Its all about the dice, its all about rolling the dice. It is about success and failure and that moment when the die is ricocheting off a book and heading towards the edge of the table and you don’t know if your character is alive or dead, until BAM, you roll them bones and find out. Dungeons and Dragons is a game best played with equal parts imagination, decision making, and random chance. The more dice rolled, the more random chance can influence the game, and provide the epic stories with something neither the players, nor dungeon masters can: the unexpected.
It is no mere coincidence that players of the game hold their dice in reverence. Some players pray to their dice before important rolls, while others will toss a bad dice into the inferno, or worse, at their dungeon master’s head. Why have them if not to use? If I can keep my players happily rolling dice, then they haven’t the time or incentive to launch the pointed solids my way.
Many people talk about playing dice-less games (shudder) and about minimizing the affect of random chance on the game. To this I say: pshaw! We are not writing a book, nor are we acting out a play. We are playing a GAME. And a game needs mechanics that can allow unexpected results. This is not always true, for example there is no random chance in chess. (And indeed some of the longer 3.5 battles have felt more like a chess game than a bloody head chopping melee.) But if you look to wargames, there is not a single one I know of that does NOT have some type of randomization. I am here to tell you that the more you roll them bones, the better your game will be. Fun, funny, surprising, Epic failures and jaw-dropping victories is what you get when you relinquish control of the story to the great randomizer in the sky.
Now then, this is all fine and good, but let’s look at the particulars. Everybody rolls dice to hit, and usually for damage. (I have heard of people who houserule their game in such ways as doing average damage, on a successful hit, or even auto-hit! To forgo dice rolling. To this I say, you are doing it wrong, sirrah!) But opinions vary and there is no one true way. My only argument is that it is never the dice that slows down play, it is the human factor. Even the time adding up modfifiers is not specifically the fault of the dice so much as the system. Success versus failure can and should come down to the roll of the dice whenever possible.
Roll for anything and everything is my belief. Crossing a slippery surface, hiding from the king’s guard, telling a joke (with an appropriate bonus for role playing) should all include die rolls. I encourage my playersto roll dice as often as possible, sometimes (but not always) for the most mundane reasons! The first person who has never tripped over their own feet while walking sown a completely unobstructed hallway can tell me that I am wrong in this. Rolling a d20 for anything and everything has one additional benefit, a cherished one:
Critical Success and Failure
In a game of random chance, there is a moment for epic glory, and there is a moment or something else… epic fail. D&D is built upon the sacrosanct d20 and all that its roll can represent. From glory to shame, from landing on a dragons head, to spilling wine down the bodice of the queen, and all levels of success and failure in between, the d20 is the undisputed ruler of the ice in dungeons and dragons, and the more chances there are to use it, the better. I have no qualms with having my charging monsters take a nose dive at the fee of the players when I roll 1’s in battle, and I like to increase the drama and tension out of battle too, with the critical success and fail rules. A 1 always fails, usually spectacularly, and almost always in such a way that it requires MORE work to undo the damage. A natural 20 is a spectacular success, often earning especial glory for the creature who pulls it off, and often making any further tasks easier.
Anything should be possible. Even the craziest ideas an be summed up with: give it a try, if you roll a natural 20, then we’ll see, but if you dont’t, then look out!
Higher is Better
Rolling 1’s and 20’s throughout the game session doesn’t necessarily determine what does and doesn’t happen during a game session, but it can provide a measure for the difficulty. When using skills, not only does a clear cut success/fail take place when targetting a specific defense, but the roll can also indicate a general level of success. Take stealth for example. If a rogue rolls a stealth check, and get a 15, then he is at a certain level of stealthiness where he can be seen by those with a higher perception, and not by those with a lower. In the same way, rolling a certain number on a skill check announces how well the character achieves in the activity.
In this way any die roll can be used to determine any level of success. From a flip of a coin, to percentile dice, the roll quickly shows not only a pass/fail, but also quality of skill use.
I make my players roll for everything, well everything I can get away with, like falling damage. Sure, why not! The p;ayers bought, covet, and love their dice so much, why not let them roll. Or another example is if a character has dominated a monster I have them roll the to hit and damage for that monster. Roll them bones, say I. The more clattering of dice is happening at the table, the more chance of chaos, an I am an agent of chaos.
However, No one likes to see their beloved character slip on a banana peel every twentieth step, and it is easy to draw these guidelines out to make characters roll for very single little step they take, but that is not the intent – only when it matters is a key concept. Roll the dice early and often.