Splinterpunks (A Brief History Of The DicePunk System)

Join me chitlins for a  bit of an open-ended game design ramble.

Somewhere around 2004, at the tender age of 18, on my laptop at the house of one John Jemmott, I set out on one of my first fumbling forays into designing my own tabletop roleplaying game. A few things about this roleplaying game:

  • Its primary design goal was to be as dirt simple and accessible as possible. It didn’t actually fail at this design goal, per se. Ironically, at the same time, this place called The Forge was in its heyday, a bubbling cauldron of game design: many of the games being designed there had similar design goals, but due to a shared design environment and certain shared assumptions, they came out almost unrecognizably different.
  • I gave it a name that, even as a dumb teenager, I should really have known was very, very taken, and had been, even at that point, for nearly as long as I had been alive. This should have been clear to me at the time, because when you make a game system that uses six-sided dice, the d6 System is a rather obvious choice for a name. But of course I didn’t even google it, because derp.
  • The end result was a very poorly designed game indeed. There were things I liked about it, sure. Design features that I carried over into the many, many tabletop RPGs and LARPs that I went on to design over the next five years: only having four attributes, instead of the 6+ that most “traditional” RPGs carried around, not having a set skill list, but rather using easily generated (if arbitrary) custom player-created skills, and maybe one or two other things. But it had serious problems, too.
  • Namely, the core mechanic was shit. You rolled 1d6 and added a bonus from +0 to +3 against a target number from 3 to 9 assigned by the GM. The reasons that this is absolute shit eluded me then, but are obvious to me now. First off, you have at the outset a “bonus” that is 50% of the size of a very small random number generator range. From the outset, you are very likely “off the RNG”, i.e. “off the reservation”. Secondly, a tiny RNG range means very little granularity. Finally and perhaps most importantly, using a roll of 1d6 for the core mechanic, you have a perfectly flat distribution of results like with 1d20 (without the d20’s advantage of granularity), rather than the nice pseudo-Gaussian or “bell curve” distribution you get with 2d6 or 3d6. In layman’s terms, average results are more likely with 2d6 or 3d6 due to something called “binomial distribution”. Because average results are more likely, it’s less swingy, and random chance hold sway less. (I’ve always been math averse, but you can’t spend your entire life playing games where you roll dice to see what happens without accidentally learning SOME math.)

Now, over the next ten years or so the “d6 System” (Devon Oratz, 2004), no relation to the D6 System (WEG, 1996) was gradually refined and in the process renamed into the more betterer DicePunk System. This system forms the core of a couple little indie games you may have heard of called Phantasm(2010) and Psionics. But midway through this process of refinement, something dumb and stupid happened.

In 2008, I designed a game called SPLINTER. This game was weird as shit. It was so weird, it needed TWO core mechanics: one for the “real world”, and one for the “game world” wrapped up inside that one, like a cocktail weenie inside of that delicious croissant biscuit stuff. For the “real world” mechanic, I used an intermediary stage of the system I’m discussing. It had a few improvements on the (har har) “d6 System” but it had not yet reached the stage of refinement that the DicePunk System is operating at.

This, obviously, annoys me to no-end. It means my company publishes two games that are compatible with the DicePunk System and each other (great), a third game that uses a completely separate system (whatever), and then SPLINTER, which both has its own system and uses a half-formed, half-baked precursor of the DicePunk System, which is terrible, and confusing, and terrible.


The following documents convert SPLINTER’s Earthside rules to use the proper DicePunk System instead, including an overhaul of the rules for (yes you heard me right) “Player Creation”. No need to thank me, I did this for my own sanity. But hopefully a more permanent and prettier application of this patch will be forthcoming in the near future, with you know, layout and stuff.

Rulesburst – Playing A Player

The Id, The Ego, and the Avatar.


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