What Is the One Roll Engine?
The One Roll Engine (ORE for short) helps decide whether an event happens in the game’s shared setting. Players and the Game Master roll dice. The results of those rolls determine events that aren’t otherwise obvious.
These aren’t rolled for actions that are trivially easy, or for actions that are clearly impossible. You can’t roll to shoot down the sun. You don’t need to roll to tie your shoes. You only have to roll during an archery contest if someone cares about the outcome and if it matters to where the game is going.
Which Dice, and How Many?
The ORE uses ten sided dice (d10s). In most cases, you roll a number of dice equal to a character’s Stat (measuring general talent) plus a Skill (training, experience or intuitive ability). This combined number is your pool for that task. If my character is trying to convince a merchant to give me a break on a purchase, I roll my “haggle pool.” This consists of my Haggle Skill (for mercantile bullying) and my Command stat (showing how impressive and overbearing I can be). If my Haggle Skill is 4 and my Command stat is 2, my pool for haggling is 6 dice. (The abbreviation of this is 6d.)
Reading the Result
You want matches—dice in your pool that turned up the same number. If I roll 2,3,5,6,9,10 then I got no matches and failed. If I roll 1,1,4,5,7,7 I got two matches, a pair of 1s (abbreviated 2×1) and a pair of sevens (2×7). It’s like poker, where you’re looking for pairs and treys, and where higher cards are generally better.
There are two measures of success with this system: How many dice turned up in a set (the set’s Width) and the size of the number itself (its Height).
The most common set is a pair. That’s a match with Width 2. A pair of twos, a pair of nines, a pair of fives—they all have different Heights but the same Width.
Higher and Wider are desirable in different ways. A 4×1 result has poor Height but great Width. A 2×10 result has great Height but poor Width. Which is better? That depends on the situation, because Height and Width indicate different things.
Width usually indicates speed and competence. Wide sets happen before narrow sets—so that 4×1 indicates something done with much greater speed than that 2×10. In a fight (for a common example), Wider sets go first and do more damage when they hit.
Height usually shows how favorable circumstances were at the moment, and how well the character took advantage of them. Sometimes the poorly skilled guy (the one with the small pool, who can’t get Wide results) still gets lucky. In a fight, Height indicates where a blow falls. Low results strike less vital areas like the arms and legs. Higher outcomes are strikes to the body or the head.
To sum up then: You want to get results that are both Wide and High. If I roll five dice, the best possible result is a 5×10. I may wind up having to choose between Width and Height—that same 5d pool could turn up 2,2,2,9,9 giving me a 3×2 and a 2×9. The set I pick depends on what I’m trying to accomplish.
Types of Rolls
Different circumstances pose different challenges, so different types of rolls are called for. Trying to overcome an inanimate obstacle—outwitting a cunning death-trap or preparing a finicky soufflé—is different from a competition with something that’s alive and reacting. Both are different from striving against an adaptive creature whose goal is not to accomplish something, but to prevent your action. These differences are handled with Static, Dynamic and Opposed rolls.
These are the simplest challenges. In a static contest, it’s your character against circumstance. Perhaps he’s trying to swim across a river, lift a big boulder, carve an exquisite statue or get out of the way of an avalanche. It’s a one-time event in which he either succeeds or fails.
To get the result, roll your pool. Got a match? Good—you succeeded. It’s that simple.
If it’s not that simple, meaning your GM wants more challenge, there may be a Difficulty to your roll or a penalty to your pool. (They’re explained below, under “What if it’s Really Tricky?”) You may need to get a minimum Height, or you may roll a smaller pool, but it’s one roll and you either get it done or you don’t.
If you fail a static contest, you can try again if you’ve got the time. Any Difficulty or penalty doesn’t change, so you can generally just keep trying to scale that cliff until you find a way or give up because it’s too hard. The exception to this is if you’re in the middle of some peril that gives you a time limit, or if the action itself is draining. A perfect example is swimming across a river. You take your first roll normally and, if that fails, you struggle back to shore. If you try again immediately, your GM may ask for a Body+Endurance roll to see if your lungs quit on you, or she may assess a penalty or put on a Difficulty rating because you’re tired. But the important thing about static contests is that success or failure all comes down to your roll. You’re not interacting with anyone else’s results.
