New Dice System – Bearing

Aric and I got to talking about how it would be interesting if morale was built directly into a combat system for a roleplaying game. Not just as a die-roll that tests whether you run away or not, but something that is intrinsic and dramatic.

We got to talking about “Bearing”, our word for essentially someone’s presense on the battlefield, modeled after (in my mind at least) imagines from Tolkien’s stories of heroes sending foes running in terror because of their forceful presence, or of the overwhelming effect of the Nazghul, making enemies cower and quail and seemingly sapping their strength away.

The basic germ of the idea is for Bearing to be a die-pool that you keep track of during a combat or a social encounter. It should be a specific color of dice, perhaps, which you place out on the table for the other players to see. You line them up, and they represent the impact your character or an NPC has when you meet them and face off against them. We liked the image of taking out an NPC character sheet and lining up a bunch of red dice on the table while the characters think to themselves “Oh crap, what’s this?” It might be a cool way to make that cold feeling in the pit of the gut more concrete, something players can experience a bit of as they contemplate those dice added to rolls against them.

When you do things like slay a foe easily, you gain Bearing. When you shout unanswered challenges or roar ancient, terrifying battle cries (“Elendil!” “Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!), you gain Bearing. When you are struck in battle, you begin to lose Bearing, but if you are not overcome, you might gain it back.

It could be a cool mechanic for gaining and losing initiative in a mass combat as well, as the “tide of battle” turns, and it seems especially Tolkienian somehow. Anyway, we like it and its going to come up somewhere.

It doesn’t really fit Horror!, since that’s intended to be basically diceless, and I’m still going back and forth for what the dice-mechanic will be for Epic exactly. We were thinking this mechanic might first come up in Real20, which involves rolling lots of dice as a main ingredient already, and is all about overwhelming your foes with otherworldly prowess…

2 thoughts on “New Dice System – Bearing

  1. yeah, I'm loving this concept, because if we work it right it should force players to think, not only of what the most strategic action in combat (or a social encounter is), but what might seem the most imposing, impressive, daring etc… It brings personality into play in combat in such a way that people won't be tempted to play 2-dimensional hack-machines, because it is less effective than playing a character with gravitas.

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  2. and really, as i think about it, it can work with any dice scale, as long as the dice have their own color or something to set the apart, lined up at the top of the character sheet or whatever. it's cooler if you're in a system where ten extra dice doesn't break it, or if you have this pool that you can spend during the course of the scene but not all at once maybe, but if in the system (say, burning wheel) three extra dice is a lot, then you can set out three…etc.

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