I’m thinking about the game I’m developing, and how to set up contested actions - i.e. attacks and skill checks. I see two basic ways to make these rolls work:
1.) Like D&D, the rules for the PCs are the same as the rules for NPCs. Whenever anyone acts, they roll a d20 vs. a static number defined by what they’re doing (AC of their target, for example). Or, for things that have a saving throw, the target rolls a save.
2.) Like PbtA or Blades in the Dark - whenever anything interesting happens, the PCs roll - they roll moves, or for Blades, they roll to resist something bad happening.
What this means for players
In the System Consistent format, sometimes PCs roll when there’s an action (when they attack), and sometimes the NPCs roll (e.g. when the NPCs attack). The nice thing about this is that once you understand the system, you always know who rolls, so it always makes sense - everyone uses the same rules and the same process.
NPCs roll = passive PCs
One thing I don’t like that it can make the PCs feel like they have no control when NPCs are attacking them. When the DM rolls a d20 for the dragon to take a swipe at you, the player doesn’t do anything. They report their AC and hope the DM rolls badly. It almost feels like the character is just standing still, even though AC in theory takes into account dodging and hiding behind a wall and all that.
Consistent for the PCs = active PCs
In contrast, the consistency for the players way of having the PCs always be the ones that roll feels a lot more active for the players. “The dragon takes a swipe at you, make an AC roll…” Now it feels more like the player is the one in control of dodging the dragon’s attack. That’s awesome.
PC Consistent -> 2 different ways for everything
My worry about this way of doing things is that now the way the PC attack and the way the dragon attacks are different. When a PC attacks, they roll d20 + attack bonus against a static AC of the target. When the dragon attacks, it has a static attack value, and the PC makes an AC roll (probably d20 + Dex + Armor bonus in D&D). That’s two different ways of doing things. It’s more fun for the PCs to give them more rolls… but it also means there’s twice as many ways of doing things… so the PC’s abilities don’t match up with how NPC abilities work.
Is that a problem? Sort of? Maybe not a huge deal?
Everything else is unknown
One benefit of rules being different for PCs vs NPCs is that it makes it more explicit that NPCs are not PCs. They’re something else. They work differently. They may have different rules and you can’t always compare them 1:1 with PCs. I think this is a good thing. PCs have constraints that NPCs don’t. PCs need to be able to be recurring characters for the full campaign. They need to be at least somewhat broadly “balanced”. You can have a world-shaking NPC with powers that would completely unbalance the game if used incorrectly… but as GM, you can just decide they don’t do that.
Which would you pick?
Would you use consistent rules so any actor uses the same rules, or something that always lets the PCs act in the same way and feel more involved? What informs your choice?