Bear with me, here. This is a little lengthy, but I want to show a (simplified) snippet from a hypothetical game session.

Situation: 3 PCs are exploring a dungeon looking for a hidden shrine and ran into some wandering zombies. The cleric’s attempt to turn them failed and the PCs, lacking a fighter, turned and ran.

Game Master: The corridor you’re in ends in a blank wall. There is some refuse on the floor and scrawled marks on the right wall. You can’t hear the zombies pursuing you any more.

Magic-User’s Player: What are the marks?

Game Master: They appear to be written with ash or charcoal. Whatever it is, it isn’t written in Common.

Thief’s Player: My thief has Read Languages. can I try to read it?

Game Master: Sure.

Thief’s Player: [Rolls Dice]

Game Master: [Checks the Result] You can’t make it out.

Cleric’s Player: I’m watching for the zombies. They’re slow but they probably didn’t give up. You two figure something out.

Magic-User’s Player: Is there anything else on the walls?

Game Master: No. The cleric sees a zombie turn the corner heading toward you. There are more coming behind it.

Cleric’s Player: I told you. Can I try to turn them again?

Game Master: Sure.

Cleric’s Player: [Rolls Dice] That’s good enough, right?

Game Master: [Checks the Result] Yes, this time it works. See how many.

Cleric’s Player: [Rolls Dice]

Game Master: [Checks the Result] All five of them stop, turn around, and begin shuffling back the way they came.

Magic-User’s Player: Nice work.

Cleric’s Player: Should we go back to the intersection? I don’t like being cornered here. Those zombies won’t stay turned forever.

Thief’s Player: Well, we know that shrine is up ahead somewhere.

Magic-User’s Player: We THINK that shrine is up ahead somewhere.

Thief’s Player: Whatever. I’ll bet there’s a secret door here.

Cleric’s Player: Okay, but let’s not take too much time.

Thief’s Player: So can I search for secret doors?

Game Master: Sure. It will take a turn. Where do you look?

Thief’s Player: The wall with the writing on it.

Magic-User’s Player: I’ll look on the wall straight ahead.

Cleric’s Player: I’m watching the corridor, my mace in one hand and my holy symbol in the other.

Game Master: [Rolls Dice] and [Checks the Result]

Thief’s Player: What was that? The secret door check?

Game Master: [Shrugs]

Magic-User’s Player: It was probably the wandering monster roll.

Thief’s Player: So do we find anything?

Game Master: [Rolls Dice] and [Checks the Result] The thief does not.

Game Master: [Rolls Dice] and [Checks the Result] However, the magic-user finds a stone that presses in. When it does, there’s a grinding sound as a narrow section of the wall straight ahead slides aside to reveal a 5′ wide passageway leading straight ahead.

Magic-User’s Player: Ah-hah!

Thief’s Player: Told you. I’ll head in.

Game Master: [Rolls Dice] and [Checks the Result] You’re surprised. Something leaps out of the darkness at you.

Thief’s Player: [Groans]

Game Master: [Rolls Dice] and [Checks the Result] You’re bitten by a large spider with a greenish body about 2′ in diameter and black markings on its back.

Cleric’s Player: That doesn’t sound very good.

Thief’s Player: [Groans]

Game Master: [Rolls Dice] and [Checks the Result] You take 2 points of damage.

Thief’s Player: I hope it’s not poisonous.

Game Master: Thief, roll a saving throw.

Magic-User’s Player: I think that means it’s poisonous.

Thief’s Player: [Groans] and [Rolls Dice]

Game Master: [Checks the Result] You made it. The spider is scuttling out into the main corridor.

Cleric’s Player: Can I attack it?

Game Master: Roll initiative.

Cleric’s Player: [Rolls Dice]

Game Master: [Rolls Dice] and [Checks the Result] You win.

Cleric’s Player: I attack with my mace. [Rolls Dice]

Game Master: [Checks the Result] You hit. Roll damage.

Cleric’s Player: [Rolls Dice]

Game Master: [Checks the Result] You kill it. Green spider guts ooze out onto the floor.

Game Master: [Rolls Dice] and [Checks the Result]

Thief’s Player: What was that? Another wandering monster check? Already?

Game Master: [Shrugs]

Cleric’s Player: Or checking to see if the zombies come back.

Magic-User’s Player: Or maybe he’s just messing with us. Whatever it was, we should keep moving.

Thief’s Player: Okay. You go first this time.

Cleric’s Player: [Rolls eyes]

and so on…

I think I’ve done a decent job of writing up part of a basic game session, though the way it’s written makes it flow a lot more quickly and logically than I usually experience at the table.

Note all of the [Rolls Dice] and [Checks the Result] entries. The players and/or GM rolled for the following things (in order)

Read languages
Turn undead
How many undead turned
Wandering monsters
Two secret door searches
Spider surprise
Spider’s attack
Spider’s damage
Saving throw against spider’s poison
Initiative (two opposing rolls)
Cleric’s attack
Cleric’s damage
Chance for zombies to return after turn expires

One thing I think I’m realizing after spending time on lots of boards and blogs, and especially after last week’s discussion of mechanics, core and otherwise, is that I think I care a lot less about the actual mechanics of a system than a lot of other players do. A whole lot less. Less, as in, I don’t really care what the mechanics are as long as they don’t interfere with playing and the game continues to flow.

