After ad-hoc running Misguided Ambitions with my regular DnD 4E group - because one guy was MIA - I had a discussion with one of the players about Earthdawn's dice mechanics. The player argued that the mechanics in ED were too unpredictable because of exploding dice and that the characters were far too weak because of the (supposedly) high chance of just rolling low.
My counterargument was that this was equally true for the characters as well as the monsters, that the randomness was part of the game world (after all, the characters are Adepts and not Superman - although some get pretty close ;-) ) and that characters were pretty capable if you looked at the averages and didn't only focus at rolling 1s or 2s with your single d8 with the pre-made characters from the adventure.
Well, it ended with the player insisting on his point of view and stating that he'll never again play Earthdawn because he couldn't pre-calculate a character's chances and abilities (unlike 4E) and that the game system was too unfairly weighted against the characters.
Now I'm wondering if there were any actual statistics and analyses of the Earthdawn dice mechanics. I tried Google but didn't really find anything useful.
The mechanics are pretty straight forward. Task resolution is handled by rolling a number of dice against a set target number (the difficult of the skill check, the monster's physical defense, etc.). The number and sides of the dice rolled depend on your "step". The step rolled for any task is influenced by the character's attributes, his skills/talents, magic items, buffing/debuffing spells, and so on.
Step (Dice) 1 = d6-3 2 = d6-2 3 = d6-1 4 = d6 5 = d8 6 = d10 7 = d12 8 = 2d6 9 = d8 + d6 10 = 2d8 11 = d10 + d8 12 = 2d10
Step 13 to 19 is the same as step 6 to 12 but +d12, step 20 to 26 adds +2d12, and so on. For example, step 36 is 4d12 + 2d6.
Dice are rolled normally, but each time a die comes up with the max number it "explodes". When a die explodes it is rerolled and the results are added together. For example, if you roll step 22 (2d12 + 2d6) and roll 4, 12 on the d12s and 1, 6 on the d6s you reroll the 12 and the 6 and add the results. In the example, if the rerolled d12 came up with a 3 and the rerolled d6 showed a 5 the total result for the check would be 4 + 12 + 3 + 1 + 6 + 5 = 31. Dice can explode repeatedly, and it can happen to have a d6 or d8 explode 3 or 4 times in a row.
Damage is also handled by rolling an appropriate number of step dice, with an optional rule to cap the maximum possible result at Damage Step * 3. For example, if an attack would deal damage step 11 (d10 + d8) the attack could inflict at most 33 points of damage, no matter how many dice exploded.
Average step values for starting characters:
- Attributes: 4 - 7
- Skills/Talents: 5 - 9 (same as the associated Attribute plus 1 or two steps from ranks in the Skill or Talent)
- Damage: 6 - 11 (usually the Strength step plus the bonus from the used weapon)
Average health for starting characters ranges from around 30 to as high as 40 for really tough characters. Basic armor the characters can afford provides from 4 to up to 8 points of armor, which reduces dealt damage on a 1-to-1 basis. For example, a character with 6 points of armor would only take 3 damage from an attack that dealt 9 points of damage.
The questions I intended to ask (but messed up when writing the original post) were:
- Are the ED dice mechanics as unfair and weighted as my player claims them to be?
- What are the mathematical pitfalls of the game's system and how do they affect combat/skill tests?
- If the mechanics were unbalanced, what are suitable changes to make the system fair?
Wow, lots of very good answers. I wished I could upvote more than once. The link provided by Lokathor turned out to be the most useful answer for me. Anyway, kudos to all other answers that explained the math behind it. :)