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Skip Navigation LinksHack Guidelines>Dice Pools

Dice and Dice Pools

Dice pools are formed by combining trait dice, thus to understand dice pools it is first necessary to have a basic understanding of what traits are.

In Cortex Plus Heroic most types of character abilities, called traits, are defined in terms of different steps of Polyhedral dice; specifically d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12. The more sides on the die used to measure a trait, the better the trait is; bigger is better. Thus a character with Strength: d12 is objectively stronger than a character with Strength: d10.

When looking at characters, if something has a label and die rating, it is a trait. Some traits, such as Running or Ranged, are standardized, have a formal definition of what they mean and can be used for, and are fully integrated with the game system. However, it is also permitted to make up arbitrary traits such as "Rock Star:d6", as long as a common understanding of what the trait can be used for is reached and the GM agrees to allow it.

Full character write ups are essentially a collection of sets of traits; Distinctions are a set of traits, Aptitudes are a set of traits, each Ability Set is a set of traits...even Tier or an Asset is a "set of traits" that only has one trait in it.

When a character needs to make a roll for an action or reaction, their dice pool is formed by selecting up to one (1) relevant trait die from each of that character's trait sets and collecting them together. Additionally, it is sometimes possible to include other dice such as any relevant Complications or Stress a target is suffering from, or relevant Scene Distinctions.

Forming Dice Pools

Here's a list of traits you can normally add to your dice pools using this hack:

  • Tier die
  • Up to one Aptitude die
  • Up to one Distinction die (d8 or d4)
  • Up to one Ability trait die from each of your Ability Sets
  • Up to one of your target's Stress or Complication dice
  • Up to two Asset dice

SFX and Plot Points spending allows a character to situationally include more dice in a given dice pool.

Once a dice pool is formed all of the dice in the pool are rolled together, up to two dice are chosen and added together to determine the character's total, and a third die is selected as the character's effect (which will be applied if the character's roll is successful).

For every five (5) points a result exceeds the opposing roll the winner can step up their effect die, up to a d12.

However, 1's are bad. Any die that rolls a 1 is set aside and cannot be included in a character's total or used for a character's effect. Further, each die that rolled a 1 is called an opportunity. If rolled by a player, the GM may add a die of equal size to the doom pool. If rolled by the GM the players may benefit from it if they have one or more SFX that are triggered by an opportunity. Plot Points are typically offered or spent as part of this process; thus sometimes rolling ones might ultimately benefit a character in the long term.

A character may spend plot points and a GM might spend dice from the doom pool to bend this standard dice pool mechanic by adding more than one die to the dice pool from a given trait set or by including more than two dice to determine the total or to include more than one effect die. Additioanlly, other abilities such as SFX may modify the forming of a dice pool or determination of the total or determination of the effect.

Adding, Removing, Doubling, Stepping, Moving

Sometimes SFX or potentially other circumstances might manipulate one or more trait dice when forming a dice pool. Such dice pool manipulation is a distinctive feature of the game system, with players (and the GM) physically engaging with individual dice which each represent some aspect of a character or the situation they are in as they form each dice pool. The language used to describe doing this can seem a little opaque (what does it mean to "step" a die?), but the concepts are quite simple and once understood very intuitive.

A trait die can be added to a dice pool before rolling; when this is indicated one of the physical dice of the correct kind is simply added to the dice pool. Thus if directed to add a d6 to your dice pool, you grab a spare d6 and put it with the pile of other dice you are forming your dice pool with.

A trait die can be removed from a dice pool either before or after rolling; when this is indicated one of the physical dice of the correct kind is simply taken out of the dice pool and set aside; removed dice cannot be used as part of the character's current action or reaction resolution. Thus if directed to remove a d8, you pick up a d8 from your dice pool and put it away from the other dice in your dice pool.

If directed to remove dice after you have rolled, instead of tossing the removed dice wherever you keep your unused dice, it is best to instead carefully place the dice being removed with their rolled side up, away from the result of your rolled dice but still in the active area of table space where the roll is being resolved; this can help alleviate confusion or disagreement during the course of resolving the roll. If directed to remove the highest rolling die from your result, then after you have rolled you take the die with the highest rolled value and set it aside (if there are ties, you may choose which die to remove). If directed to remove all 1's, after you have rolled pick up any 1's and set them aside.

A trait die can be doubled; when this is indicated a second die of the same kind is added to the dice pool. Thus if a d6 were doubled a second d6 would be added to the dice pool, if a d8 were doubled a second d8 would be added.

A trait die can step up to the next higher die or step down to the next lower die. Thus if directed to step up a d6 remove a d6 from the dice pool and replace it with a d8. If directed to step down a d6, remove a d6 from the dice pool and replace it with a d4.

If a d4 would be stepped down, it is instead removed. If a d12 in a dice pool would be stepped up instead step up the next lower die in the dice pool. If all dice that remain in your dice pool are d12's, add a d6 to your dice pool.

