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The Public Does Not Owe You Private Criticism

We live in an age where it is extremely easy for critics, commentators, pundits, customers, and fans to express their analyses and opinions on game products and announcements/ads for game products that have been presented to the public (and anything ever presented in public, really, but here I am sticking to one topic to make a specific point) very, very publicly.

And, for good or ill, if those analyses and opinions pick up interest from others with likes, comments, and shares, they can go viral. Often, by the time a game professional is aware of some statement about a project they worked on or are tied to, it’s already been seen by hundreds or thousands of other people.

When those statements are critical, perhaps especially when those criticisms are valid and strongly negative, boosters of the project will often complain that there was “no need” to make “such a big deal,” out of the criticisms. One common refrain is that any complaints could be initially handled in private communications to the publisher or creator in question.

And of course, such things could start that way, that’s obvious. By even mentioning it, boosters are pushing the narrative that such criticism should start that way, and not doing so is somehow inappropriate.

And that’s B.S.

Such suggestions of different ways a thing could be handled also often claim the “only reason” criticisms are done in public is to “drive views,” or gain attention.

And even when true, that’s completely irrelevant.

Once a product, or an ad/announcement for a product, has been released to the public, the public has no responsibility to restrict their negative reactions to private communications, even as a first response. Nor should their be any expectation or suggestion that the public will do so. A game or announcement for a game is put out into the public eye specifically to garner a reaction. If a company is at a stage where positive reviews and critiques of an item are appropriate in a broad forum, then so are negative ones.

It is, of course, possible for there to specific specific people who WANT to begin criticisms privately, and that’s fine. If I have a relationship with a publisher or creator and I think they have, or are about to, make a big mistake I will often contact them privately and say why. Coming from another direction, someone who does not want fans of a game line to harass them may well seek less-public ways to send feedback to a publisher just so they aren’t the target for harassment. Further, if I was involved with a project, I may have some ethical desire to initially express my concerns about it in private even once the material in question is public.

And, yes, there ARE ways to respond to publicly released material that are themselves open to criticism. I’m not talking about the content of critiques, but the venue for them. Though it’s worth noting that even accusations of a response being made in bad faith — vicious ad hominem attacks, intentional falsehoods, and similar things — even that needs to be considered with an analytical eye. While there absolutely are bad actors who will make up objections to try to take down game creators and game projects they dislike, there are at least as many bad actors who will claim legitimate criticisms are actually vile attacks because they dislike the criticism.

My key point here is, the public doesn’t owe any game or game creator the privilege of a private preview of their critique of a public release. Once a creator releases an ad, statement, or game into the public eye, they are inviting response to that release.

Even the responses they don’t like.

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Why Isn’t GAME COMPANY doing THE THING?

Gamers often wonder why a specific game company (hereafter GAME COMPANY) isn’t engaged in some specific act of licensing, marketing, broadcasting, podcasting, customer engagement, convention support, or new game production (hereafter THE THING).

And while I can’t give specific details on why GAME COMPANY isn’t doing THE THING even when I know them, there are a few generic answers that come up so often, I thought it would be useful to have this response ready to point to whenever I need it.

There are numerous possible reasons why GAME COMPANY is not doing THE THING.

First, it may be a terrible idea.

GAME COMPANY has information you do not. This includes details such as (but not limited to) historic sales of various form factors and product lines, cost to manufacture vs sell-through rates, marketing costs, debt load, budget projections, contractual obligations, warehousing cost, warehousing availability, shipping costs, unpaid obligations, work capacity, unannounced projects, scheduling, and whether or not there is anyone at GAME COMPANY who has any interest in working on the THE THING, given that is employees get too unhappy, they leave.

Even if they decide to do THE THING, it takes time. Legal agreements must be forged. Asset packages have to be put together. Clear rules on what is and isn’t allowed must be decided on internally, written up, and reviewed. Schedules have to be designed. Outlines have to be created. Budgets need to be projected. Brainstorms need to roll in for the best way to do THE THING without burning out the entire staff or making the same mistakes 1/4 of the staff knowns NOW BANKRUPT COMPANY made when they tried THE THING in the 1990s.

