Blessing of the Dice Gods

“Good shot MacReady!”

So about a million years ago I'm running a Star Frontiers game. It's D&D in space, about an inch away from listening at doors. The PCs uncover a spy in the computer center, but before they can grab him he dashes into the maze of computer terminals, needler in hand. Two characters catch up with him and pile on, but they can't take him out. This is not their fault, since in Star Frontiers it takes about 18-25 unarmed hits to drop a normal person. Knocking someone out is even harder — roll a 01-02 on percentile. 2% chance. If you are using a blunt weapon and you get a roll ending in 0 that also hits, that also counts. So if you need a 45 or less to hit, you have a 6% chance of a knock-out instead of 2%. Woo hoo.

A few embarrassing rounds go by before John's character strolls up to the pig pile. John is the epitome of cool. He looks down on his fellow PCs rolling around on the floor.

“I got him,” John says casually, and then announces he will cold-cock the spy with his rifle butt.

02. Unconscious, one hit.

Is it lucky because the gods love it or do the gods love it because it's lucky?

Coming up with cool ideas that lead to a good scene is great, but nothing makes gamers cheer like when those good ideas are blessed by the Dice Gods. You pull a slick move and then roll a 20 (or 3, or 00, or a collection of successes, whatever). It's as though even though everyone at the table agrees the idea was great, stylish, climactic, etc., we wait for that die roll to validate it. As though some unseen observer is the real final judge of what's cool. We want fate to smile on the table and approve.

By the same token the only thing worse than a good idea getting a bad roll is a good idea getting a moderate roll. A terrible roll is a definite No vote from the Dice Gods. You immediately interpret it as meaning there was some fatal flaw in the plan or a stroke of horrible luck. But a mediocre roll, the roll that just says nothing, that's the roll that leaves the table just sitting and waiting. Waiting for something definitive.

Players take the opinion of the Dice Gods very personally. I have never seen a player roll consistently badly and not get depressed or mad, as though they had done something wrong or something had been done to them, even if the results of the rolls didn't have a major effect. Missing rats all night is depressing even if the rats still lose horribly. Consciously we know that dice are random, but we still think that if we roll badly, it underscores something about _us_.

Perhaps it's not so surprising that gambling is so popular, with everyone believing at some level that their rolls are influenced by how much the universe loves them.

Anyone who doesn't believe should just ask whether players mind having someone else roll for them. It should still be the same random results. It's not like you personally are influencing the dice right?

Right?

    Ben Robbins | February 17th, 2006 | game theory | show 7 comments