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In Praise of Dice

I don’t think I need to convince anyone that dice are cool. But for those who feel dice are only useful for looking pretty and making a clattery sound behind a GM’s screen, I disagree.

dice-2788986_960_720.jpg

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Fudging Dice Rolls​

Recent years have seen an explosion in all manner of gorgeous artisan dice and special editions. It seems every convention I’ve been to I’ve had to add another set to my already over developed collection, whether it was some rainbow dice during Pride at Origins or a set of cool Eldritch Cthulhu dice the next year.

In such articles, the conversation is about taking control of the story and making sure the results do the best thing for the adventure rather than accept a random result. It makes sense, and in many games I’ll ignore my dice (as a GM that is, for a player that’s called cheating) to work in the best interest of the story to get a more satisfying outcome for the players and the game.

But while I do agree with the odd fudging, I have to also council against it, and suggest your story may be a lot better because of the randomness so often eschewed by ardent story gamers. Quite simply, a random result will not only test your storytelling but also get you out of a rut.

Digging Out of a Rut​

We all fall into storytelling ruts. Many players have a certain type of character they love to play, and GMs do the same thing with favourite types of encounter and NPC. There isn’t especially anything wrong with this if that’s what you enjoy playing. But if you are finding your game seems have become a little samey, you need to go a bit random. Instead of choosing character options, roll them by the book and take whatever you get, no matter how unoptimised or odd. Then take all that randomness and make it fit together. Not only will you get a character you have probably taken a lot more time to think about, but also something you don’t usually play. You might hate it, but if so, you can always create a new character, and at the very least you may have gained few interesting ideas you’ll want to use again.

The same goes for the gamemaster. It doesn’t hurt to let fate take over the driving seat now and again. While it might not always take you down the best route, a random dice roll will take your game somewhere unexpected. When the game slides onto a path even the GM didn’t predict, you are all suddenly on a mystery tour. As a GM I find that exciting, because I want to know what’s going to happen as much as the players do. It may mean a little more improvising but that can be part of the fun. Either way, just like creating a random character you will go somewhere you don’t usually go, and tell a story you don’t usually tell. If it isn’t working you always have the option to pull the adventure back onto more familiar ground by fudging the next dice roll. But give it a chance before you do as sometimes the most jarring paths can take you to a very interesting place if you take just a few more steps down that road.

The Glory of Failure​

It’s at this point I should add a note about one of the best things about dice, failure. Failure is good, and possibly one of the best storytelling devices you will ever find. Sure, it might suck to be the thief who fails to pick a lock or the group who fails to take down the villain. But such events only start new stories. If the lock can’t be picked, the party isn’t going to just go home. They must find a new way to get past the door. If they can’t defeat the villain, they won’t just give up (or shouldn’t if they are true heroes). Instead, they will come back again, and how much more satisfying to overcome a problem that seemed insurmountable the first time.

I even include expert characters in this. While your thief might be a world-renowned locksmith, no one has a 100% change of success every time. Even experts fail now and again. So, don’t get hung up on the idea that it is part of your character that ‘they never fail to pick a lock’. Embrace the fact they are imperfect and can have a bad day and ask yourself how they deal with the fact they have failed.

As it often does, Pendragon offers a model for this with the personality traits. Even the most Chaste or Brave knight might fall victim to the charms of an enchantress or be struck by cowardice before a big battle. They are human, it happens. The question then becomes how do they cope with this failure, and how does it affect their position in the group? Can they make amends, will they overcome the lack of confidence, and what will they feel the next time they are called upon to face a similar test?

So, in short, don’t always take too much control of the story. Let go a little and see what fate brings you. It may take you somewhere you never even dreamed possible, and you get to roll a few more of those gorgeous shiny polyhedrons you spent all that money on.

Your Turn: How important are dice in shaping your game's narrative?
 
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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine


TheBanjoNerd

Gelatinous Dungeon Master
I really hated with the die color and number color don't have enough contrast. Or you need 100 watt bulb to read them.
I have a cheap yellow d20 that I scraped the ink out of the numbers, so it's very difficult to read. It is the d20 of Shame and is given to players that were late to the session. (All in good fun, of course!)
 

I have beatiful metal dice in purple with gold numbers, but I don't use them often, out of fear they might damage the table.

I despise dice that are unreadable, either due to the lack of contrast between colors, or elaborate fonts. My favourite dice are still simple black numbers on white.

