At the end of the first Dev Diary, I listed three guiding principles we’re trying to follow while designing the MONAD System (Nostalgia’s rules set), and, in the long run, a universal framework for other settings as well. The second of these principles reads:

  • We envision a game where resource management is as important as rolling the dice. This allows us to infuse the game with a very strategic pace, without sacrificing any of the exciting old school randomness. Awaiting the “make or break” results of a dice roll is just too much fun to completely remove it from the equation.

When it comes to dice rolling, the world of role-playing games offers a multitude of pre-existing systems. Most of them are perfectly functional, some are excellent, and others (think the old World of Darkness) have some significant design flaws, mostly related to probability and statistics. Math, unfortunately, is something one can’t ignore when designing a new dice system, because overlooking the probability of certain results could spell certain doom for the entire game’s balance.

When I started laying out the rules, and how dice rolls would fit into the equation, I devised what at the time seemed the perfect solution: unique dice called MONAD Dice, using a mechanic (I've personally) never seen in a game before.

The original MONAD Dice prototype, hand-painted by me

Let’s take a small detour. In high school, I spent most of my Statistics lessons being bored. That was mostly (I swear) because the teacher was incapable of communicating why I should ever care about compound summation and game theory. He was also prone to loud nervous breakdowns and long dictation exercises, which definitely didn’t enhance my love for the subject. But a few years later, when a friend pointed out the flaws in my statistical assumptions for my MONAD Dice prototype, I cursed my decision to doze off during that class.

Lucky for me, the friend, Federico Scattolin, is an engineer and an RPG fan.  After a back and forth discussion about dice math, he decided to write a small software program to prove that my original MONAD Dice system wasn’t working as expected. And unfortunately, he was right.

After simulating a few variants of the idea, he was able to prove that the probability of “success” remained stable, independent of the number of dice rolled -- and even worse, sometimes it bounced up and down like a sinusoid. Simultaneously, the probabilities of obtaining a “neutral” or “fail” result also didn’t work out as expected. Faced with the bitter truth, I admitted my design defeat.

The new findings bothered me so much that I renounced sleep and spent that very same night thinking of alternative systems. I call this my “Beautiful Mind moment”. By morning I’d conceived  two options, which I promptly submitted to my group of playtesters. They both worked, but neither of them – in my mind – was as exciting as the original solution.

Then, some hours later and in a single message via WhatsApp, Federico handed me the Holy Grail of dice systems -- a simple yet perfect solution that we’d completely overlooked before.

For a moment I felt like we’d cracked interstellar space travel. What immediately became the “new” MONAD Dice system was elegant, original in its presentation, simple to understand, a good fit for its name and, most importantly, it was the solution that required the least amount of dice rolls.

I’m not yet ready for the grand unveiling, but I’m sure you’ll appreciate its minimalistic beauty when you see it.

And this, dear readers, is what “all the pieces falling into place” feels like.

[continues in the next episode]