student 20 Productions

Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

16 Bit Heroes Excerpt

I thought that, since I had posted multiple excerpts from Elements (most of which have been re-written by now) it might be nice to see a bit of 16 Bit Heroes. Now, I know that this post doesn’t go along very well with my last one (about posting on other topics, tra-la), but I’m feeling lazy today, and I wanted to post something.

This comes from the first chapter, which describes Ability Scores; this particular section is concerned with Ability Checks, and the various complications that can arise with them.  Let me know if you have any questions!

Ability Checks

Sometimes a character’s abilities are tested directly. When this happens, you roll 5d10 and add the result to the Ability in question; the higher the result, the better. Typically, you’re attempting to equal or exceed a Difficulty value, although you might also be attempting to exceed the result of an Opposing Check.

There are several complications to Ability Checks – Critical Success and Critical Failure being the most important. In the case of rolling against an Opposing Check, there’s also the possibility of a Draw. Sometimes you don’t even need to roll – a character can get by on competence alone. All four of those are discussed below. A final complication applies to a single Ability; when you use your Luck Ability, you take the chance of getting Bad Luck instead of good. That is also discussed below.

Critical Success

If you throw your 5d10 for a Ability Check and the result is within your Critical Margin (see Chapter 2: Vital Statistics, page ###) of 50, you have achieved a critical success. Examples:

Your character has a Critical Margin of 0. In order to gain a Critical Success, you must roll all 10s on your 5d10 roll, to get a natural result of 50.

Your character has a Critical Margin of 2. In order to gain a Critical Success, you must roll a 48, 49, or 50 on your 5d10.

Critical Successes outside of combat may or may not provide special benefits. Often, they’re just good for bragging rights – you get to describe your character not only doing what they set out to do, but doing it with style. If the GM decides there should be some tangible benefit, he or she will tell you what it is. Maybe picking a lock takes half the time you thought it would, or you manage to not only bend an escapable hole in the bars, but you bend them so far that everyone can slip out without making a sound. It’s up to the GM – or, if the GM says so, it’s up to you, but you only gain tangible benefits outside of combat with the GM’s say so. The only guaranteed benefit is that you definitely succeed at what you’re trying to do.

In combat is another story. If you get a Critical Hit on a target, you do not make a normal damage roll – instead you deal the maximum possible damage you could roll (so if you were supposed to roll 2d10+15 for damage, you would automatically deal 35 damage instead of rolling). You also ignore ½ the target’s Armor Value with that particular hit (so if you were attacking a monster with an Armor Value of 20, and you got the 35 damage noted above, you would deal (35-10) 25 damage, rather than the (35-20) 15 damage you would normally do).

Critical Failure

Of course, if you can critically succeed, you can also critically fail. If the result of your roll is 15 minus your Critical Margin or less, you fail at what you’re doing, even if the result totals out higher than the Difficulty. You have achieved Critical Failure, and something bad might happen to you. Examples:

Your character has a Critical Margin of 0. If your roll results in a (15-0) 15 or less, you have officially screwed the pooch and stepped out the door.

Your character has a Critical Margin of 5. If your roll results in a (15-5) 10 or less, your character has achieved Epic Fail; congrats!

Outside of combat, a Critical Failure often just means you screwed up in some embarrassing fashion or another. Unless the GM says otherwise, you can describe exactly how your character fails miserably; the more entertaining it is the better. Maybe your lockpicks break off in the lock, making it unpickable. Maybe you let out a thunderous fart while trying to bend the bars, possibly alerting the guards and certainly upsetting anyone else in the cell with you. The GM may decide that something really, really bad happens, but most of the time any inconvenience and embarrassment a player comes up with him- or herself will be better than an arbitrary punishment for a bad dice roll. Just remember – your character didn’t just fail, he or she failed in some epic way. Have the good grace to make it fun for everyone.

In combat, a Critical Failure means you not only miss, but the target of the action can take advantage of an opening the character has left for them by failing so miserably. Unless the opponent has the “Slow” creature attribute (see Chapter #: Beasties, page ###), they can immediately make an Attack against the character that failed so epically. If they hit, they can ignore ½ of the character’s Armor Value when determining damage. In addition, the character’s turn ends immediately, even if they still had an Action to perform.


In the case of a Difficulty, a tie means success. However, when two characters face off together, you can get ties, and it isn’t really fair to arbitrarily assign victory to one or the other. This is when the Draw rules come in.

