RPGaDay2018 Day22: Which Non-Dice System Appeals To You?

So non-dice systems.

For me the greatest non-dice random number generator of all time has to be the basic pack of playing cards. These are incredibly flexible from an RPG perspective. If you ditch the kings for example you have in your hand fore distinct d12s.

If you use the just the number cards then you have 4d10 but there is so much more you can do with the deck. You can assign meaning the the suits with the red being relating to magic, Diamonds to Essence and Hearts to Channeling, you can make Clubs strength based and Spades Quickness or Agility.

Then of course there is the classic Deck of Many Things, a real pack of cards is the perfect prop for that magic item.

There are some games that eschew dice in favour of cards as a core mechanic. Ken Wickham has his ABS12 game, in fact he has over 50 supplements he had released now and they nearly all work using 1d12 or 2d12 or with a deck of cards without the kings.

My wild west game “Devil’s Staircase Wild West Role Playing” is the first of a series of games that uses no dice at all. You are dealt a hand of cards and you pretty much play your card and add your skill to the face value. The intention is to create that poker game feel that sits quite well the Old West setting. The deck of cards is so central to the game engine that the system’s name is a reference to the cards. The devil’s staircase is a slang name for a fanned deck of cards and an allusion to playing cards being a route to vice and degradation.

In the Devil’s Staircase system the Joker plays an active role and is the games equivalent to open ended roll on the attack or the 66 on our critical tables.

The d100 may be the most granular dice for regular play but the deck of cards with 13 faces, two colours and four suits plus two jokers packs a lot of options into a very common household object.

And finally of course if your character gets killed at the start of the big fight you can still build a house out of the cards or play solitaire, that is easier than trying to play Yahtzee with d10s.

8 Replies to “RPGaDay2018 Day22: Which Non-Dice System Appeals To You?”

  1. Frankly, none of them. Sorry, I never got the whole card thing. Maybe it’s a hangover from the whole Magic thing where you can basically buy your win, but card systems have never appealed to me. And I like having dice. It gives you something relatively impartial to fall back on when you need resolution for activities. I’ve had enough poor GMs who would twist rules to get their own desired outcome (or protect their friends’ characters) that I never quite trusted any non-dice based system. Chance should always be a part of gaming, and if you’re not using dice (or cards for that matter) I think you lose at least the appearance of “impartial” chance.

    It doesn’t help, I suppose, that the whole Vampire genre doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. Meaning I have no real experience with the storytelling mechanism used by that system and its various permutations. But I’ve also never really heard anything about the core mechanics that made me want to investigate it further.

    1. I was in a toss up (non dice, using a coin) between the card based game or fate points which are a non dice mechanic within RM. I thought the card based game made for a more dramatic answer, challenged more preconceptions and illustrated the point better than fate points.

  2. I can’t say that I’ve played a non-dice system. I’ve played card games, but those aren’t roleplaying, at least I’ve never experienced any. Magic the Gathering I never saw as a roleplaying game, although I’m sure you can say that you are assuming the role of the plainswalker and you’re summoning your minions and casting spells. Board games, but even those use dice or a spinner to determine some type of cardinal values.

    Vampire genre, if you’re referring to Vampire: the Masquerade, still uses dice. Lots of 10-siders to determine degree of success.

    I’m not sure I’ve found any roleplaying game that doesn’t use dice.

  3. I bought Amber Diceless and the Shadow Knight supplement back in the nineties, but never played them. I really only got them because I liked the Chronicles of Amber books they were based on.

  4. Anything can be made diceless just by finding non-dice ways of getting random numbers. You could get some blank playing cards and write six numbers on them, an open ended attack roll, a 1-100 critical roll, an open ended skill roll, and open ended MM roll, a base spell roll and an RR roll. Stick some cute icons to identify which random number equates to which game mechanic and bobs your uncle you have diceless RM.

    Another alternative is random number tables, these give you tens of thousands of random d100 rolls in a booklet. It means you can play diceless. I think of them as a great way of being a sneaky GM and you can make any number of “dice rolls” without ever touching your dice and alerting the players.

    People often say that players like to roll dice but I think it is truer to say that players like to play an active part in their fate. So whether it is rolling the dice or drawing a card there is still a moment when the dice is spinning or your hand is on the card but you don’t know your fate and success or failure hangs in the balance.

    One of the mechanics in my Devil’s Staircase system uses a bidding war style mechanic in some opposed skill tests where you can play cards in turn and you only know the cards you are holding. At any time you choose whether to bid higher or fold and concede defeat to hold cards back for the next challenge. Of course you don’t know what cards your opponent is holding. In combat you can chose to deliberately play a poor card if you were just using suppressive fire, then keep high value cards back for when you want to shoot to kill. What I am trying to get at is I have not just used cards as a dice in all but name but actually used the broader options cards enable to add more risks and opportunities in game play.

    1. The bidding war method would be the first true dice-less system for roleplaying I’ve encountered and it sounds like a great method too. There is strategy and bluffing involved in the handling of your cards. Play for the win, hold back for another task, bluff and get your opponent to over-bid.

      The other methods are still just dice rolls. The dice take a different shape; a playing card, a chart of preprinted numbers. having a deck of cards without Kings is similar to 4d12. Well, it *is* 4d12. The dice are now flat and easily stackable instead of rolling on a table. A chart of pre-rolled d100 numbers is still a chart of d100’s that have already been rolled before playing.

      Using the cards in this ‘bidding war’ is really intriguing. I’d love to learn more about how to implement it. I’d like to try to work it into the campaigns I’m running. Maybe the player’s skill ranks in Gambling will give them extra cards to use. Maybe the non-dice method could work when they are dealing with the Orc Chieftain who like to negotiate justice and death instead of holding a court/trial/jury.

      1. Oh, I agree, using a dice replacement does not make a system diceless. To be really diceless you need a mechanic that adds something to the gaming experience that would be more cumbersome if using dice. This is doubly true with RPGs as you are dealing with a buying public that have an expectation of dice and plenty of dice at hand. The same is not really true of board games where people are just as happy with spinners for random results or even tossing a couple of model pigs (http://bit.ly/PigsAsDice).

        Regarding the bidding war mechanic there are currently two versions of the game. One is under wraps as it is an ongoing project, there will be a public playtest and a kick starter and a final published game. There is also the original blog posts where I spin the ideas out publically to get feedback. The one you want to read is https://stargazersworld.com/2017/10/09/devils-staircase-wild-west-role-playing/ but I think there were five posts in total and I am sure you can find them all. The more grown up version is underwraps as I am paying a professional writer and invested in art and software to make it a proper game. I don’t think it will appeal to the true RM player, if you are looking for grit and realism then the game is not for you.

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