Madcap (zimdanen) wrote,
Madcap
zimdanen

An Alternative to Dice
Author: Mark Kobrak (mnkobrak@ellis.uchicago.edu)

This whole dice/diceless thread seems to revolve around the question of determinism in games. Some people want randomness, to give players the feeling that "anything can happen" and they can affect the real world; others prefer things to flow in a coherent story, and thus dice require at least minimal intervention by the game master.

I have a solution which encompasses the best of both worlds. Instead of rolling dice, I ask players to bring with them an assortment of livestock; whenever a player makes an action, I slaughter an animal and read its entrails to determine success or failure. As I said, the best of both worlds: It is random, as no one can be sure of the state of an animal's liver before the game; but it biases the action towards drama as players will hoard their likeliest candidates for those really key "rolls."

I've had a great deal of success with this. Once, in the final climatic fight scene in the Warlock's lair, an unlucky sheep and a tuberculoid rabbit rolled by the party fighters seemed sure to doom them all. But the thief was holding a trump card, and one remarkably colorful set of intestines later she had back stabbed the warlock for quadruple damage! The scene was so good, she didn't once regret having sacrificed her prize- winning Blue Norwegian (though she does occasionally get misty-eyed when watching the Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch).

Of course, it does have its flaws. I once found the party mage slipping Everclear into my guinea pigs' drinking water in hopes of damaging the enemy's to-hit rolls in future games. Another time, I found a medical technician in the group had been doing MRI scans on his squirrels to get a peek at their livers. But I regard these as isolated incidents by unscrupulous players, no more serious than the problem of loaded dice, faked rolls, etc.

You're probably thinking all this slaughter will slow down your games, but really, once you get the hang of it, it goes quickly. With practice, I think, anyone can get a good reading down to less than 5 seconds (I used to be able to do it in 2.8, but I lost two fingers during a particularly gruelling series of rolls. Last time I use Role master...).

And it has solved the problem of making sure there are enough munches for everyone at the games.

Copyright 1994, Mark Kobrak.
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