Split Decision


Split Decision is a method of creating temptation and dilemmas in your role-playing games and story games.

» Original lab notes
» Many thanks to folks on my Twitter feed for your great ideas!
» Translated into Spanish

Split Decision models two mutually opposing forces tempting a protagonist. Those forces might be cosmic (light and dark), moral (good and evil), romantic (Betty and Veronica), or personal ("Loyalty to My King" and "Love of My Family").

Additionally, Split Decision works best if you agree to an end state for whatever character you're playing. At some point, he becomes irreversibly "light," devotes himself to "evil," chooses to marry "Veronica," or prioritizes "Love of My Family." After that point, the character is retired, meaning that each short-term decision has real, lasting impact in that character's story.



Stuff You Need
Two red dice
Two blue dice
A pencil and paper


How to Play

Step 1: Roll
Roll all four dice and see the results. In the example above, you rolled B2 B3, R3, R5.



Step 2: Choose
Only choose two of the dice and combine them for a sum ranging from 2 through 12. In the example above, you have several possible combinations. B2 B3 gives you a sum worth 5, R3 R5 is 8, B2 R3 is 5, B3 R5 is 8, B3 R3 is 6, and B2 R5 is 7.



Step 3: Score
If you kept two red dice, record two red points.
If you kept two blue dice, record two blue points.
If you kept one red and one blue and red is higher, record one red point.
If you kept one red and one blue and blue is higher, record one blue point.
If you kept one red and one blue and they are tied, record one blue point and one red point.
These scores are maintained throughout the game, keeping track of your decisions over several turns.

For another scoring method, with larger totals, simply increase your red or blue points by any red or blue dice you keep. For example, if you keep B3 R5, you gain three blue points and five red points.


Using Split Decision in Your Game
At its core, this system creates two axes of information. Along one axis, you have numbers ranging from 2 through 12. Along the other, you have an axis that ranges from fully red to fully blue. To make the best use of Split Decision, you must first decide what each axis represents in your game. That, in turn, depends on the type of mood you want to create. Here are examples of how Split Decision can be used.


Fight the Machine
You play rebels fighting against an oppressive machine that has ensnared the minds of all humanity. The world they think is real is actually an illusion fed into their minds by the machine. It is a seductive illusion, but an illusion nonetheless. As rebels, you destroy that illusion from the inside-out, exposing its artificiality to as many people as possible. All this while also avoiding contact with the deadly AI assassins.

You roll whenever you are trying to expose the machine's illusion by doing something that shouldn't be possible. The results 2-12 show how successful this action is. Results below 7 are unsuccessful, higher are successful. Very low results are catastrophic, potentially resulting in injuries or dangers for yourself or others. Very high results are fantastic, resulting in superhuman feats of athleticism, creativity, and intelligence.

If you choose blue dice, you grow more attached to the machine's illusion. Each blue point shows your growing connectedness to this false reality and how hard it is to leave it. Blueness make it easier for the machine to tempt you. If you earn 10 Blue points, you surrender to the illusion by choice.

If you choose red dice, your defiance of the machine grows stronger. Each red point makes you an obvious aberration in the machine's system. Redness makes it easier for the machine to find you. If you earn 10 red points, you are discovered and destroyed by the machine's AI assassins.

Red points and Blue points are not mutually exclusive.


Mutant Angst
You play teenagers with new superpowers that are just barely under control. You try fitting in with a humanity, despite most of them fearing and idolizing you. You are tempted by two powerful figures in the media, each espousing very different philosophies. Professor Z preaches peaceful co-existence between the differently abled. Magnus O encourages active revolt against those who would stand against obviously superior organisms. Your choices bring you closer to one of these competing philosophies.

You roll when you use your special powers. 2-12 represents the scope of effect your powers have at this moment.

Space/Range:
2 Nowhere
3 Direct Contact
4 An Inch
5 A Few Inches
6 A Foot
7 Five Feet
8 Ten Feet
9 A Small House
10 A City Street
11 A City Building
12 A City Block
People:
2 No One
3 Yourself
4 Two People
5 Three People
6 Four People
7 Five People
8 Ten People
9 Twenty People
10 Forty People
11 Eighty People
12 Over 100 People
Time/Duration:
2 Never
3 An Instant
4 Fifteen Sec
5 Thirty Sec
6 A Minute
7 Five Minutes
8 Fifteen minutes
9 Half an hour
10 An Hour
11 A Day
12 A Week

If you choose blue dice, your action reflects a sympathy for humanity as a whole. Each blue point shows how far along you are in becoming a true believer of Professor Z's philosophy of peaceful co-existence. If you earn 10 blue points, you are recruited to join Professor Z's Z-Squad, a super-powered team defending humanity from super-threats.