All of that that takes work from managers, legal departments, and marketing people. Work that comes in on top of their normal load needed to keep making books and put them out at the highest level of quality and profitability. If you try to do THE THING, and while working on it fail to keep the normal flow of products going to pay the bills, THE THING won’t do you much good even if it is a success.

Often it seems like planning for THE THING should doable in a couple of days, mayeb a week or two. But when GAME COMPANY’s staff is already generally already working 45-60 hour weeks to keep food on the table (on top of any freelance work or side gigs they have to make up for the generally low recompense within the industry), and any extra planning/meeting/organizing/budgeting/outlining can only be tackled when there’s a work lull, or people have extra energy, it can stretch out to months or literally years.

GAME COMPANY might love to do THE THING. As the very smart Mike Selinker pointed out in a response to this post, they may even be WORKING on THE THING, and just not want to announce it yet.

But even if they are fast, efficient, brilliant, and focused, they may lack the time, resources, or energy to do THE THING quickly.

#RealGameIndustry

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Industry Insider: The Pandemic Creativity Toll

So, I have written about the impact of the pandemic, and how to try to handle it, several times already. However, these days the main way I communicate with people is by text. So as I engage in the needful day-to-day tasks of being a freelancer, even without taking on new projects, I end up generating a lot of words on game-industry-related topics. It seems a shame to leave those in emails and direct messages, so I have taken a moment to arrange edited versions to form an update of where I see the Games Industry sitting now, nearly a year into the global pandemic.

I spoke about the State of the Industry about seven months ago, and while things have definitely changed since then, over and over in fact, I wouldn’t say they are better. And things like another major east coast blizzard, the biggest since the 2016 storm that did long-lasting damage to game sales, are going to have a magnified impact when things are already so destabilized. And while we do now have multiple vaccines, it turns out there’s a huge gap between the formulas existing, and people actually getting a shot in the arm. There are deep divisions within the industry about whether any major in-person events are going to happen, but no doubt that if they do they will be less-attended and more stressful than equivalents were in 2019.

Not only are game companies feeling the hurt in terms of sales and stress on creators (which I’ll touch on more in a bit), they have to guess when sales will pick back up. Making major game books takes time and money. A company can often bank a product or two and not send them to the printer yet… but they can’t do so for a full year. Books ready-to-be-printed aren’t making any money yet, and companies have to decide how big a backlog of resources they can possibly sit on. At some point you have to either put them out, and acknowledge that means their total sales will never match normal levels (much as sales of winter 2016 products were hurt over their whole lifespan), or stop making new product until thing have improved… which means not having work for people you are already having trouble paying salaries or freelancer contracts. But if you wait too long to begin making books again, when things do improve you’ll miss the first wave of new purchases by people getting back into in-person gaming and recreation, making it that much harder to get income asap to make good on debts and build new momentum.

There are obviously some steps mid-range game companies and creators can take now to help weather the hardship, and many companies are trying new things. Professional Patreons are more common than ever before, with some 3D print file and art Patreons bringing in thousands of dollars a month. Game industry Patreons focusing on rules and text seem to be less common and less lucrative, but the idea is young yet, and breakout successes may just not have developed yet. Certainly things like the Green Ronin Patreon Rundown (which, full disclosure, I wrote, is hosted by a company I work for, and features my own Patreon) show that there are numerous game professionals and companies putting out amazing content directly to fans.

However, even when venues of sales are open, there’s another major problem hitting the industry, and it has gotten much worse over the past many months–creator burnout. I don’t think there is a single game company which I have insider insight with that isn’t having a much, much higher level of late and even completely-dropped assignments. In some cases you can see how specific factors may have played a part–new game lines can be hard to launch, people getting sick have ample reason to miss deadlines, and tight budgets often means less leeway built into schedules for late assignments and developmental assistance to creators. However, in other cases experienced veterans are taking on things that should be right in their wheelhouse, with all the time and help they normally need, and they are just not performing as well.

