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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

They make candy dishes like that d20 mug, which is a pretty functional use of the shape.

We kept the candy at the table in one and could use mini-chocolate bars to mark inspiration!
 

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I wanted to buy these at the last GenCon (that actually happened) but same. Couldn't justify the expense when I already have so many.

They are made from used bourbon barrels. The d6's show the charring on the inside of the barrel.


Jack-Daniels-Oak-Polyhedral-Dice-Set.jpg
 
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Blue Orange

Adventurer
These are gorgeous. Alas, I couldn't justify the expense either...
It gets worse.




If you don't want to click the links, D&D will sell you dice with a real synthetic sapphire in them for $300...and you can get dice made out of real silver for $999.

Christie's sold an ancient Roman d20 for about $17,000, but I don't know where you can get another one.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
At gencon, one sees people spending 1-2k on a set of custom dice. Sort of why I think it is nuts to not use poly's now, you can buy them at the dollar store. Though also here I sit making a game for Cepheus Engine that uses d6's; am thinking of making a 5e compatible version though.
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
A lot of people are playing distanced now, but I do think the dice add something to in-person play. For a game that takes place almost entirely in your head, the tactile sensation of picking up and rolling dice is one of the few real-world components (along with perhaps minis, but not everyone uses those, and the people who do often enjoy painting them ornately as well).

The dice also say 'tabletop roleplaying game' in a way few other things do--see an icosahedron and people will assume it's a D&D reference (unless they are virologists--many viruses have icosahedral capsids).

Dice also connect you to the other gamers doing the same thing since the 70s, and to the long line of gamblers playing games of chance before that.

Besides, as far as toys go, dice can be had for much less than $999. ;)
 




Zander

Explorer
https://www.etsy.com/listing/758879...ly valuable Roman glass,on each of its faces.
The Louvre has a similar one in its collection. You used to be able to get a reproduction of it and some of the museum’s other unusual dice. I have a set of the reproductions as well as a copy of its card catalogue of all its ancient dice. I have a feeling the reproductions aren’t made anymore.
 

stevelabny

Explorer
As a DM: I prefer to roll combat rolls and as many rolls as possible - open, in public. So players 1> know I'm not fudging in favor of the monsters because some of them have had horror stories and 2> player's know I'm not fudging in favor of the players either, which makes every combat suddenly twice as tense as they now KNOW that any crit will drop them. Now, the last time I played with strangers, there were 2 experienced players who were STUNNED by the open dice rolling and it actually made them so paranoid that they became afraid to get into combats. The group didnt last long enough to see if they would have grown accustomed to it or not, but it was the first time I had ever seen that reaction.

As a player: I still prefer rolls in the open for the same reasons. Every time I've been a player and a DM is about to roll a combat roll and asks me "how many HP do you have left?" I cry on the inside and my enjoyment plummets. Because I know you are just going to let me win no matter what stupid situation I get myself into. This can easily devolve into even more annoyed players PURPOSELY trying to get themselves killed to see how far the DM will take the fudging.

The problem with the DM as the "magician" comparison is that most DMs are sucky magicians. If they had a poker-face they'd probably be playing poker.
 

Those dice are beatiful, but a die that has a little gem sticking out that affects how it rolls, is an instant disqualifier for me. A lot of the other ones are really hard to read. I often ask myself, does it pass the candle light test? If you can't read the dice by candle light, they are not suitable for D&D.

Every time I've been a player and a DM is about to roll a combat roll and asks me "how many HP do you have left?" I cry on the inside and my enjoyment plummets.

Same! It is just the worst. Why would it matter how many HP I have left? Just attack and don't hold back. If my character dies, so be it.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
Every time I've been a player and a DM is about to roll a combat roll and asks me "how many HP do you have left?" I cry on the inside and my enjoyment plummets.
Since I roll in the open, I still ask how many HP someone has left - mostly as a reminder to increase the tension and drama as I roll the attack or damage die. Sometimes I ask before they are about to do something I think could be stupid. .Again, just to remind them how fragile they currently are. But then if they go through with said stupid act, and the dice go against them, well... that's on them.
 

stevelabny

Explorer
I don't know how your players feel, but I would personally HATE this, and you might want to ask what they think. As a player, I am controlling only my ONE character, so I am very well aware of my hit points at all times and so is any player with the least bit of investment. If you think I might be doing something stupid, either find an in-character way to express that like an NPC speaking up or you saying "As you prepare to leap the 50 foot chasm you remember that your previous record is only 20 feet and that the waterdeep chasm-jumping champion died attempting a 40 foot jump" and not as a "how many HP do you have? are you SURE you wanna do that? " or just...ya know... don't.

