D&D Ideas — Dice
Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is dice, which we discussed in our weekly live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST on Nerdarchy Live to talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Speaking of dice it may be a Coin Flip to determine fortune or misfortune but the roll of the dice generates the effect every step of the way across a strange dungeon hazard. A floor made of giant coins, each promising fortunate or unfortunate effects, challenges heroes to cross along with 54 other dynamic scenarios in Out of the Box. Find out more about it here. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy plus snag a FREE GIFT by signing up here.
Get strange and unusual for the week that was! Discover the best wild shapes, delve into dark and dank backstories, embrace the Gothic side plus live chats and our live play reality game show D&D campaign rounds out this week’s Nerdy News. Check it out here.
Delving Dave’s Dungeon
Dice have always been a huge part of the Dungeons & Dragons experience for our table. They are like another player taking part in the game helping to shape the stories we tell. This player extends scenes or cuts them short — we never know how this is going to play out.
This is one of the reasons as the Dungeon Master I don’t roll behind the screen. I hate the idea of robbing this unspoken player’s agency in the story. As a DM don’t be afraid of unexpected or “bad” rolls. As the DM you’ve got the final say when you interpret the dice.
You roll a crit and a character goes down. Even if it was enough damage to kill the character outright you don’t have to if you don’t want to. For instance you can have the attacker deal subdual damage and knock them out. The party suffers a TPK — or so they think. Have them wake up in shackles. Think of the ways unexpected dice outcomes can change the story.
The players roll well and trash the villain who is supposed to get away. Is there another way for them to escape their fate?
- They have clone
- Evil powers resurrect them
- Someone else takes up the villainous mantle
- The body dies but the spirit lives on and possess another body to carry on
- Turns out the expected villain was actually a minion of even bigger threat
These are just a few extreme examples of unexpected outcomes. As a DM I enjoy embracing the randomness the dice add to the game. The other part of this as the DM is trying to interpret how those rolls can affect the story.
I came to this philosophy by accident to be honest with you. I was being cocky as the DM. A player had to decide whether to use a scroll they were hoping to add to their spellbook. To even use it they’d need to make a skill check and they did. Even then I only needed to roll a 5 or better for the monster pass its saving throw.
The monster was a twelve headed hydra with half-dragon and half-fiend templates on it from 3.5 D&D. It was about to unleash twelve breath weapons upon another character at the table. The next roll decided who would live or die at the table. I drop the die in the open and it lands on a 4.
The hydra is turned to stone. Ted’s character doesn’t die. The scroll, while gone, would never be forgotten. The moment before dropping the die everyone at the table hung on a knife’s edge until it landed. We still talk about this single roll 20 years later. Those moments can’t happen unless you respect the dice’s agency at the table.
But that is just my opinion as a DM.
From Ted’s Head
This is a tough one, How could one such as I talk about dice? Being a fully fledged Dice Goblin I love the click clack math rocks. But how to take dice and turn it into something useful for gamers, particularly for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons? I could point you towards all the many amazing dice sets I love but I am going to take a serious sharp left and hope you enjoy this diversion.
If you are like me and enjoy the collection process of dice and finding the right set of dice for a character or finding dice in odd shapes then I might have something you have not heard of before. There is a game from Milton Bradly called Pass the Pigs. You can pick it up here.
The game is rather silly as you roll the pigs and how they’re positioned when they land determines your score. The game is super fun and you are rolling pigs the whole time. What I am doing is taking this concept and bringing it into the D&D multiverse. Instead of rolling pigs though you get to roll small goblins and see how they land.
Feel free to use the actual Pass the Pigs during game play as it will be more fun than rolling just a couple of d8s. The game is played when one player gets to an agreed upon score total, usually 100. If you do not have the game and want to use regular polyhedral dice as your goblins grab a pair of d8s and use the following scoring method. When you roll the dice compare the number rolled below
- Butts Up — The goblin is face down
- Belly Up — The goblin is face up
- Headstand — The goblin is balanced on its head
- Atten-shun!! — The goblin is standing on its feet
- Whats right? — The goblin is lying on its right side
- Left Behind — The goblin is lying on its left side
- Leaner — The goblin falls leaning on the other goblin
- Drunk? — The goblin is leaning and balanced precariously but not touching the other goblin
From the Nerditor’s desk
If I’m honest I’ve never understood the viewpoint of a fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons session devoid of any dice rolls. More broadly unless it’s a game of Amber or another diceless tabletop roleplaying game I consider not rolling dice during a game as a bug rather than a feature. It’s weird right?
In 5E D&D or any other TTRPG using dice the intent is to to resolve actions and determine consequences. It’s cliche to say but if a session doesn’t involve any dice rolling then essentially it’s simply group storytelling, which I’ll be the first to say is a fun activity. But can you still consider it a game? To put it another way if the characters only engage in easy tasks with foregone conclusions absent of dice rolling do you even need a game?
“Sometimes, resolving a task is easy. If an adventurer wants to walk across a room and open a door, the DM might just say that the door opens and describe what lies beyond. But the door might be locked, the floor might hide a deadly trap, or some other circumstance might make it challenging for an adventurer to complete a task. In those cases, the DM decides what happens, often relying on the roll of a die to determine the results of an action.” — from the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules Introduction: How to Play
Whenever I play 5E D&D you’d better believe I want to roll the dice as much as possible. It’s fun! I’ve got a bunch of cool dice — the best naturally being Nerdarchy Metal Dice Set — and a character with thoughtful consideration of all their skills, features and abilities and I wanna put them to the test. Rolling low on the dice for something the character aims to excel at and rolling high when it’s out of the wheelhouse is as fun and interesting as when everything goes according to plan and the dice help create those scenarios.
If I’m behind the Game Master screen you’ll certainly roll the dice frequently. There’s a subtle reason for this but on the surface I want players to engage with the game and each other and using the rules of the game as an entry point to do so frankly is sitting right there in front of me.
- Want to know about this obscure cult’s beliefs? Religion check
- Assessing the seaworthiness of a vessel? Investigation check. Or carpenter’s tools (always remember the tools!)
- Determining if weather conditions are unusual? Nature check
- Wondering if the slippery clifface is climbable? Athletics check
It helps sometimes to think of the dice as a way to procedurally generate the world around the characters. In all those examples imagine the dice not as a means to determine if the character overcomes a challenge but instead as a lens to see the world. The dice tell you if the cult’s beliefs are something a character might know, how the vessel might fare on the open water, what local meteorological conditions are like and if the slick rock could even be traversed at all. The difference is subtle but it puts another dimension of agency onto players. This also buys the GM a few seconds to think while the dice are rolled and results determined. I don’t know about you but every second of breathing room counts.
The even more subtle reason I call for lots of dice rolls is the more dice are rolled the greater the chance for a critical success. Let’s face it — rolling a natural 20 in 5E D&D feels great. It’s bizarre to me when I hear of a natural 20 “wasted” on something like an Intelligence (Religion) check. Whatever the circumstances there was a chance of failure and instead you nailed it — couldn’t get a better result. Everyone in the group generally celebrates a natural 20 and if a group racks up a bunch during a session they’re probably going to feel like they had a great time. (Yes, I know there’s no critical success for skill checks. But it still feels good when you roll one. See my point?)
When a group of players trust each other they can let the dice fly. Game Masters can call for dice rolls trusting the players to create memorable moments from the results. Finding this sweet spot can mean a lot of trial and error along the way. If everyone buys into the premise of collaborating together to experience an emerging story then the dice can become a trusted member of the group and contribute their own unpredictable peculiarities too.