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Buried in Dice


(A continuation of "Look Ma! No Dice! No Rules!")

Last month I discussed the inherent problems in LARPs and DRPGs, namely the fact that the resolution systems are either distracting from the game or too lenient to be of much use. While some dice-based systems do suffer from the same faults, there is another category that many fall into, the too-much category. Either there are too many dice needed, too many rolls called for or, worse yet, both.

While I do agree with Steve Darlington that multi-sided dice are cute, they can be a real pain. Too many sides and they roll all over the place, becoming lost. They can be a distraction, the stacking of dice, random rolling, etc. can annoy other players. Also, 4-siders and 8-siders make for dastardly foot hazards during a 48 hour gaming session, when all the players are stumbling towards the coffee pot. The allocation of time locating dice, re-rolling, and devoted to foot injury really slows a game down.

Not that those are the only ways a dice-based game can slow the progress of a game session. Dice-based games often have overly complicated systems calling for a plethora of additional rolls to perform a task. Other systems, while they may not be complicated, may require the GM to reference charts or calculate an exorbitant amount of modifiers. Also, some dice-based systems simply require far too many dice, causing misadds and incorrect die counts. Where all of these system types truly drag a game down is combat. I get really tired of utilizing what could have been an hour of good gaming for a non-essential five second fist-fight (I'll elaborate on that in a future column).

Of course there are dice-based games that slow the game down with player and GM arguments, with their scant rules and strange conditional modifiers. These are even worse than the heavily rule-based games, due to the fact that there is nothing to prove who might be right or wrong.

DRPGs came about because dice-based games were becoming to rule-heavy, dice heavy, and chart heavy. Also, there is an inherent problem with all dice-based games. If a GM is willing to fudge a roll to save characters, then there must be another GM out there who is willing to fudge a roll to kill characters. Not to say that only GMs fudge rolls, with a player it's called cheating, though. If there's so many instances where the dice will be ignored then what's the point of having dice in the game? If a GM thinks he's going to have to fudge a roll, I'd rather not have him roll at all.

Okay, I've "slammed" LARPs, DRPGs, and now dice-based RPGs. Does that mean I want to play my characters and emulate them through my movements (i.e. SCA, Amtguard, etc.)? Heavens, no! I'll never be as good with a rapier as my pirate Raphael Roberto Ramirez Rodriguez III was on initial character development, and it would be illegal for me to hack into a corporation's files and share their wrong-doings on the Internet, as my hacker August "White Owl" Solstice does.

The inherent problem with those type of games is that the role you play does become limited to what you as a person can and can't do. And that's the last words I have to say on that matter. Well, I do want to add one more thing, and that is that I've never participated in the SCA or Amtguard, so I don't know if they work quite that way, but I have participated in events similar to that which I've described. I just chose to use universal names. So if I'm wrong on that count, sorry, my bad, etc.

What do I want then? Well, I can tell you what I don't want. I don't want to be buried in dice, nor give the illusion that GM means "God-Meister" (Game Moderator is so much more appropriate, although I do like Game Trustee). While rules and system are important, they should not be so complicated to become the focus of the game. The focus of the game should be the characters and whatever the GM has plotted for them. More importantly the characters, but that's another column for another month.

I do want some balance of power between the GM and the players, because no matter how hard we try not to, we will always pick a favorite and least favored. Rules in RPGs were instated to keep a reasonable degree of fair-play, not necessarily fairness (and the keywords here are reasonable degree). I think it's time GMs, players, and developers remember this.

Roll Saving Throw (Where did my lucky 16-sider go again?) Vs. Bad Gaming
Erich S. Arendall
"Shadow Sprite"

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