Designer’s GenCon XP: Dying Earth

The following is not really a review of The Dying Earth RPG by Pelgrane Press. ┬áRather, it’s my experience playing the game at GenCon 2011 filtered through the game designer part of my brain. Your mileage may vary.

Overall, I was not happy with The Dying Earth. The GM was fantastic, as were the players. My main beef is with the resolution mechanic.

In Dying Earth, you roll 1d6. 1 – 3 is a success while 4 – 6 is a failure. That’s how you handle every roll. Yes, you have skills and these allow you to reroll the d6 a number of times up to your skill rating, but this is a resource. For example, if you have Pettifoggery 5, then you can reroll a d6 for a pettifoggery check up to 5 times.

That’s it! You still have a 50/50 chance of success no matter how skilled your character! I found this more than unsatisfactory–it is dull. Even though you can reroll checks with strong skills, each reroll is still 50/50. No matter how many times I get to reroll a d6, there’s still an even chance at success or failure.

Can you imagine that in other games? Would you play D&D if a level 20 half-orc barbarian had the same to hit chance as a level 0 elf wizard? Would you play Shadowrun if every character had the same 50% chance of hacking?

Again, I understand that the mechanic recognizes differing skill levels by awarding extra rerolls to higher skills. First, that does not alter the percentage; if I rolled seven failures, the 8th d6 I roll still has a 50/50 chance. Second, rerolls are a resource earned by roleplaying. The player sitting next to me wasted 5 reroll attempts to succeed at a single action. In one turn, he’s now at the same skill level as an untrained person.

In other words, taking advantage of being highly proficient decreases your proficiency. A clever charmer becomes less charismatic every time he rerolls.

To me, this is bad design. It punishes players for using their best skills; the more you use ’em, the worse you get in them. That wouldn’t be as bad if the resolution mechanic didn’t offer a straight 50/50 chance for every single roll. There’s precious difference between character this way. Yes, that emphasizes roleplaying instead of roll-playing but you want some of both in a roleplaying game. Too much in either direction, IMHO, is bad.

Leave A Reply