Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Why We Roll

I've been GMing quite a bit lately.  So, I've been thinking about rolling dice... why we do it, what kind of effect or meaning dice rolling has for us.

There's probably a variety of types/reasons, but for this post, I'm going to break it down into two separate camps: 1) want specifics and 2) want vague idea of how things should go.

The first is pretty easy to define.  We roll because we're looking for details.  How many magic missiles is the mage firing?  How much damage?  Where precisely is the randomly-shot fireball going?

Sometimes, we want answers and the dice are a way of getting those answers without too much bias (even if results are controlled or weighted, they're still random).

After all, it's freeing to let the dice decide for us, to let the rules interpret what those dice results mean, and remain unburdened so we can better describe what happens.

The second is probably used less often, but I think it's just as powerful as the first (more traditional) reason for rolling dice.  That dice rolling philosophy is found more often in my own VSd6 engine RPGs like Alpha Blue, Crimson Dragon Slayer, The Outer Presence, and Blood Dark Thirst (see right-hand sidebar for links).  Maybe it's also more of a story-game approach?  I can't be sure since I haven't played those types of RPGs.

If we're already roleplaying a scene, but a player wants to intimidate or get information across subtly or tries to use sexual innuendo to get into a woman's space pants, then I'm not rolling for a specific number.  A "3" or "14" isn't going to reveal exactly what happens.  I'll have to interpret what the dice are trying to tell me and weave that good, bad, or ugly knowledge into the scene. 

There's a couple things I like about this second type.  A) as Game Master, I get to decide (usually with the dice's help) exactly what happens as the scene unfolds.  B) I only have to roll once and that influences the entire interaction.  Until something drastically changes, that "vague idea of how things should go" is the only roll I need to make, and I'm able to focus on how the interaction unfolds.

I can recall several games where I and other GMs employed the first type.  It seemed like every tiny shift in the scene, we were rolling for answers - for specifics, only to roll again a minute later when a bit of new information revealed itself.  Generally, these were non-detail oriented actions/events, and it was only later that I realized the roll-reason wasn't congruent with the roll-type.

For instance, if some alien entity was trying to dominate a PC to do a specific task and I rolled somewhere in the middle, then maybe the PC is able to fend it off... but what about the next round or a couple minutes later?  If I'm rolling for details, maybe I come up with one for that moment, and then roll again in a little bit? 

To me, that doesn't seem satisfying.  What I prefer is rolling once to get an idea of how this domination is going to go down, and then use that information to color the scene.  Instead of multiple rolls in the near future, I can focus my GMing on possible results once the PC takes action against the entity or how nearby NPCs are going to react.

I'm not trying to say one type of rolling is better than another.  I definitely use both in my games.  But I will say that if you hardly ever use the second type, then give it a try and see how you like it.  Sometimes, a vague idea of how things should go is all the result you need.


p.s.  That Doctor Who meme doesn't have much to do with this blog post, but I found it amusing and wanted to break up the text... so, yeah.

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