But again, that's how I would feel at your table. Maybe your players like it or are used to it enough that it doesnt bother them.
 

Mortus

Explorer
Just to reiterate:
There is no goal that fudging achieves which cannot also be achieved without fudging, which is not inherently a deception (unless, as noted, the players explicitly give their consent). Literally every single desirable in-game result that you can achieve by fudging, you can also achieve without it, though I admit it usually takes a (slightly) greater degree of effort. If it is possible to achieve an end without deception, is it not better to take the non-deceptive means?
———
Well, I was playing a Pathfinder Society 1E game at GenCon a few years ago using my 5th level barbarian half-orc named Erakkis and there was an awkward situation that came up due to public GM rolls.

So as background, I had done all I could to maximize Erakkis’ hit points. I was really proud of my work and was excited to see how that would play out in the game.

At the very start of the session, Erakkis scouted ahead of the party to provide advanced reconnaissance.

Due to extremely bad rolls on my part and extremely good rolls on the GM’s part Erakkis was instantly killed by a critical hit from a mounted lance attack. So much for my high hit points. LOL

I took the situation in stride and asked the GM if I could roll up a quick 1st level PC to add some comedic relief to the game.

I’m sure the GM’s goal was the ultimate goal of all roleplaying which is to have a fun and help everyone else have fun.

After some consultation with his colleagues at the convention, the GM decided to just say that Erakkis was instantly brought down to 0 hit points instead.

I accepted the ruling and went on to have a great time.

I’m curious, what do you all think of these types of situations with public rolls?
 


Argyle King

Legend
———
Well, I was playing a Pathfinder Society 1E game at GenCon a few years ago using my 5th level barbarian half-orc named Erakkis and there was an awkward situation that came up due to public GM rolls.

So as background, I had done all I could to maximize Erakkis’ hit points. I was really proud of my work and was excited to see how that would play out in the game.

At the very start of the session, Erakkis scouted ahead of the party to provide advanced reconnaissance.

Due to extremely bad rolls on my part and extremely good rolls on the GM’s part Erakkis was instantly killed by a critical hit from a mounted lance attack. So much for my high hit points. LOL

I took the situation in stride and asked the GM if I could roll up a quick 1st level PC to add some comedic relief to the game.

I’m sure the GM’s goal was the ultimate goal of all roleplaying which is to have a fun and help everyone else have fun.

After some consultation with his colleagues at the convention, the GM decided to just say that Erakkis was instantly brought down to 0 hit points instead.

I accepted the ruling and went on to have a great time.

I’m curious, what do you all think of these types of situations with public rolls?

Personally, I would say that convention play is very different (in a lot of ways) than how I would play on my own time.

In a home game (and based on the limited information given,) I would most likely say that your character had died.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
I’m curious, what do you all think of these types of situations with public rolls?
As Johnny said, a convention game is a different thing. If I were to run a game at a convention I think I would have a "plot armour" houserule in place beforehand.

If a regular game, your character would have died, and you would be required to create a new character.
 

pumasleeve

Explorer
If the results of a roll must be successful in order for the adventure to progress (ie when a diplomacy check is needed to learn essential information), I would consider that a design flaw. This type of roll should be used to determine what path the adventure takes, not if the adventure continues.

As far as character death is concerned- this needs to be a potential outcome if you and your group want a true "game". If your group is more geared toward a co-operative storytelling experience then an actual game then it may be ok to fudge but I dont really see the purpose of rolling dice if you are not looking for random outcomes. This is a very pertinent question actually, my experience is that more and more games are leaning toward storytelling play over adventure gaming (often derogatorily referred to as hack and slash).
 

turnip_farmer

Adventurer
I am a big fan of dice rolls, even wholly unnecessary ones that no one else can see. When I'm designing my adventures and encounters, I decide that the villain will have 1d12 gp on him, rather than just writing 6 gp; or that some effect will happen 1d3 rounds into the combat. There is no real point in doing this. The players can't tell the difference between me deciding that that bridge collapses on round 2 or rolling a 2 on my d3. I just like rolling dice.
 

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