Dice are ubiquitous in gaming; so much so that we think they had to be there from the beginning. Now to be clear, they were (this should save some time in the comments section and is only right). OD&D used dice from the very start because the war-games before it absolutely did and to great effect. Battle is terrifying precisely because we don't know how things will turn out; and that's a hell of a lot when life itself is at stake...
Ditto for thievery. Ditto for surviving a deadly poison. Ditto for pulling off the heroic move that'll cement your fighter's badass reputation into eternity.
Still, old-school gaming (specifically OD&D, pre-supplements) was largely dice-free where gameplay was concerned. Seriously; while dice were there, it's entirely possible that the early version of D&D used them less than any time since, if for no other reason than because the referee had more power to enact rulings. This is well-traveled territory.
Rulings not rules. It's a mantra at this point. Rules (I'll say usually) mean dice, whereas rulings often avoid them completely. If you want to find that secret door, look. And be sure to describe exactly how. Spot checks are a rule that calls for dice. It's been said a thousand different times in a thousand different ways (a thousand and one now). We uphold this truth as fundamentally right; still, diceless remains controversial...
Some love diceless play, others (seemingly) hate it. It comes down to preference, and I confess to gravitating towards the traditional model myself, both as a player and a designer, although without the hate. It's a practical thing. Risk and uncertainly are useful states to trigger in others, a sort of adrenaline rush for the dice rolling set. Making people care is job one - and threatening all the players care about just might be job two!
It's a confidence thing. If you want to feel good, do something you didn't think possible, whether rolling a natural 20 that (maybe literally) brings the house down or just a successful attack that averts what should have been a bloody total party kill.
Still, much of what happens (and much of what players engage with) is decision making, exploration, and role-playing through problems. Often enough, just coming up with a clever solution is challenging; and watching the way in which choices build narratives can be as entertaining as any movie when the players care about what happens. In short, old-school players want more than just blood. They want to participate in experiences...
And experiences don't require dice, certainly not 90% of gaming ones!
I'll take it further. In OD&D there was no roll-under mechanic. Abilities granted just a few obvious bonuses (missiles come to mind), but beyond experience adjustments, existed primarily as an aid for the referee in adjudicating tasks. For instance, intelligence was used to determine if certain actions would be taken (that's almost a direct quote). Sorry Gordo, that clever strategy is beyond your 5 intelligence. This tilts towards the diceless...
Gary Gygax once famously said (memes be believed) that referees roll dice because they like the sound it makes. That's an exaggeration. People like dice for the reasons cited above, but also because it seems to put a character's fate up to the ultimate objective third-party in the form of dumb chance, but there's nothing necessary about it.
In our own Diceless Dungeons, smashing open a door makes noise, which in turn alerts nearby monsters. But what kind of monsters? This is just as uncertain and seemingly random as what might happen if the party had decided to go around. Moreover, while taking on that small pack of goblins is probably survivable, albeit with wounds, it's a tough choice without foreknowledge of the rest of the dungeon. This is true dice or diceless.
But risk and uncertainly aren't the only way to create tension. Being forced to make tough decisions is another, as real life will attest. In Diceless Dungeons, engaging a basilisk in melee guarantees that someone has decided to get turned to stone (you'll just have to read the rules). Who wants to make that decision? And this isn't corporate shill either; these problems are universal regardless of what system (or dice) are involved.
Remember, chess doesn't involve dice either, but remains very challenging. A dungeon stocked with unknown things coupled with hard decisions adds up to a tense and engaging experience, especially if the players care about their characters. This is surely how the hobby's founders saw things, at least before dice took over; and it remains good advice for anyone, including the majority who roll 'em because they like the way it sounds...
Don’t let the dice rule the action; but when you roll them, obey the result.ReplyDelete
I like to use them to procedurally generate content and to determine reactions of monsters and NPCs because I like to be surprised.
Just last week I had two mud workers track in a handbill on their shoe with a clue or rumor on it. I didn’t know what it was until a player read it and I rolled up the message from my extensive rumor table. But it appears that it’s going to result in a long-form subplot that ought to bring the characters power or ridicule later in the game year.
And now the players will watch for mud workers Ned Chunk and his dim brother Stanley as a source for news!
A great way to use 'em!Delete