Thursday, December 29, 2022

No Dice: RPG Blog Carnival (December, 2023)


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The Theme for this Month's RPG Blog Carnival is No Dice and it is being hosted by Rising Phoenix Games. Link:
If you're interested in participating, it's super easy; just post something pertinent to the month's topic and leave a comment with a link to the post over at Rising Phoenix Game's blog.  At the end of the month the host will write a round-up post for the moth and include links back to all the participants. Any questions? Just click over to the RPG Blog Carnival Home Page for all the details, including how you can sign-up to host one of the monthly carnivals at your blog!

No Dice: Diceless Games

I remember the Amber RPG from back in the Nineties. That was one of the first, practically only Diceless RPGs I had either heard about or had a chance to look over. I was, and remain, a big fan of Roger Zelazny's Amber stories, especially the classic first series. But somehow I never really got into this particular game. Getting my established game-groups to try out new rules was worse than pulling teeth more often than not. So I let the Amber RPG pass me by at the time. But the idea, the notion that you could play an RPG without dice stuck with me, as heretical as it sounds to so many (like myself) who got their start with D&D and all the other dice-rolling games.

Over on I have compiled a collection of Diceless Options that has more than 30 entries now, many of which are PWYW or free. Over on Indy Press Revolution I did a search and found a handful of results, some of which sounded interesting. At DrivethruRPG I did another search and there appears to be a lot of diceless options there. I was especially interested in Rococo Space Ninjas, which sounded quite fun, as well as Square Dungeon and Diceless Dungeons, all three of which I picked up. I also noticed that Precis has Active Exploits Diceless Roleplaying available for free, so I grabbed that as well.

Clearly I am not going to have the time needed to try out these games before the end of this month's Carnival, but I am looking forward to reading through these rules-sets and seeing what ideas they spark. Of the lot, Square Dungeon is the smallest (a simple pamphlet), but looks like a fairly elegant and robust system aimed at facilitating a role playing game for very young players. That is so cool. There just are not enough such games available. Active Exploits is 161 pages and is a Serious RPG System. That's one that I'll have to make time to read over later. I expect to post an update regarding Diceless Games in the next month or so, depending on how much Dungeon 23 takes over my writing time...

Something that I have had the chance to examine more closely and actually try out a bit, and that is not only Diceless, but incredibly versatile and usable in just about any game is Obsidian Serpent Games' RPG Inspiration Cards that are available via Gamecrafter. Back in 2012 John Till, of the Everwayan  and FATEsf Blogs, served as a guest blogger here at Hereticwerks and posted a really nice, in-depth interview with Chad from Obsidian Serpent Games and they delved into some of the details about the RPG Inspiration Cards. Definitely, go check out the interview and see what they have to say about this truly incredible resource for RPGs. John also has a series of posts at The Everwayan about using the RPG Inspiration Cards in Everway that provides a really good introduction to how one might actually use these cards in a game. Highly recommended.

No Dice: Old School Alternatives to Dice-Mechanics
While it seems a bit weird and contrary even to try to not use dice in an RPG session, especially when so many of us have become accustomed to rolling handfuls of dice, or still use the old Exploding Dice Mechanic from EPT, or play games with Dice Pools...sometimes setting aside the little plastic polyhedrons can lead to some rather interesting results.

Ever since the Seventies and first getting into OD&D, I've had players who preferred to pick from a list rather than roll for starting gear, for example. Since that often times sped things up, I was happy to accommodate them in that regard. 

Likewise instead of arbitrarily using dice rolls to distribute treasure found, I started having the players negotiate amongst themselves, sometimes even doing a sort of private auction between them, in order to divvy-up the loot. The more successful groups tended to draft a contract or compact amongst themselves that spelled-out just how things were to be distributed amongst the survivors and dependents of the group. One group in particular even began to sell shares to the local aristocrats and nobles in order to get the funding needed to go after some of the more notorious and difficult dungeons or treasure hoards. 