If you choose red dice, your action reflects a growing enmity towards humanity as a whole. Each red point shows how far along you are in your belief in Magnus O's philosophy of superpowered superiority. If you earn 10 red points, you are recruited to join Magnus O's Brotherhood, a super-powered syndicate dedicated to disrupting and destroying humanity's institutions.

If you choose a red/blue pair of dice, your action reflects a disregard for both philosophies, instead choosing a self-centered pragmatism.

Blue points and red points are mutually exclusive. So, any blue points you earn will erase any red points and vice versa.


First Contact
You play an emissary in a foreign land, navigating unknown cultural rules. The slightest action could be gravely offensive or highly lauded. And along with those dilemmas, there are your long-term concerns about pleasing your employer.

When you roll...
  • A lower result (below 7) means that your action is not allowed according to the rules in this place.
  • A higher result means (above 7) that your action is allowed, according to the rules in this place.
  • Either way, you may want to make note of the rules as you discover them.
  • Use caution. Trying to disobey the rules once or twice may be excused as ignorance, but frequent attempts are signs of aggressive disobedience.
  • If you keep BB, that means your employer is very pleased about this rule.
  • If you keep BR (where B is greater than R), your employer is somewhat pleased about this rule.
  • If you keep a tied BR, your employer has no interest in this rule.
  • If you keep RB (where R is greater than B), your employer is somewhat displeased about this rule.
  • If you keep RR, that means your employer is very displeased about this rule.

For example: The king employs Megan to document the culture of an uncharted region for future conquest.
GM: You walk along a gravel road until you come upon an old stone fortress nestled in the brambles. What do you do?

Megan: I approach the fortress openly, waving my right arm.

Roll. B4 B5 R2 R6. She keeps BB, for a total of 9. This is allowed and this pleases her employer.

GM: You are allowed to approach and are greeted… well, ignored… by a man who has been laying in the grass. He seems to be enjoying the afternoon sun.

Megan: I step towards this man, again showing with right arm exposed and obviously not wielding a weapon. "Excuse me, sir. Do you know the name of this fortress?"

Roll. B1 B5 R3 R6. She keeps BB, for a total of 6. This is allowed and this pleases her employer.

GM: The man pays little notice to you and responds in a gruff, smelly voice: "Who's askin'?"

Megan: I respond, "I am a traveling storyteller, singing of my travels through this region and sharing the stories."

Roll. B1 B4 R5 R6. She keeps BB, for a total of 4. This is a pretty low result, but not too bad. Something she just said or did is a minor infraction, but she still wants to please her employer.

GM: The man stands straight up at the mention of "storyteller." He shakes the grass off his shoulders, but never breaks eye contact. He says: "Listen, friend. I don't know where you come from but we don't do no singin' nor tellin' of no tales inside those walls. Now, my memory's bad, so lemme ask again. Who are you?"

Megan: I respond, "Did I say storyteller? Ha! Sorry, my English isn't so good. What's the word… ah… Journalist. Yes. I am a journalist, documenting current events around this region for the good of all unaligned townsfolk. I see you have no banner on your fortress, so surely you're in need of some new news from beyond your city limits."

Roll. B1 B1 R6 R6. She keeps RR, for a total of 12. This will greatly displease her employer, but Megan can do her employer no good if she is thrown into jail.

GM: The man wipes the dirt from his eyes with a clean patch of his sleeve. "Ah, a journalist! Yes, we have such need of your services!" He escorts you into the fortress. "Tell me, what news comes from the war in Shiloh? Whatever happened to the Geldish baby trapped in the well? What are the latest fashions of the north…"

Master & Apprentice
In addition to the basic system described above, you can use Split Decision to model the relationship between a teacher and student trying to understand each other.

When you choose your pair of dice, the unchosen pair stays on the table and passes to the next player. This pair of dice is called the Lesson. Instead of rolling 4d6, she may either choose to accept or deny the Lesson.

If she accepts the lesson, she does not roll any dice. Instead, she just takes that pair of dice as her roll. She may earn or remove an extra blue or red point as she wishes.

If she does not accept the Lesson, she rolls two more dice. She then may choose whichever pair of dice out of those four she wishes. You may earn or remove an extra blue or red point as you wish. The pair she does not choose stays on the table and passes to the next player as a new Lesson.

More Ideas
Mischa: One player rolls 4d6 RRBB. Another player divides the dice into pairs. The first player chooses which 2d6 pair matters.

Insect King: Instead of having different colours the dice could be divided between two with number faces and two with dots.

Try working Split Decision into your own game!

