For the first 2016 RPGaDay, the question is: Real dice, dice apps, or diceless — how do you roll?
This is a good question, as how to randomize was central to the design of the upcoming system for a game we’re working on at Black Campbell Entertainment. It’s not just do you use dice or apps or no, but what kinds of dice that interests me of late.
When Dungeons & Dragons hit in the late ’70s, the idea of different kinds of dice — not just the classic cube of old, but different Platonic shapes — was novel. Half the fun, I would propose, to D&D was rolling all these weird dice. Prior to that, some of the box sets had chits to randomize your actions. Roll a d20 — pick a chit from the “d20” pile; that was nowhere near as fun as throwing a d20.
Other games, like Traveler, right off the bat, tried to make themselves different by sticking to the d6. This was good in that 1) you usually had a set of these, somewhere; and 2) they were familiar. Using a pair or trio (as in GURPS) of d6s seemed “simpler”, even if the math was not. Some games looked to move to percentiles — using a pair of d10s to give you a flat distribution that was easy to grasp.
During the late ’80s up to the start of the new century, I tended to prefer these one type of die systems. I loved James Bond, but always wanted to shed the d6 for initiative. I liked West End’s d6 system for Star Wars…other than needed a wheelbarrow full of bones to have that Stardestroyer shoot. White Wolf used d10s. Easy, right? Who needs a half dozen types of dice!?! And there is something to be said for this approach. (There was also a certain “Get off my lawn” quality to thumbing my nose at how OGL d20 was invading every damned game put out about the turn of the century/millennium.)
But with the release of Cortex and Serenity in 2005, I found myself rolling different types of dice for the first time in decades. (I actually had to go buy a set of polyhedrons for my ex-wife; I was already using dice apps on my laptop.) There is a certain tactile delight to knowing you’re rolling a crappy trait or skill with a d4, or a great one with a d12. They sound different when they hit the table; they look different; they feel different — and that, for many gamers, is part of the experience. So much so that when I stated working on our game system, I found myself shifting away from the initial d100 mechanics that I had envisioned.
Because even on a dice app, rolling different dice is fun.
Which leads to the real question that was asked: How do you roll? I started using a laptop to run games and store my notes, etc. around 1997. For some games, if the system is easy enough, I use my iPad. One thing I like about going paperless was that I no longer had to tote books and notebooks and dice around. I could show up with my computer and go. (And since the battery technology has improved so much, I rarely have to even have a power cord.) I started using dice apps early on. This wasn’t so hard when we were playing the single dice systems of the ’90s, but returning to polyhedrons required being a bit more discriminating about my dice programs. There are plenty that will work with d20 games, but aren’t sophisticated enough to do multiple types or dice rolled together and added (or not.)
Since making the switch to a Macbook Air in 2010, my choices for a good dice app are even more reduced. Pretty much, the best I’ve found for my purposes is Dicy. It’s free. You don’t get a nice animated dice screen, like I do with Dicenomicon (you can find it in the app stores for iOS and Android) — which I have on my phone and iPad.
Dicy allows you to do some tweaking for presets and roll groups, but I’ve yet to use those. Having run Battlestar Galactica for five years (Cortex system), I just needed to add the dice together, and there’s a checkbox for that. There are a few on the MacUpdate site other than Dicy, but you might run into security issues when downloading them. Another that works well is Bones, which I downloaded, with others to look at for this piece. I was going to look at DiceBag X and Polymatic, but the MacUpdate wbsite now bundles crapware with their downloads unless you are a paid user so [expletive deleted] those guys. I tried Rock n Roll Dice — which I think was the one I used for PC, before the Air — but the Mac version didn’t work on my laptop. (Another I seem to remember using was DiceMage.)
Dicenomicon is a graphic dice roller for tablets and mobile phones;
I wish they’d do an OSX version and now they have it as an OSX app. You can find it for $2 in the App Store. You see/hear the dice roll, but you are limited to 10 dice total on the mobile version; the OSX version doesn’t have this limit. The mobile version can be customized, however, to roll just about any randomizer you can think of, including Fate dice, coin rolls, etc. It’s free. (Seeing a pattern?) The Mac version is currently limited to the usual d4 through d100. You cannot alter the background, just the dice colors. I hope this will be changing.
If you do most of your playing using a computer, tablet, or phone having a dice app is near-indispensible. It’s less to carry. It allows the GM to roll secretly, if needed. As a player, I tend to let the GM hold onto my character sheets for me, and all I bring is my phone (since I usually have it anyway) and there’s dice.
However, I understand the tactile delight of rolling physical dice, and I still do it, from time to time. As for diceless systems, I’ve not tried any outside of the half-assed “rock-paper-siccors” to randomize a game while traveling in a car, once.
So what about you? Dice? Apps? And do you have suggestions for the various platforms?