Percentile Games
April 12, 2013

Percentile Games

Most table-top role-playing games use some form of dice to represent the element of chance. Games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or the Rifts RPG use a variety of dice, though the 20-sided is often called upon the most. Games like Shadowrun, Big Eyes Small Mouth, or GURPS use a six-sided dice exclusively. Others use a ten-sided dice, such as the various World of Darkness games. Some games such as the Dresden Files RPG or Star Wars: Edge of the Empire use their own unique dice. The former uses “fudge dice,” while I am told that Star Wars uses a wide variety, but I haven’t had a chance to try this one yet. There are still others that use percentile dice, also known as the d100, such as Anima: Beyond Fantasy. There are even a few games out there that don’t use dice at all, such as the Marvel Universe Role-Playing Game, but these tend to be the exceptions, rather than the norm. Now, for me, the type of dice really doesn’t matter. I have quite a collection myself and I am sure that most gamers out there can say the same. What I do tend to mind, though, is when the percentile dice are used as the core mechanic of the game.

Dice systems can usually be broken down into two distinct groups; percentile and difficulty based. Difficulty based games use the dice, combined with various modifiers, to try to hit a numeric difficulty based on the relative complexity of the task you are trying to perform. For example, say in Pathfinder you have a character trying to climb something. Using a d20, and adding your score in “Climb” you would try to hit a difficulty based on what you were trying to climb. It might be a difficulty of five if you were trying to climb up a knotted rope with a wall to brace against, meaning that most adventurers could do it, or it might be upwards of 25 or 30 if it is a nearly flat wall with only few narrow hand/footholds, meaning you would need exceptional skill to perform such a feat. Percentile games, on the other hand, often just give characters a percentile rating connected to their skill and that it what you must roll on the dice to succeed (so, say your character has a Climb of 40% then you would need to roll a 40 or under on a d100 to succeed any climbing check). Given, these are generalizations of the two categories, but often enough this is what it boils down to.

The Rifts RPG uses this sort of percentile system for its skills, which I have never cared for. That isn’t to say that I do not care for Rifts; I just don’t like the skill system. I prefer a difficulty-based system since it feels a bit more “real” than just having X% chance of accomplishing whatever. Now, there are games that make use of both systems in interesting ways. Going back to Anima: Beyond Fantasy, this game uses percentile dice with a difficulty-based system. Simply, the d100 is just used in the same way as a d20 would be in games like Pathfinder. This is done to create a higher level of variance, which I approve of.

Every game system is different, but similar elements are often found throughout such as with the use of difficulty or percentile based systems. While my preference is for difficulty based systems, games that use the percentile based system can still be a lot of fun. The mechanics don’t make the game, after all, the gamers do.

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