Seriously. I don’t care if every single check in the example above has got its own lovable fiddly little system, or if they are all using the same system. I don’t care if some are roll low to succeed and some are roll high, or if they’re all one or the other. I don’t care if they all use different dice, if they all use the same dice, or if they all use the same number of dice.

I just want to know if the Read Languages worked or not, if the attempt to turn undead was successful, who won initiative, and if the attack hit the target. I do not believe it makes one little bit of difference what the dice mechanics are of determining these things, I just want to know the result. The idea that using a unique dice rolling system for something (a ranger’s tracking, for example) somehow makes that ability somehow more special is not something that I put any little bit of stock in.

Does the ranger track? Yes or no? It isn’t cool if we find out by rolling low on d00 like Gary intended and uncool if we find out by using a unified core mechanic. What is cool is that the ranger just tracked a fleeing enemy. THAT’s cool.

Some have pointed out that 1d20’s 5% scheme isn’t always the best, and I agree. I happen to like the spread of 1d6 for initiative, with about 15% of the rolls ending in ties, so we’re sticking with 1d6 for initiative. That’s a mechanical reason for a mechanical decision.

But I don’t care whether turn undead is resolved using 2d6 or 1d20. One isn’t “more special” than the other and I certainly don’t think that one is more suited mechanically to the task. So what’s the difference?

And I give exactly zero shits about this or that “being too much like the newer editions.”

My son, who has no nostalgia for the original editions or how it was done in the old days or any of that, didn’t like it when I changed thief skills to a roll-low-on1d12 system. I was a bit baffled by it, to be honest. The intent had been to tie those sorts of things in with the standard roll-low-on-1d6 checks and make the specialist capable of “plus one-half” modifiers compared to standard classes, but he didn’t like it one bit. I still don’t understand the reason for that.

With character generation in our latest incarnation of Wizards & Warriors morphing into a bit of a Traveller semi-random generation system, I briefly considered turning the whole thing into a 2d6 game. I floated the idea past my son and he expressed his opinion that he wasn’t really interested in playing a game like that. I still don’t understand the reason for that, either.

Sure, the iconic D&D dice are, well, iconic. And the various dice give you different ranges, which we’re using. And there is a general opinion that most people prefer roll-high to roll-low. But, in the end, none of that really matters, does it? Isn’t it all about the fun of the adventure and what your characters do (or fail to do), not about what sort of dice you rolled to find out?

During play, I want to roll dice, check the result, and keep playing. I don’t think it matters what dice are rolled in the real world. It’s the result in the game world that matters.

7 Comments to “[Rolls Dice] and [Checks the Result]”

  1. The Bane says:

    I too do not care how the rules do what (1d6 vs % vs d20), but what the rules are there to do. Interesting that while reading your post, I was thinking of one of my recent posts about horror. Granted the encounter write up didn’t scare me, it did cause some trepidation.

    So, for me rule matter in not how they do something, but rather what they do. That simple example encounter, which already admittedly, caused trepidation when I read it would not have had the same effect if it were an example with a different rules set.

    Example: Is the thief poisoned?!! If it were a new version of rules, additional dice rolling would be done to identify the spider (Knowledge: Insects), etc., to give the Thief a better chance of survival making it more ‘high fantasy’ as opposed to OE ‘gritty fantasy’.

    So, long winded ramble short. I think rules do matter, but not as one typically would suspect.

    Thanks for hearing me out,
    TB

    • Kilgore says:

      If I understand you correctly, you don’t mind what the actual mechanics of the game are as long as the game itself is more or less the game you want to play, i.e., oldschool-style D&D.

      If that’s what you meant, I agree 100%. I should be clear that, while I don’t care if mechanics resemble those in new editions, I think the rules of the new editions have a lot of assumptions that don’t necessarily apply to the game I want to play. Tabletop miniatures combat, for example, is not the game I want to play, and neither are balanced encounters based on a six-member party or a world where you collect magic dust to buy magic swords or a game where the player gets to name the magic item his character finds in the troll’s hoard.

      The game I want to play is more or less the oldschool game from the good old days. I just don’t care if the dice work exactly the same as back in the day and I don’t think it should matter.

      • The Bane says:

        Exactly. I don’t care about all the different fiddly bits, as long as I can easily remember them all and don’t have to resort to a book. Or, if I can easily change one on the fly if I don’t recall which mechanic to use and no one noticed. Granted, and this surprises me to some degree, I wouldn’t mind a single mechanic. Even a primarily d20 one. I just don’t want a load of crap stacked on to it. I mean, come on, you would have thought that 3.5 would be easier to run, but there is just so much… stuff, for the sake of stuff.

