Having rekindled my old flame for Alternity, I have been scouring the net for talk of it over the last few days. There isn't very much current, but I have been perusing quite a few forum archives. There was a great deal of polarity over Alternity. People seem to have loved it or hated it. There was one thing that proved a polarizing point above all others, though: the die mechanic.
For those of you who don't know, it is a fairly straight-forward thing. The target number for any task is invariably the character's stat + skill (where applicable). The goal was to roll under this total on a d20. Circumstance modifiers were handled by adding or subtracting a modifier die. The particular die would be based on the degree of the bonus/penalty. Thus, for your character to negotiate a narrow plank crossing a deep chasm, add Dexterity and Acrobatics. Roll d20 under and you're good. But wait, it is quite windy and there is a driving rain. This results in a 3-step penalty, so you would roll a d8 with your d20 and add them together.
Pretty clear, I think. There are a lot of comments out there about how counter intuitive this is. The variable bonus/penalty isn't the main villain, though. It seems like it would be, since most of us are accustomed to fixed bonuses/penalties. But no, it is the roll under that causes the most wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. Rolling under is counter-intuitive? Are you kidding me? These Alternity haters revile the roll-under like it sprang from the mind of La Vey.
Remember, I said that these forum archives are not new. In fact, a lot of them smack of edition wars, with d20 Modern/Future in one corner and Alternity in the other. D20M wasn't even that old when a lot of these shots were being fired. Why is this relevant? Glad you asked. Most of the people championing d20 and flaming Alternity for it's counter-intuitive roll under mechanic had been playing AD&D only a few short years prior. I love D&D, but let's be real. There are a number of totally unrelated die mechanics for different activities in D&D. Including roll unders, most notably Thief Skills and Non Weapon Proficiency checks.
So, I just don't understand how those haters could blast Alternity for being so counter-intuitive, baroque, and unfathomable, when just a few years prior they were up to the eyebrows in dueling die mechanics. Jim Morrison said it best:
"People are strange . . ."