Shadowrun Play > Rules and such

Penalties to Dice Pools (And the reasoning behind it!)


A discussion I was having with a player in my group got me to thinking about dice pool penalties and their effects on players abilities. Other than the fact it is a standard RPG trope to apply a die penalty or increase a target number when things start working against a character's ability to perform an action, has there ever been a thought to use percentage decreases instead? Maybe I'm too good at math and don't think this would be an awful way to impose penalties but I think it would make penalties less devastating to low pool rolls and more much more punitive to high pool rolls. As it stands now, if I went RAW,  a person without a medkit and a pool of 4 dice trying to do first aid on a mage in bad conditions has no chance to do it at all without a long shot test, and that is IF they have edge to blow. While on the other end of the extreme a person with a dice pool of 15 trying to shoot a gun while running at medium range target with 9 boxes of damage (essentially holding their guts in) will still have 7 dice to make the shot. Those are pretty good odds of hitting their target with one or two hits ... consistently. I've never said that RPG rules should simulate RL, they should just be fun, but having dice pool penalties based upon percentage reductions in the pools would make lower pools more playable, and keep higher pools from creating scenarios where the superhuman feats become pedestrian and expected. That being said, I think the rules now are fun and easy to use, but as you add more complexity with new rules and gear, you start to get wonkier situations like above. Just a thought to spark discussion / debate or see if devs ever considered such an option.

Percentage rolls would help rookie shadowrunners, but those folks with the incredibly high dice pools will be penalized for improving their skills.  This will create a situation where the rookies with small initial dice pools may have the same number of dice to roll as the veterans of their craft.  This creates frustration for the player, as in "Why did I bother raising my attributes/skills when I can have the same dice pool as the new guy?"

Linear penalties, as they are used now, accentuate and call attention to the differences between runners.  The guy who can barely manage any first aid fixing his teammate through sheer luck knows that someone more qualified needs to take charge of the situation.  If he is the only one around that is capable of delivering the first aid, then this creates tension for the character (and player).  Perhaps his future choices will be to take some first aid skill and carry a small medkit on him at all times, just in case.  For the hyper-competent combat vet, it affirms her role within the group as the muscle.  They can take the hits and still be effective in combat so that her compatriots can do whatever it is they need to do in the situation.  That is her role within the group and she's good at it.

While advancement isn't the true goal of RPG's, it is an important aspect of it that should not be ignored.  Percentile reductions in dice pools negate the benefits of advancement, and reduce the differences between characters by constraining all dice pools to a certain range.  This reduces the effects of specialization and the strength of an individual characters "role" within the runner team.

I have to agree with The_Gun_Nut.  There's no reason that an untrained person facing a very difficult situation should stand more than a tiny chance of success, or that a very well trained person facing a similar situation shouldn't fare much better.

In the two situations you described:

1. A dice pool of four means that a person is either untrained, or barely trained; there's really no reason that they would be able to save a person in the condition you described without a huge amount of luck.

2. A dice pool of 15 on the other hand, means that the person is a very skilled pro, and even in great pain and moving, they should be able to hit a non-moving, human sized target.

There are plenty of ways to handle those situations if you want them to go a different way other than making base dice pools mean less.  Players create superhuman characters in order to do superhuman things, not feel like they're being penalized for improving. 


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