Fear of the Die

Are some games afraid of their own mechanics?

When you come from a d20 grounding, you get used to the sound of clattering plastic. It’s part of the game. If you’re in initiative mode then the dice hit the table every minute, at the very least. I appreciate that the frequency can knock the immersion out of the situation at times, but that’s the price you pay for granularity in the engine. 

Other games seem to come from a stand point of (and I’m putting words in many games text here) “here’s how the dice roll changes the outcome. It’s probably quite significant, and needs the table to buy into the interpretation” So fewer rolls, bigger impact. Sometimes these negotiations boot me out of my head space too, so neither end of this continuum is necessarily about immersion 

I’m reading the new edition of 7th Sea and seeing this latter way again and again. Making a roll in 7th Sea seems to be a big deal. I mean every game says only roll when it matters, but here, making the roll itself is what makes it matter (still with me?)

It’s a similar deal to Fate and PbtA games. Once the dice hit the table, the move is only just beginning, and the consequences are Fighting Fantasy-esque as you turn to a completely different numbered paragraph. No keeping your thumb in the page with the decision point. 

As I read these rules, I’m excited. Drama! Dilemmas! Narrative! Decisions! But when I actually run these games… I get story fatigue quite easily. A binary hit/miss roll takes little processing power. A villain/revenge/amour/reversal plot pile takes more. 

The answer is to take the advice as a hard rule. Only roll when it matters. Really matters. 

Which means, practically, games need to have more narrative punch, or need to use the rolls way less than they would in a dungeon-normal setting. Or, both. 

Interestingly, 7th Sea calls their rolls Risks. And that’s just the right word. The game changes when you take one. If your table is risk averse, then you’d be right to be afraid of the game. 

Which leads me to believe that modern designers and GMs would more likely be the instigators if they were playing. And they’ve brought that sensibility to the rules. But that’s not the only way to play. I’ve seen players bounce off these newer sensibilities, and I think it’s because of fear. Fear of having to become a GM for a minute. 

Which is reasonable. 

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