I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Monday, November 09, 2015

One table to rule them all - using 2d6 [or 3d6] for everything in D&D

Last week, I proposed a new method for D&D skills (you probably should read the original post to understand this one). Although I admitted a few weaknesses of such method in the end of the post, the most common critic I received was this: "looks fine, but you would have to check a table for every roll".

I hear you. To be honest, I dislike most tables too, specially tables with nothing but numbers, and checking a table for every roll isn't something that sounds like fun (I had my share of Rolemaster adventures back in the day).

Now, the system was created mostly for people that are so used to the Basic modifiers that they wouldn't need to check a table at all. And, to be fair, just by comparing you mod to the DC, you can tell success from failure most of the time. If the DC is higher than you bonus, you must roll at least 13 to succeed, and if its lower you can only fail if you roll 8 or less.

If I were to create a new system from scratch instead of using the Rules Cyclopedia, I have to admit I would go for something simpler, but that's not the point here - I specifically want to use the bits of the RC I enjoy, maybe by streamlining them a bit.

So, my the solution to "I have to check a table" is this: you should only have ONE table, so it will become so familiar that you'll never have to check.

Again, I dislike the idea of "unified" mechanics for combat and skills (I think it is a fallacy; this deserves a whole post of its own, and I'll write it soon - for now, you can read some of my ideas here); on the other hand, I think LOTS of tables could be unified to make them easier to deal with. But, for D&D, the unification should be around 2d6, NOT the d20 as "modern" D&D wants to do (read on). You see, there are lots of rules in the RC that orbit around 2d6: morale, turn undead, monster reaction, weather, hiring companions, etc, and I'm certainly not the first one to suggest that some unification is in order.

So, lets take the monster reaction table. I prefer Moldvay's table than the one in the RC. although they are similar. It goes more or less like this:

Roll Result

2 Immediate attack

3-5 Hostile

6-8 Uncertain, confused

9-11 No attack, monster leaves

12 Enthusiastic friendship

It is quite easy to extrapolate a general resolution table from this. When rolling 2d6, 6-8 happens quite frequently, almost 50% of the time, so we can take this as the "average" or "expected" result, with 2 and 12 being very bad or very good results instead. For example:

Score Modifier Description

2 -2 Terrible, disaster

3-5 -1 Poor, worse than expected

6-8 0 Average, as expected

9-11 +1 Good, better than expected

12 +2 Great, unexpected perks

With this in mind, you can use the exact same table for many different situations, The RC already does this, to a point; "unifying" this chart it is just the logical next step.

For example, the retainer reaction table is very similar to this (yes, I replaced "roll again" for "tries to bargain"):

Roll Result

2 Refuses, insulted (-1 to hire others)

3-5 Refuses

6-8 Tries to bargain

9-11 Accepts

12 Accepts, impressed (+1 to morale)

You don't need a new table to turn undead; you can use the exact same table. Start with the "average" or "expected" result: the undead are turned. From reading the RC, you can find out what a good or bad result looks like (the undead might be destroyed or immune to turning). The result might look like this (roll 2d6 + cleric level - monster HD):

Roll Result

2 This undead can never be turned by you (disaster)

3-5 This undead cannot be turned right now (poor)

6-8 Turn 2d6 HD of undead, minimum 1 (average)

9-11 Destroy 2d6 HD of undead (good)

12 Destroy 3d6 HD of undead (great)

As you can notice, you can easily make the water movement modification using a similar method:

Roll Result

2 No wind

3-5 Breeze (halve speed)

6-8 Normal wind

9-11 High winds (double movement)

12 Gale*

(* I used "Gale" to be faithful to the RC, but since i is a negative result, it should happen on a natural 2; since this table isn't testing a characters skill but only the wind, you can use it either way).

And, again, you shouldn't need a different table for gifting Immortals like the on on RC, for example: just consider the "expected" result (Immortal accepts gift) and go from there.

The advantage of using the same table for everything is familiarity; you might check the table, but the idea is that you get so used to it that you don't need to.

And universal tables are fun!
So why I prefer using 2d6 to a d20 or d6?

First of all, of course, because many tables in the RC are already like that. But another thing to keep in mind is that I use the 6-8 range for the "expected" results. These should happen more often than the other "unexpected" results, which is easier to do with 2d6 than with a d20 - a natural 20 happens 5% of the time, while "snake eyes" in 2d6 happen 2,7% of the time.

And why 3d6?

