View Full Version : The Meaning of Dice

Totally Guy
2013-08-22, 09:45 AM
Iíve long said that I think that what a dice roll means is more important than which dice you roll for something. Iíd like to come up with meanings that dice rolls have in lots of different games.

To start it off lets all come up with some suitable questions that we can ask of a basic roll and see if we can expand from there. Could you answer the questions for a particular game or maybe your ideal game?

We could substitute "roll" for drawing cards or bidding chips or whatever but the word roll seems to be ok for now.

Do I get to know the target number or difficulty?

Do I get to know whatís at stake if I fail?

Do I get to know what will happen if I succeed?

Can I try again once a roll is made?

Do I get to spend points to improve the roll?

Who interprets what skill or ability I described?

Can I spend extra success on additional effects?

Can I achieve more than I intended?

Am I rolling against a static number or the roll of another character?

Can I receive experience or some other point by making this roll?

Do I describe the action before or after the roll?

Can I reduce my success if I succeed too much? (I didnít want to knock his head off!)

Can anyone else help me with this roll?

Can anyone else help me after Iíve rolled?

Can I refuse help?

Will rolling this cause me to need to change my character somehow?

Does my description allow me to have a bonus or roll different dice?

Do I know how long this action will take?

Can I avoid rolling entirely with better description?

Could this roll halt or upset the story?

Do we each roll or do we assist a single character to roll?

Can I roll despite the outcome being certain?

2013-08-22, 09:55 AM
It looks like you want to know the entire ruleset of every system which involves randomly-generated values. You'd accomplish that better by just reading a bunch of RPG system rulebooks.

2013-08-22, 11:15 AM
It looks like you want to know the entire ruleset of every system which involves randomly-generated values. You'd accomplish that better by just reading a bunch of RPG system rulebooks.
I suspect TG is more looking to get a collaborative case study going, to benefit from lots of people's input.

I think, in general, a lot of dice systems break it down as "one roll = one story 'beat' ". The strongest example of this is Apocalypse World and its kin. In a story, a "beat" is where a thing happens that advances the plot. Someone makes a bad impression, sneaks past the security defenses, or pulls up the critical information.

In the *World games, a move is a beat. Something specific makes it happen, and it always results in a consequence. Either you get what you want, you get something that's not exactly what you wanted, or you get what you really did not want. One beat.

2013-08-22, 01:37 PM
Here's my take on the broad topic of dice and their meanings.

Dice are used to inject uncertainty into the game, so really a question about dice is a question about uncertainty and could also apply to cards, etc. Its also a particular type of uncertainty, in that it is symmetric - no one at the table can predict the outcome. This is in contrast with uncertainty that arises from just not having full information (e.g. the difference between 'I don't know if he will hit or miss' versus 'I don't know what he will choose to do next').

We can then ask, what purposes does this kind of uncertainty serve?

Emotional responses to randomness: If you don't know the outcome, or if the outcome is guaranteed, then you open up a whole slew of emotional responses to the situation. This can introduce tension, excitement, elation when you succeed against all odds, etc.

Creating a time horizon on tactical choices: In games without any uncertainty, you can basically 'play out' the game in your head as many moves in advance as you are able to consider, scanning over all possible/reasonable opponent responses and the like. This can be undesirable for a game that tries to be fast-paced or even just one that tries to be casual. Adding randomness means that you can't precompute a strategy and then just play it out - you have to change your plans based on whatever comes your way. You can still make strategic plans, but details like 'I will move to this square' become unreliable at long times.

Creating strategic variation: This is related to the above, but is more for when randomness determines the overall parameters of a situation. For example, something like a card game - the hand you draw determines the context in which you apply strategies.

Fairness in conflict resolution: Uncertainty isn't the only way to do this, but when people are emotionally invested in a decision, a coin flip will result in fewer hurt feelings than the decision of an arbiter, and can make the arbiter unnecessary.

Making an impartial decision: This is what 'roll on a table' kinds of things are for. You'd get a very different dynamic if, for example, Confusion let the caster decide what table entry to force the target to do rather than leaving it to dice.

Smearing out sharp numerical edges: If I have a system where I just compare numbers directly, there's a very sharp change from 'A is always > B' to 'A is always < B'. If I add dice to this, I can blur those edges, so instead of a change of a single point in A being either a 0% or 100% difference, its a 5% or a 10% or whatever difference.

There are probably more that we can think up.