It’s often a good idea for GMs to be generous with static contests—imposing low penalties and Difficulties, if any are assessed at all. Moving the story along is a good thing. The time to make static contests harder is when achieving it gives them a significant advantage. If, for example, scaling a deadly cliff lets them come at a fortress from a poorly-defended side, then the roll should be challenging. After all, if they succeed, they’ve made things substantially easier for themselves, and substantially easy stories aren’t involving.
A dynamic contest is when two people are trying to do the same thing at the same time, and only one of them can. An example is a foot race (two or more characters using their Body+Run pools), but it could also be a battle of wits as two swains try to impress a beautiful stranger. (In that case, it could be dueling Charm+Fascinate pools.) Or two advisors attempting to sway the king’s opinion with Charm+Fascinate (or Command+Intimidate, or Charm+Plead) rolls.
Regardless of the type of contest, the rules all work the same way. All the involved contestants roll their pools and choose the sets they’re going to use. Then those sets are compared and the best one walks away with the prize—the trophy, the stranger’s attention, the will of the king.
Which set is ‘best’? That depends on the nature of the competition. In a foot race, the GM might say that the Widest set is the best, because Width indicates speed. With the struggling suitors, Height might be a better gauge, as it shows who’s favored by fortune, and who’s adapting better to events. To persuade the king, it might be Height if each side has plenty of time to set out arguments and provide evidence. If the barbarians are at the gate and the debate is over “fight or flee,” then Width might serve, as a tersely-stated case plays to the king’s need for decisiveness.
The GM should make it clear beforehand whether Width is the deciding factor, or Height… or whether there are different rewards for each. Perhaps the quick wit wins the fair maiden’s eye, but the narrow/high result keeps his dignity and impresses the onlookers, who dismiss the Wide/low character’s desperate clowning.
The final type of contest is when one character wants to climb the rope, present his evidence, or bury his sword in somebody’s spleen. Another character wants to pull him down, dismiss his testimony, or avoid that lethal sword thrust. These are opposed contests and they are handled with a mechanic called Gobble Dice.
The character attempting the action—climb, debate, stab—rolls normally. In these instances, we’re looking at Coordination+Climb, Command+Inspire and Body+Fight. The blocking character who wants to drag, obfuscate, or jump back, rolls her pool as well. She’d be rolling Body+Fight, Command+Inspire, or Coordination+Dodge.
If the active character fails his roll, the blocker’s roll doesn’t matter. If that guy can’t get up the rope on his own, he sure as hell can’t do it with someone grabbing his legs.
If the active character succeeds and the blocker gets no successes, then the attempt succeeds, like you’d expect. He gets up, gets heard, or spills blood.
It gets interesting when both succeed. Then the dice in the blocker’s pool become Gobble Dice. Each Gobble die can counteract one die in an opponent’s set, as long as that die is of equal or lesser value. Once a set is broken down to one die or fewer, it no longer has any value.
Example: The active player rolls 1,2,7,7,0 to get up the rope. The blocker rolls 8,8,9, Both her eights become Gobble Dice. By gobbling one die out of his 2×7 set, she reduces it to 1×7—no match.
But if timing matters, as it so often does, even a High set may not work if it’s not Wide enough.
Example: The attacking character rolls a 2,2,2,6,8,9 in his Body+Fight roll, for a 3×2 result. The defender tries to dodge and rolls 2,4,6,9,9. She has a 2×9 set of Gobble Dice, but because Width determines speed, his strike occurs before she can react. Even though her dice were big enough, they weren’t fast enough.
Thus, a Gobble set must often be at least as Wide and at least as High as any set it’s trying to spoil. That’s a pretty serious drawback to being reactive instead of active. (Too much of “I’m going to stop him doing what he’s doing!” can slow play to a crawl, so burdening the naysayer is a story issue as much as a mechanical one.)
It’s not always the case, however. If it’s a debate or discussion and both get plenty of time to make arguments, the Width of a Gobble set doesn’t matter. But remember that you can only Gobble if you’re trying to discredit his argument—not make an argument of your own. If your opponent is trying to convince the Empress that the Dindavarans are massing to attack, and all you have to do is provide reasonable alternate explanations for their movements because she doesn’t really want to believe it, then it’s an opposed contest.
Furthermore, the advantage to Gobble Dice is that once you have them, they’re more efficient—especially against multiple actions.
