Saturday, January 4, 2014

Expunging Unnecessary Die Rolls

There is a nice and thought-provoking post about gamers and RPG design over on RPG Snob.

One thing he mentions is the notion that players do, actually, want to roll dice. Minimizing die rolls can get fetishized a bit in game design, yet rolling dice is fun, fun enough to sing about.

Yet I tend to very strongly take the approach in my games (writing or playing) that you want to minimize the die-rolling.

At the same time, I think die-rolling is a lot of fun, and I like to make things into die rolls when I can.

This may seem a bit of a contradiction. but it's not - my goal is to eliminate all unnecessary die rolls. Die rolls which don't add to the fun.

For example, I created a couple of Perks for GURPS that get rid of Fast-Draw rolls for Dungeon Fantasy archers. Why? Because it was a lot of extra rolls, and succeeding was routine and failure was not-fun. So all the rolls did was take time, and no one enjoyed the game more for them.

I've eliminated some fun die rolls from my games - no more critical hit table rolls, we use a simpler system. But the tradeoff was necessary. We got rid of that fun (roll on the table, see what cool stuff happens!) to speed up play (do more stuff instead! More fights overall!) and found it was a net increase in fun. It's like skipping to hit and damage rolls on helpless foes and declaring them dead - you don't add enjoyment by adding those rolls, so dump them.

At the same time, I've added die rolls to my games. We roll for rumors. We roll to see what gear is around when you go to buy stuff. Why? Fun rolls. Success is good, failure is groan-worthy, and the die rolls all have real impact.

I feel the same about table lookups - if you have a choice between mechanism A (which is complex, and requires a table lookup) and B (which is more simple, and does not), and they are equally fun, go with B. Generally if I'm not sure, I go with B. Better a smoother, faster, simpler system that doesn't make you look stuff up (saves time spent doing bookkeeping, not gaming). A chart lookup can be fun, but it has to be more fun than not looking it up.

So it's not that rolling dice is bad - far from it. But rolling when it's not necessary and you can make a mechanism which does more in less rolls, that's bad. Rolling when it adds fun to roll, that's good.

And that's how I roll.


  1. One roll I liked was initiative for combat and surprise. This gets covered with who has the fastest move in GURPS but I always thought it was fun to roll for it.

    1. You sometimes do roll for surprise and initiative, you just don't charge the order once it occurs - p. B393.


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