Bad luck with dice?

Sly Flourish, one of my favorite gaming bloggers, tweeted the following today:

The many replies seem to fit one of these three ideas:

  1. adjusting difficulty: fudge things on the fly, behind the GM screen
  2. breaking the rules: give their character bonus options and actions
  3. doing nothing at all: tell the players to get over it and be tougher

None of those answers felt satisfying to me.

  1. Adjusting difficulty on the fly feels like the wrong solution. It comes across as condescending or patronizing. From my experience, I hated it when the GM ignored a failure or backtracked the narrative on my behalf. I can’t really explain why I felt this way.
  2. Breaking the rules means more management and record-keeping of house rules. If a ruling was made for one player, then it should be for anyone else in the same situation, right? This could lead to inconsistencies and even perceived unfairness.
  3. Doing nothing at all and macho posturing about gamers getting “tougher” or more “macho” is completely ludicrous to me so I won’t even address it.

So how can we fix it?

Well, here are some ideas:

Bonus experience points on a failed dice roll

This is from Apocalypse World-derived games, such as Dungeon World. It softens the blow a lot! I’ve seen it first hand with many different groups. You could even be consistent about it: give them some base amount multiplied by their level. Example: 10 x level. So 10xp at level 1, 100 at level 10, etc…

Let them expend “effort”

This is from the Cypher System. Basically, after a failed dice roll, let the character spend some kind of in-game resource to nudge that failure into a success. This could be:

  • A point of inspiration
  • One or more hit dice
  • Or a number of hit points equal to the difference (if the character failed their roll by 3, let them spend 3 hit points to succeed)

Each player gets their own “escalation” die

This is inspired by 13th Age. The idea is that each player gets a special d6 called an escalation die. When they fail a dice roll, they set their escalation die to “2” and places it on their character sheet. Their next dice roll gets a bonus of 2 to it.

If they fail their next dice roll too, then their escalation die goes up to 3, granting a bonus of +3 to their next dice roll.

For each successive failure, the die goes up, granting the bonus on its top face to the next roll. Up to a maximum of +6.

Once they actually succeed at a task, then their escalation die “resets” to 1 and gets removed from their character sheet.

Why not grant a bonus of +1? Because a 5% increase of chance is so minimal that I wouldn’t even bother. +2 is 10% and it “feels” more substantial.

imaginary player character gives the player the middle finger because their action failed on the result of a 1, again.
source: Penny Arcade

So what do you think? Have you ever tried something like this? Do any of these options appeal to you?

Please check out Sly Flourish’s website

A troubling box…

After receiving an ominous letter last month, and a mysterious package near Halloween, I thought that the worst was over.

But I was wrong.

A small wooden box arrived on my doorstep one windy, cold and dark night.

114 Fifth Ave., New York City, New York, F. Tennyson Neely Publishing…

What was this ancient, dusty wooden box? In a particularly odd frenzy, I fetched a crowbar and pried it open. I could not stand more mysteries. I had to know what was going on.

The rusty nails creaked maddeningly as I pried it open…

I gave the papers a quick glance, my eyes scanning the headlines and faces quickly. But every fibre of my being was drawn toward whatever laid hidden beneath the packing hay.

Like a tightly packed mummy…

My mouth went dry. What horrors were hidden beneath that wrapping paper? Would this mystery finally come to an end when I revealed its contents?

So heavy for its size. The figure was cloaked from head to toe in tattered robes. A crown that resembled a three pronged flame stood out above its head. I felt exhilaration and dread.

But it didn’t make any sense! I needed answers! Why did this blasted thing come to me?

I decided to scrutinize the papers and photographs. There was a lot to unpack. Two were newspaper clippings by the same individual as before, a Mr. Pevort. He was concerned with a play: how the exclusive audience members were driven to madness as they left the theatre. Also his exploration of the building itself… and his gruesome discoveries…

Also included were some photographs: one of the ribbon-cutting of a government-approved “Death Chamber”, the other of an Asylum. The very institution where the author of the news articles, Mr. Prevort, was committed.

Lastly, a letter written by one F. Tennyson Neely (of the same company that sent me this box) to Mr. Prevort. It was threatening and unpleasant.

All of this made me feel ill, but worst of all was the revelation of that blasted symbol. The one featured on the medallion (as described in my previous article).

It stood out from the paper as a mockingly cruel and evil sigil:

What is happening to me? Why was I chosen to safeguard these items? The statuette, in particular, haunts my dreams. I set it up in my bedroom and I swear that it infected my dreams like a feverish parasite.

I think that I am truly damned…

My cultural awakening

I have decided that I’m no longer trying to produce anything that borrows artistic, lingual and religious traits from other cultures (than my own). As a North American White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, I am pretty much the very worst kind of creature to do that.

This isn’t out of fear, but respect.

I was undertaking a project that was a fantasy world inspired by Pacific aboriginal cultures (Koru). I thought I was being original and creating greater cultural diversity in a hobby rife with Northern European settings. I was doing my research and everything (or I thought that I was, but it was barely competent and from books and blogs, not people). It’s gross how much I was patting myself on the back.

Such works should only be made either in collaboration with people who are from those ethnic cultures, or wholly by them alone. If there aren’t any game designers from those groups, them maybe these works shouldn’t be made in the first place.

So where to go from here? I’ll be wholly avoiding creating works with analogues of real world indigenous peoples. It sounds racist, but I’m sticking to my own heritage: making an effort to find wonder and pride in my ancestors.

There’s still room for explorations of German, Swedish and Scottish culture and history. The mainstream has created stereotyped caricatures of them, but there’s a lot left to unearth. I have no ethical qualms about this: these are my histories, my people. I will make an effort to learn and find pride in my great-grandparents. There’s a lot to learn that isn’t in pop culture.

I sincerely hope that some day a game will be made inspired by Pacific Aboriginals, but more importantly, made by people from those cultures. If I ever see one in progress, I’ll give them my support from the sidelines.

I have to admit that I am a bit selfishly sad: my passion for Koru was genuine and huge. But it was the wrong project for a person of my identity.