Oracular Odds: letting dice determine difficulty

set for a tim walker vogue shoot oi fink

if there's one thing i can do it's make a post with "oracular" in the title

simple concept; instead of the GM setting the odds of a given action based on the preexisting fiction and their own sense of internal coherence and logic, let dice set the odds and then shape the fiction accordingly to explain why this is true. how is this different from just justifying player success or failure within the fiction? it lets players plan and play around the fiction the rolled difficulty creates; scouting is too difficult because of the abnormally thick fog bank that just rolled in? let's find and kill the frog that's making it!

you play the game, you want your character to do something
  • The World Roll: when you or another player are more interested in the world than in your character
    • they roll a d20 to set the difficulty of the task. not to succeed! to determine the odds! then ask the GM "why is this true?"
    • the GM responds, telling the table what about the circumstances or situation justifies these odds
    • play continues from this point; to succeed the task, beat the difficulty with a d20 roll.
  • The Character Roll: when you or another player is more interested in your character than in the world
    • they roll a d20 to set the difficulty of the task, then ask you "why is this true?"
    • you respond, telling telling the table what about your character justifies these odds.
    • play continues from this point; to succeed the task, beat the difficulty with a d20 roll.  
  • the GM has the authority to lock the difficulty of a particular task, meaning that once the difficulty is rolled it is preserved until the GM declares it should be re-rolled. this can be used to preserve coherence in the setting as well as determine the strengths and weaknesses of characters over time.


very few of y'all doin it like Francisco Infante-Arana. Sad!

 lot of optional stuff to fuck with here too

  •  don't fuck with the fast and loose d20 lifestyle? use 3d6 or whatever to get the bell curve of your dork-ass wet dreams.
  • let players roll another d20 and adding the results or taking the higher result to make things more difficult for themselves in exchange for a reward; could be an XP trigger, could be a roll on a treasure table or a purely in-fiction advantage 
  • give players some resource they can spend to lock difficulties defined by their characters, roll for shoes XP style 
    • so like you get a difficulty roll of 3 to try and cut off someones head and spend an XP to make it so that every time you try to cut off someone's head the difficulty is 3
  • create characters with a little lifepath minigame; give each player a little montage where you put them in a situation, ask what they do, and then make the Character Roll as per the rules, that difficulty is locked, written down on their sheet, and defines something about them. 
  • give different areas of the world have different average difficulties, meaning you roll higher/lower/more/less dice when setting difficult in those regions
    • same can be done with enemies; goblins force higher difficulty rolls when ambushing you etc. 
    • use this shit with caution, if at all; too much of it will kinda defeat the purpose of the core mechanic.
  • can tie certain difficulty rolls to certain causes in the fiction
    • World Roll difficulty 15+ is always the result of an angry god
    • World Roll difficulty 5 or less in a city is always the result of a passerby helping you out (they'll want a reward)
    • World Roll difficulty 13 is always a Wizard Did It 
    • Character Roll difficulty 17 is always a phobia
    • Character Roll difficulty 6 or less is always something your mom taught you
  • if you're gonna be a big bitch about discovering the world as you play it you can just literally make World Rolls ahead of time to define some constants and then re-roll some of them whenever you'd re-stock a region or whatever. 

dave mckean!!! i shouldn't have to tell you this!!!!!

yeah this goes against some tenants of fiction first gaming but it also reinforces others, so suck a soft one.
  •  lends itself nicely to low-prep or improvised GMing
  • ensures that the GM is surprised as consistently as the players
  • helps make the world feel dynamic; why is crossing the river so hard this time? dam broke upstream! that's now a fact with lasting implications on the rest of the games setting that the players can interact with. 
  • lets you discover characters through play as opposed to before it

i think this would lend itself really nicely to a fairytale type vibe with a lot of animism to help explain why a given tree hates being climbed or whatever, but to be honest, provided you've got a working imagination or the scaffolding to fake one you should be able to make this work for whatever you're feeling. 

the fear that gripped me when my ignorant ass thought this was AI... thank god it was Reloj Cocodrilo, Pedro Friedeberg, 1966




  1. VERY Very good stuff here. Hope you run a game on the FKR server one evening.


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