20 comments:

  1. I would like to see how this concept could interact with Gamefiend's concept of Horizons: Overview (http://bit.ly/bWKX4D) or example (http://bit.ly/9vzIGp)
    Dilemma Dice could provide promptings to advance the horizon, although that may cause very rapid progression. Perhaps choosing the other direction could also allow for a path of recovery, which I think is lacking in the horizon model (but also would take much of the sting out of the horizon). What do others think?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Welcome to the Village, your new home. We're quite international here, and a model for the future. Soon, we expect, the whole world will be one giant Village. But first, there's just one little thing we'd like from you...

    Perhaps it's the secret to your new speed-learning technique that could be used for indoctrination. Perhaps it's the reason why you resigned, or perhaps you learned something that you shouldn't have, but are too valuable to kill. Whatever the reason, you've been kidnapped and taken to the Village where, by hook or by crook, they'll get what they want from you.

    Unlike some of their other guests, you're too valuable to damage outright, but that doesn't mean that won't risk your health and sanity in their quest to get from you the information that they need.

    Every time you decide to do something of note, you have the choice of doing it in a way that spites the Village and its masters, or giving in to its pressure, however slightly. As with all cases using Split Decision, you roll two pairs of six sided dice. If you choose the two red dice, place two dots in the Pressure track (described below). If you choose, you may also remove a dot from your Village track. If you choose two blue dice, you may remove two dots from the Pressure track. Any stages marked on the track remain marked. If you choose mixed red and blue, place a dot in the track corresponding to the die with the larger number on its face. If the dice are tied, then choose which track.

    The Pressure track represents the degree of pressure that the Village is willing to exhert on you and your friends in an effort to make you crack. Actively resisting the village will cause it to increase. Acquiescing will cause it to decrease... slightly. Along the Pressure are marks where things get ratchetted up a notch. When these points are reached, pressure will get raised up another degree, and the methods that the Village is willing to risk become a shade more dangerous. Peer pressure makes way to mind-control drugs, bribes to blackmail and threats to friends and loved ones. And as the pressure mounts, your sense of identity will be under constant assault.

    The Village track represents how close you, personally, are to giving in to the Village, while there's still something left to give in. Compared to the Pressure track, the Village is short, with a definite end. Reaching the end of this track means that your will has broken, and you have decided to give in to the Village. This isn't immediately obvious to your fellow Prisoners, and they manage to deduce your treachery in time, they may have a chance to eliminate you as a risk before you have a chance to tell the Village what you know. Of course, the Village is more likely to look kindly apon their prodigal son if you do something to undermine the efforts of the other Prisoners first...

    ReplyDelete
  3. RE: Dilemmas: I'm speaking very generically here, but I could see a simple system being something like this:

    To take a short rest, the GM rolls 4d6. The players choose which pair to keep.

    Recover 2-12 HP (or whatever is proportionately appropriate for the game you're playing.)

    RR: GM gains 2 action points.
    RB: GM gains 1 action point.
    Tie: GM gains 1 action point. Also, one player doesn't recover, because he has to stand guard.
    BR: One player doesn't recover, because he has to stand guard.
    BB: Two players don't recover, because they have to stand guard.

    So the dilemma is that either you encur a greater threat at your full capacity or a lesser threat at less-than optimum capacity.

    ReplyDelete
  4. As promised: http://rdonoghue.blogspot.com/2010/10/rich-dice-extravaganza.html

    ReplyDelete
  5. Damn, dude. That's some delicious analysis. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hmm, how to put this into my Exalted game. Hmm...

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  7. I would love to see how you do that, actually.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think that this is a very interesting idea. What do you think about using this same sort of mechanic in a "dice pool game with threshold hits, compare to a target number or oponent's hits" instead of a "pick 2 and add, compare to a target number."

    Say you have a dice pool game, typical rolled pool being about 6-8 d6s. Instead roll 4-6 of each color, keep half, and increment one stat for every red die kept and another for each blue die kept. 4-6 is a Hit, add up Hits, compare to opponent's Hits. The incremented stats could have consequences specific to the game, like a consequence pool to be rolled after a conflic, or a pacing mechanic for a survival horror type game with a threshold for specific fictional events or changes in the game mechanics. Not really sure of the math presented above, but you can at least get the idea.

    I like the Rich Dice aspect of this, and really like the idea of touching on both game consequences and fictional pacing. Cool stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  9. There's definitely a lot of mileage you could get out of turning this into a combat mechanic. Reds being attack and Blues being defense is the most obvious option. If you're using a dice pool system with multiple dice, you could even choose the color composition of your pool with each attack, adjusting your aggressiveness as the battle progresses.