This approach worked pretty well, most times. Fighters were able to get weapons or armor without bothering with things they clearly were never going to be able to use, and the spell-casters were able to grab-up all the tomes, scrolls, wands and what-not that they really had the best chance of figuring out or putting to use...and of course the Thief PCs would always try to snag a few scrolls--ostensibly on behalf of their uncle, some hitherto unnamed sibling, or mysterious patron, since they were careful not to reveal that they were Thieves to the rest of the party (they received an XP bonus for not being detected). It was fun to see how long they could go before someone worked out that they were a Thief and not just working for an uncle who was a rich merchant or some obscure scholar who had them under contract to discover and turn over occult books or whatever to them for research. Not every Thief character chose to keep their class a secret back then, but it did have a certain appeal. 

Greed can make stupid decisions sound almost reasonable at times. One player gave up a massive pile of gold and weapons in order to get one magic tome that they already knew they could not read, just because they suspected it was a Manual of Puissant Skill at Arms, but one that had been written in a cypher or dead language that another player--a Thief pretending to be working for a scholar based in a distant Citystate--assured him repeatedly it was, all the time telling the spell-casters (in private, of course) that it was an incredibly ancient grimoire of powerful spells thousands of years old and thus nearly priceless. He had them bidding against each other while he acted as a trusted, disinterested third party (despite his stated interest in acquiring the book, but on behalf of his uncle, of course). It was quite a lot of fun...until the Thief over-stepped and tried to rope-in a local Cleric by claiming the book might well be a priceless artifact of their faith. That got ugly, violent and quite entertaining very quickly. Suffice to say the Thief skedaddled in the middle of the night and steered clear of his former adventuring companions from then on. The party pooled their money to hire an Assassin to track the Thief down. They received detailed reports on a regular basis from various ports of call where the Thief had allegedly been spotted for over a year. Then nothing. Huh. Funny how that worked out.

Another Diceless approach to things that I tried during the OD&D+DMG1 phase was to have spell-casters/Magic-Users pick their starting spell(s) instead of randomly rolling them. They also had the option of using their Research Class Skill to track down lore and clues concerning specific spells and types of spells and thus they could adventure into places where they stood a better chance of finding spells they were most interested in acquiring. Likewise when it came time for level advancement and the training necessary to make the transition to the next level, they could spend some time, and of course invest a little gold, in locating a suitable person or organization to train them in specific techniques, skills, spells, or whatnot. Instead of assigning a score to roll over to gain the information, I set a minimum price. Once they had spent enough time or money, they gained access to the information. This worked pretty well. I used something similar for the Fighters and Rangers, etc. Thieves were a special case and money might open a few doors or make things a little easier, but they needed to prove themselves, commit daring heists or participate in various schemes, scams and shenanigans being carried out by other members of their gang, guild or organization. They needed a good reputation, and that was built through actual play. It meant less dice getting rolled, at least in these instances, but resulted in a good bit of depth, and a lot of plot hooks and adventuring opportunities. And it was fun.

Okay. Enough about Ye Olden Times.
I've got some fresh new stuff to go read over...


  1. I've been tinkering with cutting out dice rolling from chargen and instead having a pool of attributes and abilities that players "draft" attributes from for their characters. This does assume, of course, that everyone works together to create characters at the same time, so maybe it's a little inimical to a lot of modes of OSR play. but one player grabs the 18str, another grabs the ability to cast stone-to-flesh at will, another grabs a proficiency with crossbows... kind of a different, communal way to get a party happening

    1. It's worth trying it out in a game as an experiment or playtest. I have tried an approach where stats were only rolled when the new character attempted something that required that specific stat. The characters evolved and developed in interesting ways as they then started to explore other abilities and options, which led to them creating very interesting characters that felt really integrated into the setting organically. It's definitely not for everyone. The young folks I did this with handled it well and enjoyed the process of discovery. Some old-timers I attempted to do this with got irritated with not knowing all their usual stats up front. Not all of them, but a few. I think this approach or the one you are considering above to be really good options to explore in a 'Session Zero,' sort of scenario. Could be fun.

  2. I love that so many game designers have tried to build diceless TTRPGs. One game that stands out to me is Dread, which used a Jenga tower to build tension.
    Thank you for contributing to the RPG Blog Carnival.

    1. Dread sounds interesting. Never considered using a Jenga tower like that. Cool idea. Glad to be able to participate again. It has been a looooong slog.


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