lV. Action Resolution.
When a character tries to do something, the first thing you need to do is decide which skill governs the action, as explained in the Skills section. The referee decides which skills are used when.
Once you've decided on which skill to use, the player running the character (ref for NPC's) rolls a pair of dice. The result of this roll is added to the score of the skill being used, and the total tells you how well the character performed. This is called "making a skill roll."
The result of a skill roll can be used in several different ways; to beat a Difficulty Number, to rate an accomplishment, or to compete with someone else's skill roll.
Alternacy requires that you use dice that will provide random numbers between one and five. Since there are no dice that are literally five-sided, you'll have to improvise a bit by using traditional six-sided dice. There are a couple of instances in the game where you should count results of six as zeroes, but unless instructed otherwise treat results of six as re-rolls (roll the die that came up six again).
Dice used in this manner are referred to as d5s. If there is a number listed before the "d5", roll that many dice and total the results. For example, all skill rolls are made using 2d5; you roll a pair of d5's to get a result between 2 and 10.
With the results of a skill roll, characters can give standard, above average, and below average performances. However, there is also a chance they will either succeed at tasks far beyond their normal capabilities, or fail at the simplest of actions. These occurrences are called Flukes. When a character makes a skill roll and gets a result of either 2 or 10, roll a d6 (results of 6 equal 0) and check the Flukes Chart. If the character originally rolled a 2, use the penalty results; if she rolled a 10, use the bonuses. If you are told to make a subtraction, roll the indicated dice and subtract the results from whatever skill is being used; do not add the original roll of 2. If you are told to make an addition, roll the dice and add the results to the original roll of 10.
It is up to the referee to decide whether to use an add/subtract result or a success/failure result. When successes or failures are used, an "Automatic" result means the character hasn't done anything spectacular, but he has performed or failed to perform the action regardless of it's difficulty. A "Spectacular" result means something unusual has happened. In the case of a failure, this may mean the character's rifle just exploded in his face, or that he's absolutely convinced the approaching cloud of dust is a sign of herd animals when it's really a barbarian horde. For successes, a "Spectacular" could mean the character repairs her damaged vehicle and figures out how to double it's speed, or she not only talks the natives out of killing her but persuades them that she's a goddess. The only real restriction is that spectacular failures shouldn't doom characters to certain death and spectacular successes shouldn't solve all their problems. With that in mind, use your imagination and come up with any result you feel is appropriate to the situation.
Many of the skills in Alternacy cover very broad abilities and knowledge. Long Arms allows a character to fire anything from a crossbow to a laser rifle, and Knowledge of American History could cover the founding of the first colonies through yesterday's news. To compensate for this, a Familiarity modifier can be used. Based on a character's experiences, both those that were actually played and those that are a part of the character's pre-game background, the referee will develop a general idea of exactly how a character has used a particular skill. For example, one character with the Blades, Large skill may use it only with scimitars, while another may fight with longswords, or even one specific longsword. If either of these characters were to try to use a weapon they weren't used to, they'd be at a disadvantage and would suffer a penalty to their skill.
If a character's use of a skill seems to warrant a penalty, consult the Familiarity Mods Chart. Use the categories to get an idea of an appropriate penalty for the character's level of unfamiliarity, then apply that modifier to the skill roll. The exact penalty is left up to you, since different referees will want to interpret this rule in ways that work for their particular style of play.
If a character develops familiarity with some aspect of a skill during play, his familiarity penalties will decrease over time. In some cases you may let a character use a skill in a pinch, but then have him develop a separate skill that's more appropriate. An example would be letting someone use Pilot Prop Planes to land a jumbo jet (at a huge penalty!), but afterward having him actually list Pilot Jumbo Jets skill on his character sheet. Depending on how similar the new skill is, you may let the character start with a score equal to the penalized score he had in the old skill.
The important thing to remember is that you shouldn't spend time worrying about exactly how each character uses every skill. If you think a skill use warrants a penalty, then apply whatever sounds fair and carry on. Don't waste valuable play time trying to remember every instance in which the character used the skill.
A Difficulty Number (DN) is used when a character is attempting to accomplish a task and is not being opposed by another character. Examples would be climbing a wall, picking a lock, or trying to remember an important fact. After the player has described what he's trying to do and a skill has been selected, the referee decides how difficult it will be to successfully complete the action. This decision is based on how hard it would be for an average person to accomplish the task, rather than how hard it is for that particular character (i.e. it doesn't take into account the character's scores). To select a Difficulty, the ref uses the Difficulty/Accomplishment Levels Chart at the end of this section. He selects a category from the chart, such as Simple, Difficult, or Extremely Difficult, and a number to represent it, the Difficulty Number. The numbers listed in the categories are only suggestions; if a ref decided a given action is Exceedingly Difficult, he may assign it the listed Difficulty Number of 17, or any other number between 15 and 19 if he feels that it is a little less or more challenging. The DN is selected before the player makes his skill roll.
