This week a straight forward question inspires me to take on a bigger debate:
Statistically speaking, in seeking a high rolling die combination, is it better to roll a larger number die or have a larger modifier?
I could have responded to this question in 500 words or less and saved you all some reading, however, this encompasses a much bigger debate that I’ve given a lot of thought to: d6 system or d20? (I’ll try not to get too super cereal, but I’m sure I’ll fail).
First though, let’s answer the question that was asked before giving my unsolicited opinion on roleplaying systems in general. All we have to do is look at statistics. Let’s use two dueling characters for our example.
An elf has a Rapier, which they deal 1d6+6 damage with, and a human has a Greatsword that they deal 2d6 damage with, but no modifier. The average die roll on a d6 is 3.5, so on average, the elf is going to do 9.5 damage, and the human will deal only 7 damage. The maximum damage will be the same (12), and their range will be 7-12 for the elf, and 2-12 for the human.
The modifier takes the obvious win, but it’s important to keep in mind that a +6 modifier on damage may not be that easy to accomplish with a starting character. I think what this all says for a new player, is think very carefully about your modifiers because they can be powerful things! If you know you’re going to use a Rapier all the time, do everything you can with your starting Feats and Ability Scores to maximize your hit and damage bonuses.
On the flip side of this though, is something that I consider extremely important when creating a character: make them interesting! If you spend all of your time, Feats, and Ability Scores constructing an unstoppable fighting machine, you’ll have a very dull, one dimensional character, and if you have a good DM, he or she will be sure to challenge you in as many ways as possible, not just with monsters.
Bottom line: Modifiers are powerful, but don’t be a Min-Maxer!
Moving on now to the bigger question: which system is better, a d6 or a d20 system?
I began roleplaying with the old West Ends Games d6 system, and I will be using it as my example, which I realize is not an example of all d6 systems. One thing that becomes clear in our above discussion is that the range of possible rolls greatly expands when using certain d6 systems.
If a character has a Brawling skill represented by 5d6, that’s a range of 5-30. For the same roll to be possible in a d20 system, the character would need an attack modifier of +10, giving them a range of 11-30. To me, if a character has devoted a great deal of training to a particular skill, it makes sense that their minimum roll would still be relatively high. In a d6 system, this expertise isn’t as well represented, and more is left up to luck.
Heroic characters should have a very small chance of missing a highly inexperienced fighter with an attack. With the d6 system, my 5d6 Brawler still has a 20% chance to miss an NPC with 3d6 in defense (an average roll of 10). In a d20 system, with my +10 attack bonus I have only an 5% chance of failure assuming an average AC of 10 (Math people, please see my replies in the Comments section for clarification on my bad math).
You could argue that the systems don’t scale precisely, and if we try and take this into account, the difference between chance of failure might be close to 5%, still in favor of a d20 system. 5% might not be much, but it’s still something for me to complain about. On top of this though, adding up all those d6 really slows down combat, more so than rolling against a predetermined number and adding a single modifier to one die. You need to roll your attack, then they roll their defense, then you roll your damage, then they roll their strength. It’s just too much rolling, and it also encourages players to cheat, because they know I’m not going to sit there and count everyone’s dice all the time (yes guys, I know you cheat).
A d6 system does have it’s benefits though, particularly for newer players. It is a much simpler, more straight forward and less complex system (and who doesn’t have some d6 hanging around the house?). It’s easy to learn, and also very easy to modify to suit your own campaign and playing needs. This always attracted me to it, but in my modifications over the years, I realized I was moving closer and closer to a d20 system, until I dropped the d6 almost entirely. What I mainly kept from the d6 system, was the flexibility of character creation and advancement that I loved so much. I’ve always despised Character Levels and Classes, and haven’t used them in years.
So, bottom line number two: Both systems have something unique to offer, both have their pitfalls, and in the end, you either pick one, or design your own rule system like me.
The Dungeon Master
Look out for another Friday bonus blog, in which I take on the ultimate question in life: which came first, the chicken or the egg?
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