Example: Instead of just climbing the rope, the active character is trying to do two things—he’s trying to seize a precious emerald off a pedestal and then climb up the rope, but if he can’t get the gem he’ll still try to flee the emerald’s guardian. He rolls a multiple action (as explained on page 16) hoping to get two sets—one to grab the gem, one to go up the rope. He gets his two sets, a 2×2 and a 2×5. The guard, however, only has to roll one Body+Fight pool to interfere with what he’s doing. She rolls a 2×7, which lets her respond to everything he tries. Her two sevens become Gobble Dice. With one, she knocks a single die out of the 2×5 set, reducing it to 1×5 and, therefore, nothing. With the other, she takes a die out of the 2×2 set. Just by grabbing him, she’s prevented him from taking the stone and from climbing the rope.
When defending against more than one person, Gobble Dice can be used on different sets even if the defender only got a single pair.
What If It’s Really Tricky?
Climbing a ladder is easier than climbing a greased pole. Since the same pool reflects both tasks, the rules have to accommodate varying challenges. There are two ways to do this: The GM can assess a penalty or can impose a Difficulty.
Difficulty indicates how hard it is for everyone, novices and experts alike. It’s indicated by a number—so, “Difficulty 3.” Any matches whose Height is under that number aren’t sufficient to get the job done.
Example: Boyles needs to get down the cliff fast, and it’s muddy. The GM decides climbing down is a Difficulty 3 task. Boyles rolls his 4d Climb pool and gets 1,1,1,1. Normally a nicely Wide set, in this case it’s useless because its Height is lower than the Difficulty.
Difficulty is best for problems that make a task more tricky, but which don’t preclude great results, and which affect everyone equally. Difficulty 3 is pretty typical. Difficulty 4-5 is imposing, and Difficulty 8 is appallingly hard.
A penalty is when the GM knocks some dice out of your pool. This indicates a problem where someone of lesser skill is unlikely to have a chance, and even an expert isn’t going to get the superb results one would expect. A –1d penalty is for something that’s a little more obscure or complicated, while a –3d penalty is about as high as you should go for anything other than demanding, outrageous stunts.
Example: Rugris is trying to find a misfiled scroll. Normally this would be a Knowlege+Lore roll, and Rugris’ pool for that is a measly 3. Since the GM assesses this search as imposing a –2d penalty, Rugris is out of luck. With only 1d in his pool, he cannot make a match. A character with a large pool—8d, say—would only roll 6d while trying to find that confounded document.
There is a vital difference between penalties and Difficulties. Difficulties make things harder for everyone to an equal degree, regardless of pool size. Penalties are far harsher to people with small pools than those with large pools. As a GM, you’re almost always better off using a Difficulty and saving the penalties for situations where (1) they’re in the rules or (2) it’s something that should be damn near impossible for an amateur but not nearly as tricky for someone heavily trained.
Note that with penalties, Expert Dice and Master Dice are removed from pools first. (Expert Dice and Master Dice are explained on page 15.)
There are refinements of the system, but that’s the core of it. If you’ve got a grip on that, there’s more detailed explanation in the Player’s Chapter.
Types of Dice
Area Dice: When an attack or effect harms all people within an area, its damage is measured in Area Dice. Everyone affected rolls that many dice and applies the appropriate type of damage to every hit location that comes up.
Example: While besieging a tower, the heroes get a cauldron of scalding oil dropped on them. This is an Area 4 Killing attack. Everyone in the area rolls 4d and applies a point of Killing damage to each hit location that turns up.
Armor does not protect against Area Attacks.
Expert Dice: This special kind of Skill die indicates unusual talent. Instead of rolling an Expert Die (or ED, for short) you set it at whatever number you want, before you roll the other dice. You can never have more than one ED in your pool. You can never have an Expert Die in a pool with a Master Die.
Example: When using the Fight Skill, you have a pool of five regular dice and one expert die. (This is abbreviated 5+ED.) Your enemy has good armor on everything except his legs, so you decide to swing low. The legs are hit locations 1 and 2, so before you roll you set your Expert Die at 2. Your normal dice come out 2,3,4,9,8. You can match the rolled 2 with your ED 2 and get a pair that hits his vulnerable ankle.
Gobble Dice: Skills that directly counteract other Skills produce Gobble Dice. When you roll those Skills successfully, the dice in the set you use become Gobble Dice, which can suck dice out of your enemy’s pool and spoil his attacks.
There are two limits on the use of Gobble Dice. First, you can only use them against dice that are equal to or lower than their own Height.
