Diceless examples

This stink bug wizard makes me happy. 🙂

“Roll an Athletics check to jump the pit.”

“Make a grapple roll.” *Reaches for the rulebook.*

“We’ll just roll dice back and forth until we know which army won.”

We’ve talked diceless resolution. Let’s do it again.

Quick summary: give the world/obstacle/enemy the Upper Hand. If the players do nothing or something ineffective, the opposition wins. If the players seize the Upper Hand, they either beat the opposition or the opposition has a chance to seize the Upper Hand back.

Here are examples based on the ones above. We’re all about making things better here.

“Athletics roll”

“There is a pit that is too far to jump across with your own two legs. It’s X feet long. Make an Athletics roll. What do you do?

There’s actually a pit in the Belly of the Fishy Beast and I love it. There’s a clam with a pearl in it’s mouth just on the other side, which dramatically snaps shut when the players approach the pit. Here are some solutions players have used that could work at your table:

  • Have a buddy help.
  • Lasso something on the other side.
  • Use a ladder from somewhere else in the dungeon to balance across.
  • Get one person on a skateboard and someone else to crouch down with a shield and make a dope ramp. Then secure a rope to the other side and shimmy across.

Diceless problems set up an obstacle then asks the players how they logically deal with it. Problem-solving!

This also helps a GM enforce the tone of the game. In a Call of Cthulhu game, that last example might not work to get the Upper Hand (heck, none of them might work). Or maybe your game is goofier than mine (doubtful, but we’ll go with it) and you think using a cow spraying milk out of its utters makes for adequate propulsion to launch said cow and human across a pit (an actual suggestion from one of my kid players). Up to you.

“Grapple roll”

Ah, the dreaded grapple roll. Here’s how I do it.

“You and the beast lock arms. He snarls and presses down on you. You’re slowly being pinned. Unless you do something, he has you beat. Make a grapple roll. What do you do?

Some solutions that might work:

  • Kick the beast in the shins or sweep his legs.
  • Push him into the fireplace behind him.
  • Spit in his eyes.
  • Have a buddy help by grabbing the beast’s arms or attacking in some other way.

Notice, this is the second time “have a buddy help” has come up. I think the use of other teammates to solve problems is woefully underrated and underused in a type of game that generally features a cohesive team. Look at any movie with a team (Avengers, Oceans, Ghostbusters) and they work together a lot. All the time? Naw, but what group of people are? It’s a good skill to impart on kid players, so why not.


There’s a recent post for this, but let’s get another example.

“The orcs camping outside the castle outnumber you. They are getting ready. Tomorrow, they will start the siege and end your puny holding. Let’s all put out our hairs and read them like tea leaves to determine who will win. What do you do?

  • Sneak into the camp and plant explosives.
  • Infiltrate the camp with disguises and take out the leader.
  • Rig the battlefield in your favor.
  • Call a neighbor for reinforcements.
  • Evacuate the castle.

Those are just a few. Will they work? Depends on the execution of said actions. How do they react to the new obstacles that emerge as a result of their actions? I dunno, but it for sure beats crossing fingers and chucking dice just to chuck dice.

Make problems matter. Make choices matter. Make impact matter.

Final note

Caveat: I don’t do totally diceless. About half of my sessions now have one or two “checks.” If something is left up to chance, I make a luck roll. Single d6. High is good. PCs generally need a 4 or more to succeed. Or draw a card. Red is success, black is fail. But that’s a last resort to the problem and resolving the players’ approach. It always feels less authentic than adjudicating based on logical thinking.

Be fair and impartial. Set up problems that can be solved with common sense, have no simple solution, and have many interesting solutions.

3 thoughts on “Diceless examples

  1. If, say, a thief is relying on sheer luck to get them through a trap (saying, swinging axes), would you give them more than 50/50 odds? Or is “I’m a swift and cunning thief, I’m not wearing armour, and I’ll spend a while getting the timing right. Then I just jump through” enough?

    1. Advantage and Impact

      I’d do it this way:

      “If the player character is at an advantage, such as from use of a proper item or a good position or approach, the GM may consider giving them one of the following:

      -Increased effect: If they succeed, they enjoy an additional benefit.
      -Decreased danger: If they fail, it’s not as bad as it could have been.
      -Instant success: The character succeeds without stopping the watch.”

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