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