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Friday, April 23, 2010

The Tale of the Dice

My dice hate me. Most people comment on how a bad roll during this one game affected the outcome, or that one time years ago they had a character die because of a fumble or rolled a natural 1 on a skill check or critical failure doing something important. That’s blasé where my dice are concerned. Oh sure, once a year or so they go on a hot streak and my players bemoan their fate for that evening, but knowing if they survive what is sure to be hours of pain for their characters the rewards will be truly awesome (because I usually randomly roll most treasure on the spot as well), but most of the time my dice just plain suck.

Case in point last night. The Sirac’s Point group rolled up higher level characters to take a couple weeks off from the normal low level campaign. I gave them a set of guidelines for character creation and on the 250k XP, we ended up with an 8th level Spellblade, an 8th level Ranger, a 9th level Ranger and an 11th level Cleric. Now, each player could draw as much mundane equipment as they wanted (and could reasonably carry) and after generating magical gear, most was par for the course as far as magic goes (there were a couple of powerful items, but nothing overly powerful). The Cleric wanted a crystal golem (something he invested most of his adventuring coin in was used as the explanation) and was allowed, the Spellblade had a ‘3rd level’ dog familiar, one Ranger a pair of ferrets, a war dog and hawk for animal companions and the other ranger a giant centipede for his animal companion (which he was ridiculed for as such an odd choice, but later turned out to be a good choice since it was combat-capable). No one had an AC better than -1[20].

After doing the details, ordering food and finally getting down to play, there was one major encounter - a group of 5 hill giants. At +8 to hit and inflicting 2d8 damage per hit, the combat was pretty one-sided. The players took light damage (except for the Cleric, who was a dwarf and used as bait to draw them in), but my dice consistently rolled 2 through 6 (10-14 with the +8), which wasn’t enough to hit even these lightly armored adventurers. The giant’s treasure, about 5k in gold value, when traded out came to 2 gems worth less than 225 gpv. No magic items, not even a potion.

They (wisely) avoided an encounter with a herd of at least 4 gorgons (my rolls failed to detect the sneaking Ranger who was scouting). In retrospect though, the armored dwarf Cleric could have been scouting and they would have continued grazing unawares by the die results.

When they camped for the night, the lone success I had was with a black orc. It crept into the camp while one of the rangers was on watch and successfully stuck him in the back. It didn’t come close to killing the Ranger, but the fact that after all the mods he successfully sneaked in and got off a successful attack, well the deck was stacked against him. He was cut down in short order, but he served his purpose. The dice went back to normal though, granting the orc no treasure, except the crappy short sword he carried and his padded armor.

This becomes a problem for games I Referee, because the players and their characters will go mostly unscathed unless you concentrate a majority of your attacks on a single character and alpha strike him, thereby allowing the players to pick you apart. Sometimes I’ve outmatched the group by 3x or 4x their level with encounters on purpose (and this would spell TPK or near TPK in other groups I’ve played in over the years), but while difficult and occasionally deadly, most of my groups survived mostly intact. All because of my dice. I should note I don’t play antagonistic towards my players or as a me vs. them mentality, but one of the aspects of the game is to provide combat challenges…keyword being challenges. It’s pretty darn hard to provide said challenges if the random generation aspect of the game doesn’t seem all that random, and is consistently on the bottom side of the number generation ability of the dice.

In both groups I play in, tales of my dice and their ability to snatch defeat from the arms of victory are legendary. For every story of something cool that has happened, my friends can give you two stories of how things have gone horribly wrong for me because my dice hate me. The funny thing is, over the years I’ve acquired new dice, been given dice as gifts, found dice in gaming products I’ve bought in old bargain bins and off of e-Bay and their story just adds to the living legend of “Jim’s Dice”. In a way it’s frustrating because I love this hobby a lot, but one of the integral parts of it doesn’t give me a lot of love back.

Over the years I’ve come to embrace the tough love, knowing there will be a session where the dice go red hot for just a bit and allow me to do something phenomenal and I take a bit of twisted pride when someone else at the table goes on a cold streak and someone says “it looks like you’re rolling Jim’s Dice”.

In my circles of gamer friends, I’ll take that claim to infamy, as long as they enjoy the games.

Roll on!


Dence said...

Everybody questioned it. But heck, it gave me a mount and a battle companion.

James Bobb said...

This is true. My concern was 'is this creature in the scope of the ranger ability to attract animal companions'? While technically a giant centipede is still classified as 'vermin', due to its size I also consider it a valid candidate for 'animal' companion.

It was an odd, but interesting choice.

Jeffrey said...

And has a kick ass name to boot.