Thursday, December 22, 2011

And Then The Dice Rolled...

by Popculturegeek
And Then The Dice Rolled...
by Tobie Abad
Originally published before 2009

(Yes, this time, the opening story is NOT something from classic World of Darkness.   Surprised?  Hey, I played a LOT of games in my time.  So yes, lo and behold, this article was written at a time when we were still playing Dungeons and Dragons 3.0)

Storyteller: "The Minotaur charges past you and slams its weight against the Cleric. Garell falls down, bleeding but still thankful to the deity Corelion for sparing his life. As the Minotaur turns, you take the advantage and act! What do you do?"

Player 1: "Taking the opportunity, I strike with the longsword, hoping for Kord to guide my blow."

Dice rolls, a critical hit.

Storyteller: "The Minotaur roars in agony as the blade cuts across its shoulder, but still it charges past, billowing clouds of dust all over. The horns are raised, ready to thrust through the Fighter's armor. This time, the creature aims to kill. Meanwhile, above the commotion, Adon the self-professed specialist is ready to strike with his crossbow."

Player 2 rolls the dice and gets a 20. Critical threat according to 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons rules. The second roll comes up a 20. And the last roll, a 19.

Result, an INSTANT KILL on the highlight of the battle.

And I ask you all now, tell me WHY that happened that moment?

I'm sure we've all experienced that sort of thing at least once in our gaming lives. Times when the dice just acts PERFECTLY to match the scene. Critical rolls when the tension is up. Or perhaps fudging rolls when the Storyteller was desperately hoping the Players won't make it for the scene to continue. Or perhaps a life and death scenario with one escape and that 05% chance just happens to ACTUALLY happen.

I wonder; what makes the dice act that way?
Is it supernatural force? The consensual reality shifting? Luck? Coincidence?
The devil?

Obviously this article cannot answer that question, simply because I have no idea myself (although I do know what I DON'T think caused it).  So what's the point of THIS article?

Well, here I want to talk about DICE.

DICE has been a major constant in many (but keep in mind, NOT ALL) roleplaying games. Be it the actual dice which, in my experience, range from 1d4s to 1d100s to electronic variations as those from scientific calculators, computer computations in videogame rpgs, and the like... DICE has allowed a sense of randomness and chance to inhabit the game and make it less predictable.

But can DICE be more than just the rolled shapes to get the results of an action?

YES.

DICE can be used as a very powerful storytelling tool as well.

PSYCHE WAR BASED ON DICE-VALUE
Once, in a vampire game, I had a lowly neonate get into a verbal argument with a Player Character. The two loudly debated on whether or not the City needed a guardian and if the Kindred had any right to act as such. When the debate nearly entered a physical quarrel, I merely grabbed a handful of ten-sided dice and counted eight for the roll.

The player, seeing this got concerned and had second thoughts about starting the fight, something I hoped he'd realise considering the characters were in Elysium (a place in Vampire:the Masquerade designated as a place of peace and safety. Breaking it can be very bad for the character.)

In effect, the dice acted as a "think about it" signal that the Storyteller can use to his advantage. Whenever a player seems to be intent in breaking a scene violently, pick up a large sum of dice and pretend to prepare for battle. That might give the subtle hint for him to back
by Jamesrbowe
off. Of course, as a Storyteller, you shouldn't be afraid to tell the Player directly that the actions might not be appropriate for the scene.

PSYCHE-WAR BASED ON FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN RESULT
In another case, this time while playing 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons, the Characters were all on a ship sailing down the Sea of Swords, moving nervously down past Pirate's Isle. Just to add more tension, I grabbed a load of dice and placed them near my hand, occassionally tossing a roll behind a screen without saying a thing.

It was one of the most realistic "nervously looking around and keeping watch" scenes in that particular group's gaming history.

All because I had DICE nearby.

DICE AS INSTANT PROPS
Dice can also be used in smaller approaches. Fake rolls can keep the game unpredictable. Using them as impromptu miniatures for tactical planning if necessary. And even as simple as using them as a prop as one of the signature objects a particular killer leaves around.

(Imagine the game running, you leaving a four-sided die on the bathroom sink, only to declare as a game scene the killer leaving exactly the same thing in a bathroom. Don't even ADMIT you left it in the bathroom, and your horror and suspense game has risen to new heights.)

BUT BE WARNED.  DICE ARE VICIOUS LITTLE DEVILS
Be careful though, because dice can always get back at you. From hiding when you need it the most, to falling down tables in futile attempts to run away... dice can be pretty vicious too when angered. (Take for instance my friend Awie, who once stepped on a four-sided die* three times in one evening.  And the best part, we were playing Vampire: The Dark Ages which uses ONLY ten-sided dice.)

Never underestimate the power of a twenty-sided die that also decides to suddenly turn into a six-sided die for a whole evening of gaming. No one was spared. No one got a roll higher than six for three hours with that one.

by Dave Morrow
* that particular die, by the way, has been isolated and placed among marbles. Perhaps he'll learn his lesson when he notices all the dust the marbles have collected.  (edit 2011: actually I've long since moved out of that house.  I wonder if that die is still there, somewhere in the cob-webbed shadows sitting among the marbles, hoping to someday be rolled once again, but unawares that his life has long come to an end.  Oh my.)
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