Thoughts on User-Friendly Mechanics
As game designers, we have to be careful to not let our own sense of “cleverness” turn into a poor experience for players. Often, we approach this line by making fiddly dice mechanics. When it comes to making games, here’s my philosophy: what’s easy for you to do isn’t inherently easy for everything, especially when you’ve gained plenty of practice at making your mechanic work because you’ve tested it over and over.
What I consider reasonable to have in a mechanic:
- Finding the highest (or lowest) die in up to ten dice
- Finding whichever dice in a die pool are of a certain number or higher, generally not more than ten
- Adding two single-digit numbers together
- Adding a single-digit number to a double-digit number
- Subtracting up to 5 from a number, or subtracting whole tens (10, 20, etc) from a number
What I start eyeballing (but don’t just automatically toss out):
- Die pools that involve more than ten dice
- Adding three single-digit numbers together
- Adding two double-digit numbers together
- Other subtraction
- Subtracting one die from another
- Multiplication involving a single-digit number
- Moving dice around
- Rotating pips/sides (rotating a 3 to a 4, or a 4 to a 3)
What I try to avoid entirely:
- Multiplication of two double-digit (or higher) numbers
- Applying individual rules on dice in a pool
 Mythender breaks this rule, but I was conscious of this while designing it. Because you earn those dice, and because you learn the rules when you have fewer dice, those times you’re rolling 30 dice have meaning (which don’t happen often), and in practice it’s worked out alright.
 Like GURPS’ 3d6. I can do that in my sleep, but I have watched over the years players stumble on adding three dice together.
 Like Feng Shui. This is less about arithmetic than it is about confusion over which die to subtract — something else I’ve seen over the years.
The Test & the Reason
When you’re playtesting your game, refrain from (beyond a demo or two) interpreting the dice to generate the result. Have the players do it. Watch those who do it quickly. Watch those who struggle, and if others have to bail them out.
This is important for two reasons: (1) constantly having to pause to interpret the post-roll beat can break the mood; (2) when you can’t figure out how to interpret the dice and always rely on others to tell you what you rolled, you don’t feel like an equal participant.