April 1st, 2011 | 4 Comments
I’ve always wanted to experiment with diceless role-playing ever since I heard of Amber diceless way back in the early 1990s. I experimented with a strictly narativist system in the mid-1990s but I found the whole process to be fraught with pitfalls.
By using the set of blank dice pictured to the left (or above — who knows how this post will lay-out…), I was able to run a diceless game and gain all the benefits without the pitfalls. Here are a few of the advantages I noticed in the playtest session.
- No worries about a single roll messing up my plans. We’ve all been there — you’ve got the story headed in just the right direction, everything’s going as planned, and then one of your players scores a critical hit. The result: a ruined story. By using this system, EVERY roll is exactly what I expect.
- No complaints about being arbitrary or malicious. When ever it’s time to seriously screw with the PCs — I mean REALLY put the screws to ’em — this system gives you the kind of plausible deniability Nixon could only dream of. In my playtest, an invisible thief stole all the party’s gear during extended rest.
The guy who had the watch, I think it was the paladin, got really upset when the party discovered in the morning that all their gear was gone. He told me, “Why didn’t I get some sort of roll to notice the guy stealing all our stuff?”
I told him, “because he was invisible — besides, I did make a roll to see if you could hear him: you didn’t make it.”
He then started getting pretty rude and accused me of cheating. I know, that’s f-ed up. But since I was using my new faux-diceless system, I told him, “Look dude. It’s not me — it’s the dice. Besides, if I’d let you make the roll, you would have metagamed your ass off if you’d failed.”
- Every combat can be a challenge. I haven’t sat down and penciled out the probabilities, but it very much feels like my monsters are scoring many more critical hits than they were before. I know, it’s only anecdotal evidence. The thing is, my party now considers retreating from encounters that would be classified as “easy.”
There are a few things to keep in mind if you go with a faux-diceless system:
- Uss a DM screen. It may surprise you, but I’ve always rolled behind a screen. Using blank dice pretty much requires a screen.
- Don’t leave your blank dice lying around. I store my blanks in my dice box underneath all my regular dice. You could also just keep them in a closed dice bag. It’s best to avoid those embarrassing questions.
- You need to convince the players that you should roll for them. In my example above, with the notice roll, that’s pretty easy. But for the system to really work, you need the players to let you make their to-hit rolls as well. You’ll get some resistance when you make this suggestion, but keep at it. Eventually you’ll wear them down and they won’t even bother bringing dice. Sometimes threats work too.
Also don’t cheap-out. If you’re going to try the faux-diceless system, step up and buy the dice. I tried using marbles at first, but my players began scowling at me suspiciously every time they heard the telltale rolling sound.
Written by Stu
Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of DoucheyDM.com. He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.
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