Friday, July 28, 2017

Using the Dice to Improvise - "Alea iacta est"

"Alea iacta est", translates from the Latin as, "The Die is cast."

One of the oldest pieces of advice I've heard, and have since passed on numerous times myself, is that the GM doesn't always have to arbitrate every situation themselves.. sometimes you simply leave it up to the roll of the dice. And I'll admit, sometimes I like to be just as surprised as my players.

Now, over the years I've used many different methods of using the dice to help make decisions. Often my default has been to take a die, any number of sides doesn't really matter, and give it a toss. Low roll is a bad/negative outcome, while high roll is a good/positive outcome. With lower, the worse, and the higher, the better, as a guideline, I simply increase the size (denomination) of the die to be rolled to determine the scale of success or failure.

For example, if my players ask me about the quality of the food and drink being served at the tavern they are in, I might decide upon rolling a 1d4.. and judge that a roll of 1 means poor, a 2 or 3 is mediocre, and a 4 is much better than to be expected. If I want more variation in degrees, I might choose 1d6 or larger, as the situation calls for.

I've even used this off-the-cuff arbitrary system for things not usually covered under the normal rules of whatever game system I might be using at the time. Such things as, does a PC catch an STD from a prostitute, does a character impregnate another, or what state of affairs the PCs return home to after being away for an extended period of time. My wife is still mad at me because her character once returned home to find the village had been attacked and burned down since she had left. (The couch is bad for my back, so I no longer burn down my wife's home village because of bad dice rolls.)

“Chance is not the same for all” - from The Ninth Gate, the Movie

Now recently, I chanced upon an article (linked below) by, S J Grodzicki from over on Low Fantasy Gaming, about using specialty Yes, No, But Dice, also called Improv Dice or Decision Dice. Then after further research, I found that several games made use of a similar mechanic, and that several dice manufacturers even made custom dice to facilitate such a system.

The basic idea is to use 1d6, and assign a negative or positive value, with modifier, to each side. You may use a staggered progression, or straight low to high progression. I prefer the straight progression, lows being negative and highs being positive.

  1. No.. And
  2. No
  3. No.. But (Not quite)
  4. Yes.. But (Sort of)
  5. Yes
  6. Yes.. And
No.. And - The character does not get nor accomplish what they wanted, and there is  a further complication or twist.
No - Denied, the character neither gets nor accomplishes what they set out to do.
No.. But - The character does not get what they want, but it’s not a total loss. They may try again later, or when circumstances change.
Yes.. But - The character gets or accomplishes what they wanted, but at a cost or complication.
Yes - Straight forward, the character gets or accomplishes what they set out to do.
Yes.. And - The character gets or accomplishes what they wanted, and something else.
As you can see, this simple system mechanic can be used independently of any other rules you may be using, and can be instantly modified to suit any situation you might need it for, from bad hair days, to weather, to will there be a bar fight that evening. The possibilities are endless.

Further Reading:

You can read the full Low Fantasy Gaming article Here.
Freeform Universe talks about several different sets of Yes No And But dice available, Here

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