It’s widespread enough, though different game lines, production models, and personnel, that I simply have to believe the pandemic and related political stress is broadly impacting creativity for large swaths of people. It’s been a major factor for me, resulting in my being months behind on high-profile projects I staked my reputation on, to my own significant embarrassment. I’ve spoken before about Being Creative During a Pandemic, and gave a view of what my own struggles in time of pandemic look like. And when I reread that last one, I see I was in lockdown for a month when I wrote it, and just think “Oh, my sweet summer child.”

A huge swath of game industry professionals are exhausted. Emotionally worn thin, creatively low and fuel, intellectually at a loss, and financially on edge. We are not unique in that, of course. My effort to shine a light on what I am seeing within every level of the game industry is meant not to claim it is rougher than for other professions, only to share the experiences as I have had them. And because the tabletop RPG industry in particular is so small and on such tight margins, there’s a real risk big sections of it could simply cease to exist. I always try to recommend being kind, but if you are interacting with gam creatives right now, I’d ask for any additional consideration you may have. Certainly if what you want is for ttRPGs to keep getting made, additional yelling at, insulting, accusing, or belittling writers and publishers isn’t likely to help under current circumstances.

Also, I totally understand you may not have any spare financial support to offer game creators, and I get that. I’ll note that sharing, liking, and commenting on things like sales, new product announcements, and links to blog posts on social media really is a huge help even without you spending a dime. Spreading the word is among the biggest things fans and friends can do for independent creatives and small companies.

If you do want to give creators, things such as Patreon and Ko-Fi are huge boons to writers and artists that have them. My own Patreon makes things such as this blog post possible, and even just a few dollars a month is enormously appreciated. And if you happen to have bigger blocks of money you want to use to stimulate the economy without getting charged every month, my Patreon now offers annual subscriptions.

But to put some of my own advice into practice, let me highlight someone else’s online presence. (And, if you’d like me to highlight your online home in a future post, drop me a line. I’ll do what I can.)

Joshua Hennington is an up-and-coming freelance writer of tabletop role-playing game content; he’s written for several accredited publishing companies, from Paizo Publishing to Rogue Genius Games, Everyman Gaming, Rite Publishing and more! Some of his most recognizable works include In the Company of Doppelgangers (PF1e), Starfarer’s Codex: Legacy Dragonrider (SF), and Tombstone Ancestries: Chupacabra (PF2e). He is always eager to write, and quickly becomes passionate on any topic – including yours!

His Ko-fi was created so you can commission custom-made RPG content from Joshua for your favorite characters as inspiration! All his content that is commissioned through that platform is also made publicly available, for anyone to use, and he strives to insure it as high-quality as a turnover would be to a major publisher.

Q & A Week, Pt 4

I found some ttRPG-industry-related Q&A items that have never made it onto my blog, and thought this week, when I am so distracted and overloaded, would be a great time to offer them up.

Q: What’s an rpg mechanic you saw and wish you had come up with?
A: The Hero Point reroll mechanism in Mutants and Masterminds. It lets you reroll a failed d20 check, but it also gives you a major protection against getting another bad roll — if your d20 reroll is a 1-10, you add 10 to the result.
This is now my go-to standard for reroll rules.

Q: What’s one thing missing, in your opinion, from White Wolf’s classic World of Darkness? For example, let’s say you’re hired to do ONE book for White Wolf’s original, classic World of Darkness, and you can do this book on literally any aspect of the (sprawling) mega-setting.
What book is it, and why?

A: “Kevin Matchstick: The Pendragon.”
Because a “Mage: The Hero Discovered/Defined/Denied” RPG would rock, and work SO well with WoD.

Q: Who is your favorite game writer? Who do you think is the most underrated one?
A: I know so MANY really good ones. I’d have to say either Crystal Frasier or Steve Kenson are my favorite.
And they are both massively under-rated for their true genius, MacArthur-Fellows-Program-worthy skill, talent, and vision.
But I gotta call out Eleanor Ferron as the MOST underrated. That woman is spectacular, and no one seems to know it outside the industry and a small group of super-fans.

Q: What genre of game have you not worked on that you would like to?
A: Modern Urban Fantasy

Q: What is the very first rpg you played, and which one got you into the business?
A: 1st edition AD&D.
Also, 1st edition AD&D.

