Does a GM need more dice than a d2?

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
In the majority of RPGs that I've seen, the Game Master narrates what happens in the world, and what happens when PCs take actions. Sometimes, the GM doesn't know what happens, so the GM asks for a roll, or makes his own roll (unless, you know, Numenera, in which the GM doesn't roll).

When it comes to a simple does-this-happen-or-not, the GM either knows or isn't sure. If the GM isn't sure, it's probably because the odds of one result or the other are very close to 50%. Why not just flip a coin to resolve it? Is more precision really necessary?

If one result has 75% odds of happening, I think most GMs can say, "this is easily more likely than not, so yes, it happens." Suppose those odds drop to 70%. Does the GM really need to roll a d20, or can she say that it's close enough to 50/50, and just flip a coin?

My next question stems from combat, when the GM is supposed to do a more significant amount of dice rolling. Is there an important difference between the BBEG hitting* PC1 at a 30% rate, PC2 at a 55% rate, and PC3 at an 80% rate, or (almost) never hitting PC1, flipping a coin for PC2, and always hitting PC3?

*Take this part with a grain of salt - I'm not a big fan of the hit/miss dichotomy.
 

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jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
A lot of older RPGs (or newer RPGs modeled on recreating older RPGs) utilize a simple pass/fail mechanic to resolve action and, yes, in those systems I'd say there is an argument to be made that the GM could employ a binary die without significantly impacting the play of the game. HOWEVER, many other (mostly newer) RPGs take into consideration degrees of success (and failure) when resolving action and, for those systems, a simple binary die wouldn't work at all.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
A lot of older RPGs (or newer RPGs modeled on recreating older RPGs) utilize a simple pass/fail mechanic to resolve action and, yes, in those systems I'd say there is an argument to be made that the GM could employ a binary die without significantly impacting the play of the game. HOWEVER, many other (mostly newer) RPGs take into consideration degrees of success (and failure) when resolving action and, for those systems, a simple binary die wouldn't work at all.
This is right. Three categories of outcome with great utility for play are
  • Success, you do the thing, it happens as planned
  • Success with complication, you do the thing, but there's a hitch
  • Failure with consequences, you don't do it and here's the cost or injury
Each changes the game state in a way that is productive.

D3 then? Probably not as the middle outcome is the one that should be most common. You then additionally want to consider how the chance can be interacted with (consider the meaning of +1 for a D3 system.)
 

If one result has 75% odds of happening, I think most GMs can say, "this is easily more likely than not, so yes, it happens." Suppose those odds drop to 70%. Does the GM really need to roll a d20, or can she say that it's close enough to 50/50, and just flip a coin?
I read something in Dragon Magazine years ago, I think it was in a sage Advice column or a Dungeon Craft article, but I couldn't find it if I tried. Regardless, the writer said that as a DM they use d100% rolls at 50/50 to resolve many outcomes on their side of the screen. As a DM I have used this ever since and I find it works well if you're not overly concerned with answering anything more than determining success or failure. I use it a lot for NPCs that develop organically during play.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
It all depends on how much granularity you want in a game. There are certainly games out there with mechanics that streamlined (and even more so -- Dread uses a Jenga tower!)

So you're right that a TTRPG doesn't need more granularity than a coin flip; it just comes down to what the players prefer. I personally enjoy more crunch than that.
 

aramis erak

Legend
If one result has 75% odds of happening, I think most GMs can say, "this is easily more likely than not, so yes, it happens." Suppose those odds drop to 70%. Does the GM really need to roll a d20, or can she say that it's close enough to 50/50, and just flip a coin?
I have a way different, non-binary, view on outcomes... I'm quite fond of 4 outcome systems (CS, S, F, CF). I have whole heartedly embraced both FFG Star Wars and L5R flavors - the only reason I didn't like WFRP 3E was that the system was too focused upon cards + dice + markers.
Any one of the following will trigger a roll to see what happens...
  • Game Rules call for a roll
  • at least 10% odds of success¹
  • At least 10% chance of failure¹
  • some non-success/non-failure side effect of the roll²
  • Quality of success or of failure matters
  • Player states an interesting failure mode
I'll note as well: the PBTA mode of only 1 stated difficulty is a big negative for me.
I want at least 3 explicit and 5 total difficulties (Explicit; typically Easy, Moderate, Hard. Implicit: add Automatic and Impossible.)