        I guess my loss is that later editions brought the rules and dice rolling to the forefront. Balance was required. Rules instead of rulings came front and center. You couldn’t switch an x in 6 roll for an ability check without one ‘rules lawyer-ing’.

        I guess that is why I don’t mind different mechanics, because I play a fast and loose OE style game and the mechanics are foremost in my mind. Though it is easier to remember different mechanics when there just aren’t as many scripted uses for them that are in more modern games.

        Fewer multiple mechanics surpass a single mechanic with too many uses in my games.

        Best,
        The Bane

        • Kilgore says:

          I will agree completely. Just because some of the rolls we’re making resemble the rolls made in 3e or 4e or whatever doesn’t mean that we’re emulating that game. Maybe emulating the MECHANICS of parts of that game, but not the game or the way the game is played.

          I think we’ll probably roll dice for the same things that dice were rolled for in the oldschool games and not much else. The game will work the same, it’s just that some of the dice rolls will not be identical.

          And that’s my point. Who cares which dice you roll? I just want to know the result and keep playing.

  2. Hear hear, LK! At the end of the day the rules have never much mattered to me. There are some mechanics I prefer (d% roll under, 2d6+stat/skill/etc. vs a target number, some others) and some I’m not really keen on (big dice pools, especially) but that’s just a personal preference. I don’t much care if they’re mixed-and-matched or “one approach to rule them all” or some other combination (though in general I prefer fewer options to many, just for ease of play and avoidingtrouble with the players who can’t remember their names, let alone which dice to roll for which situation). As long as the mechanics let the fun happen (as beautifully illustrated in your example), I’m cool.

    Now, it should be noted that some other aspects of a game’s rules *are* important to me. I vastly prefer Hit Points (regardless of name) to death spiral/wound systems. I’m much more in favor of magic/psi/whatever systems that are driven by END/Mana/whatever (as opposed to “fire-and-forget” approaches). And I like rulesets that scale reasonably well from “gritty” to “heroic.” But those sorts of things are seldom dependent upon the actual random number generation mechanic(s).

    For the record (get out your torches and your pitchforks, kids) I absolutely adored 3ed D&D when it first came out. I really dug the basic d20 mechanic but I appreciated that it hadn’t been taken (in my estimation) too far – as it would later be with True20 and similar things. My problems with d20-era D&D came with the huge amounts of cruft that were piled on top of the system – all the bloat and twitchy little feat modifiers and such.

    Actually, that’s not entirely true. The more I played that iteration of D&D the more I became disenchanted with the d20+stat+skill mechanic, but only because of the lack of a bell curve, which made my low-to-mid level characters frighteningly incompetent at things they should have generally succeeded at. Failure should always be an option – and more so for the inexperienced character – but as I have always played these games (and remember, I was more of a TFT 3d6-roll-under-stat guy in my youth) I like to see basic competence in my characters (and those of the players, when I’m running the game). A single d20, where there’s an equal chance of any number coming up throws that out the window – at least until you reach the point where the stat and skill mods outweigh the die roll, which sucks on an entirely different level.

    Hey, wow, that was a lot of words to say “I totally agree.” I blame this iced coffee and the sunshine on the patio 🙂

    • Kilgore says:

      though in general I prefer fewer options to many, just for ease of play and avoidingtrouble with the players who can’t remember their names, let alone which dice to roll for which situation

      This IS important to me, though only because we’re designing something from the ground up. While I don’t think the actual dice used or the table looked at to determine success should really matter, since we’re designing something I’m thinking fewer different systems is better.

      I’m not OPPOSED to all the fiddly little systems. Not at all. I just don’t think they’re inherently better than a new dice rolling mechanic.

      To paraphrase something I say a lot when talking about ascending vs descending AC: I don’t care what the armor class is or how it works and I don’t care what sort of combat system we’re using…I rolled a 14 — Did my fighter hit the orc?

      • Oh yeah, I won’t refuse to play a game that has multiple resolution systems by any means. I just prefer a smaller number on the whole. A game with fewer resolution mechanics is not “better” than one with many, it’s just easier to deal with. Especially for new players or players who aren’t into the mechanical aspects of the game.

        That said, I’m most emphatically not willing to go down to a single system (if you count rolling different types or numbers of dice but still aiming for a high number as different), since that mostly precludes the concept of hit points (see True20 for an example of this). Give me an action mechanic and a damage mechanic that are at least somewhat distinct (BRP, Classic Traveller, Barbarians of Lemuria, TFT, Hero and so on are good examples – heck, even d20 does it “right” by me in this regard) and I’m happy.

        Older iterations of D&D are fine and dandy, of course. I know them well enough to know what’s what. But ultimately I prefer something a bit more streamlined. I’ll still happily play (or run) D&D, because it’s something of a lingua franca amongst gamers. But if I’m showing new players (or, as in your case, building something new) I’ll always opt for the simplicity of fewer resolution mechanics.

        I absolutely adore your response to the ascending/descending AC question, by the way. It gets to the heart of the matter. [Rolls Dice] and [Checks the Result] indeed!