History & Design

The Adventure System was a long time in the making. As stated in the preface, it all began back in 1980. My friends and I had been playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) for years when Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) released Top Secret. The novel approach to statistics and game mechanics using a d100 intrigued me. Not long after, I had my first set of homegrown rules for fantasy role-playing using a d100. My goal at the time was a grittier, visceral, low-fantasy setting as an alternative to D&D.

Over the years, the rules began using 2d10 as a resolution mechanic. That provided a decent probability curve resulting in an average roll of an 11. Skills and statistics were rated from 2 to 20; statistics were generated using 2d10 at character creation. During that time, I began to adhere to a simple design principle: simpler is better; less is more. The rules needed to support the action and not get in the way.  The trick was… they needed to be simple, but deep enough to still be engaging and reward players for solid, smart play.

As I went along, the personal campaigns I ran would change as we shifted from fantasy to science fiction or something else I cooked up. Each time I had to convert the rules system to the new setting. Meaning, if we had just finished a fantasy campaign, I had to dig out the last version I used for science fiction and then integrate all of the rules changes that had occurred while we were running fantasy into the version with blasters. Again and again…

Dice Mechanics
The first seed of a system that used only dice mechanics was planted when I picked up a copy of Iron Kingdoms by Privateer Press. I do not remember much about that system other than it used re-rolls as a mechanic for certain character benefits. We never actually played. The lightning strike was the concept of Advantage and Disadvantage pioneered by D&D, Fifth Edition.  Pure genius. I can remember where I was when I read that on my iPad in the playtest version of the rules. A highly successful thirty-session D&D campaign followed.

My system had shifted to using a 1 to 10 scale for skills and statistics. This was another step towards simpler. Instead of calculating a modifier based on your statistics, the statistic was the modifier. Each skill was based on a statistic. If you had a Dexterity 7 and Stealth 4, your Stealth modifier was +11 added to 2d10 against a difficulty number of 20, 25, or 30. I immediately removed circumstantial modifiers and started using Advantage and Disadvantage. Roll 3d10 and discard the lowest or highest result if you had either Advantage or Disadvantage then add your skill modifier (Stealth +11).  Not great, but functional.

I was roaming the web one day and came across Savage Worlds by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Once again, I was intrigued. Heck, maybe I could use this for all my campaigns instead of doing all the work myself. Focus on the campaigns, not the rules. We gave it a shot using the Outland setting. It went pretty well for about eight sessions and then I hit the modifier wall. Hard. The characters got into – what was supposed to be – a cinematic chase along a dirt road near the Atlas Mountains in pursuit of a violent splinter group of the Madhatter’s Guild. Well, juggling all the modifiers involved broke my head and the campaign. I am sure I got them wrong just about every time. Instead of being cinematic, it was like being smacked by a nun with a ruler in math class. To their credit, although I do not own a copy, I read a review of the new version of Savage Worlds that indicated they fixed that by having the game master assign a single modifier along a sliding scale.

It was the final piece of the puzzle. I had not been sold that using polyhedral dice for your statistics and skills would work.  Would the differences in die types be meaningful and noticeable in the game? Would the character with Strength d10 seem stronger than a character with a d6? Would the players notice an improvement when their skill die type increased.  Clearly, the answer to all these questions was yes. It only took me a few days to implement using polyhedral dice into the Forever War version of my game system.

This was the Promised Land; I had eliminated all modifiers and now had a system that relied solely on dice mechanics. Roll the die; look at the result. I do not see any way this can be accomplished without using polyhedral dice. If you represent statistics and skills in any other way, you end up with modifiers added to your roll.  The one exception might be a d6 system where your statistic and skill determines how many dice you roll, but –as much as I love the concept of Shadowrun – I always found rolling twelve d6 cumbersome.

