Dice aesthetics

I ran Witch Quest (https://yarukizerogames.com/tag/witch-quest/) a few days ago for the first time. Its mechanics are varied/quirky/whatever. A particular oddity is standard task resolution: add ability+skill, then roll that many pairs of d6s, and each pair which rolls doubles is a success; count successes.

My fellow players, mathematically inclined, upon hearing this, all immediately said wtf why not just roll that many d6s and count 6s.

Then one of them found his highest number, gathered a dice pool of pairs of similarly colored d6s (so 2 white, 2 black, 2 blue, etc), and proceeded to roll it in a huge glob whenever it came up.

I think (but did not explicitly ask) that everyone was a mixture of bemused and flabbergasted about this mechanic. It clearly affected emotions while rolling, if only slightly. Myself, I'm still confused. I don't know if they chose this odd form on purpose to try to evoke some sort of emotion, or on accident somehow not realizing it could be so much simpler.

Any other games you've played that have a similar "the probabilities are the same, but do it this way because even though it's slower and harder, the payoff in feels is worth it"?


  • A common example is:

    Roll a black d6 and a white d6 and then get your result as blackD6-whiteD6

    has the same probability output than:

    Roll a black d6 and a white d6 and then get you result as the smallest unmatched result (negative if black, positive if white and 0 if both dices are equal)

    The first versions is rather intuitive d6-d6 mechanic. The second version is more difficult to explain but is faster in practice nonetheless (since comparing dice is faster than making a subtraction).

    If I was about to design a system like this I will explain it as a D6-D6 roll and then offer the alternate roll as a variation, explaining that it produces the same results but it might be faster in practice.

    In the case you are considering I might describe the system as "roll pairs of D6s" if it is thematically appropriate but I will also add a small comment with the alternate version for people who doesn't have many pairs of same colored D6s.
  • My usual take on this is one of two:

    1. The game designer doesn't know math as well as you do

    2. They have a strong desire to have their own "system". Partly for NIH, partly for some kinda misguided IP fear, but mostly because… I've talked before that in the '90s the dice mechanics were perceived as, like, 90% of the game. We were quibbling for hours on roll low vs high, cards vs dice, curve vs linear etc etc, because that was all that we had.

    I recently reread Sorcerer, the original "system matters" game, not having read it since the original ascii release back then, but now I read the annotated version. It has a super convoluted, and slow, and mathematically opaque dice mechanic. The idea of carrying successes forward is good, and a great fit for magic & ritual, and it made me wonder why it hasn't lived on, but that was it.

    The game had some innovations on the setting side (an inherently gameable setup), on the prep side (those X diagrams are really cool and the "bandolier of Bangs", that I've read about elsewhere, is thankfully downplayed in favor of emergence) but most of the game is on the player side. A tickdown humanity mechanic similar to Call of Cthulhu or Vampire.

    The new dice mechanic was, even in this game, the brunt of the game.

    I was expecting rules for how the demons acted, rules for how the demon/sorcerer relationship escalated, rules for how the sorcerer's choices had consequences… but there was none of that. Six rituals, humanity, and success counting.

    But that's how it was in the '90s! Games were half! Heavy (or sometimes light) on the player side, light on the GM side. These days the GM/MC/DM side would have fronts or tables or something to make their side of things emergent too. The warlock in our D&D game yesterday got struck by incurable disease from his patron from the roll tables in XGE. That's the sort of tight screws I've been missing (and that was the reason I turned to Sorcerer, I didn't think XGE went far enough).

    This is also how core dice systems like d20, 2d6, 4dF can live longer now -- the innovations in the game are elsewhere. Stars Without Number with its tags, AW with its moves, the various Fate games that all try to add something new…

    I think my core dice aesthetic preference is: don't reinvent the wheel. The rest of the car still needs work.
  • Carlos, an even easier way to explain that mechanic, and faster than the subtraction one (and maybe faster than the comparison one too) is to just add the d6es and compare to seven instead of zero, i.e. shift the difficulty curves.
  • There are gratuitous differences between the different types of old D&D/AD&D d20 rolls: due to self-imposed stylistic constraints (particularly letting the GM decide small positive and negative modifiers to the d20 roll) not all rolls and stats can be better with a higher number; it was decided to make ability checks good with a low roll, while for attack rolls, saving throws and armour a low stat value is better.
    The relatively modern, obvious mathematically equivalent "solution" would be uniformly rolling high: as high as possible stat + as high as possible d20 roll > target number (also as high as possible, but for the opposition). However, saving throws, AC and attack rolls would look less different from each other and setting difficulty target numbers would invite the GM to take more liberties. The meaningfulness of the 1-20 range would also become artificial.
  • [D]on't reinvent the wheel. The rest of the car still needs work.
    What a quotable quote! I think that I'm going to have that engraved on something. Or maybe get it tatooed on me or something like that.

  • The only additional example of a specific type of dice roll being used to create emotion I can think of is the thunder dice from Mythender by Ryan Macklin, a game of mythic heroes, gods and monsters. You can end up rolling 100 d6 at once: it’s clearly meant to feel epic and evoke the sound of thunder.
  • Thank you hopey♥
  • Hopefully "you" is multiple people? I can't hold 100d6 at the same time! :D

    If we're just looking for "aesthetics in the randomizer" then there are lots of non-dice examples like cards in Dust Devils or Jenga in Dread.

    For me personally, the d4 in Dogs in the Vineyard representing "something that gets your character into trouble" works well, because I hate the feel of rolling d4s.
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