Friday, October 2, 2015

Game Mechanic Preferences: Target Numbers & Formula vs. Tables

I was flipping through a fun-but-table-happy game I played fairly recently (Vampyre, by TSR)

It got me thinking about a couple of my game mechanic preferences.

I prefer target numbers to tables.

I'd rather have a result expressed by a die roll with a target number or numbers than a table lookup. Instead of "1-2 nothing, 3-4 something, 5-6 lots of something" I'd rather have "3+ is something, beat the target number by 2 and get lots of something." Then I can freely adjust the target number or the modifiers on the fly without looking anything up.

I'd rather have "6+ does the job, 1 or less is awful bad stuff" for a 1d6 system than a CRT lookup or checking a chart. It just makes it easier for me. This is probably why I like S&W's one "Save" stat vs. the old-style D&D wargame inspired situation-specific saving throw.

I prefer simple formula to tables.

If you can swap a simple formula, like "Divide your Stat by 2 and roll against it" instead of a table of "What is the roll for a given Stat" or "Every 3 points you make it by," for a table, I prefer that.

My own game system of choice, GURPS, has some of these. Damage for your ST requires a table lookup - you can memorize it, but still, it's a lookup on a mental table instead. Something like BL is easier to look up. I played a lot of Rolemaster and it's a fun game and the table lookups are fun . . . but I ran plenty of games using the no-table approach from Rolemaster Companion and it was equally fun.

But "simple formula" is key. Something like, "Combat is based on a roll against your attack strength, modified by situational percentages, divided by the defender's defense strength, giving a damage result" is not actually easier than a CRT.

Tables are Okay, Though

I'm still okay with tables that make sense as tables. Rumor tables, results tables with different results for each digit, hit location charts, etc. They translate poorly to roll-over or formula. I don't mind memorizing them or looking at them. I've played plenty of fun games with tables that had things on them not conducive to other approaches.

But in general, that's how I like mechanics in my game - simple formula or simple target numbers where possible. If you can equally do it without a table, just as easily as a table, you enhance the speed and portability of the game by doing so.


  1. Total agreement here.

    I remember when I first realized that the To Hit tables in AD&D 1 weren't necessary and that you could just write down your THAC0 and roll against THAC0 - AC. Much better. Makes me wonder why they didn't just tell you that in the first place and skip the tables. (Which is what they ended up doing in later editions, except with AC flipped so you could add rather than subtract.)

    One of my disappointments in GURPS 4E is that they kept the old tables for thrust and swing damage rather than revising them to a simple formula. They're regular enough that you can derive a formula, within certain ST ranges, but not everywhere. So that's one table I need to constantly have handy when I'm making NPCs and monsters.

    My kid was enjoying reading the critical hit table on the back on my GURPS GM screen last game, so I think I'm going to have to put that table into my game. (My least favorite thing about that table is that the most common roll is "no additional effect", so you got all excited for nothing and wasted your time rolling. I'd much rather have a critical hit table where every result is significant, but which is accessed less often -- say, if you roll exactly what you need for a critical hit, that's just a hit with no defense possible, but if you roll under what you need for a critical hit, you get to use the improved version of the table.)

    1. I agree on ST - I write for GURPS, the tables haven't changed since Man-to-Man . . . and I keep a printed out copy pinned to my corkboard behind my laptop so I can look at it and check the numbers. I'd love to see a calculation that works very closely with ST, even if it's "ST below X uses Y, ST above or equal to X uses Z." I've seen solutions but they're often tied to getting rid of swing damage, changing the relative value of a point of ST, etc. Not what I'd want. (I'd use the tables anyway to keep my stuff consistent with publication, but still . . . )

      As for critical hits, since the automatic bypassing of defenses is so strong, that "no additional effect" is still pretty sweet. For my DF game we ditched the table and went with a 3 is max damage, all other criticals just can't be defended . . . and they are still valuable. But I do realize those are the least fun entries. I do like the expanded version. Maybe you could just re-roll if you beat the critical number by 1+?


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