Sometimes a Draw isn’t really a Draw – that is, it’s pretty easy to see who should come out on top. In the following circumstances, you don’t have a Draw, you have a marginal victory for one character or another:

· If two checks wind up with the same result, but one of the characters involved is within their Critical Margin, thereby deserving of a Critical Success, they win, but they don’t gain any special Critical Success benefit in combat. Outside of combat, the Player can describe some cool or skillful way they came out on top.

· If two checks wind up with the same result, but one of the characters involved deserves a Critical Failure, that character loses. There’s no Critical Failure unless the losing player wants to describe one – he or she just loses.

· If two checks wind up with the same result, but the Ability used to modify one character’s check is 5 or more higher than the other’s (and neither character deserves Critical Success or Failure), that character wins based on superior competence alone. Critical Success and Failure trump this rule, hands down.

· If one of the characters is in a state of Bad Luck (see below), that character automatically loses all Draws.

If none of the above three circumstances occurs, what has happened is a proper Draw. In combat, this means essentially the same thing as a miss on the attacker’s part. Out of combat, this means the situation should be described in such a way as to indicate that the characters tied. This may mean a repeat of the previous check, or some event that indicates the characters were equally matched. If they were racing, for instance, it might be impossible to determine the winner.

If a tie is absolutely unacceptable for some reason, each character gets an additional 1d0 to roll and add into their result. This continues until someone comes out on top.

Competence Alone

Sometimes a character is just so good at something that rolling is a waste of time. In such circumstances, the GM should let the player know that they don’t have to roll – the character can just succeed and things can move on. A player can choose to roll anyway if they like, to try of Critical Success while risking Critical Failure; that’s fine. Otherwise, the character just succeeds and things move on.

Competence only applies under the following circumstances. If the character meets one or more of the following qualifications, no roll is needed.

· The Difficulty is equal to or less than the relevant Ability + 10.

· The Opponent’s relevant Ability in the opposed check is less than ½ the character’s relevant ability.

· The Opponent is under the effects of Bad Luck (see below), and the character’s relevant ability is equal to or greater than the opponent’s.

Characters can also attempt a Minimal Competence Check. If they do so, they don’t roll; instead, they treat the check as if they had rolled 15 on the dice. GMs don’t need to inform characters when Minimal Competence will do – that’s the player’s decision.

Bad Luck

As previously mentioned, Luck can be used for a variety of things, including substituting it for any Ability in a check. Using Luck too often can result in bad things happening, however. A character’s luck can turn on him or her, putting them into a state of Bad Luck, which modifies how most of the above rules work.

Characters can enter into a Bad Luck state under the following circumstances:

· Rolling all 1s on any Luck Check

· Rolling a critical failure on a Luck check when Luck is being used as a substitute for another Ability score

While a Character is in a Bad Luck State, the following rules apply:

· If the character’s Critical Margin is reduced to 0.

· The character cannot benefit from Critical Success, but can suffer from Critical Failure.

· The character loses all ties against Difficulties and loses all Draws automatically.

· The character can no longer use Competence Alone to succeed at challenges – they always take the chance of Critical Failure.

· The character cannot use Techniques, Spell Effects, or Psychic Abilities that allow them to re-roll dice.

· The character cannot substitute Luck for other Abilities when making Ability Checks.

Getting out of a Bad Luck state is difficult. Typically, blind luck gets them out of it, the same way it got them into it. The following things will get a character out of a Bad Luck state:

· The character rolls three 7s any time they roll three or more dice.

· The character rolls five 10s any time they roll five or more dice.

· The character performs a great act of heroism, bravery, or virtue (GM’s discretion)

· The character finds a priest, druid, or other holy person willing to perform a cleansing ritual; such a ritual must be performed in a sacred or consecrated place, and requires materials or monetary donations equal to 1,000 gold pieces or more per level of the character to be cleansed (basically, the buy-out option should be available, but expensive – however the economy works in your game should be fine, as long as you keep that in mind). The holy person may demand a specific Quest instead of payment, if the GM is looking for a good plot hook.

Bad luck is a pretty harsh thing. Any Game Group might decide that it’s too harsh to include in their game; this is fine, but if a group chooses to do so, they should remove the ability to substitute the Luck Ability for any other Ability in all Ability Checks, perhaps limiting such things to once per day.

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