Example: Tud swings his axe at Gorda the sorceress. She tries to get out of the way. He rolls a 2×6 on his attack. She rolls a 2×8 on her dodge. The two dice that came up in a set become Gobble Dice. Since the Height of one of her gobblers (8) is greater than the Height of Tud’s attack (6), she can counteract it. With one of the dice in his pair gone, it’s no longer a pair and his attack fails.
Second, you can only use a Gobble die when the timing of an event allows it.
Example: If Tud had rolled a 3×6 against Gorda’s 2×8, she would have gotten hit, because Width determines the timing of events. His Wider set goes first, so he hits her before she even has a chance to react.
Remember, some uses of Gobble Dice are not time sensitive. This is particularly true with social Skills.
The advantage of Gobble Dice is that you can use them against more than one attack, even if you only got a pair.
Example: Gorda gets a friend and they attack Tud. This time, he’s parrying. He rolls a 2×10, while Gorda gets a 2×7 and her friend gets a 2×2. Their sets are all the same Width, so Height acts as a tiebreaker: Tud goes first. His two tens become Gobble Dice, and he takes a seven out of Gorda’s set and a two out of her friend’s set. With one pair, he wrecks two attacks.
Most other dice only work in sets of two or greater: Gobble dice are a special case. Once they’ve changed, they can be used individually. However, unless you do a multiple action (explained on page 16), you can only turn one set into Gobble Dice every round.
Example: Tud’s defending himself and his Parry roll produces a 3×4 and a 2×6. He can only change one of these sets into Gobble Dice. Does he pick the 3×4, which gives him an additional die and lets him act faster? Or does he choose the 2×6, which is Higher and can counter attacks of greater Height? Such decisions are a key part of the game…
Master Dice: Master Dice (or MDs) indicate tremendous proficiency. You don’t roll an MD: You can set it to any number you want. Unlike an Expert Die (see above), you roll the normal dice in your pool before you set your MD. This means that you can always get a set when your pool has an MD. You can never have more than one MD in your pool, and you cannot have a Master Die and an Expert Die in the same pool.
Example: You have a Master Die in Stealth, along with four regular dice (abbreviated 4+MD). When hiding in the forest, you roll your four normal dice and get 3,4,6,10. You can change your MD into another 10, match it with the naturally rolled 10 and have a pair of tens, successfully concealed. If you’d rolled 3,4,4,10, you’d have a choice to make. You could either match with your 10 and get the 2×10, or you could change your MD to a 4 and get a 3×4. Remember, sometimes Wide sets are better than tall ones.
Waste Dice: Any time you roll, dice that don’t match are ‘Waste Dice’. Some effects still make use of them.
Example: I have 9d in my pool. I roll and get 2,5,6,6,7,7,7,8,9. The sets are 2×6 and 3×7. The 2,5,8 and 9 are Waste Dice.
Note that dice in a set never count as Waste Dice, even if that set isn’t used. Similarly, if a set gets ruined (by Gobble Dice, for example), the remainder isn’t a Waste die.
Example: Gorda the sorceress casts a spell that does Width Killing damage, and a point of Shock to each location shown by a Waste die. She rolls 1,1,2,2,3,4,4,6,8,9. She has a 2×4, a 2×2 and a 2×1 when she hurls this spell against Tud the Barbarian. But Tud hits her first, and getting hit costs you a die from one of your sets. (This is explained in more detail in the Combat chapter.) She takes a die from her 2×1 set, reducing it to nothing. When it’s her turn, she activates the spell with her 2×4. It does 2 Killing to Tud’s arm (hit location 4). It also does a point of Shock to the locations indicated by 3,6,8 and 9. It doesn’t effect location 1, even though that die is no longer in a set, and it doesn’t effect location 2, even though that set wasn’t used.
Armor: Armor is a factor, be it physical or occult or miscellaneous, that protects your body from getting clobbered. No matter its source, armor works the same. It has a numerical rating, and all Killing and Shock damage to the protected location is reduced by that rating.
Example: A character has one point of armor on his head. He gets hit there with an attack that would normally do 3 Killing and 1 Shock. Instead, it does 2 Killing and 0 Shock because the armor reduces the harm.
Armor rating is abbreviated AR. If you have 3 points of armor, that’s “AR3.”
Bonus: A bonus is anything that raises a numerical element of the game. If you get a +2 armor bonus and your armor rating is usually 3, you’d get armor rating 5. If your Graces pool is usually four dice and you get a +1d Graces bonus, you roll five dice.
