Dice: Random chance or stylistic?

As you may or may not know I have been working on my own game for a few years now.  I have much of the setting down but I have revisited the system a number of times, ripped it out and started again.  I keep getting influenced this way and that but the original concept I wanted for my game is that it was to be told in the voice of one of the NPC’s of the world.  That includes the mechanics because this figure was aware that it was a game, but it was a game that would affect his reality.

Every time I start to write the rules I try and think of them in its voice but it is hard to do, and the more I think about the rules I think;

If that works like that then I need to add this

There is a loop hole there so I had better close it with this option

After a month of doing this I realise that I have come up with a system that breaks my first rule (it is not able to be narrated) and it is a dense rules based system, not the story based system I am so trying to invoke.  It is generally at this point I get disgusted and throw it all out and forget about it for a few months where I am doomed to repeat it again.

Then I look at a game that I love and may have mentioned once or twice on the blog before.  Lords of Gossamer & Shadow is a game with no dice.  It is a storytelling game and I can see that I could turn this into a game where the rules were narrated rather than explicitly told.  I often wonder if this is what Erick Wujcik encountered when he was creating the Amber diceless system.  I know that he came to a decision that dice just did not do what he wanted with the game.

How RG's Helped me
Rolling Dice – What does it get you?

Rolling Dice

I am not certain that I am at the point that I am brave enough to make that step though.  But I am trying to work out what system I am going to be using and so I am now looking square on at the dice that I want to use and what purpose they are used for in varying games.  most often the argument is that dice represent the random elements that can not be factored in by a single person (presumably the GM or the player).  Is this what they really represent to us as gamers?  I am not so sure.  I wonder if the dice simply are a mechanism that are applied to a game so it gives us, as players and GM’s a sense of risk that would not necessarily exist in reality?

Or, alternatively are the dice there as a separator from us and the character.  Is it this artificial rolling of the dice that gives us the one degree of separation from the character so we are aware of the deliberate delineation of the player and character?  Is it this delineation that allows the GM to lift the screen to show the 20 he rolled that is going to be the death blow to a character as if to say;

Not me, it is the dice!

My idea on random dice

I think I have a solution to this issue.  To me, dice represent the myriad of factors that could come into play during a game.  Perhaps the PC gets a cramp as it swings a blow, or maybe the opponent accidentally trips into the blow.  Random chance is at the heart of the die rolling mechanic, but I struggle to see the conversion rates of statistics and how they fall into “reality” of a situation.  Not that reality is precisely what I am after.  After all my game takes place in a pocket of reality that is attached to our own.  It is populated with spiritual and physical beings and spritual beings that believe they are physical beings.

Plus I want it to be a storytelling game.  I want the players involved by narrating their own actions by including how things happen with a sense of freedom to expand and involve themselves in the world as much as they do the character.  So how do I handle this?  What do I do about random chance?  In Lords of Gossamer & Shadow the idea is that there is no such thing as random.  Whoever has the highest attribute for a task is the winner unless the player can come up with some way of reducing that advantage.  E.g. Stefan is a renowned warrior, considered best with the blade but Nadine needs to get past him as he is guarding a book that will give her access to the secrets of a mystic organisation.  She knows that she will lose horribly if she faces him in a fair one on one battle.  So she hatches a plot.  First she hires some renowned thieves to steal his blade in the dark of night, some say that his blade is the key to his power.  She then hires some (4) members of a local street gang that are OK with a blade and plans an ambush on Stefan.  Hopefully this will tilt the situation in her favour.

random dice
My Rocket Dice!

I love this idea of play but it does not exactly lend itself to the vagaries of luck.  What if Stefan had woken up with a splitting headache or stiff from a bad nights sleep and he is a poorer swordsman for it.  Or perhaps a snitch came and told him of the ambush and he is ready for it.  Maybe neither of these happen and the operation goes off perfectly as presented.  I see three particular types of randomicity (my new term) that could be applied here.

Good Randomicity

The hero lunges forward at the red dragon just as it breathes a cone of flame toward her.  She is gifted by chance as a strong breeze gusts through the ruins just limiting the flames inches from her screaming visage.

Bad Randomicity

The hero leaps from the window in the hopes to land in the pool below.  Unfortunately he catches the edge of the window with his left foot halting his forward progress and he falls to the flagstones 10 metres below.

Neutral Randomicity

Only the hero’s own abilities, skills and wits will help her as she faces the evil demon.  She has done her research though as she grasps the Amulet of Edlan, the only thing that this creature is apparently afraid of.

I intend to implement a task resolution setting that has this idea at the heart of it.  The massive random chance of a d20 system where an expert with the blade is just as likely to fumble badly as someone that has never touched it before is ridiculous to me and I want to remove that from the equation.  In the system that I have begun to envisage skill is still the overarching derivative.  Even if the greatest swordsman in the world has his blade stolen, wakes with a kink in his neck and is beset on by five people he is likely to still have a firm chance of winning the battle.

What do you think of these ideas?  Am I totally wrong?  What would you be thinking of in the same situation?  I would dearly love to know how you see the dice in a game and what purpose they serve for you.  Lets get this conversation started!  Keep rolling.

1 Comment


  1. A single die roll is random. Many dice rolls tend towards the average. Balance it right and you can get the feel of randomness with an acceptably low chance of a disastrous fluke run of bad luck.

    One quirk of using a dice pool system is the more powerful character, with the larger dice pool, tends more towards average rolls. A game where the magnitude of bonuses is larger relative to dice also reduces relative randomness.

    Reply

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