As for fudging, I have learned not to do it, and encourage DM's to follow my example. There have been many memorable moments during my many years of being a DM, simply by letting the dice fall where they may. I am not afraid of TPK's; my only fear is not properly foreshadowing a deadly encounter.
 

imagineGod

Legend
Still cannot understand how the GM dice fudge is considered good for the game but a Player dice fudge bad? Either all dice are respected or all are not.

Game designers have spent building and play testing games mechanics to work with both success and failure on dice. Hence, why we use dice. Else, just remove dice and narrate stories without them.
 



DM "Fudging" dice are a direct result of players investing hours of time crafting characters, writing backstories, downloading portraits, 3-D printing miniature and (bringing it on topic) buying the perfect custom dice set for their character.

If you gank them with a wandering monster ogre critical hit and waste all that effort, you will have hurt feelings.

In the long-ago times where you rolled 18 dice (in order) , wrote "Bob the Fighter" on a piece of paper and were ready to roll, you didn't really care if you died in geomorph room 3 because the dice were against you. Because "Bill the Fighter" was only 5 minutes away.

Is one of these methods better than the other? Yes, of course. Only one of them is the right way to play, and the other is wrong and possibly immoral.

Carry on.
 

Zander

Explorer
Still cannot understand how the GM dice fudge is considered good for the game but a Player dice fudge bad? Either all dice are respected or all are not.
With respect, I disagree about DM fudging. When I run a game, I may want/not want certain outcomes for the sake of the story and ultimately the players' fun. Of course, I don't tell the players that I'm fiddling my rolls! But if by a fluke, I roll extremely well and would kill a player's cherished character as a consequence, I'll change the result. Ultimately, one plays a game to have fun and for others to have fun, not to be miserable or make others unhappy.

As for dice themselves, I love them. At this stage I've got thousands more than I actually use. I have even been interviewed on TV about them.
 

On the original topic: there was a kickstarter a couple of years ago for dice where the basic premise can be summed up as "Look, these aren't made of any fancy material. They don't have thematic designs. They aren't even any better balanced than common dice. BUT they have nice bright primary colours for each of the dice shapes, we give you the correct amount for playing 5E D&D (like 10d6s for fireballs, and 5d8s for cantrips), and they have big white numbers easily readable across the table by aging eyes."

I bought 5 sets.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
DM "Fudging" dice are a direct result of players investing hours of time crafting characters, writing backstories, downloading portraits, 3-D printing miniature and (bringing it on topic) buying the perfect custom dice set for their character.

If you gank them with a wandering monster ogre critical hit and waste all that effort, you will have hurt feelings.
This is only fudge allowed. HERSHEY'S Rich Cocoa Fudge
You will gank my feelings if you don't bring it.
 

talien

Community Supporter
In Harrumph of dice.
...gorgeous artisan dice and special editions....Harrumph. I really hated with the die color and number color don't have enough contrast. Or you need 100 watt bulb to read them.
Harrumph.
There is a lot of amazing thematic dice that I've bought for my characters (because of course, I'm that guy). Dwarven-runed dice for my dwarf cleric, elvish-runed dice for my elf blaster, etc.

I end up regretting it later when I can't tell the "six" from the "nine."
 

If you are going to fudge, do it right.

Peanut Butter Fudge

Servings


16

Ingredients

½ cup butter

1 (16 ounce) package brown sugar

½ cup milk

¾ cup peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 ½ cups confectioners' sugar

Directions

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

Stir in brown sugar and milk.

Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat.

Stir in peanut butter and vanilla.

Pour over confectioners' sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat until smooth; pour into an 8x8 inch dish.

Chill until firm and cut into squares.
 

Why roll if you aren't committed to accepting the result? Better to just declare what happens and save rolling for when you're going to respect what it tells you.

Also, there are other ways to deal with catastrophic results than fudging dice results. In games like D&D there is resurrection magic, wishes, and divine intervention. If your campaign is totally ruined by one bad die result, you could reboot in a slightly different parallel universe. Even converting the whole thing to a dream sequence afterwards is better than misrepresenting the dice roll.
 

TheBanjoNerd

Gelatinous Dungeon Master
re: dice fudging
I've always been of the opinion, that fudging roles should only be done in the event that accepting the dice as they rolled would result in a distinct lack of fun, or interesting narrative outcome.
Case in point: Recently during a session, all of my players had been rolling poorly all night and they were being decimated in combat. Everyone at the table was not having fun, at all. So I changed gears, fudged one or two monster attacks into misses while also introducing a few narrative actions to turn the tide in their favor. Lo and behold, on the next combat round, my players started rolling better and the entire mood of the table shifted for the better. At the end of the night, they were telling me it was the most fun they've had in the campaign thus far.