Q: I see posts about game night quotes, but have no idea who utters these gems. Is is a local group in OK? An online group? Is there anyone in it we would know?
A: I do game night quotes from any game group I am in who give permission, and I intentionally don’t attribute them so no one gets mocked or called out for saying something wrong.
So over the years they have included quotes from lots of Paizo and Green Ronin folks, some Wotc alumni, and even sometimes random brilliant designers at places like Gen Con.
But right now (since June) they are all from my social bubble, made up of close friends I have been gaming with for 30-37 years.

Q: Why do you think people are so opposed/hateful towards not only 3pp companies but the people who work for them as well?
A: Lucky, I don’t think most people are hatefully toward 3pp and the people who work at them.
But yeah, there are some loud exceptions.
For those few who are truly hateful, I personally think they don’t want to accept that there are people who are BETTER than them at game creation, without the seal of approval of 1st publisher employment.

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I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. 

Q & A Week, Pt 3

I found some ttRPG-industry-related Q&A items that have never made it onto my blog, and thought this week, when I am so distracted and overloaded, would be a great time to offer them up.

Q: Do you think we, as a creative force, have hit a dead end? Can we still produce New and Original material at a time when everything seems to be derived from something recent or a Reboot or Remake? Do we need a Renaissance of the Human Spirit to bring a new Age of Inspiration? Can we still make New works?

A: I think we CAN, and WILL, and ARE.
I also think 90% of everything creative is crap, and always has been, and sometimes the crap is the most popular/successful.
But it’s still worth striving to make New Art.

Q: What would you guess are the 5 best selling ttrpgs right now? What game isn’t on that list that you think more people should know about?

A: My guesses (and they are JUST guesses) are, in order:
D&D 5e
Cyberpunk (Right now, though maybe not a year ago or a year from now)
Pathfinder 2e
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Starfinder

And I think the entire AGE game system from Green Ronin is something more people should know about, but especially The Expanse.
https://greenroninstore.com/collections/the-expanse-rpg

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One Last Thought on Material from Other IPs in Game Products

What was originally just a few Facebook and Twitter posts grew into the Monday post About Tabletop Games Based on Licensed Properties, which lead to Tuesday’s More About Tabletop Games Based on Licensed Properties, Wednesday’s About Writing Tabletop Games Based on Licensed Properties, and yesterday’s On Writing With Licensed Game Rules. I hadn’t intended for this to be a weeklong series but… here we are.

So, I have one more semi-related topic I think bears mentioning.

In all the previous articles, I was talking about the complications, considerations, and connected issues when working with someone else’s intellectually property (IP) that you access through a license. But there are also times when you may find yourself tempted to work with other people’s IP without having legal access to it. You might feel you are within fair rights use, or think it’s fine because it’s an “Easter Egg,” or that no one will care, or it’s okay because you’re not charging money for the end product.

I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.

DON’T play with other people’s IP without a license unless you have paid a lawyer to tell you it’s okay.

I recommend even avoiding Easter Eggs, and be sure when drawing inspiration that your creation is not a carbon copy of the thing that inspired you. And if you do write Easter Eggs or draw major inspiration from a source, tell your developer/editor/publisher, so they can decide how much they are comfortable with that you have done.

And that’s the end of my thoughts for the week.

Stay safe, take care, be kind.

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On Writing With Licensed Game Rules

Another day, another follow-up post growing out of Monday’s post About Tabletop Games Based on Licensed Properties. In fact, another response brought on by a follow-up from Egg Embry, who asked about working on games with licensed game systems, and how those compared to working on games using licensed game systems.

While this week I have been focused on tabletop games that are based on a licensed IP, such as a Star Wars rpg, that’s not the only kind of licensed game material a game professional may get assigned to work with. There are also licensed game systems, such as when you use a system released under the Open Game License (OGL). While some of the research and approval process can be very similar, there are some very different concerns that can come up when working with licensed game systems, rather than licensed IPs. This is often the case when doing work for what are referred to as “third-party publishers,” (or 3pp), who publish adventures, supplements, and expansions for games by other publishers.

