Wednesday, May 9, 2018

I have time to write again! (Yay!) But first, let's look at the dice again.

So after a harrowing final semester of exams and applications and long papers and much nail biting, barring some unforeseen bureaucratic hiccup, I should have my MA degree in English at long, long last.  (I've also been roundly rejected by physics PhD programs everywhere, but that just means that I have to finish an MS in physics before moving on in that field.  Guess I'll be sticking around Omaha for another couple of years after all!  At least that means my D&D players might actually finish exploring the Barrowmaze…)

Anyway, summer is here and for the first time in precisely ever, I don't have anything school-related hanging over my head.  No theses, no comprehensive exams, no graduate qualifying exams, no applications, and not a bare jot of homework.  Feels good, man.

Just a job search, but that's nothing new.

It also means that I can actually get back into all of the writing projects that I've let fall by the wayside.  Game books, fan fics, novels, screenplays, my campaign, this bloody blog…

This. Blog.  I started that Barrowmaze campaign just after Christmas, and here we are four months and change later, and I see that my last blog post was in friggin' January.  I really have been too busy to deal, eh?  I had really wanted to write posts describing how each game session went, but there was never any time.  Now there's time again.; so, in a short while, I'm going to have to organize my notes and start talking about my regular gaming again.

But first, a little connective tissue.  Last, um, season, I guess, I talked about my minimalist dice kit and the prospect of running a whole campaign with just a few of the ol' polys.  I've been trying to keep that up, but I've made some alterations, chiefly in the switch from Chessex dice to Gamescience:

Ooh, so shiny.

Well, Gamescience dice plus casino dice, that is.  Casino d6s are really fun to roll.  Plus, straight-edged dice like Gamescience dice and casino dice stop sooner on the table, offering the dual advantage of fairer, more random rolls (the more a die actually moves across a tabletop, the more time it has to settle on its center of gravity, which emphasizes imperfections in its density and thus lessens the randomness) and fewer dice chucked out of reach or off the table.  And they're translucent, so you know that there won't be any bubbles inside to throw off the balance as there might be in opaque dice.  Just clean, fair random number generation.

Now, as to the composition of my kit these days, I have a pair of differently-colored casino d6s in red and green (because when you play OD&D, you need to roll 2d6 all the damned time, for morale checks and reaction rolls as a summed pair; and for initiative and surprise and trap-finding/-springing when you need to compare two rolls, which is where the different colors come in handy); and I have a blue d8 and a yellow d20 (rather old-school, it's labeled 0–9 on one half and +0–+9 on the other).

There are also a pair of d3s which aren't properly "in" the kit—that is, I don't really use them as I go about refereeing the game, they're just there for one particular instance, "rolling the bones," which is my particular death-and-dying table-rule that applies whenever a character falls to 0 hit points.  So the d3s only get used about as frequently as a third d6 would be needed for the sake of character creation…

Which means that I'm really just down to four dice, having eliminated the d12.  (In basic D&D, d12 rolls only really come up when checking for wandering monsters in the wilderness, which itself isn't all that common of an occurrence in a campaign where the PCs have established a home base less than a day from a dungeon they're exploring.)

I've found that I really quite like running D&D with the fewest possible number of dice cluttering up the table.  It puts my focus on the in-game fiction and on the unfolding mental picture.  I have noticed, however, particularly in recent weeks, that as the action picks up and things get frantic, that the players like to jump the gun and roll their own dice before I've called on them to roll—something of a pet peeve of mine when I ref a game, especially in combat.  If I turn to player and ask what they're doing, and they've already made an attack roll, declared that they've hit, made a damage roll, and then picked a target and decided who they've damaged after having seen the roll . . . grr, that just makes me want to pick up all my sharp, pointy little dice and start throwing them at nobody in particular.

It's not that I don't trust the players to be honest about their rolls; that's not it at all.  Rather, the order and the procedures are there for a reason.  Action declaration comes before initiative, which comes before reaction rolls, which comes before the combat sequence (morale–movement–missiles–magic–mêlée–miscellaneous).  And if the ref doesn't have all the information needed to decide how that sequence unfolds, the result is just plain unmanageable chaos.

Mitigating said chaos might even call for the drastic step of banning the players from rolling any dice at all, at least for the next session or two—or until the two or three worst offenders learn to quit trying to ref themselves as they play.

I've run games before where "the DM rolls all the dice" (as described in Moldvay's Basic Set), and I've absolutely loved it every time.  But not every player does.  For every player who has focus enough to pay attention to the game without needing a stack of dice to fidget with, there's going to be another who just plain loves dice, loves rolling, and finds that to be an essential part of the role-playing experience.  And I do not by any means want any players I have in that latter category to feel as if I'd be "punishing them" or "taking their toys away" when I'm really just trying to keep a better handle on the back-and-forth.

But when all is said and done, Moldvay Basic is correct on one point: only the DM ever actually needs the information that results from die-rolls.  And the process of garnering that information from a player can sometimes be painfully tedious ("which die do I roll again?  The d20, is that the kinda round one?"  "Yep, same as the last 37 times.") or inordinately frustrating ("okay, it's your tu—" "I hit, 7 damage." "What? Which target, and what were you even attacking with!?").  Eliminating both of these extremes is at least worth the experimental attempt when next we gamers meet again.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on your degree! Eagerly waiting to read more from you.