Adventure System
The final mind shift occurred when my group switched from the Forever War setting to the Iron Lands fantasy setting. There I was again, converting the current version of the rules, dressed up for the Forever War, to the fantasy version used for Iron Lands. When I finished, I vowed never to do that again… Well, one more time. But this time, I was going to take the updated version of the Iron Lands rules and incorporate everything I had from the other settings to have one version of the rules to… rule them all. Going forward, I would spend my time on the campaign settings not endlessly converting the rules.

When I finished, I was shocked that the rough copy I had was almost two hundred pages long. At that point, it just seemed silly not to do something with it. I struggled for a while to come up with a name when the “Adventure System” occurred to me one night. I got up and checked to see if the Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) was available for a web site and it was… The Adventure System was born.

Linked Skills
When I started working on integrating polyhedral dice in place of statistics and skills, I originally was going to have a check be made using a statistic die and a skill die. For example, roll Dexterity + Stealth to sneak around. Statistics had contributed heavily in the prior versions as I described before. That is what my players expected and, in fact, they argued for it. In the end, I decided against it for two reasons. The first was math; why add two dice together if you can avoid it. The second was handling Advantage and Disadvantage. Yes, you could roll an extra skill die and discard, but that was much more complicated.  What if your statistic and skill die were both a d6? Then you needed to manage your dice to be sure you rolled the two skill die separately from the statistic die so you would know where to apply Advantage and Disadvantage. I quickly discarded that idea in favor of simply rolling the skill die. But, your statistics needed to matter.  The only good solution was linking skills to your statistics to control the improvement cost of your skills.

Damage Checks
But, you ended up with exactly what you wanted to avoid with damage checks. Yep. I wracked my brain and simply could not come up with any system other than linked statistic + weapon damage. You simply could not just use weapon damage die. That would work for ranged weapons, but not melee weapons.  You simply cannot justify a gnome and an ogre inflicting the same damage with a club.

Max Die
Did not use the term “exploding dice” just to be a rebel. True. I had this concept in the system for a while. In the 2d10 version if you rolled all tens you kept rolling.  It just did not happen as often since you only have a 1% chance of getting a 20 or two 10s. In the polyhedral system it is a must have unless you want modifiers. Without modifiers, you have to be able to keep rolling or your d4 can never hit a DN greater than 4.

Soak Checks

This came around slowly and was not in the game until the polyhedral version.  In prior versions, I had let the amount of armor you could stack get a bit out of hand. I committed to not letting that happen. That is why in the Adventure System your armor bonus ranges from +1 to +4. The soak check serves two purposes. One, introducing the Armor die allows for different types of armor on a very short scale. Leather and ring mail are both +1, but ring mail has a +d4 Armor die. Second, of course, was the chance to try to negate or offset a high damage result due to max dice. Without that, the game would just be too deadly for the players.

Step Adjustments
Well, aren’t they modifiers? Kinda, but not really. You need to be able to have gear and magic items or powers improve a character’s chances. I wanted to reserve Advantage and Disadvantage, as much as possible, exclusively for circumstantial adjustments. So, if you get Fury on your sword it gives you Strength +1 increasing your die type a step. A modification, but not a modifier. Your Strength d6 becomes a d8.

Fate & Destiny
This has been in the system unchanged for quite some time. Its roots are in the Lord of the Rings Online video game.  I do not even remember what “Destiny” did, but I thought the name was cool. I turned it into Fate, a single currency in-game awarded in place of experience that you can use to re-roll or add +Spirit to an existing roll; extra Fate turns into Destiny that is used to improve your character. Yes, players have plenty of Fate to work with… possibly more than any other system. This allows them to mitigate poor results to accomplish what they want in the game, but they always need to be mindful that they are diminishing their available Destiny and ability to improve their character. In time, you will find that most characters still have enough Destiny, around 10, after each session so they can purchase an improvement.

I hope you found this glimpse into the madness behind the curtain entertaining. If you have any questions or we can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out at Overlord@adventure-system.com.

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