Under some circumstances a die can be moved to or from the doom pool (the GM's dice resource). When directed to move a die to the doom pool, physically take the indicated die and hand it to the GM for inclusion into the doom pool. When directed to move a die from the doom pool, the GM will hand you the indicated die.

These dice manipulations are often combined; for instance you might be directed to step down a die and then double it, or to take a die from the doom pool to include in a dice pool and then after resolving the roll to step the die up and return it to the doom pool. In some cases there might be multiple manipulations directed by two or more SFX. When such manipulations are called for, follow the directions of the rules text as written. If there is any conflict or confusion as to which of several manipulations should go first the acting character has priority and the player or GM responsible for that character determines the order.

The Doom Pool

In much the same way that player characters have a narrative resource in the form of Plot Points, the doom pool is the GM's narrative resource. The difference is that instead of being represented in the form of chits or tokens, it is represented by doom dice ranging in step from d6 to d12. The doom pool never has d4 dice in it; if a doom die would be stepped down to a d4 it is discarded. The doom dice in the doom pool can be used in two basic ways.

The Doom Pool As Opposition

The first way doom dice are used is as a dice pool, like any other dice pool used in this game. In some circumstances, the GM will pick up some or all of the doom dice currently in the doom pool and roll them to react to things that one or more characters are attempting. When used in this way, the outcome is resolved in exactly the same way as any other dice pool resolution in the game. The GM keeps a couple of dice for their total and an effect die. After the roll is resolved all of the doom dice go back to the doom pool.

In addition to the dice in the doom pool, the GM can also include any Complications, Stress dice, or Scene Distinctions that would interfere with the player characters succeeding, but if they do the relevant dice should be kept distinct from the doom dice so that they are not accidentally put into the doom pool with the other doom dice after the roll is resolved.

What circumstances call for the doom pool to be used in this way? When the player characters want to try something that's important enough to break out the dice for and no NPC is directly opposing them the result of the doom pool roll provides passive opposition.

Doom Dice as Plot Point Equivalent

The other way that doom dice can be used is to be spent by the GM for various things in exactly the same way that players spend Plot Points for their characters. For instance, a GM can spend a doom die to include an extra die in a NPC's total or to keep an extra effect die or to activate an NPC's SFX. There are some additional options available to the GM that are not available to player characters, such as the option to spend doom dice to split a character apart from their allies or to force the end of the current Scene.

Doom dice spent in this way are discarded, i.e. removed from the doom pool. However, in some circumstances the GM can opt to give affected characters a Plot Point to keep a doom die that would be discarded.

It should be noted that when using the doom pool as opposition, the GM can spend dice from the doom pool after rolling, to keep more dice as effects or include more dice in the total, and so forth. This can get a little confusing, but it is permitted.

Growing the Doom Pool

Under normal circumstances the GM starts each Act with 2d6 in their doom pool, but heightened circumstances will sometimes indicate more dice or dice of a higher step (d8 or d10), or both. The dice in the doom pool will expand and contract over the course of the Act. Any dice remaining in the doom pool when an Act has ended are lost, so the GM is motivated to use up the doom pool if they can as an Act comes to close.

Activating player opportunities is the primary way the doom pool grows as play progresses. Each time the GM gives a player a Plot Point for rolling a 1 (or whatever else they did which offered the GM an opportunity), the GM can add a new d6 to the doom pool.

It is even better when more than one opportunity is offered on a single roll; for each additional opportunity offered the GM can step up that d6 before adding it to the doom pool. Thus if a player rolled three 1's on the same roll, the GM could give them one Plot Point and add a d10 to the doom pool (the d6 stepped up twice).

Alternately, instead of adding a new die to the doom pool when activating an opportunity the GM can opt to instead step up the lowest doom die that is already in the doom pool. Similarly, when activating multiple opportunities the GM can opt to hand out one Plot Point per and add a D6 to the doom pool for each.

Usually the GM will narrate some description for what is going on in the Scene related to the situation which caused the doom pool to grow but it is also acceptable for the player who offered the opportunity to explain how what they've just done has made the situation worse, if the GM approves. This can add a lot of color and fun to the proceedings.

It should be noted that activating an opportunity is a choice and in some circumstances the GM may choose to not do so...for instance they may want to keep the player characters deprived of Plot Points for a while to increase tension. However, the game works best when Plot Points and doom pool dice are flowing back and forth and it is usually in everyone's best interests for the GM to be generous about activating opportunities.

Aside from activating player opportunities the GM has a couple more ways to grow the doom pool. Some NPC's have SFX that directly add to the doom pool; the player characters will typically want to deal with such NPC's quickly! Otherwise, the GM has the option to spend effect dice from the actions and reactions of their NPC's to move the NPC's effect die directly to the doom pool.