# Worlds of Design: Too Much Dice?

Game designers: You don’t need bucketsful of dice in your RPG rules!

Game designers: You don't need bucketsful of dice in your RPG rules!

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.
Please Note: I'm not against dice themselves. I’m not saying that using dice is bad in game design. It depends on what you want to achieve. If you want a game rather than a puzzle, some kind of chance or uncertainty is required, and dice is a common way of introducing that. What I'm saying is you should not need huge numbers of dice.

## The User Interface​

Dice are part of the user interface (UI). The UI is very important in video games, but it exists in tabletop games as well. (While video games might not overtly use dice, many use randomizers that are equivalent to dice.) The difference may be that there are usually more than one person involved in a tabletop game so mistakes will be more noticeable, and that tabletop interfaces have settled into many familiar techniques because of long use.

## It Started with a Single Die​

When RPGs originated, we already had the example of the many Avalon Hill wargames that used a single D6 and a lookup table to resolve combat. We don’t know who originally used a 20-sided die to resolve situations in games, but it certainly had the effect of avoiding the use of several dice, and did not require use of lookup tables any more than several dice do.

There is an outstanding virtue of using more than one die: you get a “normal” or Gaussian curve of the sum rather than a linear result. That is, the results in the middle are more common than the results at the “edges”—with two dice a sum of 7 is six times as likely as a 2, twice as likely as a 10. Yet with the D20 linear result you have enough distinct choices that you may not need a Gaussian curve, and in many cases you don’t want a non-linear Gaussian result in your resolution.

For example, if you need a 10 to hit, and you roll a D20, you have a 55% chance of success. If you roll 2D6 and sum, you have 1 chance in 6 (16.66%) to hit. With the sum of 3D6 the result would be different again (the average roll there is 10.5).

## Some Examples​

The best-known examples of “bucketfuls of dice” in tabletop role-playing games are Shadowrun, Champions, and GURPS, but there are many others. Some of these systems count successes instead of adding up results. Combat also involves a lot of dice checks, which might make more sense in modern setting where guns are involved and results are more likely to be lethal. Over time, these systems have been refined to be easier to use, but some designers are still including massive die rolls in their games.

Several years ago I watched an atmospheric post-apocalyptic RPG session. The campaign setting supplement that I read for a couple hours during one session contained virtually no rules references; they were descriptions of places, people, technology, etc. It was a setting that cried out for a simple set of rules so that players could savor it. The game rules, at least as the people I watched play them, were quite complex and required large numbers of 10-sided dice. Any activity check required a player to roll several D10s and add the sum.

When there was any combat (there was a lot) it was worse. In some cases there was a to-hit roll, then an avoidance roll, then a determination of hit location, then armor absorption of damage and recording how much had been absorbed by the armor at the particular place. This often required someone to roll a lot of D10s.

## Why This is a Problem​

Large pools of dice create a complex set of mechanics, which has unintended consequences that end up burdening the players.
• Adding Isn’t Easy. Adding sums quickly is easier for experienced players who are practiced in making quick calculations on their heads, but it may not be as easy for new or younger gamers. They have to think about the result, instead of just seeing it.
• Legibility. Different dice have varying levels of legibility. It’s not as easy to read a D10 as a D6, and that issue is compounded the more dice the game uses.
• You Need a Lot of Dice. Rolling a lot of dice also makes for more problems than rolling just one, such as dice falling off the table, and a shortage of dice (especially D10!). In the above example, players ended up passing D10s back and forth because only one of them had enough. This all wastes time while no one is having fun.
In the next article we’ll explore how dice shapes a game’s play.

Your turn: What RPGs minimize or even eliminate dice rolls?

### Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

#### Ulfgeir

##### Hero
Worst I saw was in Exalted 2e. A player rolled 34 d10 (I think it was 7+ for successes). He didn't roll a single success...

AAs for games that minimize dice.. Amber, and Good Society.

#### TheSword

##### Legend
I like how in WFRP 4e a single d100 role is very efficient - it conveys a lot of
Information.

• Did you hit or miss
• How much did you hit by therefore what was the randomised damage
• Did you crit
• Did you fumble
• Which location did you hit - really important because of armour
• Did you hit with your off hand attack (you revers the dice to see what the off hand hit result is)
• Did you activate special powers like damaging

There is a lot being riding on a single roll of the dice. It makes it dramatic.

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#### MGibster

##### Legend
The article doesn't "miss" talking about proprietary dice, it just not what the article is about. At least not Part 1. Perhaps OP will get to those special dice later.
Some of those games with proprietary dice also have buckets of 'em.

#### Umbran

Staff member
Supporter
GURPS and Champions cited as using "bucketfuls" of dice? For damage maybe but their normal task resolution is 3d6 roll under - precisely because it gives that bell curve.

We can go with d6 Star Wars (when using a Force Point, iirc once we needed 20d6), if you like. Or the first couple of editions of Shadowrun.

"Legibility" - this is a problem with the dice you chose, not with the game design.

I've hit the point where I need to choose between reading and distance glasses when running a game - I can either read my dice, or have my player's faces in focus. I think the author is significantly older than I am, and may have similar issues.

#### coyote6

I feel like there was an omission, something that makes Hero and GURPS look like pikers...

<Exalted has entered the chat>

#### Clint_L

##### Hero
Also:
"adding isn't easy" - come on, is this a serious issue in actual games? Addition? Really?

"Legibility" - this is a problem with the dice you chose, not with the game design.