Likewise, on dice...
Single die as primary mechanic? d10, d12, d16, d20, d30, d100
2dX as primary mechanic? I find 2d6, 2d8, 2d10, 2d12, 2d16, 2d20, 2d24, or 2d30 fine.
1dX+1dY: I prefer that the range have X= [d4, d6, d8. d10, d12]. and wouldn't object to adding d14, d16, d18, and d20; for Y, same range, but also no die. My second biggest issue with both Blade Runner and Twighlight: 2000 4E is that they only have 4 attribute levels [d6, d8, d10, d12]. T2K has skills run [none, d6, d8, d10, d12] while Blade Runner preview has d6 as unskilled.
I don't mind player facing rolls; that should be obvious from my running Talisman Adventures and recommending Buffy/Angel/Army Of Darkness, jointly: Unisystem Lite. But I much prefer TA over Unisystem Light specifically because I, as a GM, have things to roll, and while they don't include to-hits, they do include random encounters, NPC attack damages...


1: As a general rule, I set difficulties based upon the rubrics in the game; in Traveller, I'll allow a roll with as low as 3.333% fail - <3, or >11 is still a roll. In Pendragon, due to CS/S/F/CF outcomes, until auto-crit (skill + mods >39), most actions get a roll. Highest TN was an NPC... Lancelot critically inspired to Lancefor a total >80 after all the modifiers... But the PC was 24 base and also critically inspired. Didn't go well for either. Both died. In RuneQuest, 2% fail or 1% success.


2: Such as, in Talisman Adventures - Player had zero chance of success, but the roll has a only 4/6 chance of not having non-success non-failure side effects ... The kismet die on a 6 has a player boon, on a 1 has a GM boon. In the case last sunday, it was a called for roll in the adventure, so the player was rolling. They did get a 6... one other player, same situation, had to roll a nat 3 or nat 4 to fail, but rolled a nat 3... Fate point for me and failed roll.
 

aco175

Legend
I always found that the small chance outliers make the game memorable. When the PC doesn't stand a chance and stands to face the BBEG only to roll a critical twice and slay the monster and save the day. The orc in the 10x10ft room is not something we remember well. This is more player focused, but I recall some on the DMs side of the table where the lowly goblin needed a 20 to hit the paladin slaying all of his kin. Stepping up and slaying the paladin with a mighty blow before being muderhoboed by the rest of the PCs.
 

Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Well, it is like this for me :) the more the better. Players have all sort of crazy thoughts when they see a DM with a lot of dice in hand.
 

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I think the metagaming and rules optimization is a lot of the fun for a lot of the people and lets them use excess math skills in an entertaining way.

Rolling funny dice is a part of the hobby, I think. The tactile sensation, the clatter on the table, the uncertainty...there's a reason dice games became so popular in saloons, etc. For whatever reason it's one of those things humans figured out how to amuse themselves with and it works.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Several of the ideas here are from a PC's point of view, and I appreciate the value of rules that allow PCs to optimize characters or to throw dice and tap into our pro-gambling genes...

But I'm mostly concerned with the GM. Unless the GM is loudly flipping a coin well above the height of the table/GM screen, would players really notice that GM rolls were being significantly simplified?* And given the effect of a random number generator on low amounts of numbers - say five-or-so attacks in five rounds - is there actually a significant difference in the GM's results if the GM just says: probably a hit, I should flip, or probably a miss? (I'm referring to the bell-curve effect of RNGs averaging over time/many rolls, and the chaos of few rolls.)

. . . HOWEVER, many other (mostly newer) RPGs take into consideration degrees of success (and failure) when resolving action and, for those systems, a simple binary die wouldn't work at all.
True, and we obviously can't put the square peg into the circular hole. Are some of these DoS systems beyond rule zero? Could a GM speed things up in these systems by rolling the d2 when needed, and letting the fiction or dramatic tension suggest when an additional degree of success is due?

*D&D nodded at this when it started providing average damage numbers for monster attacks.
 

is there actually a significant difference in the GM's results if the GM just says: probably a hit, I should flip, or probably a miss?
I have done this as a DM on rare occasions, hit (with average or minimal damage) or missed players without rolling. Sometimes it's just to speed up a long combat, sometimes I just can't find my dice that are scattered on the table, or sometimes the narrative justifies it for dramatic effect. I'd never do it if a player(s) were close to death, and it's something that must be done extremely sparingly. Regardless the few times I've done it my players didn't even notice, and if they did, they didn't say anything, so no harm, no foul.
 


GMMichael

Guide of Modos
I know exactly two words about Dread: Jenga tower.

Please tell me that it's more complicated than: tower doesn't fall, tower falls. I'd find a d2 to be a little biased if the majority of its rolls were 1, eventually followed by a single, noisy 2.
 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I know exactly two words about Dread: Jenga tower.

Please tell me that it's more complicated than: tower doesn't fall, tower falls. I'd find a d2 a little biased if the majority of its rolls were 1, eventually followed by a single, noisy 2.
It's more complicated than that, but only slightly.

Basically: the tower is a tension-building device. The premise is that the Tower will eventually collapse, ending the scene. If it collapses on your turn, that usually means the scene ends badly for your character. So the higher the tower, the higher the stakes, and therefore the higher the tension.

