3d6: The Myth, The Legend, The Intuitive Dice Mechanic

Years ago when I was working on the 1st ed. of Don’t Look Back (my supernatural and paranormal horror RPG), I came up with what a pretty novel and extremely easy to use core game mechanic. It was one of the things that the magazines really liked at the time. When I made the new third edition I opted to use use Lester Smith’s D6xD6 rules because A) I really like them, and B) I wanted DLB to have more immediate material available. I still get people who bring it up the old mechanics from time to time and I may bring them back for a different project. I really need your help though to know if they have held up as well as I hope. If you like the core rules I present here, please feel free to use them in your personal games. If you’d like to print it or do something more, give me a shout. Either way and even if you absolutely hate them, I’d like to know what you think.

I created this core system because I felt that a lot of games were too complicated with special circumstances and mixed dice rolls that do weird things statistically. I wanted something that was intuitive and elegant where things simply worked without having to do a lot of referencing or complicated math.

Skills and Abilities

All characters have core abilities like Strength, Intelligence etc. and then learned skills like fighting, climbing, languages, stealth, etc. If I were doing this over again I think I’d narrow the list to four basic attributes: PHYSICAL, MENTAL, MYSTICAL, and SOCIAL then as many skills as necessary including some customizations like “Feats of Strength” etc. that might give bonuses to the basic attributes in specific situations.

I never liked making people flip through books looking at charts so I just made the score equal to the bonus or penalty. A character with an average trait would have a score of 0. An above average score might be +1 up to highly skilled being +2. Below average goes the other way from -1 and down. for somebody who’s basically hopeless. Skills have scores like +1 up to +5 such as going from a yellow to a black belt. To do a task, you add the skill and attribute scores along with any special bonuses or penalties and that sum indicates if the character has a better or worse than average chance of success. If your PC was in a contest against another character, their opponent’s scores may be used as penalties to your PC’s rolls. If a thief was trying to pick a person’s pocket, the victim’s Perception may be reflected as a penalty.

Action Rolls

All resolutions are made with an Action Roll – skill use, combat, saving throws, contests etc. All Action Rolls are made with at least 3d6. You get to roll extra dice based on the sum of all those bonuses and penalties from before. If doesn’t matter if the sum is a positive or negative number – as long as it isn’t zero you roll extra dice. If the sum was -1 or +1 you would roll 4d6 instead of 3d6. If that sum of bonuses and penalties was positive, you’d pick the three highest dice and add them together. If it was negative you’d pick the three lowest dice and add them together. Anything over 10 is successful. The higher the result, the better the result. Rolling an 11 would barely make it, but rolling an 18 would be done with grace and finesse. Hitting someone with a roll of 18 does a lot more damage than with an 11. This was always one of the things that bothered me when I played most games — there was almost no connection at all between an attack or action roll’s result and the actual result like the amount of damage inflicted. Maybe a natural 20 gives you a bonus but a 19 is no better than a 14 in general. This never made sense to me so I wanted something where there was an inherent connection.

Nerdy Stuff I Like About These Rules

  • There’s always a chance to fail no matter how good you are and to succeed no matter how bad you are – maybe not much of a chance but a chance is a chance.
  • Improvements over time have diminished returns. Going from a zero to +1 is a much larger increase in your odds of success than going from a +4 to a +5.
  • You don’t have to look at a bunch of tables to find out the modifiers – it’s all there on the character sheet or monster stat block.
  • The results are always on a curve and when situations are equal in terms of bonuses or penalties, most of the results will be about average.
  • No separate roll to determine damage or how successful it was – it’s all there in one roll.


I came up with two ways to handle combat (or any contested action), which is one of the reasons I’ve been looking at these again but I’ll get to that later. Each combatant could make their own roll using the target’s appropriate scores as penalties; OR, to speed things up and cut down the dice rolls you could just have one make the roll using the opponent’s scores as penalties and treat anything over 10 as a success (with applicable damage to the opponent), 10 as a draw, and anything under 10 reflecting wounds received FROM the opponent. Yes, there are some differences in the probabilities but it was more about speed and cutting down on dice rolls.

In the original DLB rules, there were fractional scales for weapons. That was probably too much math. Lester Smith (Dark Conspiracy, Dragon Dice, D6xD6 author plus much more) made a suggestion to simplify it more. I think if I were to redo it, I’d have different weapons cause different amounts of damage but in a much simpler way with most weapons just inflicting a multiplier of 1, less lethal or smaller weapons would do half damage, and big nasty weapons might do double damage. For example, if your PC attacked a goblin and rolled a 16, she makes a solid hit. Anything over 10 is a success so the attack succeeds by 6. If the PC had a dagger it may only do half-damage so the goblin would receive 3 points of damage. If it was a broadsword, it would have done a full 6 points of damage. A two-handed battle-axe may have inflicted double-damage or 12 points. Other things could be scaled too like a fast sports car compared to a slow junker or a person on foot in a distance race.

Damage reduces a character’s hit points. If a character receives so much damage that their hit points drop below zero, their negative hit points can be used as a penalty to any additional actions so a PC that had a +3 in Swords who has -2 hit points is actually attacking at +1 now. Real death could kick in around -10; but with wounds a character would flail about with an increasingly lower and lower chance of success until they just drop dead.

Misc Rule Stuff

I also accounted for group efforts and accumulated successes by adding successes across multiple character rolls or over multiple Action Rounds. Say it’s a race to get from one point to the other and it’s going to take some time, you may need to accumulate 30 success points (rolls above 10) to reach the destination and whichever opponent did that in the shortest number of rolls wins. Got a collapsed tunnel? It might require 100 success points of strength of Physical success rolls to clear the way etc. There was a pretty cool way of keeping track of experience and advancing scores etc.

Why Revisit This?

It’s still my baby and I’m still proud of it. When I look at other games that seem to struggle to do some really simple things that we did back then with just a small handful of rules it irritates me.

The real reason though is that I’m developing some solo RPGs and I don’t want to bog the player / reader down so much in rolling dice that it takes them forever to play. I also want to have things with a small amount of crunch that is intuitive and easy to learn in a minute or two so they aren’t constantly flipping between game passages and rules. If I timed this right, you just went through almost all the rules in under 5 minutes.

So… what do you all think? Any suggestions? Reactions? Is this absolutely horrid or something that may seem to have some merit?

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