Craving: A Craving is an irrational drive towards some activity, condition or substance. While pursuing a Craving, a character gets a +1d bonus to all rolls. While foregoing a Craving, the character gets a –1d penalty to all rolls. Cravings are explained on page 28.
Duty: A character dedicated to a code of conduct or set of beliefs has a Duty. When acting in accordance with Duty, all his rolls are made at +1. When ignoring his Duty (or disgracing it), all his rolls suffer a –1d penalty. Duty is explained on page 28.
Game Master: “GM” for short. This is the person who is running the game, describing the setting, controlling every character except the PCs (q.v.), setting the Difficulties and overseeing the rules’ use to provide maximum satisfaction for everyone.
Height: The number shown on the dice in a matching set. If four dice turn up sevens, that’s a set with Height 7.
Mission: A Mission is a character’s short-term goal. While pursuing her Mission, she gets an extra die in every pool. While she’s intentionally jeoparding the Mission, or missing a chance to pursue it, she takes a –1d penalty to all rolls.
Multiple Action: When a character attempts to do two or more things in the time usually required for one, that’s a multiple action. Trying to seduce someone while racing her on horseback is a multiple action involving the Fascinate and Riding pools. A more common example—trying to hit two people in quick succession—is a double use of the Fight pool. When trying to do two things at once, use the lower pool, take one die out of it, and hope for two sets. If you get two sets, you can apply one set to each action. If you have an Expert or Master die in your smaller pool but not the larger, you must assign at least one set to that pool’s action.
Example: Mouray’s Dodge pool is 3+MD while his Fight pool is 8d. He also possesses a Martial Technique that lets him make multiple actions with Dodge and not take the multiple action penalty. When he tries to hit someone and dodge, he rolls his 3+MD pool. If he gets two sets, he can assign them as he wishes. If he only gets one set, he has to use it to dodge.
For each additional action, you take another die out of the pool and hope for another set. If a character tries to hit four people in the time it would usually take to get a decent stroke at one, his roll is at a –3d penalty and the player is seeking four sets.
Passion: Missions, Duties and Cravings (q.v.) are collectively known as Passions. These are things your character cares so deeply about, that fulfilling them makes her stronger and failing makes her weaker.
Penalty: Whenever a factor is reduced by some number, that’s a penalty. It’s the opposite of a bonus (q.v.).
Player Character: “PC” for short, the Player Characters are the main characters in the game, the most important people in the story, and the only characters not overseen by the Game Master (q.v.).
Pool: The total number of dice you roll when attempting to accomplish a task. Usually a Skill (q.v.) plus a Stat (q.v.).
Round: An imprecisely-defined unit of time that tracks who hit whom first in a fight. It’s best thought of as “the time it takes every character to do one thing.” If a character tries to do more than one thing in a round, that’s a multiple action (q.v.).
Set: When you roll dice, and some of those dice show the same number, that’s a set. If I roll seven dice and get 1,2,4,4,6,8,8 then I have rolled two sets—a pair of fours and a pair of eights.
Skill: Skill ratings measure how competent a character is in certain narrow areas of activity such as playing music, hearing faint sounds or begging for mercy. Skill ratings contribute to pools (q.v.).
Slow: Some combat actions (mostly spells) demand extra time. This is represented by a Slow rating. For each point of Slow, you have to spend a combat round (q.v.) preparing before you make your roll. A heavy crossbow is Slow 1: It can fire every other round. A spell that’s Slow 3 can only be cast every fourth round.
Squishing: Exchanging Height and Width. If you can squish a result two points, you can change a 4×5 to a 2×7 or a 6×3. If you squish something down to 1x, it’s no longer a set. You can’t squish a set above Height 10.
Stat: Stat ratings measure a character’s innate abilities in broad categories of tasks. Stats combine with Skills (q.v.) to form the pool (q.v.) of dice rolled for actions. The six stats are Body, Coordination, Sense, Knowledge, Charm and Command.
Tall: A set (q.v.) is tall when the numbers rolled are high. 6×1 is not a tall set. 2×8 is a tall set.
Wide: A set (q.v.) is Wide when many of the dice in the pool turn up the same number. 6×1 is a Wide set. 2×8 is not a Wide set, it’s narrow.
Width: The number of dice that compose a set determine its Width. If four dice are in a set, its Width is four. If two dice are in a set, its Width is two.