RPGS: To Roll Dice, Or Not To Roll Dice, That Is The Question

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Several schools of thought exist when it comes to RPGs and the rolling of the funny-shaped dice we all love. Whether ’tis nobler at the gaming table to roll the d10s and d20s of outrageous fortune, or to roleplay against a sea of troubles, and by narrating end them.

In the ArmorClass10.com-sponsored video above, Nerdarchists Dave and Ted and Nate the Nerdarch reminisce on memorable dice rolls in their gaming experience, different ways to interpret roll outcomes and how a hot roll of the dice can have a big impact on the story.

RPG dice roll
Love this color combo. [From Easy Roller Dice]

Can you roll too much?

Nerdarchist Ted has mentioned on several occasions a situation wherein he as the Dungeon Master asked for a player to make a roll and regretted it even as the words were leaving his mouth. The moral of his anecdote is to avoid requiring player rolls when you as GM intend for PC success. His example involves a roll to uncover a piece of crucial knowledge that he meant for the party to discover no matter what.

And an oft-heard recap of a great RPG session involves the addendum “we didn’t even roll any dice.” I’d be willing to bet most gamers who have played RPGs for any length of time have at least one of these sessions under their belt. I’m no exception, as recently as a couple of months ago in one of my first online gaming experience right here with Nerdarchy. In one of our first few Open Legend RPG-sponsored “Aether Skies – The Beginning of the End” game sessions not a single die was rolled. The group of us enjoyed a terrific time roleplaying and bringing our imaginary world to life.

DMs: Let them roll dice

D&D
In this case we think it’s okay to reach your hand inside the green devil face for the Tomb of Annihilation set.

But for my 2cp, more often than not I’m all about those dice rolls. As a DM for my fifth edition D&D group I ask my players to roll all the time and encourage them to engage with the story and mechanics alike through rolls. They’ve gotten in the habit of rolling Wisdom (Insight) checks during NPC interactions – and even with each other from time to time. This skill check in particular is one I prodded them to make fairly early on after the group got together. Insight is one that seems often overlooked by players. It also helps foster a healthy dose of paranoia from them as they wonder who is telling the truth and who’s lying. Is everyone lying to them? You can never be quite certain (unless you roll a nat 20).

Gamers sometimes bemoan too-frequent rolls. Rolling ability and skill checks and saving throws happens at lot at my gaming table. The reasoning behind asking for frequent rolls is one of probability. In D&D, everyone loves a critical success, right? Even when the DM’s die comes up 20, it means something significant takes place. The players might cringe when they see that look on my face from behind the DM’s screen, but only because they know something exciting or dangerous is about to unfold.

For my part, I cheer right along with the players when one of them rolls a crit, too. I want them to have those exhilarating moments. It’s just as much fun for me when they pull off amazing stunts, send the monsters reeling, pluck obscure knowledge from the recesses of their minds or talk their way out of outrageous situations with cunning, guile or sheer force of presence.

What better way to elicit those moments in an RPG experience than rolling more dice?

Players: Love your dice

Likewise, as a player I love to roll dice. Our home game playstyle has become a terrific melding of roleplaying and mechanics. Our words, deeds and actions play out around the table with humor, drama and thrills…and then we roll. It’s a great mix of old school mentality and modern system sensibilities. We don’t begin with the numbers on the character sheet to tackle tasks that lie before us, but that’s where we arrive to determine outcomes.

In D&D 5E the dis/advantage mechanic gives a lot of mileage to this style of play. At our table we focus on the collaborative storytelling as a priority, and our words and descriptive actions can lend their weight in the form of advantage or disadvantage. We feel that rolls serve to enhance the storytelling experience. If a player gives an impassioned speech meant to persuade an NPC of something, they’ll still roll to affect the outcome. The DM might give dis/advantage to the roll, or lower the DC for success, but that element of randomness is the juice that gives our stories unexpected twists and turns.

GMs have been known to only allow rolls from characters with assigned proficiency or investment in a particular skill, too. This way, the character who spends resources on a skill will be the one to succeed, and the unskilled character won’t upstage their skilled companion. For example, a wizard might fail an Intelligence (Arcana) check, while the barbarian succeeds.

