The Gassy Gnoll: Learning to Embrace My Fickle Dice

The Gassy Gnoll is of Irish descent. (With a name like Fitzpatrick, it’s probably not shocking!) But he’s not the luckiest bastard on the planet and is often quoted as saying “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” (Which is actually a quote he stole from his father, who probably stole it from someone else along the family line…) So when he’s at a game table and rolls a die, any die, he knows before it hits the table it’s going to be a bad roll.

I know you know what I’m talking about. We’ve all had those sessions where you would almost rather not roll because the dice were in fact trying to kill your characters, your friends’ characters, and may in fact have had a vendetta against your entire family. I’ve been in plenty of games with that character and others where in the thick of a fight the weapon suddenly flies out of my hand or I trip and fall removing myself from combat or even die (or lie bleeding for multiple rounds), unable to affect anything… All because of a roll of 1 at a bad time.

Well, amazingly I rolled two 20s in my last session. One was in the heat of battle and made the big baddie do significantly less damage each time it hit one of us (“Iron to Glass” is a great clerical spell). And one was when the ghost I was playing had to do a Heal check during a Resurrection ritual to actually bring himself back from the dead (it was the whole goal of the adventure, which was quite fun in spots). But damn if every other roll was mediocre or underwhelming. And I’ve likely used up my reservoir of critical hits for a while. ๐Ÿ™‚

It was at the end of that session that I came to a sudden realization…

Dice are fickle. No, that’s not it…

The die rolls don’t really matter. That’s it.

Yes, I said it. You read it. I mean it. They really don’t. Or rather… they shouldn’t.

What we need to do is build in a mechanic into our favorite RPG systems that works like FATE or Dungeon World where a miss can be just as exciting as a hit. A failure can be just as cool as a success. And sometimes MORE cool.

Jacob Zimmerman brought this up over at the Ramblings of Jacob and Delos in “Learning From Your Mistakes; One of My Favorite Parts of Dungeon World.” And I’ve seen it at work in my brief foray into FATE a couple of years ago. If you fail in FATE, the GM gets to bring in some interesting twists.

How do we pull in this quantum effect (yes, yes “but”, and no) into games like D&D 4e? Anybody have any ideas?

I’ve used the concept of “Brownie Points” in the past, where a player can re-roll, pull in a favor, or pray for some help from the gods when they want to. This seems similar to the concept of “Fate Points” which can be used to help yourself or others to adjust a situation. But that’s not quite what I’m after here.

Does anybody have any examples of bringing in this FATE-like idea into 4e? I think it would go a long way towards eliminating the stigma against failed die rolls and the dice that seem to want to kill me almost every session.

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4 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: Learning to Embrace My Fickle Dice

  • My own bad luck led to me adopting classes in 3e that didn’t rely on the success of my rolls — namely Bards, whose bonuses were granted to the party without need for dice, and Clerics whose spells prompted saving throws from enemies.

    I was disappointed when 4e dropped most of these types of effects, though many of them reappeared over the system’s life… especially toward the end. Two innovations that I really appreciate about 4e effects have to be the codifying of “Miss” effects — not just for half damage anymore — and the “Effect” line, which occurs regardless of whether an attack lands or not.

    Both of these things predate 4e, but 4e made them a “thing.” You can reliably build a character around them.


    • Game Knight

      @dither – Yeah, 4e is an interesting beast. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I played 3e for five years, and figured out how bad my luck was after the first year or two. It wasn’t until 4e made me roll to hit with Magic Missile that I dropped a Cluster-F Bomb at the gaming table. Then I got used to rolling to hit with MM and began to enjoy scoring critical hits with it. Then they changed it back. *sigh*

        What am I even carrying on about?


  • I wouldn’t say my luck is quite THAT bad but it has its off days. I’ve played quite a lot of Mutants and Masterminds in my day (too much?) and have often found myself migrating towards some of the powers and abilities that let you get away with not rolling. Skill Mastery for instance lets you take ten on a skill no matter the stress levels. Perception based attacks always hit but they won’t do as high damage.

    Of course there is fun to be had with succeeding at cost in FATE as well.

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