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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

Kannik

Adventurer
I will assert back that fudging rolls now and again does not, derogatorily, mean that those playing are not in a "true" game nor that they "do not enjoy randomness" nor that it means they are "not interested in narrative." Quite the contrary. It, like many things in the universe, is not binary.
 

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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.
It's cheating when the GM does it, too.
Once you go to the dice, accept the roll.
Doesn't matter if GM or player.
 

"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."

If the casino fudged the dice so that the players won more often and had a better time? Yeah, I think most people would be good with that.
The Gaming Board and the investors would be pressing charges on the involved staff as soon as they figured it out.
 

"All of these things fix problems with rolling when you aren't actually okay with accepting the brute, baseline consequences of a failed roll...and yet all of them respect player agency rather than blowing it off so long as you can lie to them well enough that they falsely believe they have agency."

In the context of D&D there is no actual difference between believing you have agency, and actually having agency. In fact I would argue the illusion of having agency by the DM rolling dice and secretly not accepting the results, is actually more enjoyable for the players than the honest but complete denial of agency by a DM saying "No, I'm going to narrate what happens."
I keep hearing that argument, but the moment some GM is caught doing it at organized play, the players wanted them banned.
The few times I'd done it and gotten caught resulted in players walking away - even the one who advocated GMs doing so.
In my experience, fudging adds nothing worthwhile to the game for the styles of game I play and run... and does, if even suspected, produce a negative social reaction.
 


I will assert back that fudging rolls now and again does not, derogatorily, mean that those playing are not in a "true" game nor that they "do not enjoy randomness" nor that it means they are "not interested in narrative." Quite the contrary. It, like many things in the universe, is not binary.
Okay. So, when you say "fudging," do you mean deceiving players about the result of rolls, or do you mean ANY tactic which results in not heeding the dice?

Because a huge part of my arguments in this thread, at least, have hinged on the two above things being very distinct. "Fudging," as I have consistently used the term, is EXCLUSIVELY about presenting true things as false, or false things as true, and continuously covering up any situation that might permit the players to find out. (I really would prefer to just use the word "deceptive/deception," but people get rustled jimmies very easily if you use the plain word.)

It is only fudging when you (a) invoke the mechanics, and (b) decide to ignore them, and (c) do whatever it takes to ensure the players never know that you ignored a mechanic you invoked. Only all three together is bad. Openness and allowing discovery prevent fudging--and, in so doing, support player agency, even while they deny dumb dice and support narrative.

There is never a need for you, personally, as GM, to lie to your players in order to preserve a desired play experience. (I say "you personally as GM" because it is 110% perfectly fine for the characters in the world to lie to players. Characters should do that! That's GM-as-NPC lying to player-as-PC. But there is no need for GMs-as-GMs lying to players-as-players.)
 

Kannik

Adventurer
Okay. So, when you say "fudging," do you mean deceiving players about the result of rolls, or do you mean ANY tactic which results in not heeding the dice?
Whether it fits your 3-test definition or not, I stand by my point, that judiciously doing so does not indicate nor negate nor nullify nor prevent the game from being a game or that it indicates that those involved are not interested in narrative, or prevents there from being a narrative.

My other thoughts on the matter (part of the toolbox, middle path, etc) were already noted upstream. :)
 

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