Gaming Steampunk TTRPG

Dev diary – Roll with it

The Aether Throne uses just one die to resolve all actions and outcomes.

A twenty-sided die (a d20 for short) governs all the fickle fortunes and fates of adventurers as they attempt to overcome obstacles, hazards, situations and foes in their path. 

At its simplest, an adventurer rolls the d20 and adds modifiers to the result of the die roll. They will have a Target Number they are trying to meet or exceed, and if they do so, they succeed at whatever it is they are trying to do.

The detail lies in the modifiers. In The Aether Throne, modifiers can come from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to:

  • the adventurer’s attributes
  • the level of training in the skill that is relevant to the roll
  • modifiers that apply from using certain weapons, gadgets or other items of equipment
  • those that come as a result of another adventurer helping them
  • those that come from a fleeting effect of aether or science
  • those that come as a result of an adventurer playing a trick from their hand
  • situational modifiers that may apply, caused by the environment or position of the adventurers at that moment in time

Consider two examples, one simple, the other more complex, where multiple modifiers are in play.

Example 1

Elsa is a fortune hunter. She is standing on one side of a chasm, with her fellow adventurer and engineer Thom standing on the other. Thom  has an item that Elsa needs. He throws it to her and now Elsa must make a roll to see if she can catch it before it drops to the bottom of the chasm, thousands of feet below.

The GM decides that this is a natural test of Elsa’s Dexterity. They also decide that the task is normal difficulty, and sets a Target Number of 10.

Elsa has a Dexterity of +1. As this is a natural test, that is the only modifier that applies in this situation.

Thom tosses the item to Elsa. The GM asks Elsa to make a natural roll using her Dexterity, aiming for a Target Number of 10.

Elsa rolls the d20. It comes to a stop, showing a 9 as the result. Elsa adds the +1 modifier from her Dexterity, for a Total Result of 10 – a success!

Elsa describes how she catches the item, then she and Thom carry on with describing what they want to do next.

Example 2

Later that episode, Elsa and Thom are joined by Deepa, an aether-touched mystic. They find themselves on the deck of their airship in the middle of a storm, faced by an enemy Agent of the Republic. The game is in combat mode, and each adventurer and their opponents have a turn to act in an order determined by their initiative

Note: this example touches on aspects of the game that haven’t yet been covered. These will be explained in more detail later, but are used here to demonstrate how a roll can be impacted by multiple modifiers.

In this example, it is Elsa’s turn. Thom has successfully managed to distract the enemy agent, giving Elsa a +1 modifier to her next fire action (if she chooses to make one.)

Deepa has successfully cast the Eyes of the Hawk invocation on Elsa, giving her an enhancement to her vision, and a +1 to all fire actions she makes for the next 10 minutes.

Elsa has her trusty arc-pistol in her hand, ready to fire. She is trained in small firearms, and as such does not suffer a negative modifier from trying to use the weapon (though she doesn’t get a positive modifier either, needing to be expert or better in that skill before she does.)

Fortunately, her arc-pistol is loaded with propulsive ammunition, which grants her a +1 modifier to all shots she makes with it at short or medium range. That will help as she tries to keep her footing on the slippery, pitching deck of the airship in the storm, which the GM declares imposes a -1 modifier on all actions during this combat. The GM also declares that the enemy agent is trained in combat, and has a Target Number of 12.

Lastly, Elsa looks at her hand. She has a pair of sixes, and can play that as a trick before attempting the roll to get a +1 modifier. She decides to do that, hoping to take the enemy out before they have a chance to shoot back.

In situations like this, it is often best to work out the total modifiers that apply before making a die roll. In this example, the modifiers are:

  • +1 from Elsa’s Dexterity (this attribute is used when making attacks with ranged weapons)
  • 0 from Elsa being trained in small firearms (she would get +1 if she was expert in the skill, and +2 if she had mastery of it)
  • (Note that these two modifiers are relatively constant, in that they always apply to Elsa’s attempts to fire with a ranged weapon – they are noted on her log sheet, meaning she doesn’t have to work them out each time – she knows, given her current experience and training, that she has a base ‘+1’ to her fire roll)
  • +1 from Thom’s successful attempt to distract the enemy
  • +1 from Deepa’s cast of the Eyes of the Hawk aether invocation
  • +1 from Elsa’s pistol being loaded with propulsive ammunition
  • – 1 from trying to fire a weapon in the midst of the storm
  • +1 from playing ‘one pair’ as a trick from Elsa’s hand

This gives Elsa a total modifier of +4. 

She knows she has to meet or exceed a Target Number of 12 to succeed, meaning she needs to roll a 8 or more on a d20. Thanks to her training, her gear, and the efforts of her companions, she has more than a 50/50 chance of success.

Elsa’s player declares that she is going to fire with her arc-pistol, picks up the die, blows on it for luck, and everyone watches as the die bounces around the table before coming to a stop …

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