Friday, October 15, 2010

Die Police

For those of you who came expecting a diatribe against the police, and why they must all be killed, you're going to be disappointed.

Over the years I have developed some definite rules about the die throwing in games, not because I like rules, but because every once in awhile it helps to retain a certain degree of order when six people all want to talk and take action at the same time.  And where it comes to rolling dice, there are certain guidelines that I apply that helps keep control ... namely, over players who are too exuberant, wily or otherwise aberrant.

For this post, I've broken down these rules into who, when, why, how and where dice should be rolled.  I've been playing according to the principles below for so long that it has actually taken me some deep thought to dredge up just what those rules are.  Everyone at my table plays habitually according to them, and most new players seem to adapt quickly.

They all have reasons for being, which I will include in the description.  Incidentally, 'what' isn't included because it seems very clear to me what die players should roll ... at least so far as maintaining order is concerned.

Who should roll?

This isn't always clear.  When a player is in the bathroom, or temporarily involved with something otherwise distracting - and I want the game to continue - I'm prepared to allow a pinch roller in any situation that's non-life threatening.  Thus, if the party is rolling to find out who gets a particular treasure, or if anyone can identify what the animal tracks are that have just been discovered, I have no problem with someone else rolling a die for Jeremy in the bathroom.

But where it comes to combat, or a saving throw, or anything critical, I'd rather everyone waited until said player is able to return to the table.  I don't care how long that takes.  There's something important about a player rolling for their own life ... and it saves on the inevitable argument, and long-term whining, when Christopher fucks up Jeremy's saving throw.  But this should be obvious to anyone.

When do they roll?

When I fucking say so.  Something that bothers me is when John stumbles into a room, sees Mook 1 and says, "I kill it." and starts rolling his d20 ... before I've even spoken.  Um, anyone heard of 'surprise'?  'Initiative'?  Distance from target?  I need John to realize the world does not revolve around his d20, but that D&D is a thinking game.  It's not like it's a matter for groveling ... I'm only asking for John to say first, "Can I hit it?"  So I can say, "Yes, roll."  It takes two seconds, and saves a wide variety of misunderstandings and re-rolls, all of which bollixes up a good running.

Similarly, during combat it annoys the shit out of me when every player at the table rolls out their dice, holding onto it until I call out to see what they've done.  I tend to go around the table, in order, every combat ... or around the combat representation, if that's sometimes easier.  And I have noted, through long experience, that there is a particular kind of clever fellow who surreptitiously rolls the die while I'm paying close attention to Fred's action ... keeping that die if its good or making the decision to roll when I get around to that player's turn.  Even if none of my players think they would do this, if the temptation is there, one will eventually fall for it.

Why allow the temptation.  It is easiest to simply have me point to people and say, "Your turn," have them roll the die and continue.  The time consideration isn't relevant.  And meanwhile, players learn to pay attention to other players, which is polite.  Plus John up above learns self-restraint, not to mention giving other people an opportunity to make suggestions, causing everyone to better enjoy the game, together.

Why roll?

Because I fucking told you to, that's why.  It is not the player's place to question why.  I haven't had anyone bitch about this one in years and years.  But when I say "roll a d10" ... it is for SOME reason, and just now I don't want you to know.  Most times, it's not in my interest (in order to keep up the suspense) to tell a player why they're rolling a die at this moment.  The player's hate it, obviously ... every roll feels like they've just made the worst mistake possible, killed themselves, etc.  A very low roll, and they expect the DM to say, "Oh, that's bad, you've just cut off your own leg.  Roll another d20.  Oops ... apparently you've just stuffed it into your asshole.  Well, these things happen."

It isn't in my interest to explain how these things happen until, well, that information becomes obvious ... and I am a demon for withholding information.  I believe it's the biggest part of the game.  So roll the damn die, and good luck.

How are they rolled?

Legally.  Which means, I want to see those fuckers bounce.  I've played with players who I swear have spent months sitting in rooms working out just how to let the dice roll gently off their fingers, so that if they start with this face up and let the thing skip a bit over the table, they're going to get whatever number they want.  The reason why I know this is true is because when you make these people throw with a cup, they suddenly start missing.  One fellow, in fact, was stupid enough to admit it to two other players, and everyone kicked him out from their games.

A short half skip across the table isn't enough.  And the player's hand better be at least three or four inches off the table.  If the rolls are consistently bad, I'm not going to quibble, but some players will take advantage.

I'm not saying I'm not paranoid.  I have been flat out wrong about these things now and then, and hard feelings have resulted ... but I roll the dice with a good bounce, and I expect the same from others.  It's a die game, and until I have the money to incorporate a craps table into the die rolling experience (which would be cool), I'm going to have to police some people a bit.

Where are they rolled?

