Playing with Youngers: Diving into DICELESS

Magic, magic, everywhere. Shipwright.

So there I was running a “Hogwarts-inspired” adventure game, now titled “Magic School Adventure Game” (long story short, I got into a brief legal tussle with Warner Brothers over the use of names and pictures, woof).

A student declared they were going to cast a spell. Up to this point we hadn’t engaged the (one) mechanic of the game yet, so I saw it as an opportunity to roll the dice. As with all Adventure Hour! games, it’s 2d6 opposed, if the player rolls higher, they succeed, if I roll higher, something bad happens. If we tie, both.

As I got ready to roll the dice online, the student picked up the dice on their end. Then I got overwhelmed by the screeching halt the game took. Rolling the dice *seemed* natural from a “this a game” perspective.

I almost stopped them from rolling the dice. I should have.

We had stopped playing in the world and had shifted to “and now, ladies and gents… the dice!” The pace took a dive, the fiction hadn’t really necessitated a roll. I was doing this because my gamer instincts were feeling antsy from not saying numbers or dice notation.

So they succeeded the roll and I played it straight. But the results would’ve been nearly the same with or without the roll. 

I then resolved to not roll the dice for the rest of the session.

And it worked.

I treated every action players did according to the fiction, the “what was happening.” Nearly everything was done “with a cost” or as a “success with a consequence” or “a partial success” or a “setback” in 2400 terms (by the way, go pick up this game, it’s great and there are community copies still available).

The kids went right along with it, noticing nothing (for more-than-obvious reasons) and they had a blast. None of them cared that the dice were cast (heh) aside in the corner.

And that was my first step into a larger world of fiction-foremost, diceless gaming.

I read Amber Diceless immediately afterwards on Norbert‘s recommendation. The section on combat was crazy good. I also recommend it.

So diceless. Should you try it? Absolutely.

Have a strong sense of the world, establish the characters and conflict, open with a dramatic situation, throw in some obstacles, maybe give the players a list or two.

And resolve it from there…


Going forward, if I roll dice again in my games, I’m simply going to do a d6 fortune roll (ala Into the Odd and 2400). Rolling a 4 or higher favors the players. I will be the one handling the dice to make things faster. Don’t sacrifice the pace of the game for numbers-stuff.

9 thoughts on “Playing with Youngers: Diving into DICELESS

  1. So… Huh. You’re saying that whenever you would normally roll dice (risky and uncertain situations, presumably), just make it a mixed success?

    I have to say I’m a little skeptical about success and mixed success being the only possibilities, with failure being off the table.

    1. Failure isn’t off the table. My default for player action has just been mixed success (assuming there’s an interesting enough consequence to escalate things at the right time). Impossible or very very unlikely just translates to failure. For example, one student tried to use their “grow plants” spell with no plants nearby. That no work, mister.

      I actually gear the world towards failure. If players can’t outsmart or outmaneuver the obstacle, the obstacle wins. Clever player action wins the day. This usually involves them using a tool or strategy in an interesting way that I didn’t predict. But at the end of the day, the big dragon is still a big dragon. Your puny sword won’t injure it. Unless it’s that kind of game. Or the dragon is actually an origami dragon…

      1. Okay, trying to wrap my head around this… Let’s say a player wants to jump over a small pit. Not a deadly fall, just something difficult to climb out of.

        Normally I would tell them, “Okay, but you’ll have to make a roll, and if you fail you’ll fall in.”

        How do you handle that in an “always mixed success” system? They barely grab the opposite ledge? They drop something in the pit?

        Neither of those feels as interesting as the possibility of falling into the pit and having to improvise a solution to an unforeseen problem.

      2. Fun question! First off, I put the pit there (unless the players were responsible). So one of these:
        -The pit being small is meant as a trivial task. Just do it. Doesn’t always have to be real dramatic.
        -The pit being small is part of the atmosphere. It gives details about who created it or hints at its purpose. Is it a grave? Or a hole meant for trash? Or a pit trap for inch-high gnomes?
        -The pit will come back later. Say the player has to escape, retreat, or otherwise lose a pursuer. The pit will become relevant again.
        -If none of these, the pit should be larger. To give proper information, I often tell players “this is too far to jump.”. It will require a tool, assistance, smart thinking to get around. Make it a real challenge. If you have any of those, that might merit success. It might merit partial success. Depends on the approach.

        It doesn’t have to be always mixed success. In that particular session I described that just happened to be the case. Magic is always more fun with mixed successes, I’ve found.

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