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.

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