Luck Be A Lady Tonight – Luck in RPGs

Luck, it’s what separates a good result from a bad result. When looking at luck in RPGs, one element stands out above all else to most people and that is the “luck of the dice.” Getting a good role is all about luck, but for some RPG, luck of the dice isn’t enough. Sometimes players need more of an edge to help tip the scales in their character’s favor. It’s usually in the form of advantages that can be applied to the dice roll, a magical weapon or a special class ability. But what about outcomes that happen because the universe wills it? This is where the use of the luck mechanic comes in. The luck mechanic taps into that unseen force that either tip the scales in your favor or not. How the luck mechanic is presented and used in RPGs differs from system to system, but each one calls upon the unseen force to do the players bidding in their own special way.

Luck Spends

“Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it.” – Hunter S. Thompson

Have you ever been short on a dice roll by a number of two from achieving a successful result? To help combat these near misses some RPG incorporate a mechanic that allows the player to spend a finite commodity known as luck from an attribute or pool of the same name. Modern RPGs like Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, Dungeon and Mutant Crawl Classics, use this type of mechanic as well as older games like Cyberpunk 2020,  Pacesetters games like Chill and Timemaster. Call of Cthulhu 7th edition uses a pool of luck while the others use an attribute that is determined during character creation alongside traditional stat attributes like strength and intelligence. The amount a player can spend at one time varies from system to system. In some systems spent luck has a way to return in others, it’s gone for good.

Luck Shares

“Happiness may perhaps be shared. But not luck, sadly.” – Herta Muller

Contradicting the quote above in Dungeon and Mutant Crawl Classics certain characters within those games can share their luck with others. In both games, every character can spend their own luck but the Halfing and Plantient classes have the unique ability to give other player characters extra points of luck to spend. The amount comes from the pool of luck points from those two character classes which other characters can use with their own to increase the die roll amount. Special care was made within the system of rules to allow only one Halfing or Plantient within a party to have the ability to pass on luck to other characters.

Using Luck to Reducing Damage

“What we call luck is the inner man externalized. We make things happen to us.” – Robertson Davies

In the same line as spending luck, in Pacesetter games luck spends can be used toward reducing the amount of damage the character receives. By spending one or two points of luck a character who is successfully hit with damage can use that spent luck to adjust the column used on the damage chart, thus reducing the amount of damage the character receives. To prevent this type of spending to be used all the time any luck spent it gone forever.

Luck Pushes

“Luck, like a Russian car, generally only works if you push it.” – Tom Holt

A different way to allow the players to get an edge is with luck pushes. In Call of Cthulhu 7th edition a player can “push” his or her luck to gain the ability retry a failed dice roll. This is not to be confused with a do-over. For a player to push their luck a narrative reason must be presented to the gamemaster as to why they should allow the player character to re-attempt the failed task. If the explanation is adequate the character can make a second attempt at the task. To balance the pushed luck mechanic on a failed pushed roll the consequences far exceed that of a normal failed result. The new failed result is agreed upon by the player and gamemaster before the roll is pushed.

Inherently Lucky

“I think luck gets you on to the stage. But it has nothing to do with keeping you there.”  – Eric Bana

People can be lucky without even trying. In RPGs like Tunnels and Trolls, Gangbusters, The Morrow Project, early versions of Call of Cthulhu, Runequest, and Pacesetter games, characters possess an inherent amount of luck within them. Inherent luck is derived off of an attribute that can determine if the character was lucky enough to pull off an impossible shot in the case of The Morrow Project, escape death as in Gangbusters and Pacesetter games or accomplish a task by being lucky in Tunnels and Trolls. In the earlier versions of Call of Cthulhu, players could call upon their inherent luck to determine if they brought the proper equipment with them on an investigation if it wasn’t already written on their character sheet or already stated to the gamemaster. For Runequest Luck was bestowed by the gods. If you were worthy enough the Gods would bless you with luck that could help in a dangerous situation.

Out of Luck

“Over the years, I’ve had torrid luck with things going wrong.” – Greg Rutherford

On the flip side of good luck, some RPGs turn the tables on the players and use their lack of luck against them. In RPGs where luck can be spent like Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, Dungeon and Mutant Crawl Classics, that spent luck used to succeed in rolls depletes the luck pool making a character unlucky. In the Dungeon and Mutant Crawl Classics, a gamemaster can determine which character gets the wrong end of an attack based on the character who has the lowest luck. Similarly, in Call of Cthulhu a group luck roll can be called upon by the gamemaster whereby the person with the lowest luck must determine the fate of the whole group.

Lucky Charms

“Frosted Lucky Charms, They’re Magically Delicious!” – Lucky the Leprechaun

Be it a lucky rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover some RPGs use items to give player characters a bit of luck. In Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy RPGs, player characters can obtain magical items that bestow luck. These types of items magically enhance saving throws, dodging and other types of rolls the gamemaster feels gives the player character a bit of luck. In the science fiction game, Red Dwarf The Roleplaying Game luck is a virus which can be injected into a player character. A player character that has been infected with the luck virus gains unprecedented luck to use on any task performed until the virus is countered by the bodies natural defenses.

“I busted a mirror and got seven years bad luck, but my lawyer thinks he can get me five.” – Steven Wright

Luck mechanics found in RPGs are in place to give players an advantage above other player enhancements, to simulate the random unforeseen outcomes we call luck, good or bad. Some may look down on this enhancement believing that the act of randomness should rely solely on dice rolls. But until you’ve played with a system that incorporates the luck mechanic you won’t learn to appreciate that little bit of extra luck that is gained when you need it the most.

~ Stephen Pennisi

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