Posted by: markfender | June 4, 2014

Sanguine Games

Yesterday, I was talking about symmetry in games. I mentioned that the Sanguine Games house system is pretty decent for using multiple-sided dice. But, as I was thinking about it, I sort of changed my mind.

ironclawSanguine Games does anthropomorphic animal games almost exclusively. Which will, of course, vary by taste. I think animals are neat and can inform a character in ways that can’t be done with your standard elf/dwarf fantasy races, but I don’t understand the people who sexualize animals. To be fair, Sanguine doesn’t do that either, but it’s a subset of the fandom that they’re perfectly happy attracting.

They’ve evolved their house system over the years as well. And, I think, as far as symmetry goes, I actually prefer the older versions. The basic resolution mechanic remains the same, but the details have changed in ways I think actually make other “feel” mistakes. The part of the game that does multiple dice still works. In a grid format, you receive differently sided dice to roll in a die pool. If you’re rolling your Stealth skill, you might get a d6 from your Speed attribute (as many games do) and 2d8 from your career skills. But, where they differentiate themselves is also having an “attribute” for your species. Mice might get a Stealth bonus, so they get to add their race die to that Stealth pool, whereas bears wouldn’t. It’s a quick way to make different animal species feel and play differently without having to come up with some sort of sliding scale about which animal is better at Stealth. So, I’m on board for that part.

Their newer damage system is where I think the symmetry starts to leave. Unlike the die pool part, where you roll a bunch of dice and then take the the one which rolled highest, you actually roll a bunch of d20s and compare them individually against a target number. Each success is a point of damage. d20s don’t make for good die pools. Have to roll more than three and you’ve outreached the ability to comfortably form a pool in your hand. Granted, large multiple die pools can also get pretty ungainly, but their house system tends to revolve around small die pools. It’s probably an improvement over their old damage system from a mechanical perspective, but from a simple comfort perspective it’s lacking. It also suffers from the problem I mentioned yesterday of arbitrary die types being brought in. Because their resolution system maxes out at d12. So, you’re never rolling d20s, except when it comes to damage. The larger die type allows for a finer granularity in target numbers, which is probably the reason they went with it, but it does feel like it comes out of left field and therefore doesn’t work from a symmetrical perspective.

One place where I do think the new system has improved over their previous system is in the Gifts system. Introduced in the Usagi Yojimbo game, all of the special abilities (usually combat maneuvers or particular animal abilities that require some special rules, although Ironclaw introduces magic into the Gift system) are one-use only. Once you use the Gift, it’s unavailable until the GM declares some sort of refresh. But, there are other systems that can refresh these powers again so that you can use them in the same engagement. In Usagi Yojimbo, there were abilities to purchase that allowed you to expend resources to refresh Gifts. There were also powers that had a Refresh chance that operates similarly to monster powers in D&D 4e – roll higher than a target number on a die type and the power was available again. Each Gift can use a different Refresh system, which helps differentiate them, but keeps the basics the same so that there’s a resource-management aspect to the game. I think that system is pretty elegant and works well. But it’s not directly connected to the multiple-sided dice thing.

In conclusion, I still think the Sanguine house system is pretty neat and offers a lot of cool possibilities. But almost all of those possibilities come from systems outside of the multiple-sided dice thing. And the multiple platonic solid systems “felt” better in the old version.

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