Advantage and Disadvantage in PBTA games

I’ve seen a theme of advantage and disadvantage dice being added to some newer PBTA games (the first time I think I saw it was in Vagabonds of Dyfed), and I really don’t know how I feel about them in play. I really love how they feel on paper, but in play they’ve often fallen a bit flat.

My main problem is that I think that it makes rolling feel a bit pointless if there are any stacked attribute bonuses. By just having an attribute bonus of +1, rolling 3d6 and taking the highest 2 results in about 50% of the rolls being 10+. In VoD it says that:

Advantage and disadvantage are granted by the GM due to external factors, enemy abilities, or when a PC or NPC helps or hinders your action, using up their action in turn.
Advantage and disadvantage cancel each other out, so if you have equal advantages and disadvantages, you roll at neither. If you have more advantages than disadvantages, you simply roll at advantage, and vice versa.

But, if the gm is just cancelling out his own advantage and disadvantage rulings to make a roll feel risky, is it even worth it? Does anyone have any examples of advantage and disadvantage working really well in PBTA, or is it just kind of bad mechanic for PBTA games?


I don’t have examples, but I’ve seen it used as a way to replace the +1 forward mechanic, which in some tables, under some specials cases, can get a little chaotic.


I mean, it makes mechanical positioning a much bigger deal, right? If advantage gives you a much bigger benefit than getting +1 forward (which is the equivalent in a more “standard” PBTA game), and disadvantage is more potent than -1 forward (not sure if that’s true offhand) then it makes it much more worth my while to try and get advantage, and avoid disadvantage.

I’m not sure if that’s really good or bad, it puts more emphasis on that mechanic.

For examples, Legacy uses it. It’s not just awarded by the GM, it can be generated directly by moves, or by players spending various in-game resources. So it’s not just a floppy lever of the “GM awards then un-awards advantage” kind. It has hard-edged effects, and in particular incentivises players to accumulate those in-game resources.

I haven’t played Legacy enough to determine how big a deal that is, but it certainly feels like a big deal when you read the book.


We quickly adopted the advantage/disadvantage mechanic in a variety of pbta games.

Then Blades came out, where it’s essentially the mechanic in place of pluses. And extra dice isn’t as big a deal, just due to how the math works out. I very much adore how few numbers are on the page; a few +1 mechanics, but the stats are number of dice instead of a bonus.

I wonder how long until we see a combination; pbta style Moves and stats (Hard/Cold/Etc), but with a number of dice rather than a stat number.

I haven’t seen a game that does that yet. Has anyone else?


This my favorite thing about BitD. The dice rolling is spot on. Get better add dice and at the same time reading the dice results never gets harder. The results of 2 dice reads as fast as 6.

On top of that everything is teared. So even if I am rolling 4-5 dice I could still have limited effect on a successful outcome.

It just feels right in play.

I do think that even for people not hacking BitD directly this type of dice mechanic will be used more often.


I have to admit that from the probabilities alone I don’t find the difference between +1 and With Advantage so significant. Here is a spreadsheet I made with some charts comparing the two (called With Extra there as in Spirit of 77):

It’s a statistical +1.5 with Advantage.

I’m more annoyed by stat values of +3. They (especially when combined with a potential +1 from Aid as in DW or even Advantage) make rolling often pointless.


I feel like there are two aspects to the advantage issue in the OP – there’s the probability spread of “roll 3 dice and keep the highest/lowest 2”, and there’s the arbitrariness of the GM awarding said bonuses and penalties. The latter seems like more of an issue to me, unless it’s constrained in some way like the need to cite a pre-established tag/aspect as justification.

I like the mechanic of rolling more dice both for the pure aesthetic of using extra dice, and for the fact that stacking advantages can never top out the way fixed bonuses can – you could roll 100 dice and still potentially have them all come up 1’s.

I’m currently playtesting a PbtA game that uses rolling more dice as the core mechanic rather than fixed bonuses, and so far it’s working just fine.


