Rolling the bones… or not.

I have noticed recently a trend for using electronic dice rollers in place of, you know… dice. Now, while I can fully understand the desire to make things simpler in roleplaying games[*], this is not the way, people.


Maybe I’m getting old, but the feel of the dice in my hands, the noise they make when they roll (no, electronically simulated dice-noise does not count), the ability to superstitiously pick specific dice to roll in the hopes they will provide a better result… it’s all part of the experience. And just clicking on a screen – if I wanted to do that I’d be playing World of Warcraft, or Portal 2, or whatever it is people are playing now. Insert recent game here.


Come to that, why are roleplaying game designers creating games that are so complicated and/or require so many dice that people even contemplate using a computer to make the roll? I mean, mentioning no names *cough*Exalted*cough* but I’m pretty sure when you have to pick up more than 10 dice – and individually count out the results on each one – you haven’t written a roleplaying game, you’ve written a computer game. So logically, you need a computer to play it. I hate to undermine my own argument, but while playing a certain game recently I found myself so frustrated with the mechanics, and so embarrassed at how long the other players had to wait for me to count out my dice, that I caved and used the e-roller. Yes, I admit it. But that’s not the worst of it. Because we only had one computer in the room, I ended up getting someone else to click the roll button for me[**]. Think about that for a moment, and tell me it doesn’t make you feel a little sick inside.


So come on, roleplayers. Come on, White Wolf. Let’s drop electronic rollers and the games that make them necessary. That, or give up and play computer games instead.


[*] I’m fairly sure nobody would be stupid enough to design a system for a board game that was complex enough to drive people to this sort of behaviour.

[**] Incidentally, an interesting fact: Bad luck is capable of detecting not only who is rolling the dice, but also who is clicking on the e-roller, and whose skill check they are clicking for. Not that I’m bitter.

Josh Fox

Rabalias grew up wanting to be a pirate. But a band of evil bureaucrats kidnapped him and forced him to work for The Man. Even so, Rabalias was patient and cunning. He escaped by gnawing his way through the walls of his prison and concealing the hole behind a picture of cthulhu. He fled to the coast, and stowed away on the Black Armada, where he worked his way up to the rank of Admiral.

8 thoughts to “Rolling the bones… or not.”

  1. You know what I am going to say right…join me. Join me on the dark side, where the diceless systems live!

  2. Well, as you know, I completely agree with you; I much prefer rolling proper dice. MUCH prefer.

    BUT having played lots of *cough*games-that-have-loads-of-dice-whose-system-shall-not-be-mentioned*cough*, I do think it’s close to a necessity for those sorts of games – for exactly the reasons you outline. In other words, I think you were right to cave, and while it’s a shame, I think it’s the right thing to do if you’re playing those sorts of games.

    Also, I told you me rolling the e-roller for you wouldn’t change the fact that you’re rubbish at rolling.

  3. But how did it know you were rolling for me? Hmm? There is only one answer that makes sense, which is that the e-roller AI has patched itself into the CCTV network, or something, and is watching us. Right now.

    Anyway, irrespective of that, it’s still sick and wrong. You wouldn’t roll someone else’s dice for them. Everyone can see that would be a disgusting act, worthy of exile or worse – but because it’s a computer programme, somehow it’s ok, and so you’re on the slippery slope and before you know it you’re sitting in the smoking ruins of your once-great civilisation, eating the flesh of your ancestors.

  4. Took me years to admit that I hate the Storyteller system, and am not thrilled about ORE either. It’s not just the buckets of dice, it’s also the way nasty, pointy d10s feel in the hand.

    Buckets of D6 with nice rounded corners, just about OK. Spots are easier for recognising numbers than numerals, too. But ultimately more than 4 dice is probably too many, unless you’re playing DITV.

    1. Smiorgan:
      I reckon FUDGE-style dice would be ok for bucketing (count the +s, count ths -s, subtract latter from former). Though I think coloured faces would be cognitively easier – there’s not a lot visually different between a + and a -. But the question is, why use buckets of dice at all? It produces quite nice probability curves, but that’s far from being a good reason. Even Dogs, it seems to me, is overdoing it, though at least it’s not so hard on the old noggin.

  5. Agree totally that coloured faces are far superior to +/-. I wouldn’t use FUDGE dice for bucketing in the way you describe – same old hunt-and-peck problem.
    Though I did think about a system that used two green or blue and four white faces, where characters spend successes after they roll on doing actions.

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