Diced Vs. Diceless Vs. Death

The idea of the diced vs. diceless arguments I have meandered into seem to rely on the concept of some utter “fairness” (avoiding the idea of whether or not “fair” is necessarily “fun”) in random results. The exchange generally seems to go along this route:

Dice advocates seem to believe, “A diceless game puts more ‘bias’ into the hands of one person, detracting from the overall fairness of the game. Dice remove the implications of that bias when the GM makes resolutions.”

Diceless advocates tend to believe, “Random resolution is just that: random. It takes the GM to make the real decisions…”

The usual medium role is, “The device du jour is the tool one applies to _aid_ in that decision making.”

The overarching concern I generally see is the question of character death. In a diceless game, the GM is solely responsible for whether or not a character dies. In a diced game, it can be the matter of an unlucky roll.

Neither of these situations are acceptable… for it is implied that death in diceless is a matter of GM whim, and death in diced games is a matter of random chance.

Doesn’t that sound like “murder” versus “accident” to you?

(Except when a GM has killed a character out of self defense… [grin])

I can’t speak for other GMs, but it is of utmost importance to me, as a diceless GM, to retain the trust of my players. With that consideration, my decisions take into account both the story being told (which is written a little in advance of the players, but not so much that it isn’t constantly changing) and the will of the players. If I decide that an action ends in death, it has to be acceptable (meaning believable and appropriate) to the players as a whole. It’s not random or willful, but it is a consequence that ties into that story being told.

Is that any different with dice? Not really… a lot of it’s just “behind the scenes.”

Are the GAMES any different with dice? Yes, and that’s a different story altogether.

What Do You Do Next?

Some of my games have suffered from the, “What Do You Do Next?” syndrome, whereupon my players scratch their heads and ask, “What are we supposed to do?”

This used to frustrate me to no end. After all, these same people don’t stand around each and every day, asking, “Um…so what am I supposed to be doing?” (Well, OK, maybe a couple of them did, but most of my players were fairly strong “self-starters” [as the terminology of the want ads put it] in real life.)

This especially didn’t work in con games. Sure, I can tell you it’s a beautiful, intriguing world, but you’re not going to see much of it in 4 hours. It’s more of a lay-over in my Neverlands.

I got better. I’m starting to learn that there need to be options…reminders, heck, in a PBeM, Oberon might have said to get Deirdre as an ambassador in the morning, but the morning was three months ago…

The concept is based on a simple but little known truth: freedom inhibits creativity. There are nothing like restrictions to get you thinking.

The quote talks about making rules for yourself in writing, like, “I can only write using these tools,” or “I have to write x words a day,” or “I have to use a new word in each message.” It’s a matter of discipline, matched with a structure.

Sometimes, the structure is simply in the design. When I run a con game, I’m looking at a design that needs to tell the players what the goal is, what the “winning circumstances” are…and interpret it to the characters in such a way that it isn’t entirely obvious, isn’t circumvented by silliness, and fits a certain feel I’m trying to develop.

We begin to impose additional structures: genre is the cake mix, style is the icing. “I have to use a new word in each message,” but the new word is teaching me (or my players) a foreign language. The proper tool to produce the proper results, of course.

I can manipulate my reminders, and my structures. I could mention that the player is reminded that they have to Trump Deirdre…but not why. I could mention that Oberon wanted someone as an ambassador…but not who… and in most ways it’s fair: it means the player has to do the detail work, but more specifically, I can use it to push a plot. Especially when, three months later, details have changed.

Neglecting the tool, however, means I’m using one less skill for the game, and that means my players are missing out…

The One Rule

The one major rule-of-thumb for me in making decisions as a GameMaster [always capitalize: it may be the only bennie…] has been:

If it’s funny, it probably works.

The truth of the matter isn’t in the “funny,” but in the “Does it get the [appropriate] reaction?” This is true for any expression: writing, singing, making many levels of choices… if it’s for your own catharsis or kicks, sharing it with others may not be the best use of your design. (I’m all for public masturbation, provided consensual indulgence on the part of the audience.)

There’s a lot of GMing that has to be done from the proverbial “seat of the pants.” When I make a ruling, irrelevant of the roll of the dice, I try to keep foremost in my head, “What will make the player jump?” (Or laugh, or cry, or…) If it’s a negotiation roll, heck, I once ran a Shadowrun game where Mr. Johnson flubbed his roll terribly… he gave the runners an unlimited expense account.

If I recall correctly, they bought shares in the competing company, expecting the stock of the corp they were working for to suddenly plummet. They bought “supplies” of dubious value… and one runner bought the editing of a pornographic video to include himself and a known Dragon… did I say he bought editing? He bought himself an Enemy…

It was a one-shot so I didn’t really concern myself too much with the details, but sometimes doing things a little over-the-top is good.

Many of the stories I hear about gaming are all similar: the amazing roll of the dice, the quip that has the opportunity to repeat itself, and the GM who lets it happen… ’cause it was funny.