In the d20 system it is impossible to run a game entirely without dice. Dice are, afterall, iconic to the game. To think of sitting down at the gaming table without them is unnatural. However it is entirely possible to run a game with a grand total of 1 die.
Why would anyone want to do such a thing? The answer is that players deserve the DM’s attention.
Rolling dice takes time and is a distraction. Being able to provide players with immediate feedback to their actions and immediate information about the actions of the NPC’s means that players know that they are the entire focus of the DM’s efforts. That is an excellent feeling. Everyone wants attention (people even go so far as to say they don’t want attention in order to get attention). At the gaming table a player wants to feel like the DM cares what they say and what they do.
Let’s cover the situations that a typical DM needs dice - and then we’ll see which of those can be easily and safely eliminated.
- Attack rolls
- Damage rolls
- Skill checks for NPC’s
- Skill checks for Players
- Random encounters
- Recharge abilities (4th edition)
- Random outcomes of drastically wild events
Ok, so lets start with attack rolls. I haven’t figured out how to get rid of these - I don’t think they should go. So keep your d20 around for making those.
Damage rolls - yep, you can get rid of them. How? Use fixed damage. On average it works out anyway and the players, in my experience using this rule, prefer it. Just take the average roll that the beast would get and use that as its static damage. Crits are still max damage, but otherwise a dagger does 2 damage - period. If you think of it in terms of the number of hits to kill a PC, then given that your average PC has 22 HP at first level, it will take a creature that does 3-7 points of damage an average of 5 hits to kill that PC. Statistially speaking that number of 5 hits will change roughly only 15% of the time or so which means that even at level 1 (DnD 4th here), nothing about the outcome of the fight has changed - except that it goes about twice as quickly. I also noticed that players liked knowing exactly how many hits they could take - they didn’t seem to charge in so recklessly as often.
Skill checks for NPC’s - ok, there are 2 ways of getting rid of these rolls. The first is to have them take 10 on everything. Again the law of averages says this is the result you’re going to get anyway - so that is what I do most of the time. The second way is to cheat. Pure and simple decide if they succeed or fail. Be careful with this one, but if you know your group and how they will react, then go for it.
Skill checks for Players - Same answer as for skill checks with NPC’s. Though to be honest I cheat a lot more for the players. If they try something ridiculous like using stealth to sneak past a couple of guards while wearing full plate and carrying a lantern, I may roll the die behind the screen but you can guarantee that it is going to come up a 1.
Random Encounters - If you’ve read this site at all then you know I don’t use those tables. I make up balanced encounters ahead of time. The order in which those encounters appear is drive 100% by the actions of the players, but you won’t find me rolling dice to figure out what happens next.
Recharge abilities - Roll a d6 to see if it recharges. Or decide does it recharge or not. More often than not the recharge ability gets used at the first opportunity - usually somewhere around round 3. If the monster is still standing somewhere around round 6 then sure it recharges. On average the ability will recharge only once during the combat so I like to give it 2 rounds of rest then use it again if the situation makes sense. If the PC’s forgot to bring donuts, it may well recharge on round 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 and automatically go off again when they deal the killing blow (just kidding). Recharge abilities come up so rarely that I forget to roll for them anyway - a design flaw if you ask me about 4th ed. (but I understand why they did it).
Other Random Outcomes - this is a favorite trick of DM’s everywhere. PC says I do amazingly stupid thing to try to save party from ultimate death or suffering which is clearly not covered by any rule anywhere. DM rolls a die behind the screen while trying to figure out what might possibly happen. Usually some weight is applied and a random result is calculated, giving the appearance of sagacity on the part of the DM for knowing the obscure rule which covers said action. Not a bad ploy and I won’t condemn anyone for using it. For my group, however, since we are all experienced gamers I like to say - roll a d20, putting it squarely back in the players lap. 1=fails miserably in a very funny way 2 -10 = fails in a moderately funny way, 11-19 = succeeds, 20 = succeeds gloriously in a very funny way.
Truthfully my nice ruby dice my wife bought me have done little but collect dust, but at least they still look pretty.
Until next time have fun!
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