Once the Difficulty Number has been selected and the player has rolled, the DN and the result of the roll are compared. If the character's roll is equal to or higher than the DN, he has succeeded at the action he was attempting. If the roll is lower than the DN, the character has failed. The referee decides the effects of successful and failed rolls, and should take into account the margin by which a roll exceeded or missed the target number; if a character hit a target number on the nose, he barely scraped by, but if he beat or missed it by a wide margin, he has succeeded or failed dramatically.
While the end of this chapter contains some guidelines for selecting Difficulty Numbers, they are intentionally vague. This is because Alternacy is built to accommodate any possible activity a ref or player can come up with, and any attempt to outline all the possible challenges of everything from repairing a bicycle to kicking down a door would result in a) failure and b) readers dying of terminal boredom, a couple of things I hope to avoid! Also, the standards of difficulty are going to vary from one game to the next, as well they should. For example, if one ref is running a very realistic campaign about modern soldiers, and she wants to create a challenging environment where the characters are just normal people trying to survive, she's going to assign difficulties in a very different manner than another ref running an epic fantasy campaign, where the characters are mighty heroes capable of feats that are flat-out impossible for a real person. Additionally, refs will have varying ideas of what aspects of a character's situation will result in higher or lower Difficulties. Difficulty Numbers should be a combination of what seems realistic to a ref and what seems appropriate for his particular game.
Difficulty Numbers are used when characters are attempting to attain a specific goal, and CSR's are used when they try to out-do someone else. When characters are instead competing against themselves, trying to see how well they can do, the referee needs to be able to rate their accomplishments. Accomplishment Rolls (AR's) fall somewhere between DNR's and CSR's. For example, a character trying to throw a rock and hit a target is making a DNR, while characters having a contest to see who can throw rocks the farthest are making CSR's. If, however, a character threw a rock just to see how far he could make it go, he would be making an AR.
The most obvious uses for AR's would be the various Artistry, Performance, and some of the Linguistics skills. If a character were to try to draw a picture, play an instrument, or write a poem, he would make an appropriate skill roll to determine how well he did, with higher results indicating a better outcome. Or, if a character were using a Sciences skill to design a cybernetic limb, the skill roll would give the ref an idea of how successful the character was. The Difficulty/Accomplishment Levels Chart includes suggestions for interpreting the results of AR's. Modifiers from the Advantage/Disadvantage Mods Chart can be applied, for instance penalties if no one had ever made a cybernetic device, bonuses if the character had a high quality lab to work in. The results of an AR may become the grounds of a CSR; if a character designs a computer security program that a saboteur later tries to break through, the ref may choose to use the original design roll to compete with the saboteur's hacking roll.
One important note about AR's: just because a character rolled high doesn't mean anyone has to like his work. For example, if a character rolls fantastically on her Heavy Metal Guitar skill before an audience of country-western fans, she may find herself awash in flying beer bottles and ashtrays rather than applause. AR's give an idea of the technical merits of a work and the reception it should receive from people who are pre-disposed to appreciate it in the first place. If the subject matter is at all subjective, any audience members are free to ignore or dislike a potentially brilliant piece of work that doesn't suit their tastes.
Definitions: Following are some very loose definitions of the terms given above. Since refereeing style varies a great deal they've been left subjective; make them fit your own technique.Competing Skill Rolls.
When two characters are competing against each other, for example if one is trying to punch the other who is trying to dodge, or they're racing to see who can run 100 yards fastest, the referee uses Competing Skill Rolls (CSR's) to determine which one is successful. Basically, all characters who are competing roll with the appropriate skill and whoever rolls highest succeeds. As with Difficulty Rolls, the higher the difference in totals, the greater the difference in effect. In the above examples, if the punching character far surpassed her opponent's roll, she may have knocked him out, but a small margin might indicate a glancing blow. In the foot race, whoever rolled highest won and the rest finished in the order of their rolls, from highest to lowest.
In these situations the Advantage/Disadvantage Mods Chart is sometimes used. It's modifiers are used when one or more participants in a CSR have have some advantage or disadvantage that will give them a greater or lesser chance of winning a competition. This does not include skill differences; if one arm-wrestler is strong and the other is weak, that will be reflected in their Brawn skills. Also, modifiers for injuries are dealt with in the Combat section, not on the chart. If, however, two characters were racing and one ran on solid ground while the other was on ice, the character on ice would suffer a negative modifier to his Running roll. If the character on the ice were given a head start, his penalty would be reduced. In a competition, the chart is only used for one side; i.e., the character running on ice suffers a penalty, but his opponent does not also gain a bonus.
Most rolls that character's make in combat are competing skill rolls, and their effects are explained in the Combat section. In all other cases the ref decides the meaning of success or failure when making competing skill rolls.
If a character is attempting to perform more than one action at a time, all of his endeavors are going to suffer. For example, if a character has to defend himself from numerous attackers, or is putting extra effort into moving silently while climbing a wall, he is forced to divide his attention amongst all his actions. Also, some actions may damage others; perhaps taking advantage of one opponent's mistake would open the character up to another's attack, or a certain handhold would make a noise if the character attempted to use it.
To represent this in game terms, a character uses his normal skill scores whenever he is performing a single action. If he wishes to perform more than one at a time, the referee needs to use the Advantage/Disadvantage Mods Chart to choose a penalty that reflects the character's divided attention. Basically, the more a character tries to do at once, the greater the penalty he'll suffer. Characters can attempt to perform as many actions at once as they like, but eventually they'll find themselves unable to make successful rolls.
Obviously, some activity won't be affected by this rule. Driving and holding a conversation, for instance, probably wouldn't be a problem for most characters. The ref should feel free to rule that some actions are so simple that performing more than one at a time does not result in a penalty.
The skill roll process is modified a bit when a group of characters is working on the same task. To make a group roll, set a Difficulty Number for the task that represents the challenge faced by the entire group, rather than the individuals involved. For example, attempting to move a really huge desk might result in a DN of 30 (Unbelievably Difficult) or more if one person tried to do it alone. If, however, a group of 4 or 5 characters were all making the effort, the DN might drop to 14 (Quite Difficult) to 17 (Very Difficult). The group's DN reflects the likelihood of the entire group managing to complete the task, instead of any one individual's chances of success.
Once you've chosen the group DN, have all the characters roll with the appropriate skill and tell you their results one at a time. Any characters that beat the DN have contributed to the group's success; the amount by which they beat the Difficulty is treated as a positive number. Characters who failed to exceed the DN have not contributed; the margin by which they missed the DN is treated as a negative number. As the players tell you their results, add successful margins and subtract failures. If the final number is positive the group has succeeded; the result works like a normal margin of success and can be used to determine how well the group succeeded. If the final result is negative, the group has failed. Again, the result is treated as a normal margin of failure, to tell you just how badly they did.
The effects of Spectacular/Automatic Successes and Failures are left to the ref's discretion. Also, if a very large number of characters are working on a task it might be too time-consuming to have everyone make a skill roll. If this is the case, it's suggested that you divide the characters into equal groups and roll for each group instead of each individual.
When one or more characters are directly helping another character perform a task, assistance rolls are used. There is a difference between group rolls and assistance rolls. With group rolls, everyone involved is contributing more or less equally and independently to the attempt at a task. With assistance rolls, one character is the person who's actually trying to accomplish something, while other characters are trying to help him out. Examples would be a nurse assisting a doctor in surgery, a librarian helping a researcher find information, a parent helping a child with homework, or a spaceship's copilot using sensors to help the pilot navigate through an asteroid field. The assisting characters aren't working on the main task themselves, they're making it easier for someone else to work on it.
To make assistance rolls, the ref needs to set two DN's for the helper. The higher DN represents how tough it is for the helper to make himself useful, while the lower one represents the minimum effort the helper needs to make to keep from actually hindering the character he's assisting. Have the helper character roll make a skill roll. If the roll beats the higher DN, divide the total by 5 and add the result to the roll of the character he's assisting. If the roll falls between the two DN's the helper didn't have any effect. Should the roll fail to beat the lower DN, then the helper has actually done more harm than good; he's gotten in the way, distracted the other character, provided incorrect information, etc. The amount by which the character missed the lower DN is subtracted from the roll of the character who was being assisted.
Be careful not to allow too many helpers to assist a character, as the bonuses caused by numerous helpers can lead to some pretty absurd results. In cases where a large number of characters are assisting someone, chances are that the situation actually calls for a group roll.