Of course who is a 3pp isn’t necessarily a clear-cut question. There are a number of games that have their origins in the OGL version of the d20 System, including 13th Age, Mutants & Masterminds, both editions of Pathfinder, and Starfinder. To most fans, that doesn’t make Pelgrane Press, Green Ronin Publishing, and Paizo 3pp… at least not for those game lines, where they are the publishers of the core rulebooks. (Of course some fans DO think of them as 3pp–which mostly doesn’t impact working on such projects, but is something a freelancer should be aware of if it comes up in conversation).

However, a writer working on those game lines should be aware they are published under the OGL, and therefore have rules and restrictions that may not apply to other game projects. (And please note – I am not a lawyer. NONE of this article is legal advice.) This means that the writer should be aware of what license applies to the rules of the game, and what a publisher expects the writer to know. for example, when operating with the OGL, the end product needs to include the Section 15 entry (part of the OGL published in every OGL product) of any protect it draws material from. That means as a writer if you include material from another OGL product (which you shouldn’t do without talking to your editor/developer/producer), you need to tell your publisher what that product was so they can include the required information.

And that highlights on of the biggest issues that can crop up when dealing with licensed game systems — many of those licenses are open, and can be used by anyone who follows their restrictions. That means publishers, producers, developers, and freelancers may well decide to use such a license without properly understanding it. this is much less common when dealing with a license for an intellectual property, since those negotiations tend to involve an active discussion on the terms and helps insure a meeting of minds. But the lower barrier to entry for things such as the OCL or Creative Commons licenses, or the very-different Dungeon Master’s Guild and similar programs, means people may try to use them without truly understanding them.

Ideally, it would be the job of the publisher to ensure anyone they hire or contract to work on a licensed game line was aware of the terms and requirements of that license before assigning them work. Pragmatically, many companies (often even bigger ones) simply do not have the spare time (or in some cases the instructional expertise) to undertake that effort, and depend on professionals to know how to operate within such licenses. Practically, it means knowing how common licenses work can make it easier to get work with such publishers, and reduce the risk of stumbling over some legal landmine.

Of course many people will quite reasonably say that such legal landmines are risks exclusively for the publisher, not the hireling… which may or may not be true. Anyone working for a publisher operating under a licensed game system should read their contract (you all have contracts for all your freelance work, right?), and see what you are agreeing to in terms of your responsibility to get the legal niceties right. While I am not aware of a freelancer even getting hauled into court over such a contract (nor am I aware of any lawsuits that settle OGL enforceability or interpretation), I am personally risk-adverse when it comes to these things, and like to stick to both the letter and spirit of contracts and licenses I agree to by using, even as a freelancer.

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About Writing Tabletop Games Based on Licensed Properties

Apparently this is becoming Licensed games week on my blog, as I continue to respond to questions about Monday’s post About Tabletop Games Based on Licensed Properties. A number of people had questions and comments about the stresses, additional work, drawbacks, and benefits of working on licensed game projects. I could go on about those topics for hours, but instead here’s a few quick thought snapshots.

First, be aware that you almost certainly won’t own any of the work you do. Work-for-hire is the norm in tabletop game writing in any case, but when you are working on a licensed IP, the IP holder is sure to insist on owning anything related to the IP you come up with. Indeed, you likely won’t even be credited for the ideas you create when they are reused. I know I created the ILH-KK Citadel Cruiser, Hutt battle armor and the Kilian Lords for Star Wars, but when those have re-entered other Star Wars projects, my name is generally no-where to be found.

Publishers can (and should) contract to keep the rights to the game systems and mechanics they create for a licensed game, but any IP-related ideas outside pure mechanics is going to go to the IP-holder. And, honestly, that’s reasonable.

The research requirements can be heavy, but whether they are heavier than typical game writing depends very much on what kind of game writing you’ve gotten used to. If you have mostly been making up things whole-cloth for cartoon universes where revolutionary mice use psychic weapons to fight against an authoritarian spider aristocracy, you may not have had to do a significant amount of continuity research in your game writing. On the other hand, if you’ve been working on games that try to match historical periods, or that have significant game continuity (some game worlds go back more than 40 years at this point), the skills to learn about the setting, match existing continuity, and project ideas appropriate in tone and theme translate well to converting IP-concepts to game design.

