dice representing different factors in the game, including not only your character’s abilities, but the difficulties you’re facing as well. The dice have different symbols that you use to figure out the outcome of the roll, with a number of possible side effects. The Star Wars game presents a more refined version of that. The selection of symbols and dice is a little simpler, and it has this nice aspect where the more potent dice have more sides. (The Star Wars symbols aren’t quite as intuitive as the Warhammer ones though.) Apart from those dice and some Star Wars flavor, Edge of the Empire is basically just a fairly solid, rules-medium traditional RPG.


For a while I’ve been wanting to put together my own genericized version of this style of dice, and I finally sat down and did just that. I call these “Destiny Dice” (like they’re some weird, elaborate cousin of Fate dice). I don’t really expect to establish a new standard, not even on the level of Fudge/Fate dice, but I do expect to make something that’ll at least be fun for me to play with. For practical reasons, at least for this initial iteration, I’m using only six-sided dice. Chessex charges by the side for custom dice, which makes prototyping a bunch of dice where every side is custom prohibitively expensive. Q-Workshop also does custom dice, but they want fancy designs and the it’s not really at that stage yet. But what I can do is get blank six-sided dice and custom-printed stickers from The Game Crafter. I stuck pretty close to the Edge of the Empire version otherwise, so the dice produce both Successes/Failures and Advantage/Disadvantage, plus the occasional Hope and Despair symbol. Success/Failure determines whether a given task succeeds, while Advantage/Disadvantage lets other good or bad things potentially spin off from it (the simplest being mechanical stuff like giving an ally a bonus die), and Hope/Despair is basically a more potent version of Advantage/Disadvantage.


In order to actually have a system to play it with, I put together a hack of Fate Accelerated. With the new Fate Core the Evil Hat team has done an incredible job of refining the Fate rules, and with FAE they’ve really distilled the essence of it down to the sleek little game that’s been buried inside of Fate’s usual bricklike books all along. This is going to necessarily change the feel of the game a bit. For more rolls than not you’re going to be figuring out how to spend the Advantage/Disadvantage symbols that come up, plus Aspects aren’t quite as powerful as in standard Fate. I’m thinking I’ll make the dice available for purchase through TGC in case anyone is interested in trying it themselves (and willing to spend an hour or so applying stickers to dice), but not until I’ve done some playtesting and refined the whole thing a bit in terms of both game design and graphic design. In the meantime here’s what I have so far for the rules:

Destiny Dice Rules (PDF)

Fantasy Flight Production Values

For the most part I don’t like board games, though I do occasionally let myself be dragged into playing one for social reasons, owing to the substantial overlap between RPG players and board gaming, not to mention my brother-in-law being so ridiculously into board games. For me it’s kind of like, why play a board game I feel like I’m playing an RPG where something important and essential has been taken out.

In any case, the other day we tried to play Mansions of Madness, an Arkham Horror derivative from Fantasy Flight Games. We actually didn’t get that far, in part because my friend who owns the game hadn’t actually even opened the box yet, and it seems to be the kind of game where you need to read the rules beforehand. What really struck me about it though, which was something that was also true of Warhammer Fantasy 3rd Edition, was that in some ways the very high production values of the game worked against it. Fantasy Flight apparently loves to have games with numerous components of various kinds, especially in that thick, colorful card stock you have to punch out before you play the game. Even more so than with Warhammer, this is a game that really would’ve benefited from dropping at least some of the tokens in favor of a more RPG style way of tracking things. For example, each character has separate skill cards, a character card, item cards, and can accumulate various tokens that can represent damage and madness. The Keeper has threat tokens, time tokens, a set of threat cards, three combat decks, and I think several other things that we didn’t actually get around to even using in the game. Looking at all that stuff, I can’t help but think that you could easily halve the number of components the game involves, which would in turn speed up play simply by reducing the need to sift through all the components to find the thing you need. On top of that, at least for Mansions of Madness, the designers seem to have been strangely reticent to label any given component according to its function. It would have been nice for example if the item cards had said “Item” on their backs, not to mention if the many, many kinds of tokens had given some indication as to what they are beyond a colorful picture.

This is really interesting to me because for a while I’ve wanted to explore how RPGs can use different kinds of components in different ways, and it hadn’t occurred to me that there could be a point at which components become a burden. I’m not familiar enough with the medium of board games to know how much of this is a board game thing and how much is a Fantasy Flight thing, especially given that I even more seldom let myself get dragged into playing the more elaborate board games. However, looking at Mansions of Madness, a game with absolutely amazing production values and an $80 price tag, it’s weird to me that design-wise it falls behind some much cheaper RPGs in certain ways. My friend Grant owns several titles from Fantasy Flight, but where we’ve played them he’s inevitably wound up griping about the poor organization of the rulebook. I feel like board game players put up with things that RPG players would be quick to brand as heresy, and I’m not sure what that says about either group. Mansions of Madness has apparently gotten favorable reviews and even won a Golden Geek award (for best thematic board game), whereas Warhammer Fantasy 3rd Edition was massively reviled online solely on the basis of news of how it would use certain board game components and not be exactly like prior editions. Of course, to the extent that I would advocate using board game components and techniques in RPGs, I would not advocate using entirely separate categories of components for things that could much more easily be tracked on paper in the manner of a traditional RPG (the fatigue tokens in Warhammer being a very prominent example).

Of course, considering where I am as a designer (and to a lesser extent where RPGs are in general), making a game with so many components that it costs $80 isn’t really a serious consideration no matter what. I do kind of wish that RPGs could get away with that kind of thing more (look at just how much people freaked out over the price tag of WFRP3e), but then the $75 price tag is the main reason I don’t own a copy of FreeMarket. On the other hand, I do wish that people who play RPGs (or at least people who post about them online) didn’t come off as being so over-the-top purists about the kinds of materials that games can use. People freak out about things like the possibility of losing components from an RPG in a way that they just don’t seem to about board games. This is especially weird to me given that tabletop gaming in general has such a DIY streak that you would think that people would be quite willing and able to overcome any limitations imposed by materials on their own. Certainly people have no problem using just about anything imaginable as miniatures for D&D, and Wizards of the Coast probably ought to be taking a hint from all the fan made expansion for the D&D board games.