Fistfuls of dice

Fistfuls of Dice #1

I’ve got dice on the brain. It seems like anyone who is into RPG design, or RPG’s in general, is into dice. Probably the busiest stalls at GenCon the Bins o’ Dice. This shows off some of the physical qualities we like about dice, the shapes, colors and textures because they have a certain feel. The Hackmaster Player’s Handbook has a complete section on dice mojo and how to clear bad dice as well as how to maintain dice that are rolling hot! We connect with our dice because the chance that they represent is exciting, they should add drama.

While dice aren’t necessary for every game they are certainly a standard part of resolution in RPG’s. The problem is that in spite of my love for dice they can in fact get in the way of resolution. When you have to add more than four dice together it slows down play. If the value on the dice changes situationally players tend to need more time to discern if they succeeded. Nontraditional mechanics for using dice to simulate chance can be really challenging for veteran players.

Listening to designers talk about dice it’s guaranteed that Bell Curve’s will come up sooner or later. Using AnyDice or similar application designers can get a graphical representation of the possible outcomes. The most possible will be highest and the least lowest on the chart. I likely understand enough of the higher functions of all this simply to be dangerous and not an expert. Bell Curves are useful for getting an idea of how likely characters are to succeed at tasks and how difficulty changes the likelihood of a roll. It’s that concept of success that I’m really focusing on when it comes to dice.

It doesn’t really satisfy me to roll 20 on a d20. It used to but since I’m only rolling one I’m just as likely to roll a 1 on the next one and I’ve become a bit jaded to the roller coaster. When you use multiple dice success it is easier to predict and the maximum rolls can seem more satisfying and the failures more heartbreaking.

Thinking about dice and their probabilities was part of my initial inspiration for Project EDGE. The other parts will just be future posts, since I’m running long as it is. Probabilities and the feeling of success is why I focused on dice pools in Project EDGE, they allow characters to gradually improve as well as a Game Master to have an array of values for players to overcome. In part two I’ll walk through some more about how EDGE is using dice and why it is using those dice. But for now some questions.

What about dice gives you the greatest satisfaction? Have you played a game where the dice fit the system perfectly? What is the role of dice in an RPG?


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