"You need a lot of dice" - seriously, are dice hard to come by these days? Are they bulky, heavy, or difficult to transport? In my experience most players bring their own dice anyway so it's not a shared table resource anyway.

A strange take from a longtime industry veteran.
Different brains have different strengths, so it is folly to assume that everyone thinks like you do. Even very smart people have various strengths and weaknesses - in my school games, I see plenty of kids who struggle with figuring out dice rolls and are top students, even in math sometimes.

Almost all dice have tiny numbers, and plenty of people can struggle to make them out - I run into this problem myself, because I need to wear glasses for things farther away, but they actually make it harder to see things that are close up, and dice are typically right in my inconvenient zone where neither option is ideal, so I often have to pick them up to see the number.

Dice cost money, and for a lot of younger players they are, indeed, a bit of a luxury, especially if they need to have multiple sets. Not everyone has the same circumstances.

#### R_J_K75

##### Legend
I've hit the point where I need to choose between reading and distance glasses when running a game - I can either read my dice, or have my player's faces in focus. I think the author is significantly older than I am, and may have similar issues.
Almost all dice have tiny numbers, and plenty of people can struggle to make them out - I run into this problem myself, because I need to wear glasses for things farther away, but they actually make it harder to see things that are close up, and dice are typically right in my inconvenient zone where neither option is ideal, so I often have to pick them up to see the number.
Once I turned 40 I immediately noticed I was having trouble seeing, its was practically overnight. I wear progressive lenses because I cant see close or far away. but those only help so much which is aggravating when a pair cost \$450-\$650. I loathe the idea of carrying around a main pair of glasses, a pair for reading and maybe even a pair of prescription sunglasses. In order to read anything I need an unusual amount of light, whether its a text message, a book or dice, so I can sympathize.

#### aramis erak

##### Legend
Traveller and many PbtA games are simple 2D6 add a mod or such. I do like the ease and quickness of them.
Not all Traveller editions do that. Specifically, only Classic, Mega, and Mongoose do.
T4 is dice by difficulty, 1d6 to 5d6 <= Att+Skill
T5 is like T4, but with no firm upper cap on difficulty. Astrogation tasks can get way up there.
T:TNE is 1d20 <= (Att + Skill) * Diff Mod.
T20: Traveller's Handbook is, of course, 1d20 for skills, full set of polys needed for combat, just like D&D 3E...
And GT and GTIW are the GURPS Standard of 3d6 for tests.

And to be thoroughly pedantic, Even CT isn't consistently 2d6 + skill for 8+... that's just the combat system and some of the skills; a number are not rolled, but just provide benefits. Navigation, for example, isn't rolled for most of the time, it's just needed when plotting a course. On world, it requires a throw (unspecified dice) at +1 per level. Medical isn't rolled to treat injuries; it mostly is just if you meet the requirements, you provide the needed medical aid for the healing rules, Skill 1 to treat minor wounds, skill 3 to treat serious ones. Medical does have the occasional roll - but only for waking up low passage passengers.

Many people apply the combat to hit mechanic broadly, but I have it on good authority (Marc Miller himself) that Marc has always used Xd6 vs Stat+Skill outside combat. This is corroborated somewhat by Book 0 including odds for 1d6 to 5d6... and, once free of Loren's editorial oversight, with T4, Marc reverted to it. And stuck with it for T5. Likewise, one of the CT adventures slipped through a 3d vs combined strength.

Classic Traveller's actual rules remove a lot of what would be rolled in later editions and/or other games, by just thresholding upon skill level.

Another game with reduced dice: BTRC's CORPS 1E/2E. The mechanic is if skill > difficulty, no roll needed, difference is used if a result margin is needed; if skill less, then 1d10 > 11-(2*difference) to succeed, and the margin is derived from the die roll vs the needed die roll.

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#### aramis erak

##### Legend
Worst I saw was in Exalted 2e. A player rolled 34 d10 (I think it was 7+ for successes). He didn't roll a single success...

AAs for games that minimize dice.. Amber, and Good Society.
Pshaw... small potatoes.
Tunnels & Trolls, some big fights wound up with over 100d6. (Yes, that's over 1000 total MR)

I've hit 30+ in Burning Wheel (after artha and open ending).

#### RareBreed

Worst I saw was in Exalted 2e. A player rolled 34 d10 (I think it was 7+ for successes). He didn't roll a single success...

AAs for games that minimize dice.. Amber, and Good Society.
The odds of that happening are extremely small. A little python tells me that (0.6**34) = 2.8651179995807006e-08 (that's seven 0's before the 2...or rounding off is about .0000000286 chance or roughly 28.6 times in a billion rolls)

#### Only if you're interested in math​

How did I come up with that? What are the odds of NOT getting a 7, 8, 9 or 10 on one d10? Well, that's simple enough, there is a 6 in 10 chance of that. So how about not getting a 7+ on 2 dice? That's where it gets more interesting. With two dice, you have 100 combinations (10 * 10). If you created a table of all possibilities, you would see that there are 36 where no 7+ was rolled on at least one of the dice. That is (60% * 60%) = (0.6 * 0.6) = .36 = 36%. So the formula to not get a single success where P is the odds of getting a success on one die is (1 - P)**num_dice.

For example on
2 dice: (1 - 0.4)**2 = .36
3 dice: (1 - 0.4)**3 = .216
4 dice: (1 - 0.4)**4 = .1296
...

So, if he needed say, an 8+ for a success, the odds improve. Then it's (1 - 0.3)**34 = 5.411695603795199e-06. Or about 5.4 in a million. Yes, much better

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