To this I say, so what? In a magical fantasy world, it’s perfectly reasonable to me that even an unmagical barbarian from the remotest region of the realm might know a bit of arcane lore that a learned mage may have forgotten or not come across in their studies. Let them roll dice!

There’s some folks who feel that if their character is skilled enough – they have proficiency, perhaps expertise, maybe a feat – then clearly they are specialized enough that they could succeed on certain actions without making a roll. And that’s reasonable enough, sure. But at the same time, everyone can screw up. Even Olympians make mistakes. (One who participates in the Olympic Games, not a Greek god – we’re talking D&D so a clarification is not unnecessary).

Increase realism

NPC

Another great reason to roll dice is because it’s more accurate and enhances verisimilitude. Yes, that’s right – making random rolls in better presents the idea of being true or real. If I am to imagine my character as a living entity in the make-believe world we create at the gaming table, why should they be constrained by my limitations? I don’t live in that world, and only visit from time to time. In between I have a full-time job, family, friends, social life, and a mountain of Nerdarchy projects to work on.

So if I forget whether Chazzledazzel the lounge-singing beholder is trustworthy, don’t comprehend what the runes in the ancient texts of Bahamut point towards, or don’t remember the crucial lore that will help me deceive the duergar baron, why should my character suffer? They exist in that fantasy world and likely have much better understanding of such things, as well as much more valid reasons to stay on top of such information.

On the other hand, the characters are confronted with lots of scenarios repeatedly, so it’s entirely likely they could mess things up. How might one simulate this circumstance? You guessed it – with a roll.

Create the world

Part of what forms my perspective on dice rolls is that I don’t always consider them a test of the character’s prowess. Instead I think about them as a tool used to help further define the game world and the situations occurring therein. Using Charisma (Deception) as an example, let’s say Mesmogdu the drow charlatan wizard attempts to sell a vial of green sugar water to an NPC wilderness guide under the auspices that it’s a revitalizing energy drink. Mesmogdu has a high Charisma score and proficiency in Deception, and the player makes a convincing sales pitch, so the DM grants advantage on the roll. The dice are partially determining “is this the sort of NPC who can be deceived?” The roll is high and succeeds, and Mesmogdu pockets a few gold pieces. Yes, the fast-talking drow is good at what he does, but we have also learned something about the wilderness guide – they’re the sort of person who will fall for a good con.

role playing game exploration

At the end of the day, how players perceive and handle rolls is totally subjective. If everyone has fun with sessions involving very little or no rolls, that’s terrific! Having fun is the reason we all play games. Awesome memories emerge just as often from purely narrative gaming as they do from throwing dice left and right.

 

But what about you? I’d love to hear about your most memorable RPG dice rolls in the comments below. And if you’re in the market for more (let’s face it, who among us isn’t up for adding a new set to our collection?) check out Easy Roller Dice, a longtime Nerdarchy sponsor where you can get a one-time 20 percent discount by following this link here.

Whether you roll dice in your RPG one time or one million times, stay nerdy!

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Content Director

Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, worldbuilding or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy he enjoys cryptozoology trips and eating awesome food.

2 Responses

  1. Silverwolfalpha256
    | Reply

    I love my dice, plus I don’t really like any of the “random” dice apps out there. I had a DM who used them and eventually left his game just for that reason alone. That being said I think some dice rolls are better for the DM to control than the character. There are always those time the DM says make a spot check and the game stalls as every character wants to start serching. If the DM just rolled secretly for them they wouldn’t have know about the sentry they just unwittingly passed, either in the game or out of it.

    • Doug Vehovec
      | Reply

      I am also very fond of dice and the rolling of them, whether as a GM or player. There are certainly times when the GM rolls behind the screen for things to maintain a veil of secrecy or mystery for players. On the other hand, sometimes letting players make rolls for things can help drive action forward or take adventures in unexpected directions. For example, in a recent game I played in, the party was in a goblin-infested crypt on a rescue mission. In a storeroom, I had my wizard carefully do an Investigation of the ancient walls, explaining to the other characters that these religious types are fond of concealing things inside cleverly-concealed niches and things like that. I rolled pretty high (22 if I recall correct) and lo and behold discovered a hidden nook with a holy text of Bahamut. Talking to the DM later, he said he threw that in there solely because of my high roll and the bit of dialogue attached to it. You never know where your dice rolls will take you. Thank you for reading!

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