The following is not really a review of The Dying Earth RPG by Pelgrane Press. Rather, 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.