Over the past two days we’ve been looking over DH:LoF’s setting and themes, but today we’ll be turning our attentions towards the rules for the game. Dark Harvest’s mechanics are a stripped down version of the ones used in another game, Victoriana, but it isn’t necessary to own Victoriana to play this game.
The game only uses D6′s which is always a nice thing for communities without easy access to polyhedral dice (you’d be surprised at how hard it is to get a set of polyhedral dice here in the Philippines.)
The basic resolution mechanic is fairly straightforward. To perform an action, the player simply rolls a pool of d6′s equal to the sum of one attribute and one skill. Every die that comes up with a result of “1″ or”6″ is considered a success. A 6 can be rerolled to see if it can generate another success. A single success is all you need to perform the action, but multiple successes determine the degree by which the task is performed. As with any system with “Exploding” dice mechanics, this might lead to some pretty interesting results, where a player might end up doing something legendary once in a while, which is always fun for players, especially when their heroics are a bright spot in such a bleak setting.
To determine the difficulty, the player also rolls what the system calls “black dice.” These dice don’t have to be black in color, but do have to be distinct enough to be able to tell them apart from the standard roll. These dice DEDUCT successes for every 1 and 6 that they roll. Thankfully you do not reroll 6′s on Black Dice. A quick peek at the Degree of Difficulty chart also reveals that they only come into play starting from “Difficult” rating tasks at three dice, and ramp up from there. Most rolls will probably need only 3 to 6 dice most of the time, but once in a while someone is going to be rolling anywhere from 12 to 40(!) Black Dice.
For opposed tests, character have to make a roll against each other, trying to get more successes than the other. Black Dice are rolled normally for each character as well. The extra step of counting Black Dice and deducting from successes might slow things down a bit, but not to the point that it will slow down to a crawl.
Overall, DH:LoF’s system looks relatively simple, and I’m pleased to see that it is very easy to teach. New GMs and players will not be overwhelmed and intimidated by the rules, and they seem to be transparent enough to fade to the background, a key element in many horror games. The last thing you need is to drop out of the mood of a scene to flip through a book because you can’t remember the rules.
Furthermore, it’s tolerant of little tweaks, like perhaps letting the player roll only his pool and have the GM roll the black dice instead. It changes nothing about the probabilities, but it might “feel” better for some groups to do it that way. Likewise, it seems easy enough to change the success values to 5 and 6 with sixes rerolled and not affect the math. Another tweak to bump the difficulty would be to enable the 6′s in Black Dice to be rerolled. That way even if there are less Black Dice, the threat of them screwing things up will be substantially higher.
Tomorrow we’ll go on to build a sample character for the setting, before trying out a sample combat on Thursday to see how it holds up in practice.