Do you like to roll a lot of dice when you play RPG games? This is not really an invitation to discuss the Big Model or the GNS Theory. You can discuss them but be aware that my attitude and personal opinion of these schools of thought consists of a single word: “Meh…” I looked at the GNS stuff and I find myself smack dab in the middle of the 3 distinct player groups. I’m equal part narrativist, part simulationist and part gamist which I think breaks the system. I think Ron Edward’s theory is really well thought out and really boring at the same time. I don’t dismiss it as useless though. Some of the indie games it influenced look interesting. I never played any of these newfangled narrativist things so I can’t really say how they would work.
I grew up playing RPG games the traditional way – the GM was God Incarnate, each player controlled a single character and had no creative input on the game world. That’s what I know, and anything else seems weird and a bit scary to me. When I was growing up the big divide between players had to do with dice.
Our flame wars had to do with whether or not do you roll dice and how often. I think it was around the time when White Wolf coined the word “storytelling” to indicate the GM’ing style of their World of Darkness line and we took it and run with it. Our regular GM was a firm believer in Storytelling with capital S as the ultimate way to run his games. He was also a big fan of Amber Diceless. Whatever system we were playing was therefore “amberized” by which I mean “made diceless”.
I told this story to a buddy from a gaming group I joined much later, and he seemed perplexed. “How do you play without dice?” he asked. I didn’t know how to answer this question. You just do. You declare that you want to jump over the ravine, the GM looks at your character sheet and makes a judgment call based on how well you described the action.
“I jump over the ravine” is probably a fail unless your character is a circus acrobat or an Olympic medalist in the long jump.
“I take a long running start, and when I’m in the air I stretch my hands out in front of me to catch the ledge if I’m falling short” is probably a success unless you are a short legged dwarf wearing a plate armor and a backpack full of bricks.
My friend shook his head in disbelief and murmured something about railroading and lack of random chance. He was appalled that my former GM could simply not allow certain actions to be taken. When I played with that that guy though, I didn’t care. We had fun, and were more interested in participating in the cool, fast paced stories he devised for us. Were we railroaded? Perhaps, but it didn’t really matter. I guess that could be tagged as narrativist style of play – I don’t know.
The dice-loving buddy of mine, and me were talking about this while driving to play a Ice Spacemaster GURPS campaign with copious amount of dice rolling, and looking up rules in one of the 8 GURPS rulebooks the GM owned and had sitting on the table at all times. There was nothing wrong with this style of play either. And I enjoyed it just as much as the amberized games in the past.
What I liked about the diceless sessopms was their free wheeling, fast paced gameplay. Without complex rules to slow us down we could usually close a complete chapter of a longer campaign in a single evening. And by that I mean get a quest, get implicated in a major political intrigue, get arrested, escape from jail, expose the evil plot, defeat the bad guys, clear our names and claim our rewards. All in one evening – sometimes two. In my experience this sort of thing is almost never possible with a dice-heavy gaming – combat alone bogs everything down and always takes forever. What I like about this kind of games however is their unpredictability. There is something exciting about dice based combat situations when you know you character’s life depends on whether or not you can make the next roll.
My ideal environment probably lies somewhere in the middle. Stuff like social interaction, spot checks, intimidation and etc are best done diceless. Randome encounter tables are definitely out. Simple physical actions or simplistic combat can be done diceless but the important, risky, difficult and exciting actions are probably best left to chance to get your adrenaline pumping.
My brother on the other hand caught the Amber bug, and refuses to play anything where the dice are involved. The aforementioned gaming buddy never understood the diceless concept and probably never will. Which I guess is fine.
Which camp do you find yourself in? Do you like diceless Amber like game play? Do you like lot’s of dice rolling and rules lawyering? Or are you somewhere in the middle like me? Or perhaps you can rephrase my discussion in terms of Big Model and GNS and shed some new light on this? I’m familiar with the theory but I never really pondered it long enough to apply it to my own gaming patterns.