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A few years back, I read an RPG which used the core dice mechanic of rolling a number of d10s, then arranging the dice into sets, such that the dice in each set added up to no more than a specified limit. Both the number of sets and the number of dice in each set were involved in determining the final result, but I'm pretty sure the actual numbers on the dice and their sum were not relevant aside from limiting which dice could be grouped together.

For example, if you rolled 12 dice with a limit of 8 and got 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 6, 7, 9, 9, you could group them as:

  • Five sets of two (1/7, 2/6, 3/4, 3/4, 3/4)
  • Two sets of three (1/3/4, 2/3/3)
  • One set of three and three sets of two (2/3/3, 1/7, 3/4, 4/4)
  • Any other combinations I might have missed, so long as the sum of the dice in each group is 8 or less

The 9s are worthless in any case, since they're higher than 8 on their own.

The game was presented with a definite "dark fantasy" or "viking era" flavor, although I don't recall whether it had a detailed setting or only implicit setting. Many/most of the examples of using the dice mechanic were framed in a context of combat, emphasizing that several groups of only two dice each would represent a flurry of multiple quick, weak strikes, while a single group of, say, six dice is a single, powerful blow.

I know that "roll a bunch of d10s and group them" might sound like ORE, but this system was definitely not ORE. In ORE, the grouping is dictated by which dice roll the same number as each other, while in the system I'm trying to remember, the player chooses how they wish to group the dice and, in the case of opposed rolls, the rolling and grouping are done in secret, creating a strategic element of trying to guess how the other person will choose to group their dice (lots of small groups, one big group, or a mix of small and large) so that you can group yours in the most effective way to counter them.


A couple other details which I'm fairly certain are from the same system (but I read a lot of systems, so there's a chance they could be from another game I read at about the same time):

  • There are two forms of magic, one more "natural" and the other more "destructive". I don't recall whether both styles of magic used the same rules or if the mechanics were slightly different, but being more attuned to magic also made you more vulnerable to it.

  • The combat rules were a two-stage affair, where you first had to wear down your opponent's defenses before you could attempt a wounding strike. This differed from a normal hit point-based combat system in that the strength of your defenses was rolled randomly at the start of each fight, and then rolled again after each time you take an actual hit - any reduction in the "defenses" part is completely transient and never needs to be "healed" beyond taking a moment to regain your footing or re-establish your guard.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan - I'm 99% certain it's not The Riddle of Steel. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad May 1 at 23:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gomad Yeah, but it doesn't hurt to check. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 1 at 23:43
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I have managed to track it down! The game is Early Dark, published by Anthropos Games.

After determining your action’s Domain [the number of dice to roll] and Footing [two base stats which are added to determine the Limit], roll the dice and form Tacks. A Tack is a group of dice that add up to a sum less than or equal to the Limit. Because of this, we say that every Tack must “fit the Limit.” In Early Dark, a Tack is the basic unit of meaning and represents one effect that the character can cause on his or her Turn. A single Tack/effect may be tied to any number of movements or actions in the narrative, whatever fits the mood and pace of the scene.

Oftentimes—whether Check, Save or Bout— only a single Tack is needed, and the roll will be measured by the number of dice in its largest possible Tack. This is called the Force of a roll. Most rolls that do not involve combat or a dangerous trap will be settled by determining Forces, one Tack alone counting toward the outcome.

In complex Saves and when your hero rolls Bouts in combat, your turn will require you to build multiple Tacks from a single roll. In these cases, there are often many arrangements of Tacks possible, and players must decide precisely how they will arrange the result of a roll depending on the circumstance.

I did get one detail wrong in my description of this process: A Tack can consist of a single die. There is not a minimum of two dice per Tack.

The magic and combat rules that I mentioned were also from Early Dark.

To answer other questions that came up in comments:

  • There is a detailed setting, spanning 140 pages.

  • Character generation is done by choosing one of the setting's five cultures, along with your societal position in that culture, gender, age category, and one other culture-dependent characteristic. These choices set your starting scores (on a 1-5 scale) in four of the eight basic attributes, then you get 12 points to divide up between the other four attributes.

  • Magic has a defined set of 36 "Arcane Arts", which could be considered to be spells (they're things like Arcane Bolt, Heal, or Levitate), but their exact effects are shaped by the Force of the Tacks used to activate them, so there's also an aspect of on-the-fly player customization. There are also Mundane Arts (such as Mounted Combat, Alchemy, or Scouting) which function similarly.

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