As @rabaliasand @Gerrit points out, mechanically, it’s about equal to +/- 1.5, which isn’t out of line with what AW2e gives for Aid/Interfere.

The main reasons I like ‘vantage over +1/-1 (etc) are:

  1. No stacking. You have ‘vantage or you don’t. Less worry of getting +1 from this move and another +1 from there.

  2. It’s obvious whether any given +1 mod makes a difference to a roll’s outcome, and it end ends up being only 1 in 4 rolls where it matters. ‘Vantage is less clear. Even if you’re rolling a different-colored die for ‘vantage, you never know if the dice would have come up the same if you’d only rolled two of them. Thus, ‘vantage feels more impactful than it necessarily is.

  3. That feeling is significant. If I’m roll 3 dice and taking 2, it feels safer/surer than if I’m rolling 2 with an extra +1. Partly because of number 2, but partly because of human nature and superstition.

  4. because of 2 and 3, advantage feels like something significant and worth pursuing, and disadvantage hurts.

Also, even though Vagabonds suggests that the GM apply ‘vantages liberally, that’s basically the same as the GM adding an ad hoc +-1 to a roll, which something like every PbtA text cautions against.

(Edit: crosspost with @Stentor_Danielson)



Here’s what I want to see: Move pbta resolution from 2d6 to B[Nd6], like Blades. Then: 6: You do it. 3-5: You do it with complication. 2-: You don’t do it.

I need to run the math on what that looks like, and see how close I can get it to Blades. Has anyone already done this?


Is this what you want?


As @rabalias mentions, we shifted over to Advantage/Disadvantage for Legacy 2e and subsequent games. I like it because:

  • It doesn’t stack: either you have it, or you don’t.
  • What you add to your dice roll doesn’t change; you’re always adding +1 to Force moves, for example, so there’s less internal maths.
  • Following on from that, the range of results remains the same - it’s just the distribution that shifts. So incredibly good and incredibly bad results remain a possibility.

For what it’s worth, I don’t enjoy giving it out as the GM wishes - I prefer keeping it in the place +1 Forward has in AW. Mainly because I think a task’s ‘difficulty’ in pbta - what makes this Seize By Force harder than that other one - should flow from the fictional positioning.
One downside I’ve seen of it not stacking is that you really need to be careful with giving out consistent sources of it. Give it out too much and players will find a source they can depend on, and have no more incentive to seek out e.g. aid from other characters.


That advantage doesn’t stack seems to me to be a design choice, not anything inherent to the mechanic – you could have a game where someone gets double advantage (roll 4d6 and keep the best two), triple advantage, etc.


I mean, I know about anyDice. I just haven’t yet had the time and energy and motivation at the same time to figure out the answer.

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If you click on the link, you’ll see the program I wrote that tried to answer your particular question. If you don’t see it, let me know.


The link just goes to the main anydice page?

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I think “the answer” @William_Nichols is referring to is re his blades-ifying of the pbta spectrum. Not just 3d6 probabilities.


I see what is happening here!

There is a technological issue that is causing a social ill!

So: There was an attempt at a program to solve it. Anydice instead redirects to it’s main page. Technology!

Every human being on the thread has responded as best they can given the information they had at the time, their skills and abilities, and spoons. That is good!

Maybe we can solve the technology problem, but now we know it is not a social one! woot.


Numbers from AnyDice, Chart from Excel.


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loop N over {1..6}{
  output [count {1..2} in [highest 1 of Nd6]] named "1-2 results for [N] dice"
  output [count {3..5} in [highest 1 of Nd6]] named "3-5 results for [N] dice"
  output [count {6} in [highest 1 of Nd6]] named "6 results for [N] dice"

I’m working on something like this at the moment, so interested to hear others thoughts on this.

Edit: The version of ‘disadvantage’ Im using changes results to 3-6, partial success, 1-2, failure.

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