The approval process can throw a monkey wench into the process, though that’s more likely to impact a publisher’s process than a writers. It’s essentially another level of editing and development. If you are exposed to it at all (many developers handle approvals themselves, rather than have writers do it), the largest issue is to not take it personally, and to try to learn what the IP owner wants by examining what gets approved, what doesn’t, and what gets approved with changes (and how they are changed). The IP holder is unlikely to have either time or interest in training licensees in how to write for the IP, so learning to train yourself on feedback is a useful skill. (It’s also one reason people who have successfully worked on multiple licensed projects are often sought out for new licenses–the publishers and project leads have reason to believe you have mastered the process of licensed project writing, rather than just having a good grasp of a single IP).

Honestly I have found it’s a skill much like any other writing specialty. It’s stressful the first few times you do it, but once you have an idea of how to tackle it it’s much like following any other structured outline.

And while your name may not be directly attached to ideas you create for the setting of the IP, the increased visibility of a licensed game certainly can get you more attention based on your involvement. My work on the three d20 Star Wars RPG games remains one of the places people recognize my name from, and both fans and publishers have mentioned following my career after seeing my name on multiple Star Wars game books. And on a resume, having been involved with recognizable properties can impress people who may never have heard of The Genius Guide to the Dragonrider, but definitely know what Star Wars and Star Trek are.

And, often the money is better than usual for the writers and editors. Not always, by a long shot, but often enough to make it worth considering branching into licensed writing if you haven’t already.

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$200 of Game Publisher Advice in 60 Seconds

Game publishers sometimes pay me to consult on ideas, issues, problems, or plans they have. Unsurprisingly, often the people most interested in advice are ones who aren’t sure what their questions really are. Often the trick is to get to the core issue someone really needs help with, and once they know what they don’t know, the client can make great strides on their own.

On more than one occasion, it’s taken $200 worth of time to sift out that what the client really needs is to ask themselves these questions. The people who have paid me to get here all seem happy, and have come back to pay me for more consultation, so despite how simple this seems once it is laid out they appear to have gotten value for the time and money spent getting to this point.

But, while I don’t want to talk myself out of future gigs, I DO want anyone struggling with game publishing, who ALSO falls into the category of folks who can benefit from asking themselves these questions, to have a chance to do so much more easily and cheaply than paying me to consult and not having any idea what their core problem is.

So, here’s among my most common end result on consulting:

For your company, and each game line, and each game product, ask yourself:

What is your target market?
What market do you think you are currently reaching?
Where do you think is a better place to reach the market you want?
Are there other markets that might be interest you haven’t thought about?
What else could you afford to do, in terms of time and resources, to reach those markets?
When you do get the attention of customers in a market, can they quickly and easily find out why they might be interested in your product? Can they then quickly and easily be at a point where they can give you money for the product?

Like this kind of quick advice? Want to see me answer more kinds of questions? Back my Patreon, for as little as $3 a month, and you can suggest topics for me to tackle!

Bell Curves, Criticals, and the Odds of Doubles on 3 Expanse Dice.

The various AGE (Adventure Game Engine) games from Green Ronin all have the same core mechanic — to see if you succeed at something, roll 3d6, one of which is a “Stunt Die.” Add the 3d6 and any bonus you have, and compare to a target number.

If any two of your dice are doubles (they have the same value), you earn “stunt points,” equal to the value of the stunt die.

In this article, I want to talk a bit about bell curves, critical success systems in RPGs, and  what the odds are you’ll get doubles when your roll 3d6. And I’m using pictures of the Expanse RPG Dice Sets, since they are cool-looking and currently being crowdfunded on Kickstarter.

Expanse Dice

So, lemme start with three important notes.

I am NOT the developer for the Expanse RPG. That role is very ably handled by the extremely talented Ian Lemke.

Second, I AM biased in favor of Green Ronin, since they employ me to be the Fantasy AGE developer and I thus benefit (at least indirectly) if their projects make lots of money. So, yes, this post is happening at this time in part so I can highlight this Kickstarter. (But it’s also good game design analysis. 😀 )

Third, this is my own analysis, not an official AGE post which has been developed and edited. So any mistakes in the math or logic are entirely mine.