At the beginning of the scene, you set up the tower. The Narrator might pull one or two (or twenty) Jenga sticks out of the tower to "dial in" the speed of the next scene...the more sticks they pull out of it, the less stable it is when the scene starts, and therefore, the more quickly it will eventually collapse.

Then they begin narrating the scene. You take turns telling parts of the story, and when you eventually come to a "challenge," the Narrator will tell you how many sticks you need to pull out of the tower to succeed. For example, let's say that in this particular scene, someone is injured and you decide to apply first aid.
  • If your character is a nurse, the Narrator probably won't even ask you to pull any sticks at all, because this is literally your job--the Narrator will just describe you saving the person's life, and then move on.
  • If your character was once a Boy Scout a few years ago and had some basic first aid training back in the day, the Narrator might ask you to pull one stick out of the Tower.
  • If your character is an accountant with absolutely no first aid training and faints at the sight of blood, the Narrator might ask you to pull two sticks from the Tower since this challenge is especially difficult for you.
If you successfully pull and place the stick(s), the scene continues. But if you cause the Tower to fall, something bad happens and the scene ends: maybe your character faints from the sight of blood, the injured person goes into shock, and the scene ends with your character being sent to the hospital with the injured person (and removed from the game). Then the Narrator resets the tower, and starts describing a new scene for the remaining players.

And so it goes, until the story reaches its scripted ending or everyone is eliminated.

A typical game has about a half-dozen scenes, and takes about 2-3 hours to play from start (character creation) to finish (the end of the final scene)...which makes it a pretty decent choice for a party game.
 
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TheSword

Legend
The game needs more randomness not less. I really enjoy WFRP and I realized it’s because you can go from fully standing to down on the ground from one unlucky hit from a goblin. It makes combat matter. It makes people be more strategic in combat because they can’t count on the metagaming.

In both games, down is not out. We shouldn’t be afraid widen the range of outcomes and include disastrous in there alongside success and failure.
 

Reynard

Legend
Obviously it depends on what you are going for, but in general I would say that binary potential results is suggestive of binary outcomes, which I don't like. I think it would be better to use a small dice pool (2d10, 3d6, whatever) and interpret the results based on the probability of the outcome, with one end of the distribution being "bad" and the other "good" as a tool to guide GMing. So if the players do a thing and the GM can't quite decide what happens, the GM rolls 3d6 and gets a 17 something really cool or beneficial results, while if they rolled a 3 the results would be disastrous.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
"Need" is such a strong word.

I think, when you are doing just one or two checks, it probably won't matter much. But, when you consider a campaign over longer timescales (and many more rolls) the difference between "Yes/No/50-50" and using a more nuanced approach to success and failure would become palpable.
 

Citizen Mane

The Kajamba Lion
When it comes to a simple does-this-happen-or-not, the GM either knows or isn't sure. If the GM isn't sure, it's probably because the odds of one result or the other are very close to 50%. Why not just flip a coin to resolve it? Is more precision really necessary?

It depends. If it's really a simple binary and it's not critical to the game, a coin flip or something similar might be fine (I've rolled a d6 with 1 meaning it happens, which is not great but okay). If it's a player asking me about something when I'm running a game and I don't know, I'm a big fan of Vincent Baker's advice in Dogs in the Vineyard — say "yes" or roll the dice. If there's nothing at stake, then the answer's always "yes" to any question. If there's something at stake, either in terms of the fiction or in terms of some sort of game system, then we're always rolling. For minor questions where something may be at stake but it's not going to settle any questions at the table (for instance, during a combat, a player asks, "is there a chandelier in this room?"), I've used the Die of Fate from Burning Wheel previously, but I'm more and more inclined to say "yes" there, too. This is just a long way of saying that I'm often not inclined to bother with even a coin flip in a lot of circumstances. Saying "yes" can be a lot of fun.

My next question stems from combat, when the GM is supposed to do a more significant amount of dice rolling. Is there an important difference between the BBEG hitting* PC1 at a 30% rate, PC2 at a 55% rate, and PC3 at an 80% rate, or (almost) never hitting PC1, flipping a coin for PC2, and always hitting PC3?

I know that you're using these numbers for the sake of argument, but, if I found out my GM was rounding as you've suggested during combat, I'd be pretty annoyed — there's something at stake, for one, but slight chances of success or failure either way, particularly at critical points in the game, is where a lot of the fun is for me. It might bother me a little less in a one-shot, but it would take out a lot of my enjoyment in a campaign, especially if I had to roll dice in the same circumstances (e.g., I've got an 80% chance to hit the bad guy).
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
The granularity with d2 goes from Auto-Failure <--> 50% <--> Auto-Success. This allows no room for cleverness on players, no chance to shift the odds for 40% to 65% though intelligent play, consumable resources, etc. And that's a big part of this being a game. An integral part in what players enjoy.

So a game definitely needs more than d2.
 

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