For the 15 years I’ve been GM-ing RPGs, it has mostly been a binary world – Did my heroes manage to find the clues they needed? Yes! Did their last-minute dive to stop the hail of arrows raining down towards the king succeed? No!

This is all well and good but when it comes down to how successful they are, the binary world I’ve been playing in does not compute. These games of 1s and 0s only tell me yes or no, on or off, hit and miss. How many clues did the heroes uncover? I dunno, the dice only tell me Success or Fail. How many arrows did the group’s heroic dive to save the king stop? Uhhh 5-ish, maybe but I’m just making it up because the roll of my d20 only tells me that I hit, or that I missed.

D&D has implemented a couple of mechanics (Climb checks come to mind) that allow me to know if I fall or stay put depending on how poorly I roll, but that sort of “story within the die roll” is the exception, and is hardly consistent throughout the rules. Natural 20s provide the only real context as to measure of success, and even then its still fairly binary in the sense of it being a massively good hit – there’s no variation to add layers of success and story to my dice rolls.

Admittedly, what initially drew me into Dragon Age RPG was the Stunt system (and the constant Twitter endorsements from @newbieDM and @DragonAgeOracle), but I’ve found myself more pleased with the Dragon Die mechanic as a whole. Every roll can tell a story – it doesn’t have to – but it can. In fact, storytelling dice is what drew me into Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (By Fantasy Flight Games), which is a slick albeit complicated game where pools of dice indicate degrees of success and failure. This concept is put into a more elegant practice with the AGE system, and below are some of the storytelling mechanics I’ve applied to my initial Dragon Age games (or plan to in the future).

Rumors and Clues

In the example above of players looking for clues (whether it’s through searching a house, interrogation, bribery, etc.) I determine a list of clues and a few rumors and have the players make the appropriate roll, without revealing what the Target Number is. Those that succeed are given a number of clues equal to the dragon die. Those that fail are given a number red herrings equal to the dragon die (or half the number if I can’t brainstorm enough clues/rumors).

Describing Battles

An obvious one, but the dragon die is great at creating compelling battle scenes.

  • Successful Attack, Dragon Die = 1: The bandit’s wild swing sends her tripping over a chair but her flailing manages to put the hero on the defensive as he shrugs off some of the errant strikes.
  • Successful Attack, Dragon Die = 6: In one graceful motion, the bandit kicks the chair towards the hero, using the distraction to weave her sword through the surprised players defenses.
  • Successful Attack, Doubles, Dragon Die = 6: I kindly ask the player where he’d like his next gruesome scar to be.

Protect and Serve

When my heroes had to shield an apostate under attack by a mob of villagers, I had the player adjacent to the mage roll a Challenging Strength check every turn he spent shielding her from attack. If he succeeded, his Dragon Die would be added to the squishy apostate’s Armor Rating.

Iaijutsu Duels

For the Asian-inspired AGE campaign I’m currently working on (be sure to check out AGE of the Rising Sun, the supplement Dragon Age Oracle pulled together) I needed a good system for the classic Iaijutsu duel that’s so prominent in Japanese literature and entertainment. Any good samurai Anime will give you a good vision of what these are all about. Imagine intense staring and sweating at each other, a sudden, single sword strike and then the loser splitting in half. Usually there is a sunset and/or silhouettes. To simulate this, dueling characters will make opposed Willpower checks (Background/Clans and Talents will allow you to change which Ability is used) and whoever gets to 10 successes first is allowed to make the first strike. That victor will also have the option of continuing to make opposed checks (representing more staring and sweating) to add more attack and damage, at the risk of the other duelist hitting the requisite 10 and making the first strike instead.

Can you do much of the same in other, more binary systems? Sure. It’s an RPG so anything’s possible and there’s no reason why a you can’t have a 19 on a d20 feel more successful than an 18 and describe it as such. But instead of spending time making these mechanics, I have one in place that’s simple and flexible. This gives me more time to create more rumors and clues, more villainous personalities to duel, and more dying words for the king to utter when the heroes only manage to stop 4 of the 6 arrows.

So, how are you using the nuance of results provided by the Dragon Die in your games?