Thursday 10 February 2022


This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

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I often find myself torn between:

  • A love of rolling dice to introduce an unexpected element into the game.
  • The decisiveness of just making a ruling without rolling dice.

So, of course, I exist in a sort of middle ground. I'm not especially drawn to entirely diceless games, but there's an allure to their philosophy of making judgement calls and focusing on adjudication and the grounding of the shared fiction.

Lately I've been especially interested in Sam Doebler's posts on the subject, some of which was put into practice  with the not-actually-diceless Skorne. Jim Parkin's Any Planet is Earth exists in a similar not-diceless niche, acting as one of the big inspirations for Skorne. There's still rolling for success, but some situations (including most of combat) are given the diceless treatment. 

It got me thinking about the classic Oracular Power of Dice idea, and I feel you could have an interesting game that removes dice from the task-resolution process, but keeps them as a way to represent the uncertainty of the fictional world.

You lose that gambler feeling where you stand up for the pivotal roll like you're at a craps table and everybody cheers or groans at the result, but sometimes taking a powerful element like that out of an experience allows other moments to emerge that had been overshadowed by the Vegas-glitz. 

Here's a skeleton of what's been bouncing around in my head. I can already foresee some hurdles, but I'd like to try it out. 


In this game, dice are reserved for Oracular purposes, not for Gambling. The GM and players may roll them to unveil truths about the world, but they are never used to determine the success or failure of an action.

Action The GM describes the current situation to the players and asks them to discuss a Plan of action.

The GM should especially consider:

Action - What specifically are they doing? 
Outcome - What does a successful outcome look like for this plan?
Leverage - Why is this plan likely to succeed?

The GM decides which of the following Forecasts best fits the plan:
Blocked - Something is stopping you.
Messy - You'll do it but create another problem or suffer a cost.
Clean - You'll do it, maybe even better than planned.

The GM then describes the Forecast in specifics and the players decide whether to act, modify their plan, or try something different.

Once the action takes place, and the impact occurs, the GM describes the world’s response and the new situation.

Example of Play

GM: As you're searching through the rubble you hear the clattering of a Giant Clawbug crawling toward you. It screeches, its tendril-crowned jaws coming at you.

Player: Right, I'm going to kill this thing with my sword.

GM: Okay, what's your leverage?

Player: I'm good with a sword, got some armour, this thing doesn't look so tough right?

GM: Well you'd need to get close and hack away at it and this thing is dripping with venom. Armour helps against the bites, but its tendrils would writhe through the gaps, so it's still messy. You'd kill it but definitely end up poisoned.

Player: Okay, I'll climb up onto that ledge instead and try throwing some rocks at it. It can't spit venom, right?

GM: What's the outcome you're hoping for?

Player: Just drive it away, I don't really need to kill it.

GM: Okay, that would be clean. You throw a few hefty rocks at the thing and it scurries away in the darkness. The cave is quiet again. 



  1. Interesting thoughts, Chris.

    If you have yet to, you may find it interesting to read about "effect" and "position" in Blades in the Dark.

    It is similar to what you are describing here in which the "forecast" of a roll is often telegraphed.

  2. You are even assuming that a game has to have combat, while its not always the case. There are even genres where combat is rare or non-existant.

    You can do a game which is all relying on having items or information to "unlock" new possibilities or do things better. It would look a little like an old graphic adventure but with an open plot. It requires you, however, to prep the adventure and item/scenery interactions thoroughly (or not, you can wing it and make it so if it makes sense, makes sense)

    the oracular power of dice can serve to decide which NPCs or areas are available at a given time, pr even using tables you can create setting or loot on the fly. It can work perfectly IMHO


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  4. I wonder if there’s a middle ground, where success / failure depends on rulings, but you might still roll to determine the cost of an action or unintended consequences or just how the story evolves.

    I’m thinking of something like a DnD encounter roll. Say you want to pick the lock of a door, GM just rules whether you succeed or not. No roll required. But it takes you 10 minutes to pick the lock, so now you must roll the encounter dice to see if a wandering monster is triggered (although, perhaps the player could even avoid this with the right positioning or leverage).

    In combat, the GM determines if you succeed or not, but perhaps you roll to see if you’re injured or some other consequence (oh dear, they had a son, who has now sworn to kill you. His name is Inigo Montoya…). In a social situation, persuading or lying is a GM ruling, but you might roll for the favour they ask in return.

    The dice are only playing an ocular role. Although there is a bit of gambling, because you’re only having to risk the “what happens next roll”, which might well be bad, because of some action you’ve taken.

  5. My most played home game is similar to this, using dice to inform the potential paths instead of success / failure.

    As GM, if I decide a situation has enough 'umph', we establish a roll. Each roll has 4 potential things that can happen, 2 beneficial and 2 hindering, though none can interfere with the chosen action. Then the player rolls 4 fate dice (plus, minus, blank). They allocate pluses to gain the positive effects and minuses to prevent the negative effects. A perfect roll, two pluses and two minuses, is super rare, as is a fully blank roll. It feels like something always happens and is interesting.

    It's from the published game called Schema.

  6. Playing online lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Diceless systems since they lend themselves to the medium quite well. I agree wholeheartedly with the use of dice for oracular purposes - although there are interesting ways to make player decisions interact with world/environment outcomes (see Adventures in Middle Earth Journey system).

    For risky actions that would normally demand a role, Dragon’s Grave (link below) has really hit the spot. Player’s decide the outcome of their action but are limited by points in a pool. The actual outcomes are similar to PbtA as full success, partial success, or miss with varying degrees of complications. The pool fluctuates based on choices made and also has opportunity to refresh. Check it out!