Okay, with those disclosures all disclosed, let’s look at bell curves. (We’ll get back to doubles, I promise.)

Many games use a single die to determine success, such as a d20. With this kind of resolution mechanic, you get a flat probability–that is, the chance you’ll roll a 4 on a d20 is the same as the change you’ll roll a 19, 5%. That means if you need to roll a 17 or better to succeed, you have a 20% chance of succeeding (5% for each number that could turn up that is a 17 or higher). This means that the best possible result (and the worst possible result) have the same probability of happening as an average result.

That also means that, barring some kind of automatic success system (such as saying rolling a 20 on the d20 always succeeds), any bonuses have a flat amount they add to your chance of success. When rolling 1d20, a +1 bonus is an additional 5% chance to succeed whether you need to roll a 3 or higher, or a 13 or higher.

And if you DO have an automatic-success or automatic-failure mechanic, the odds of that are also easy to calculate. if every time you roll a d20 on the d20 you succeed, or have a critical success, there’s a 5% chance of that happening with each roll.

Some people love the simplicity of a flat probability. Other people hate that “average” results are no more likely than high and low extremes.

So, enter the bell curve.

Rather than a single die with flat probability, AGE uses 3d6. While the average result on 3d6 is the same as on 1d20 (10.5), on 3d6 you are much more likely to roll something close to that average than either the high or low extreme. Despite having a small total range of numbers (3-18, rater than 1-20), the chances of getting that highest result on 3d6 is only 1 in 216, or a little less than one-half of one percent. On the other hand since there are 27 possible combination that can add to 11, the odds of rolling an 11 are 12.5%. The odds of rolling a 10 are also 12.5%. So, 1 out of every 4 rolls with 3d6 is a 10 or 11.

(This means that if you get a +1 bonus to your roll in AGE, rather than giving you a flat +5% to your chance of success, the value of the bonus depends on what your target number is. If you need a 17 or higher to succeed, your bonus only matters if you roll a 16. Your odds of rolling a 16 are 2.778%, and your odds of rolling a 17 or 18 are 1.852%, So the +1 bonus has increased your total chance of success from 1.852% to 4.63%. )

One of the drawbacks of a bell curve is that since it skews strongly towards the average, using it for task resolution can get boring. Even gamers who dislike a natural 20 being just as likely as rolling a 13 on a d20 tend to enjoy the chance of something *interesting* happening when you roll a 20.

The AGE system overcomes this with the stunt rules.

While success or failure of a task in AGE is determined by rolling 3d6, each roll also has a chance of producing stunt points. You can then use those stunts to perform special maneuvers  and neat tricks. This adds some variety to task resolution, while still maintaining a bell curve so average-difficult tasks can be accomplished dependably.

In AGE, if any 2 dice in your 3d6 roll are doubles, you get a number of stunt points equal to the value shown on your stunt die. Which naturally leads to the question– what are the odds that when I roll 3d6, at least two of them are doubles?

So, to calculate this we need to know the chance the first two dice will match (which is 6 in 36). We then add the chance that if the first two don’t match (5/6 of the time), with the first and third or second and third match (2 in 6), or 10 in 36. That means we get at least one set of doubles in 16 our of 36 possible combination, or  about 44% of the time (44.4 repeating, to be precise).

Of course if we DO get doubles, it’s the stunt die that determines how many stunt points we get. That’s a flat 1-in-6 chance of each possibility, so while we get SOME stunt points 44% of the time it’s about a 7.5% chance for each possible value of stunt points 1-6.

That’s important, because in AGE more powerful stunts cost more stunt points. This lets us have*something* interesting happen in nearly half of all important 3d6 rolls, but it isn’t always the maximum 6-point stunt result. We get the benefit of the bell curve leaning towards average results, while adding a good chance of some stunt points being generated, but only a relatively small chance of getting the best possible 6-stunt-point result.

To be clear, you DON’T have to understand these probabilities to play the game. It’s a useful analysis for game designers and GMs who want to know how likely stint points are, but the system is clean and simple enough you can just roll your dice, check for doubles, and enjoy the dice giving you fun things to do.

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