    ReplyDelete
  10. OK,

    So, I've been a fan of Michael Morcock's Eternal Champion/Multiverse books for a long time. Elric, von Bek, Jerry Cornelius, Jherek Carnelian, Law vs Chaos and the Cosmic Balance you catch my drift I'm sure... And so when I read Daniel's Split Decision rules, with the Red/Blue balance I instantly thought of the balance between Chaos and Law in the Eternal Champion saga; but will it work for me?

    Things that I want to reflect the elements of the saga:

    * There are the Gods of Chaos (GoC) and the Gods of Law (GoL) vying to control the world.
    * There is an Eternal Champion (EC) who is ultimately fighting on behalf of the Cosmic Balance (though is often screwed over by the Gods beyond their control)
    * The possibility to introduce trope characters: The Consort, The Companion, The Enemy (enthralled by Chaos or Law and instilled with a burning hatred of the EC)
    * The possibility to introduce trope items: The Black Sword, The Runestaff, The Grail
    * There are multiple worlds being played for, each with their own EC and struggle but all tying into the fate of the Multiverse


    So, my rough ideas so far have led me to adapt Split Decision in the following way:

    * The game has three players: the EC, the GoC and the GoL
    * Choose an odd number of worlds you are going to be playing through.
    * Starting with with the EC and going clockwise, each player takes a turn to select the type of scene they are narrating and their goal. Success in a scene is based upon how high you roll. I'm still pinning down scene types, but they include: Establishing the EC or playing with his allegiances; World Introduction/Travel/Exploration; Introducing/Manipulating/Removing a selected trope character; Starting/Continuing/Completing the EC on a quest for a selected trope item.
    * Once a player has selected the Scene Type and stated their desired outcome then they then roll as per the Split Decision mechanics:
    If you kept two red dice add two Chaos tokens to the Balance of the World
    If you kept two blue dice add two Law tokens to the Balance of the World
    If you kept one red and one blue then add a token based upon the higher die (or one of each if the score is tied)
    The Balance of the World represents the hold the GoC and GoL have over it in their great game.
    * The active player narrates the success/failure (working in how this benefits either Law or Chaos based on the tokens earned).
    * However, narration of a failure can be taken "stolen" by other player. To do this the GoC spends a Red token from the Balance, the GoL spends a Blue token from the Balance, or the EC adds a token to the balance of the colour opposite to the active God.
    * Once a player has failed three rolls the game ends. Tally up the number of tokens in the Balance of the World. If Chaos or Law dominates by two or more points then they have won it to their cause and narrate it's fate; otherwise the world maintains a state of balance and the EC narrates the world fate.
    * Rinse and Repeat for the number of worlds agreed and then tally up the state of the Multiverse at the end.

    Thoughts?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Too big to post here:

    http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=13240

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hey Keith, sorry I didn't catch your bigger comment earlier. It was in the spam filter. I just approved it though and left a comment on your SG thread. Thanks for the awesome ideas!

    ReplyDelete
  13. No problemo! Split Decision has really struck a chord in my mind. I'm actually contemplating buying a cheap pair of scales and sculpting over them to make "The Cosmic Balance", though perhaps have a few playtest sessions first ;)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Yeah, don't fall in the trap of the overzealous money-spending game designer. :P

    ReplyDelete
  15. Alpha version ready to playtest: http://scr.bi/i0I604

    ReplyDelete
  16. Awesome! Mind if I post the link on the blog?

    ReplyDelete
  17. Alpha version ready to playtest: http://scr.bi/i0I604

    ReplyDelete
  18. OK,

    So, I've been a fan of Michael Morcock's Eternal Champion/Multiverse books for a long time. Elric, von Bek, Jerry Cornelius, Jherek Carnelian, Law vs Chaos and the Cosmic Balance you catch my drift I'm sure... And so when I read Daniel's Split Decision rules, with the Red/Blue balance I instantly thought of the balance between Chaos and Law in the Eternal Champion saga; but will it work for me?