The thing is, you don't need 3d6. In fact, 2d6 tables would be easier to manage, easier to create (they are already in the RC after all), and 5 possible results might make more sense than seven. The cool thing about using 3d6 is that I can add extremely unexpected results, things that would happen less than 1% of the time for ordinary characters. The truly remarkable, sometimes absurd, stuff. The other advantage, of course, is using the same table for ability modifiers and for everything else. Here it goes:

Score Modifier Description

3 -3 Abysmal, disastrous, everything is lost, beyond repair

4-5 -2 Terrible, no chance, try a different approach

6-8 -1 Poor, little worse than expected

9-12 0 Average, Neutral, as expected

13-15 +1 Fair, better than usual

16-17 +2 Good, got more than expected

18 +3 Great, impressive success, unexpected rewards

And here are some uses for it (very brainstorm-y stuff, untested):

Monster reaction

Roll Result

3 Attacks immediately, fights to the death

4-5 Monster attacks

6-8 Monster is aggressive

9-12 Monster is cautious or suspicious

13-15 Monster is neutral, willing to talk

16-17 Monster is friendly

18 Monster is surprisingly helpful

Turn undead

Roll Result

3 Forsaken by your deity!

4-5 Disaster, undead can never be turned by you

6-8 Failure, undead cannot be turned right now

9-12 Turn 2d6 HD of undead (minimum 1)

13-15 Destroy 2d6 HD of undead

16-17 Destroy 3d6 HD of undead

18 Destroy 4d6 HD of undead

Retainer reaction

Roll Result

3 Someone you hired will betray your trust

4-5 Refuses, insulted (-1 to hire another)

6-8 Refuses

9-12 Demands better offer

13-15 Accepts

16-17 Accepts, impressed (+1 to morale)

18 You hired someone remarkable; you'll see.

Icy mountains weather

Roll Result

3 Avalanche!

4-5 Snowstorm

6-8 Heavy snow

9-12 Cold as usual

13-15 Nice day, little snow

16-17 Snow is melting, sun is out

18 Looks almost like spring

Spell casting (3d6 + MU level/2 - spell level; use with this if you want)

Roll Result

3 Fumble, Corruption, Madness, etc

4-5 Fumble, cannot cast this spell again today

6-8 No effect

9-12 Spell works as expected

13-15 Spell doubles distance, duration or # of targets

16-17 Spell quadruples distance, duration or # of targets

18 Earth-shattering effects

Next encounter

Roll Result

3 Roll initiative!

4-5 Next encounter happens in 1 day

6-8 Next encounter happens in 2 days

9-12 Next encounter happens in 3 days

13-15 Next encounter happens in 5 days

16-17 Next encounter happens in 7 days

18 No encounter this week, roll again in the next


Roll Result

3 Unconditional Surrender

4-5 Rout

6-8 Fall back

9-12 Hold / Parlay

13-15 Press

16-17 Fight on!

18 To the death!


Roll Result

3 Fumble

4-5 Prone

6-8 No effect

9-12 Grab

13-15 Take down

16-17 Pin

18 Submission

Ok, I got a bit carried away. As you have noticed, this is quite fun to play with, at least for me. Let's see what you can come up with!

Addendum: dice pools and some math stuff.

The system I proposed last week came, in part, from a dissatisfaction about how the math works when you add a modifier to a d20 roll. In short, the modifier is not very relevant. If you use 2d6+modifier, modifiers are a bit more relevant, but still not enough for me. Obviously, if you use 3d6+modifiers, it is even worse than 2d6+modifiers. 1d6+modifiers is good, but you lose the bell curve. Last week's idea is sound for skill systems, but makes the "unexpected" part of the tables above quite expected for those with big modifiers.

An alternate way of making modifiers matter but still keeping within the limits of 3d6 is using a dice pool. If you have a +2 STR modifier, for example, you roll 5d6 (3d6+2d6) and keep the best three dice. Messing with the pool is easy: take a die away if the task is hard, remove another one if untrained, add a die if you have some advantage, add two if you're an expert, etc.

Even with lots of dice, the unexpected results remain somewhat unexpected, and failure is always a possibility (no matter how infinitesimal). And the cool thing about dice pools is that you can move dice around - you can keep an unused 6 to get a bonus in a related task or add a descriptor to the current one, etc.

One last note: whenever you roll twice in the same table, the first roll should affect the second positively or negatively; see the monster reaction table in the RC, for examples. Thus, you can use the modifier from the first roll to the second roll instead of the ability modifier (since it was already taken into account). For example, if you rolled 14 on the monster reaction table, and the GM tells you to roll again for some reason (better offer, situation has changed, etc), you should roll 4d6 (3d6+1d6). This works very well for weather tables, too.


  1. If you like a bell curve you can get this from d20 by using 3m20. That is roll 3x d20 and pick the mid die.

  2. Yes, that is a very good solution, specially in "modern" D&D versions that focus on the d20 for skills, etc.

  3. I linked to this post in my blog today. I thought you'd like to know. :)