Ah, and here's the biggest issue.  Dice rolled on the floor don't count.  Dice that are not absolutely sitting on a flat surface don't count.  I don't care how close it is to one side or the other, and I don't care how important the roll is.  Roll the damn thing so that it lands flat.

I have considered invoking a rule so that the die must come to a rest on the actual table surface, and not on top of keyboards, binders, folders, D&D books and so on ... and the reason for that has much to do with the amount of bounce a die produces.  The harder the surface, the more likely the die has been completely rolled.  But so far, I've never gotten that picky.

The reason why not the floor is simple ... it's to calm the rambunctiousness of players who insist on making all their most important rolls the thirty-yard fling down whatever hallway is most convenient.  It also reduces time wasted as the whole table gets down on hand and knee to find out what the crucial roll was, or that the die has rolled under the stove which must now be lifted to reveal the result.

I know there are those out there who love these moments, but for me it's a waste of time.  Knowing that the roll isn't going to count if it's not on the table actually seems to keep the die ON the damn table ... like it matters or something.

Controlling excited, rebellious D&D players is usually a near-impossibility, particularly with young players such as I have.  Most everyone I play with is under the age of 25.  Keeping them seated for twenty minutes at a time is an effort ... so to my mind, anything that helps control their tendencies to flamboyance is helpful.

I've also considered applying a rule that says if you can't make the die roll legal with three tries, then you miss or fail.  Again, I'm not quite that much of a bastard.

There you have it.  Simple rules, simply adhered too.  And no one complains.


  1. "It is not the player's place to wonder why."

    I have to disagree. It's is the player's place to wonder why. It's your place not to tell them. But I want them asking why. Most of the time, when I demand a roll, it's for nothing, I just want them worried that it is for something . Aside from some hopefully evocative descriptions, it's really the only way to build suspense and concern in the players.

  2. Some ultimately sensible rules.

    In the right games, with the right people, I do actually appreciate people rolling ahead of time.

    I definitely like to have cocked dice, or dice that land on the floor be re-rolled. Being consistent about when to re-roll dice eliminates an opportunity for cheating.

    Oh, another rule, roll multiple dice at once, no dice bowling (rolling one die, and then purposefully rolling the next die so it hits the first in attempt to knock it off a bad value).


  3. Very well Saxon, I'm changing it to the correct, "not to question why" ...

    And good addition, Frank.

  4. You've voiced a few of my frustrations from over the years :)

    Here's 2 things I have done which seemed to sort things out in pretty short order.

    1- If your die sails off the table twice, I just immediately roll for you.

    2- Here's the box-top from Axis&Allies. Sit it on the table. Roll in that, and make it bounce enough to make a Vegas man happy.

  5. For a time I played in a group where 'chipping', or dice bowling, was accepted as the norm. Everyone did it and everyone was okay with it. It added an element of control to the die roll and certainly skewed the results as you might imagine. It also added a big element of excitement particularly in combination with open-ended &/or exploding dice rolls. Personally I don't care if this is the method for the whole table as long as it's openly agreed to. It simply doesn't matter that much if everyone is doing it.

    What worries me more are those players with the apparently worn and chipped dice. I've gamed with two that have spent the time sculpting their d20 to skew its results. Only a few days ago I found one of these player's d20 in my can and played around with it. The results were a scarily consistent 5 or 20.

    Another common cheat technique is to place a hand over the dice pretending to tally up the results and just spew out some higher number as the dice are swept up before anyone can confirm.

    The hand over the dice also leads some cheaters to think they can just tip a few low numbers over.

    Any time I join a new group and I hear of some player with exceptional dice I watch them like a hawk and it's always a cheater.

    If players want the GM to roll in the open then they have to face the reality of death by a dice roll at an inopportune time. And that's okay if they understand that part of the GM hiding dice rolls is to keep them alive to the good bits. The GM has fiat anyway in terms of NPC power and what the PC's encounter so hiding dice rolls is just a small extension of that power. This ties into GM/Player trust which is a bit digressive; apologies.

    What ever dice rolling method a group uses it must be agreed to and performed in plain view of all players at the table. Any time there's concealment or obfuscation it gives opportunity to cheat.


  6. Runjikol,

    Excellent examples. I certainly missed both the sculpting d20s and hand-placing techniques. And no need to state your opinions as humble – arrogant, self-righteous opinions are appreciated here also, so long as they’re rational.

    Your example of ‘chipping,’ however, universal it may be to the table, just wouldn’t work for me. As much fun as it might be, it would benefit those players who were good at playing ‘marbles,’ while at the same time taking the emphasis of the game OFF the game and putting it on the dice.

    Moreover, I wouldn’t relish holding up my interplay for people to collect dice every damn time they roll. My recent mass combat included the rolling of 300 dice an hour, for five hours at a time ... and yet the emphasis was on what was happening, and not on rolling the dice.

    My belief is that dice are designed to be random, and that any corruption of that design – however many people agree to it – is still wrong.


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