    Things that I want to reflect the elements of the saga:

    * There are the Gods of Chaos (GoC) and the Gods of Law (GoL) vying to control the world.
    * There is an Eternal Champion (EC) who is ultimately fighting on behalf of the Cosmic Balance (though is often screwed over by the Gods beyond their control)
    * The possibility to introduce trope characters: The Consort, The Companion, The Enemy (enthralled by Chaos or Law and instilled with a burning hatred of the EC)
    * The possibility to introduce trope items: The Black Sword, The Runestaff, The Grail
    * There are multiple worlds being played for, each with their own EC and struggle but all tying into the fate of the Multiverse


    So, my rough ideas so far have led me to adapt Split Decision in the following way:

    * The game has three players: the EC, the GoC and the GoL
    * Choose an odd number of worlds you are going to be playing through.
    * Starting with with the EC and going clockwise, each player takes a turn to select the type of scene they are narrating and their goal. Success in a scene is based upon how high you roll. I'm still pinning down scene types, but they include: Establishing the EC or playing with his allegiances; World Introduction/Travel/Exploration; Introducing/Manipulating/Removing a selected trope character; Starting/Continuing/Completing the EC on a quest for a selected trope item.
    * Once a player has selected the Scene Type and stated their desired outcome then they then roll as per the Split Decision mechanics:
    If you kept two red dice add two Chaos tokens to the Balance of the World
    If you kept two blue dice add two Law tokens to the Balance of the World
    If you kept one red and one blue then add a token based upon the higher die (or one of each if the score is tied)
    The Balance of the World represents the hold the GoC and GoL have over it in their great game.
    * The active player narrates the success/failure (working in how this benefits either Law or Chaos based on the tokens earned).
    * However, narration of a failure can be taken "stolen" by other player. To do this the GoC spends a Red token from the Balance, the GoL spends a Blue token from the Balance, or the EC adds a token to the balance of the colour opposite to the active God.
    * Once a player has failed three rolls the game ends. Tally up the number of tokens in the Balance of the World. If Chaos or Law dominates by two or more points then they have won it to their cause and narrate it's fate; otherwise the world maintains a state of balance and the EC narrates the world fate.
    * Rinse and Repeat for the number of worlds agreed and then tally up the state of the Multiverse at the end.

    Thoughts?

    ReplyDelete
  19. I think that this is a very interesting idea. What do you think about using this same sort of mechanic in a "dice pool game with threshold hits, compare to a target number or oponent's hits" instead of a "pick 2 and add, compare to a target number."

    Say you have a dice pool game, typical rolled pool being about 6-8 d6s. Instead roll 4-6 of each color, keep half, and increment one stat for every red die kept and another for each blue die kept. 4-6 is a Hit, add up Hits, compare to opponent's Hits. The incremented stats could have consequences specific to the game, like a consequence pool to be rolled after a conflic, or a pacing mechanic for a survival horror type game with a threshold for specific fictional events or changes in the game mechanics. Not really sure of the math presented above, but you can at least get the idea.

    I like the Rich Dice aspect of this, and really like the idea of touching on both game consequences and fictional pacing. Cool stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Welcome to the Village, your new home. We're quite international here, and a model for the future. Soon, we expect, the whole world will be one giant Village. But first, there's just one little thing we'd like from you...

    Perhaps it's the secret to your new speed-learning technique that could be used for indoctrination. Perhaps it's the reason why you resigned, or perhaps you learned something that you shouldn't have, but are too valuable to kill. Whatever the reason, you've been kidnapped and taken to the Village where, by hook or by crook, they'll get what they want from you.

    Unlike some of their other guests, you're too valuable to damage outright, but that doesn't mean that won't risk your health and sanity in their quest to get from you the information that they need.

    Every time you decide to do something of note, you have the choice of doing it in a way that spites the Village and its masters, or giving in to its pressure, however slightly. As with all cases using Split Decision, you roll two pairs of six sided dice. If you choose the two red dice, place two dots in the Pressure track (described below). If you choose, you may also remove a dot from your Village track. If you choose two blue dice, you may remove two dots from the Pressure track. Any stages marked on the track remain marked. If you choose mixed red and blue, place a dot in the track corresponding to the die with the larger number on its face. If the dice are tied, then choose which track.

    The Pressure track represents the degree of pressure that the Village is willing to exhert on you and your friends in an effort to make you crack. Actively resisting the village will cause it to increase. Acquiescing will cause it to decrease... slightly. Along the Pressure are marks where things get ratchetted up a notch. When these points are reached, pressure will get raised up another degree, and the methods that the Village is willing to risk become a shade more dangerous. Peer pressure makes way to mind-control drugs, bribes to blackmail and threats to friends and loved ones. And as the pressure mounts, your sense of identity will be under constant assault.

    The Village track represents how close you, personally, are to giving in to the Village, while there's still something left to give in. Compared to the Pressure track, the Village is short, with a definite end. Reaching the end of this track means that your will has broken, and you have decided to give in to the Village. This isn't immediately obvious to your fellow Prisoners, and they manage to deduce your treachery in time, they may have a chance to eliminate you as a risk before you have a chance to tell the Village what you know. Of course, the Village is more likely to look kindly apon their prodigal son if you do something to undermine the efforts of the other Prisoners first...

    ReplyDelete

Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.