Sunday 29 April, 2012

A DM only rolls the dice because of the noise they make…



After 20 minutes of pondering how to open this blog and two weeks to figure out what I wanted to write… here it is.

Welcome to Hexgeneration.  This blog serves two purposes.   1. to be a voice on my favorite topics (Role Playing Games, 80s-90s Goth, and Pop Culture).  2. game design/industry discussion.  So who am I?  Short and sweet I am a child of the 70s and 80s who grew up in one of the coolest cities in America, San Francisco.  My passion has been role playing games, goth/industrial music, movies, pop culture, and going to conventions.  I tend to be a reactor instead of some one proactive and my bark is way worse than my bite.  So enough about me.

The title of today’s post is taken from the great Gary Gygax.  I used it because it means something to me in the realm of game-mastering.  As much as our war-game roots like to tell us the dice dictate everything, it honestly does squat.  We are telling a story and because of such we have to shape said story with dramatic pacing and duh, story telling.  Dice have their place.  The dice let us know how much damage the monster does, the dice let us know if they hit the Paladin though all his armor, and so on.  When behind the screen the dice do one other thing for me… spook the hell out of my players.  Most gamers who played D&D, AD&D, RoleMaster, etc. back in the day knew that when the GM grabbed his dice there was trouble afoot.  It was unto a psychological torture.  Almost Pavlovian, but instead of a bell and dog we have gamers and dice.  The sound of the dice meant that monsters were being randomly generated, some assassin was in the shadows ready to throw a poisoned dagger, or a fireball was coming your way.  Players were trained to fear the rolling of the dice.  The first time I ever gamed with the great Frank Mentzer he let his players on to a very nifty secret.  Frank showed us several blank dice in his collection.  He went on to say that he only rolls the blank dice when he wants to give the players a secure feeling that the dice chose their fate.  He as the GM already knows what will happen next, but the sound of the dice hitting the table gave a sort of “Comfort” to all those on the other side of the screen.  Striking fear or giving relief… the polyhedron has such a power.

How do you use dice in your game?  Yes, yes I know how you use them according to the rules, but out side the box what do you use them for?  This I am curious to hear.

OK, now for the good stuff!  I wanted to open this blog with a contest and after much tossing and turning I figured it out.

I am currently trying to wrap up work on a Swords and Sorcery supplement for the new Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG by Goodman Games.  This project has been one of the most fun I have done in years.  It mixes old school Basic D&D and gives it a modern face lift.  If you have not tried it out find it at a convention and play it.  I have been stumbling on trying to create a simple system to do grappling and overbearing combat in the older rules set.  I have been going back and forth with different things, but when I think that I am happy with it… it get pissy and start anew.  Last night I was listening to the Save or Die Podcast and one of the hosts (DM Crispy) had talked about a system he used.  It was like a light came on in my head. While I did not agree with his overall method I felt I could improve and make it better.  Well that is what I though anyway.  So I am going to post below my simple idea based on the one Crispy presented and I need some help making it quick, streamlined, and over-all Old School.


This is the contest! Help me fix this mechanic.  Over the next few days I will take a look at the comments sent in and the one who can make this fit my criteria I will send a copy of  Ann Dupuis’ Night Howlers supplement for D&D.  It is still in shrink wrap and would make a great addition so someone’s basic collection.

Grappling and Overbearing in B/X

Attacker and Defender roll 1D6 for each Hit Die/Level and add the following modifiers:
For each +1 bonus to STR (or DEX if Grappling) the attacker gains an extra D6
For each +1 bonus to DEX (or STR if Overbearing) the defender gains an extra D6

Each 5-6 rolled counts as a success. The character with the most successes wins.
All 6s count as a critical success
All 1s count as a critical failure

Optional/Situational Rules
Fighters may succeed on a 4-6 due to their combat prowess
Thieves may succeed on a 4-6 (defense only) due to their ability to escape sticky situations

How would you make this old school?


  • Welcome to the blogosphere!

  • tim h says:

    A system I used worked like this:

    Each character rolls a traditional to-hit, then calculates the difference between their target number and their roll. I need a 15, I roll a 5, I have a 10 difference. I then add that 10 to my strength and compare it to the other dude. Highest total wins the grappling.

    The final incarnation had you then subtract your opponents number from yours and you were left with a handful of points that you could spend. You could do damage, or subdual damage, or disarm, or incapacitate.

    Bonuses went to the person wearing lighter armor. There were conditions where you could use your dexterity or con in place of strength. Etc.

  • Lily Robertson says:

    I have no solution for you…just a comment. When our GM used to roll the dice, we’d all yell, “Craps!” When i played GM, i was totally OCD about the planning phases, including contingency plans for specific player reactions (but thrilled when they’d think outside the hex), however, i’d roll the hell out of those dice for no good reason. Oh, and i’d give them that “Thank you for letting me find a way to eat your character” grin, then occaisonally look disappointed and tell them nothing happened.

    p.s. I won’t comment again if you keep making me do math. Perhaps you could have a “correct the spelling” option? Or a what would you do if you were sweeping and the dust bunny sprouted fangs question!

  • Andre says:

    I don’t really have a solution to speak of. I do have some comments about fudging rolls.

    There are a number of times that I will fudge. In fact, I think it is a necessary function of the Game Master in a story telling capacity in some cases. That being said I have guidelines that I am pretty strict with myself to follow when fudging.

