Dice Mechanics in Norumbega

One of the big thoughts that I’ve been bouncing around during the production of Norumbega is that I want the central dice mechanic to mirror the thoughts, feelings, and belief structures of the characters. 

I’ve written briefly in the past about my thoughts on dice mechanics matching the character actions, and I’m a big believer in the idea that the mechanics should serve the setting. In a setting that’s emphasizing harsh environments, trudging through snow, negotiating with hostile nations, contrasted by peaceful interludes, a standard D20 feels inappropriate. 

I’ve already decided that I’d like for it to be a variant on the Powered by the Apocalypse system, as that’s a system that I’m really enjoying lately. And I say “variant on” in that there are two six-sided dice, role-specific moves, and a fixed set of results (6 or less is a failure, 7-9 is a mixed result, 10+ is a success). The latter of which is the most interesting to me, as I feel that it’s important for season explorers to know approximately how difficult any giving action will be. I feel like it’s more interesting for characters to have to weigh the pros and cons of an action while knowing all of the variables, rather than fearing that I’ve kept something secret. This also allows me to set up one of the main mechanics for the game:  

In Norumbega, the way you roll the dice varies based on your beliefs. 

The Viking Age was a really tumultuous time religiously for Scandinavia, and I feel hard pressed to try and make a game about any portion of that time that doesn’t at least touch on it. Especially if you focus in on the 10th and 11th centuries, you see a sharp turn from wide-spread paganism and polytheism to a hybrid monotheism, to devout Catholicism. This kind of change in a society would impact a person over the course of their life, especially if that life is spent ensuring the safety of that society. I want this game to represent that impact mechanically.


Attributes

Throughout the game, all characters will have the same set of attributes, which help dictate their effectiveness at certain actions. While I haven't nailed down the names of them, here is the gist:

  • Flame: Ferocity, physical action, brutality. 
  • River: Speed, dexterity, agility. 
  • Root: Defense, self-preservation, healing. 
  • Hearth: Inter-personal aptitude, self-confidence, charisma.
  • Mist: The unknowable, the weird, the mysterious.

Characters will be able to assign bonuses to these attributes between -1 and +2 at the start of play, based on the Roles that they choose, which I'll discuss in a later post. While the attributes themselves will not change, the way that players roll the dice and add them will.


The Old Ways

Every character will start with the belief in The Old Ways. This is a purposefully vague stand-in for early pagan rituals, and the players are invited to interpret what it means specifically on an individual basis (each role with have a description of what each faith means to them). When a follower of The Old Ways starts a new day, they Cast Runes.

Cast Runes:
For each attribute, roll 1d6. Keep a note of that roll, or keep the die next to the attribute on your sheet (if you have enough dice). These are your runes. For the remainder of the day, any time that the Narrator asks for a roll, only roll 1d6. Add that roll to the rune of the appropriate attribute, as well as any inherent bonuses your character may have for that attribute, to get your final result. 

The Old Ways are all about looking ahead-- while the results may be tumultuous, and often not what the player wants, it gives them a unique glimpse into the future to play off of. For example, if a strength-focused character rolls a 1 on Flame and a 6 on Mist at the start of the day, they may cater their actions to fit their fortunes, rather than the usual strengths of their role. 

The unknowable quality of The Old Ways also primes them for being affected by moves that the characters make, as their actions affect the fortunes that guide them. 


Advancement

When a character fails a roll or completes one of their personal missions, they mark one point of experience. After six points, the player may advance their character. There will be a lot of options for advancement, such as improving an attribute or gaining a new move, however one of the options will be to Change Your Belief. This represents a major change in the way the character approaches the world, and the way they operate mechanically within the game. When changing your belief, the character progresses to the next form of faith. Once a character has changed to a belief system, they cannot select that faith again later on. 

If a character advances through each faith, their next advancement option must be retirement, which is a separate feature that I'll write about eventually. As the theme of this game requires the passage of time, I want there to be a mechanic for easily moving to a new character, and potentially passing on some of the aspects of the previous one, if desired. 

The following will be a rough outline of the remaining faiths available. The names aren't finalized, and there may be more down the road, but this represents the mechanical shift that can be undergone by each character throughout the game.


Ancestral

On taking this belief, roll for each attribute as per The Old Ways, but these numbers do not change daily, and cannot be changed by moves. Once per long period of rest within the settlement, a character may select one attribute to re-roll, and keep either the new or old result. 

Monotheism

Rather than rolling runes for attributes, assign 3 to each, representing faith. These numbers can be modified by any move that would modify runes. 

Atheism

You have abandoned the gods, and so too have they abandoned you. Erase all rune numbers from your sheet, leaving only your character's innate attribute bonuses. Continue to only roll 1d6 when asked for a roll. 

The Narrow Path

As with Monotheism, assign 3 to each attribute. When you make a roll, after calculating and acting on the result of the roll, add one to the rolled attribute, and subtract one from another attribute. 


I feel as though I may add more, or potentially take one away. In addition to beliefs, characters will have other important choices available at advancement. This will include things like their place in society, or acceptance of new technology and discoveries in the world. My hope is that there will be many opportunities for rules to interact in unique ways because of this. 

What do you think? Is this interesting, or too mechanically heavy?

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