Redux: Parsec RPG, Cool Tricks with Dice-rolling

This originally appeared on Google+ on January 4 2017:

Talking about Parsec again today. Check out my previous post on it if you feel like.

So, the resolution method in this game — like I said — is: roll a pool of d6 equal to an Attribute, look for numbers equal to or greater than your Skill rank, and those are successes. Now, most games that do this kind of thing either need you to just find one success or to overcome some sort of sliding scale of difficulty depending on what you’re doing. Parsec does things a little differently. In this game, a total success is always about scoring three successes on your dice pool: do that, you get exactly what you want. If you get zero successes, that’s a total failure. The space in-between? Oh man, that’s where we get into some almost Apocalypse World style territory.

The text basically says that the GM is meant to inject complications and twists into the narrative whenever the players get at 1 or 2 successes. Let the PC get what they want, if it makes sense, but make it cost them or make things worse for them. Honestly, I really dig how Parsec explains it.

“If you get fewer than 3 successes, you aren’t completely successful—but you didn’t necessarily fail either. If an obstacle was already made clear, then it is also clear what happened. If no obstacle was clear, and the roll was just bad luck, then bad luck has also struck your character. The Director can take this opportunity to weave a complication into the plot that keeps you from success. This isn’t supposed to be a serious complication, like a violent attack or an explosion (unless it was already established that such threats existed), but it can be something that you have to work around if you want to continue on your current path.”

So, ya know, set the stakes, and follow through on them. If you didn’t establish any beforehand, well, this time its just bad luck. Go ahead and weave in a complication, as seriously as has already been established. Parsec reads very often like a rather traditional game, so its just very nice for the resolution section to come out and say ‘hey when things go wrong, keep the game moving’ in this kind of way. At least, to me its nice. Heck it even says:

“When deciding exactly how failed Skill rolls play out, the Director is encouraged to work with the players. If no interesting ideas immediately come up, don’t worry about it. The Skill roll wasn’t quite successful, and you move on to the next thing. Every failed roll doesn’t need to become a big deal; they’re just opportunities to add interesting twists into the plot.”

Work with the players, huh? Go for a little collaboration, eh? I mean, I know its not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I like the in-the-manual suggestion to ask the players “so what just went wrong when you were screwing with the shield generator?”

Beyond that, there’s some talk of dice pool modifiers that initially didn’t impress me much, but now that I have an appreciation for Burning Wheel, they don’t bother me quite as much. There’s a straightforward three-tier option for representing difficulty or adverse conditions by applying a -2/-4/ or -6 die penalty to a roll, as well as some guidance on applying penalties for working quickly. Then comes some talk about handing out bonuses for situational advantages the players might have on their side when making these rolls. Like I said, its gels easily enough with the BW mentality, that I almost feel like when I see people ask about using Burning Empires for generic sci-fi, I should just point them at Parsec.

All of that said, Parsec does flex its muscles in its own unique ways, and it does so in its Skills list. Every Skill (a quick count tells me there are 31) entry includes a listing for what tools it requires and how long it takes, important for the above rules where contravening either of those makes things tricky. Every entry also includes an example usage, and they’re all these very interesting, specific implementations of how to use the number of successes you’ve rolled to create new mechanical effects in the game! It reminds me most of being told to pick from a list in Apocalypse World when you score a 10+, but that’s not quite right. In fact, it really reminds me of Sorcerer and how in that game 1 success = 1 die, creating a universal rule by which you could reward player characters for being prepared.

Basically, every Skill seems to come with own almost tiny mini-game or special trick that players can game if they know what they’re doing, and the GM is encouraged to take these as suggestions and learn to ad lib other cool, badass rewards for their players on the regular. I have no idea if I would be able to learn to do that! But I confess that its a cool idea, knowing the system well enough that I could turn to my player rolling Science and say “Hey, because you rolled so well, here is a unique special benefit that you can hold onto for a while.” If I were a player, I 100% know I would buy into being given an artisanally-crafted in-game perk because I made a plan and pulled it off. Here’s a couple examples from the text:

“Freerunning: To escape pursuit, or to pursue someone, by running up walls, leaping over obstacles and so on in a cluttered environment, you can roll Acrobatics forcing an opposed Acrobatics roll to keep up with you (or escape you). If your opponent in the roll uses Athletics to oppose you, then they suffer a -2 situational modifier, smashing through obstacles that you deftly avoid. (Obviously, this ability can be spectacular in less than Earth gravity…)”

I dig it!

“Code-breaking: In order to crack an encrypted piece of software or data, a character makes an Analysis roll versus the creator of the code’s Programming roll with equipment factored in for both of them. If the number of required successes is doubled, then the analyst has cracked the code so thoroughly and quickly that the incursion will leave essentially no evidence at all.”

I like it!

“Weak Point: If you have the time to study an object or machine, you can determine what its weak point is with an Engineering roll, and on your first attack against that object or machine, you add your Engineering successes, in dice, to the attack roll. This is useful when trying to incapacitate vehicles or, especially, in spaceship combat. This can only be done once for any given combat.”

“Zero-G is the kind of Skill that is usually used in the close quarters of a ship or space station. If your location is familiar to you, you will be able to maneuver in all directions much faster than people who aren’t accustomed to the exact shape of the space you’re in and the little hazards that can trip you up. When you are in a physical conflict in close quarters using Zero-G, you can substitute your Zero-G Skill for your Evasion Skill in familiar territory.”

And that’s roughly how all 31 examples proceed. Parsec is clearly gunning for something similar to Sorcerer‘s 1=1 set-up, although I don’t know how close to cleaves to that ratio. Regardless, the system clearly wants its GMs to develop the ability to interpret players’ rolls and shoot back at them “Hey, that was awesome, so what if you’re a badass in this way right here?!” and it definitely punches me right in the part of the brain where I already want to reward my players and make them feel like their decisions are super cool.

Done gushing, for now, again. This book has crawled inside my head again. I’m going to talk about how the game handles 3-Dimensional spaceship combat sometime soon.

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