    When running a scenario there is often that early encounter or situation that helps define the nature of the conflict. This is especially true in horror, modern, and fantasy genres. For example suppose the party is to encounter a Liche that curses the group to force them to act as he wills and will much later in the story become an enemy to be slain. To impress upon the group the potency of the Liche and his minions the group is captured while hiding from his advancing army. The GM might fudge the rolls to insure that the group gets caught to allow the casting of the curse so that the plot can get rolling. This little bit of theatrical business is especially useful to begin a game. Of course admitting to fudging can potentially weaken the utility of it. In my younger days I did it, but denied it. I don’t bother with that now. In any event it can be a useful to spur on a plot device.

    I almost never fudge in a campaign game. I almost never fudge in the climatic battle. I have fudged when the group really screwed up to make sure that the group learns a lesson, if they aren’t being taught by the dice. I try to insure that this is not lethal but demonstrative. I have on occasion fudged to prevent the group from getting wasted, when they have done everything right.

    Fudging is a great tool that must be used judiciously. Players can not feel like they have beaten the odds, if you fudge all the time. That is why I almost never do it during any significant confrontation and mostly only as a plot device early on. There is no perceived reward in these terms if the players feel like the rolls are meaningless. It is much better to get wiped then to succeed in a way that feels like a handout.

  • Chicagowiz says:

    >> We are telling a story

    The dice tell a story too, even if the story is death, dismemberment and the need to roll up a new character. Listening to the dice can take you in places that your story in your head might have never gone… and the players will still appreciate it.

    >> How would you make this old school?

    Add in modifiers for size. Add in modifiers if more than 1 attacker. Include damage on successful grapple.

  • James says:

    Dice do have their place. In a lot of older editions and system they were used creatively. Not to harp on the D20 system, but this is where I really started to see the dice being used for situations that in the past were adjudicated by the GM. I think dice are great for charts, for generation, for little things that can enhance a story. I do miss the days of having the GM roll for the thief to see if he found a trap or if the Elf found a secret door.

  • tim h says:

    On GMs fudging rolls:

    Are you playing a game? If you are playing a game and still fudging rolls, then you are cheating. Don’t pretend it’s a game.

    If you want the players to be in a magic place or have a certain thing happen to them, just narrate it the fuck out and say “Look, this is the story I wrote so I’m going to get you to the good spot where your decisions are meaningful”.

  • tim h says:

    I posted this on Facebook, just before reading all the comments here:

    So all the Tracy Hickman talk has me thinking about risk in RPG games, and how GMs cheat. I can sort of understand a GM fudging on dice rolls to keep characters alive if the characters are deeply enmeshed in a fascinating story and a whole arc would die with them, but I can’t understand it when GMs cheat on dice rolls to preserve characters when the characters don’t matter to the plot. It just doesn’t make sense to fudge to preserve someone in a game where it doesn’t even matter if half the players show up for a particular session, yet I hear about it all the time.

  • James says:

    Tim, I guess it is cheating to a degree. The rules and dice rolls are there to maintain order and allow the GM to give a (random)fair outcome. D&D is about random encounters, getting killed in a dungeon, and writing up a new character. If the GM wants story there are games like Heroquest and Vampire that fill that need. However, I sometimes find the dice are a cruel mistress and prefer not to use them at all. Sometimes I want the thief not to die from poison, or I want that douchebag player at the convention to burst into flames. The adage of the GM is God pretty much stands in my book. I have blue bolted many a player in my day, and while I have not done that in years (I have learned to be a better GM) it still tempts me from time to time.

  • tim h says:

    But do you lie about where these decisions come from? Do you fake dice rolls?

  • James says:

    Thank you for the welcome Old School Gamer Dad!

  • James says:

    This is why I love Ron Edwards. His Sorcerer and Sword supplement is my bible when designing game worlds. I tend to blend in my decisions in the the narrative. I will roll some random die if the situation would warrant a roll. Some players are not comfortable with GM fiat and rather their character’s fate be controlled by the polyhedron. The one play I will not usually fake rolls is with combat. If I miss a roll, well too bad for me. On the flip side if my big bad critical hits and kills good old Father Stormhammer, well no one told the adventurous cleric to go toe to toe with Goldur the Mighty.

  • David says:

    I’d personally let the DM adjudicate the situation as it comes up (which in my games wouldn’t be often). If you’re looking for an actual mechanic, I prefer simplicity and ease of use in my games.

    I would probably use something similar to the rule in my own game “Challenger RPG” which is roll 1d6 and whoever rolls higher wins if it’s a battle among the players. I think all players should have equal ‘story chance’ at succeeding against each other (not based on level).

    If the grapple was against opponents of the party I’d probably have everyone in the grapple roll straight d6 and give a bonus for high Str or Dex equal to normal. High roll wins.

    I know someone else will probably come up (or has already) with something much better. However, I prefer my own, simple little rules; especially in situations that don’t often come up and don’t require a bag full of rules to properly adjudicate.

    David L. Dostaler
    Author, Challenger RPG

  • tim h says:

    An important consideration for an “old school” wrestling mechanic is that it stay inferior to weapons play. Lots of contemporary games acknowledge that an informal fight with weapons involves a lot of pushing down and opportunity punching and kicking people in the shins, D&D doesn’t play that way. You don’t want the wrestling mechanic to become so powerful that players throw it at your enemy magic users and knock them out in one round.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *