You Can Have Fun Without Dice

I've always thought of myself as a dice-whore. I own lots of dice, I covet other people's cool dice, and I like games where you can roll lots of dice. (I even listed it as one of the reasons Star Wars is the Best RPG Ever). I love that the Hackmaster RPG has an entire chapter devoted to proper dice rolling techniques and etiquette. I've always been apprehensive about games that do not use dice. And yet, despite all this, I've recently come to a realization.

The dice are talking to me.

You can have fun without dice. I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. As a corollary to this theory, too much dice-rolling can also suck.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I am playing in a Battlestar Galactica game through play-by-email with a friend who's new to game mastering. He's
been doing a great job, despite that running PBEM came can be quite frustrating. Rolling all those dice and determining the outcomes behind the scenes can be a real pain in the ass. Know how he's doing it? By keeping us out of any scenes that require us to roll dice. I don't remember the last time we had to execute an action that hinged on a die-roll to determine the outcome. Instead he's running it like an interactive mystery - we learn bits of the story as we go along, and depending on who or what we interact with, we get more bits of the story. Plus, there's plenty of opportunity for role-playing, and for the players to add to the story, as we go along.

No dice means no combat, of course, and I suspect that at least one of the players has been getting a little antsy without having a chance to blow shit up. For
me, anyway, I think it's all good. The combat was giving me heart palpitations.

Either way, I'm cool with the way things are going. We have suspense, intrigue, mystery, and more than a little bit of excitement (There's a bomb in the hangar, someone's ransacking sick bay and there's a saboteur still loose somewhere on the ship: what do you deal with first?), all without rolling a single die. Some of the role-playing is starting to seem a bit more like "Grey's Anatomy" than "Battlestar Galactica," but I can live with that. In between the soap-operay bits I think more people get shot/murdered/blown-up on Grey's, anyway.

Just another day at the office...

Reinforcing my current love of dicelessness is the other game I've been playing lately - D&D 4th Edition. I know I've bitched about the game before, but I really don't hate it, nor do I mean to start another argument about it. It can be a fun game and I do like playing it most of the time, but I am getting bored with it. The combat is not bad (It's not the dice that's the problem there, it's all the other stupid stuff you need to keep track of). What's really been pissing me off lately is how "rolling dice" has replaced "playing the game."


GM: You enter the throne room and meet the king. What do you do?

PLAYER: I roll Insight. (rolls, scores a success)

GM: You think you should roll Diplomacy.

PLAYER: (rolls, success)
GM: The king is happy. Roll Perception.

PLAYER: (rolls, success)

GM: You notice a man dressed in black lurking behind a tapestry in the corner.

PLAYER: I try to scare him off.

GM: What?
PLAYER: I mean... I roll Intimidate. (rolls, success)

GM: You have completed the skills challenge. The man in black's thugs now rush in and attack, so we'll begin the combat encounter. Give me a few minutes to set up my battlemat.


Yeah, that's how I felt.

I'm exaggerating a little, but I've taken part in games that played out pretty much just like that. Mostly Living Forgotten Realms adventures, which tend to be poorly written and are run by judges that are afraid to do anything outside of exactly what is written there, least some magical, evil agents of the RPGA (Role-Playing Game Association) show up at our door threatening to not allow us to play anymore. Even if they actually cared, and we somehow did break one of their "rules," what difference does it make? I still haven't figured out the advantage to playing by the RPGA/LFR rules anyway, except that I don't have anyone else to play with locally.

4E doesn't have to play that badly. I've seen it done better. But I've seen it done badly regularly enough that I just need a break. And a relatively open-ended, free-form version of Battlestar: Grey's Anatomy might just be what the doctor ordered.

Like this?


  1. Anthony SimeoneJune 21, 2011

    Three words: Amber Diceless Roleplaying!

  2. Book_ScorpionJune 22, 2011

    Fiasco has been doing wonders for my diceless roleplaying. It does have some dice, but only to keep track of things, the roleplaying is done without them.
    I've been lucky to almost always have GMs who keeps the rollplaying to a minimum and allows us to roleplay instead. And a bit of soap opera is never wrong.

  3. The BSG game sounds like great fun.

    Generally, it seems like the rolling (skills or combat) should compliment the role-playing. For example, role-play a social situation, and the skill roll shows the degree of success. Or good role-play modifies the skill roll by a few bumps. Interesting topic!

  4. CDGallant_KingJune 22, 2011

    See, I've never gone out of my way to find a diceless RPG, being as I am infatuated with dice, but Amber looks cool.  Perhaps I will check it out.

  5. CDGallant_KingJune 22, 2011

    I've read some great reviews on Fiasco.  Perhaps that's what I need to try, to refresh my palette, as it were.

  6. CDGallant_KingJune 22, 2011

    BSG is going well, and moving along at a good pace.  I hope it keeps up.

    I completely agree about the RP modifiers to skills.  I say give a player a small bonus just for trying to act out their character's actions, no matter how bad it is.  And if they do it really well, that should be worth a big bonus and some extra XP to boot.  

  7. Greylond AstonJune 22, 2011

    HackMaster FTW! Dice WITH Good Roleplaying built into the system... 

  8. CDGallant_KingJune 22, 2011

    HackMaster makes the world a better place...

  9. JsalvatoriJune 23, 2011

    To give some insight; I'm the GM of the BSG game the author talks about.  And while there is very little dice-rolling, especially that the PC's see, it is happening behind the scenes.  the difference is I don't ask the players to pick a skill and roll it.  I just look at what's going on and use the dice to figure out if they manage to shoot down the sparrow, miss but stay safe, or botch it so bad they hit their own wingman.
    I find what is working well (from my POV, I hope the players agree) is that it's the story and characters driving this, not the combat. 
    I also know that this adventure would never work if it were not a PBEM (see the author's and )
    Being GM for a PBEM game lets me dole out only certain info to only certain characters, and this helps create the mystery.  It becomes easier to direct suspicion of sabotage etc. and it's interesting to watch who shares the info they have with who.
    Glad you're enjoying the game... And we need to try a Fiasco story next time we manage to see each other.

  10. CDGallant_KingJune 23, 2011

    I find it hilarious that you're directing people to my posts in the comment section of one of my posts.  Trust me, this is NOT me pretending to be someone else to give myself cheap plugs. 

    Hey whatever, you're doing, it works.  Unless you're secretly screwing us and making us dance like your puppet bitches, and doing whatever the hell you want behind the "screen."  Rolling dice my ass...

    And are you hinting that one of the other players is the one sabotaging us?  So now I have to start being paranoid about them as well as you?

    I think you just like saying "I'm the GM."

  11. JsalvatoriJune 25, 2011

    What's wrong with that.  I AM the GM ;)

    And I think you are all sabotaging yourselves at this point.


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