Could I have let the dice lay where they fall, sure. It's possible that they could have turned things around on their own. It's also possible there could have been a TPK and a lot of sour feelings. I think that smart DMing with a rare occurrence of fudged rolls used with discretion is a happy medium.
 

"Why roll if you aren't committed to accepting the result?"

To convince the players that the outcome was dependent on their skill and a little luck, rather than deus autem post screen.

D&D is entertainment. It doesn't matter what's true, it only matters what they believe. Dice are a tool to accomplish that end, in whatever way is most effective for a given group
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Would it be ok if a casino fudged the dice on the players? There is an element of trust here; challenge, risk, and reward. All that.
 

Ulfgeir

Hero
There is a lot of amazing thematic dice that I've bought for my characters (because of course, I'm that guy). Dwarven-runed dice for my dwarf cleric, elvish-runed dice for my elf blaster, etc.

I end up regretting it later when I can't tell the "six" from the "nine."
I have some D20's where it is difficult distinguishing the 1 and the 7...

Also bought 50 small d10s (technically 40 d10's numbered 0-9 and 10 numbered 00-90) for when we played Exalted. Was a good idea at the time, but unfortunately red ink on black background made them impractical with too bad light.
 

The quantity of fudging that is permissible in a game is zero. To be clear, when I use the term "fudging," I mean something that is ALL THREE of the following things:
1. You follow the call for a roll, or adjudicate the result of a player's roll, or set the numerical statistics of a creature that has actually entered play. (All three are equivalent at a mechanical level: a number is set, by whatever means, which defines the in-game nature of an entity, object, action, or event. Note that actually entering play is vital, and can happen even if the entity/etc. in question is not directly present, depending on the nature of the roll, adjudication, or stat-setting.) This is an ordinary part of play, but it is necessary for the next two parts. Nothing untoward has yet occurred.
2. You ignore the actual result or value, and secretly invent a different result or value, based on what you think is best for the people involved. (The vital point here is secrecy; it is not possible to "fudge in the open," as far as I'm concerned.) This is where deception occurs: presenting a false reality about the actual world we live in, not about the fictional world we play in.
3. You proceed to prevent, as much as you possibly can, any ability even in principle for your players to find out what you just did. Given you are the players' only access to the world, unless you are particularly bad at deceiving people, you are reasonably likely to succeed. (The vital component is the active and sustained effort to ensure that the secret falsehood from #2 cannot ever, even in principle, be discovered.) This is where the DM gaslights the players, altering every part of the fictional world dynamically so that the deception is never revealed no matter what actions the players take.

Any time you do not do ALL THREE of the above, it's not fudging. Meaning the following:
A: If a rule is not triggered or a stat has never actually had any reason for the players to observe it or its effect on the world, you cannot be fudging. Revising a monster, encounter, room, puzzle, dungeon, NPC, city, etc. that has not "seen the light of play" or had reason for the players to know about it, is all perfectly cromulent. This also goes for non-rules elements; if the party knows a murder has occurred but has no evidence about whodunit? Go wild with changing who the perpetrator is. Once they have gained evidence though, don't deceive them.
B: If you do your revision "in the open," so that the players (as players) know that things have changed, you cannot be fudging. Honesty is always an antidote to the problems of fudging, and having a real conversation with the players (or just a simple "no, that's BS, you did not suffer a crit" etc.) is perfectly acceptable.
C: If you make it possible for the players to learn what happened, you didn't fudge. Maybe you make up a reason right away. Maybe you leave it undefined for a bit and look foe inspiration. Either way, if you actually allow the players to learn what "caused" the revision, you didn't fudge--you just invoked a mechanic, which the players can learn to prevent, prepare for, or even exploit.

Hence, fudging must be all three of "a mechanic or narrative element that has entered play, which the DM secretly alters and presents as unaltered, and which the DM actively prevents the players from discovering."

With respect, I disagree about DM fudging. When I run a game, I may want/not want certain outcomes for the sake of the story and ultimately the players' fun. Of course, I don't tell the players that I'm fiddling my rolls! But if by a fluke, I roll extremely well and would kill a player's cherished character as a consequence, I'll change the result. Ultimately, one plays a game to have fun and for others to have fun, not to be miserable or make others unhappy.
Why is it acceptable for you to present untrue things as true, but unacceptable for others to present untrue things as true?
 


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