Progressive or Pure Chance: Another Look at Ubiquity

I’ve recently begun reading a series of role playing games based on the Ubiquity system by Jeff Combos.  Specifically, Leagues of Adventure/Leagues of Horror, Space 1889 and Hollow Earth Expedition.  Different companies produce these games: Triple Ace Games for the two League books, Clockwork Publishing for 1889, and Exile Game Studio for Hollow Earth.

All three of these games (Leagues of Horror is a supplement for Leagues of Adventure) are excellent.  The artwork, the writing, the characters, and the setting and historical background are all first rate.  The Ubiquity system is straightforward without being “dumbed down”, easy to learn and (for the GM) easy to adjudicate.  There are many examples of game play sprinkled throughout the book, and character generation is an easy-to-follow path.

However, I’m beginning to have doubts about the Ubiquity core mechanic.  Unfortunately, I’m just not sure if it’s just me, or if I’m on to something that could be a fundamental fault-line.  Mostly, it’s because I’m no math whiz, and I don’t even know how to begin calculating statistics on dice systems, especially systems based on number of successes.

Ubiquity is one such system; multiple dice are rolled, and each die is counted separately either as a “success” or a “failure”.  In this case, each die that comes up evens (or odds, depending on the GM’s and the player’s preferences) is considered a success, and odds are failures.  There are other role-playing games that use a system of number of successes, such as my all-time favorite Shadowrun by Catalyst Games.  There is also the World of Darkness (Vampire, Mage, Werewolf, etc.) system, whether Classic or New.

In each of these other systems, instead of looking for odds or evens, every die that shows as a certain number (a target number) or higher is considered a success.  In Third Edition Shadowrun, this target number was variable depending on difficulty or circumstances.  In later editions (Fourth and Fifth so far), the target number is always a 5 or higher on d6, with modifiers affecting the number of dice rolled.  White Wolf’s World of Darkness series follows that same pattern, with older versions using a variable target number and the newer system using a set number (I think?  I don’t have access to my books as I write this).

In these cases, the number of successes helps define exactly how successful you were at a task, not just simply pass or fail.  However, most role-playing games, including the Great Granddaddy of them all, use a system of pass or fail; i.e. either you roll high enough to succeed or you don’t, with no gradation.  The number of successes system is one of the biggest reasons I love Shadowrun so much.

The biggest difference between the types of successes-rolled systems is the requirement for a specified number of successes.  With older Shadowrun, generally if you got at least one success you completed the task.  With newer 4th or 5th Edition, the GM would assign a minimum number of successes necessary for success at the task.  The same generally goes for the old and new World of Darkness.

Ubiquity follows the modern style; the GM specifies how many successes are needed to accomplish the task.

Here’s where my difficulty with Ubiquity begins.  I just can’t shake the feeling that the odds-or-evens system always means that no matter how many dice you have to roll, it’s still just a 50/50 chance.  There doesn’t seem to be a progression, a way for characters, as they improve through experience, to better their odds of success.  Sure, they get more dice to roll as their skill levels and attribute ratings increase, and that means they have a chance to get more successes, but aren’t they still at the 50/50 chance?

Nope.  I guess not.  That last sentence, after I wrote it, just solved the puzzle for me.  It may always be 50/50 per die, but with more successes you are able to accomplish more and better feats of amazing skill.

I literally don’t even have to post this.  I answered my own question.  But dammit, I’m already at almost 700 words.  I’m not gonna throw them all away.  If nothing else, the article helped me, and it hopefully helps you, realize just how truly great the Ubiquity system is, and how much fun those RPG’s are that use it.  A neat aspect of Ubiquity that I didn’t mention earlier is that since it’s based on odds or evens, you can use just about any type of die you’d like, given that it’s got an even number of sides.

Now that that’s settled, it’s time to gather up the sled dogs and get going.  We’ve only a day’s travel, maybe two, until we reach where I’ve calculated the edge of the entrance into the Hollow Earth lies.  If we make it back alive, I’ll post more ramblings after I recover.

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