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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

What? Why? And The Diceless Wilds...

Ok, so how do you have surprise in a game without dice?  That's a question I've heard recently, and one that demands an answer.  It depends.  If we're talking about a condition of surprise as put forward in AD&D (for instance), you simply can't.  In order to generate a sense of uncertainty; real, knuckle-biting, I-don't-know stuff, dice can't be beat.  Uncertainty is an ephemeral thing until you roll those bits of plastic and watch the pips either break your heart or make your adventuring day; which is to say, dice matter...     

But are they necessary?  That's something else.  I'd say absolutely not.  Surprise is what happens when you open a door not knowing what's waiting on the other side.  It's what you get for not sending out scouts and getting the lay of the land; which is to say, surprise is about what the characters don't know - or don't take the time to find out.  And it emphasizes what the players do - or choose not to try, which seems to me an altogether appropriate characterization.  Heroes are lucky - but they should make their own luck too.


Make no mistake, dice are important.  In the military we called it a force multiplier.  Dice engender an atmosphere of risk and uncertainty.  How could they not?  They're an essential tool in the GM's toolkit, and the proof lies in just how widespread their use has become, something like natural selection, where their utility has made them well nigh indispensable in the hobby.  But there's a danger to this.  Over-reliance on random outcomes can leave us drowning in a veritable sea of dice, oblivious to how we got there...

Every game asks what, why, and how much.  What?  A skeleton.  Why?  To guard the necromancer's lab.  How much?  Well, there's one skeleton with 6 hit points delivering 1d6 damage with their scimitar (a nod to Seventh Voyage) in their undead grasp.  And you'll notice how things transition from the qualitative (what, why) to the quantitative (how much) with surprising rapidity.  But you can also see just how much of any game is inherently qualitative, even if we beef up the mechanics - all the best parts, in my opinion.       

Now I don't say this to knock dice (none of us are giving them up anytime soon), but only to remind us all of just much of a game doesn't require them.  And these boundaries matter, especially if we want to get the most out of both the rules and the narrative.  These elements work best when they stay in their respective lanes and overlap at the proper times.  But it's worth noting that while we can't have a purely quantitative game, we can come damned close to having a purely qualitative one, which pretty much tells the tale...

Making it a fine time to announce that Diceless Dungeons 2: The Diceless Wilds has arrived!  This was conceived (and promised in some circles) three years ago, on the heels of the basic game.  Boy can we procrastinate!  With rules for demi-human characters, added talents and high sorcery, henchmen, a bestiary of new monsters, and rules for populating the overland, this one greatly expands upon the possibilities of the original with a high-fantasy vibe to season the meat.  Give it a try and see what this diceless thing is all about...

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