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Narrative Dice Pools for Mothership
A Method for Cooperative Resolution
This issue of the newsletter is about fleshing out a system for narrative dice pools in Mothership. This is part of my larger announced project Advanced Rules, and this newsletter entry is a rough draft that will be edited by Roz Leahy for inclusion in the book. A major goal of Advanced Rules is to develop a coherent way for playing Mothership either solo or Wardenless. I approach this in a method that is about cooperative gameplay, not cooperative narrative or world building, which is typical of many gm-less ttrpgs.
Conflict resolution in ttrpgs is generally handled a player at a time even though they are playing as a party who are ostensibly operating together as a group or team. There are many words in many books describing different and unique initiative systems to decide who goes first. There are some systems like classic Traveller that do simultaneous turns, but you still end up revealing what happens to players one at a time. At the heart of the narrative dice pool system that I am proposing is simultaneous resolution.
In order for this to work, a few things need to be in place. First, you need to have enough color coded dice (if playing in person, which is still my preferred method even though I play many more games via VTT than I do in person). It can take a lot of dice to make this work. The Mothership dice sets that I sell as part of crowdfunding campaigns are based on this set up.
Each player is assigned a color of dice (Yellow, Green, Pink, Purple, or Blue).
Each player gets an opaque red d20 for Panic, an opaque d100 set in their assigned color, 4d10 translucent or frosted dice of their assigned color, and two bright orange d5s (or another easily identifiable color).
The table/Warden gets a red d20 for rolling for exploration (Derelictcrawl procedures, etc.). I’ll talk more about my uses of the overloaded d20 for running games in a future newsletter. For creatures, there are also a red and a black d100 set, both opaque, and red and black 4d10, both translucent/frosted. Finally, there is another pair of d5s.
Finally, there is an ivory d100 set, and a set of 4d10 that are clear.
Optionally, a dice tower helps tie everything together for cooperative resolution.
Having color-coded dice is essential because it allows you to roll for advantage/disadvantage simultaneously, and it allows you to roll for multiple players at the same time because you can differentiate the dice. This is why there are two colors for creatures and a spare set of ivory and clear dice. d5 are unique, so everyone just gets a pair of them, so they can roll a d5 with advantage/disadvantage on their own.
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If the party is outside of a combat situation and are individually encountering things, you can handle these with standard player-facing rolls. However, I prefer a clear delineation when you are entering a situation dominated by an encounter or creature. This is a system for if you enjoy the “combat mini-game,” so it isn’t designed for a purely fiction first, fail forward design that is promoted more in Mothership 1e through its house rules around player-facing rolls and simple initiative (players go, then encounters go). Thankfully, Mothership 1e (and 0e by default) have a mechanism for a more defined initiative system.
All players make a Save (this is usually Speed, but depending on the situation, this could be a Fear or Sanity Save instead).
Players who pass their Speed Save go before the encounter, players who fail go after the encounter. For this cooperative resolution system, you need to re-roll initiative for every combat round. This provides more unpredictability and problem-solving because you never know who will go before or after the encounter.
This more defined initiative system gives you two sets of cooperative groups that roll in this system, which leads to more improvised problem-solving because of the uncertain turn order. You could also use the stock Mothership initiative system, but this is my newsletter and Advanced Rules book, so I am going to promote rolling for initiative. Rolling for initiative also gives more opportunities for failing and gaining Stress or Panicking, and for me that is what makes Mothership special.
Building A Dice Pool
The way that you roll and interpret dice during these combat turns is inspired heavily by the Genesys system used in the FFG Star Wars games. However, it does not use custom dice, and it is much more streamlined and group-centered.
For this narrative dice pool system, everyone in a particular action group develops a plan for the next turn together. They decide where everyone is going to move and what they are going to attempt before there is a decision to roll any dice. As a group, you decide if each individual action even calls for a roll. You then gather together all of the color-coded dice for everyone’s rolls and drop them into the dice tower. This includes to-hit and damage rolls as well, you are not rolling them separately, you just ignore the damage dice if there is not a hit.
If anyone takes actions that give themselves advantage/disadantage you can add the white/clear dice or the black/red creature dice if the white/clear dice are already being used in the pool. If another player is aiding another player to give them advantage instead of taking their own action, you just add their color-coded dice instead of the spare dice.
Once you have rolled the pool for an entire action group of players, you look at all of the dice together. You decide what it means to have a specific combination of critical successes, successes, failures, and critical failures. I also recommend using advantage to represent skills (Simplified Skills House Rule) when using this system instead of using the bonuses that are in stock Mothership because it speeds up this process compared to adding bonuses to stats/saves. This process gets repeated again for the second action group of players after encounters take their turn.
What does it mean when one player fails while another players action was dependent on them? What does a critical mean in this situation? This is cooperative narrative that indirectly builds a story and a world, but it tries to avoid the “and then” little kid storytelling approach that comes from more story-centered games.
You build a dice pool for encounters in the same way as you do for the players. Since this is designed for solo and Wardenless play, you will need to determine a simple dice AI for the types of actions that creatures will take. Developing these dice AI systems will be the focus of a future newsletter entry. Since the AI is driving the rolls, it’s just up to the group to “read the tea leaves” and determine what the results mean for the party. Once again, this is where the cooperative narrative building comes into play.
Concluding Thoughts - Fuck Around and Find Out
By using color-coded dice, shifting initiative, group rolls, and narrative interpretation, you are able to play in a way that emphasizes play first with story figured out retroactively: fuck around and find out. For me, this is at the core of what it means to be OSR and is the driving philosophy of Mothership as an OSR adjacent game. You are not cooperatively developing story directly using the dice like in a PbtA game, you are cooperatively deciding the moment-to-moment narrative of encounters. The story comes later during downtime and in later portions of the campaign: “remember when…”
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