When Randomness Intrudes

Image by: Andres Rueda

Dice are awesome. Most gamers agree on this. We, as a group, tend to have far more dice than we need, and we use them for almost every game we play. From the venerable d20 to the poky, caltrop-like d4, we gamers love our dice. Well, most of us do. From time to time, I see article that deal with diceless systems for RPGs. Some of these systems substitute cards for the dice, some do away with any kind of randomness altogether. Even though polyhedral pieces of plastic hold a dear place in my heart, sometimes I think those people are on to something.

We all play RPGs for a lot of different reasons. For most, myself included, RPGs give a chance to do things that we could not do in real life. We get to be awesome. We get to be the dashing hero, the vile villain, the seducer, the princess, the rascal, the power-broker. We get to step outside of reality for a little while and be something that we are usually not. But those damn dice can get in the way of that at the most inopportune times.

This is an especially difficult problem for new players and GMs. If you’re new to the hobby, you are likely in the business of trying to have your character or NPCs be awesome. Everything about the game, everything you try to do is focused on that moment in the sun, on that little slice of time where you get to say to everyone around you “look at how great I am!” And the hardest thing, I think, for a new player to accept is when they have set things up perfectly for one of those moments, and upon the roll of the die, they end up staring failure in the face.

So what do we do about that? Some systems, like Savage Worlds, have failsafes against things like this. Each player gets a number of tokens, called Bennies, at the start of the game that let them re-roll certain rolls. Systems like this know that players want to feel awesome. But a lot of systems do not offer a chance to grab success from the jaws of failure. What do we do then? As a GM, I have occasionally ignored the 20 I just rolled when it would mean the ignominious death of a character (shhh, don’t tell me players), and I have let enemies die a few HP before they otherwise would have if things have been going poorly for my players and I feel like they need a boost. Some GMs hate fudging of any kind, but I feel it’s a necessary evil, at times.

But what about when you’re a player? By and large, your rolls are out in the open, and there’s no chance to recover from a critical failure. Some players never get beyond the point of proto-tantrums or out-and-out dice throwing when things don’t go their way. I have been disappointed more times than I care to count when I have seen the dice didn’t go my way. But, things change. As I have grown as a player, I’ve learned something really important: sometimes not being awesome is the best thing of all.

Yes, I love the moments in the sun when my character gets to be The Man for a few seconds. But more and more, I have come to realize that the tapestry of successes and failures is what makes the game memorable. It’s kind of like the adage that shadows prove the sunshine. If we gamed in a perpetual God Mode where nothing ever went wrong for our characters or players, we would be bored of it very quickly. If nothing bad ever happens, then how in the world will we ever appreciate it when good or great things happen.

So yeah, dice and randomness are not always our friends. Sometimes they jump in and ruin the best pre-planned moments of both players and GMs alike. However, if we step back and take a look at the big picture, I think we would see that the element of chaos, the possibilities of failure, and even failing, well, those are the things that make those critical successes so enjoyable. The things we initially call failures can often be the things that make the game awesome, because they make us think outside the box and come up with solutions that we had never thought of before.

The next time your dice come up snakeyes, just smile and enjoy the pain to come; it won’t be long before your dice explode just when you need them to, and all will be right in the world.

[tags]RPG, role playing games, GMing, tabletop, dice[/tags]

6 thoughts on “When Randomness Intrudes

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  1. Nice image choice for this article, did you take that photo or find it on the web? Either way, nice skills for searching or shooting.


  2. I found it on Yahoo Image Search. Their advanced search options let you search for Creative Commons licensed photos so we won’t be using someone’s photo without permission. There’s a photographer credit at the top of the post.


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