Why I Hate Dice, Or Rather, Why Do Dice Hate Me?


I've always had ridiculously bad luck when it comes to the rolling of dice. Usually I can get by in spite of terrible die rolls, but a recent experience almost made me want to go diceless forever.

Pretty much anything with dice draws my attention and can hold it for a sizable period of time. I am a big fan of board games such as Settlers of Catan, and I absolutely adore Risk. Even in those games my dice rolls have always seemed to conspire against me, but I've always been able to cope. In Catan I could milk resources off of the other player's rolls, and in Risk I could get by on sheer strategy (it helps that I plan my strategy based on the worst possible die outcome).


I recently had an offer to play in a Dungeons & Dragons game with some friends of mine, and, of course, I lept at the opportunity. My familiarity with DnD is minimal, as the only version I have any experience with is the edition my father used when he was a teenager. Good ol' Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, this is the version of the rules that later became known as First Edition, although the sourcebooks themselves didn't actually carry that label, being the only edition so far.

Being fairly worried at jumping in to a modern set of rules (We played some mix between 3.0 and 3.5 rules), I did as much research as I could ahead of time. I poured over various character classes online, and found one or two that seemed most fitting for the concept I had in mind.

I was excited to finally be able to bring to life a character that had been brewing in my skull for a little under a year. This is the character I longed to play, the character whose namesake I claim as my own on this website, none other than Lorthyne himself.

Lorthyne was to be a paladin, but not of any particular order or religion. I like the idea of playing a crusader of good and righteousness, but I want Lorthyne to be intelligent, and not a smarmy subordinate without a mind of his own. "Yessir, yes'm, whatever you say, m'lord" type characters get on my nerves.

Act 1

So, after forming a deep character personality, and creating a new pseudo-religion for Lorthyne, I was ready to dive in to the actual paperwork and create a character sheet. I showed up at our gaming location at 11:00 that morning, as planned, and found that of our previously planned group of five players, only three of us showed up. One player had to work, and the other we were unable to contact. Nevertheless, the three of us dove into the character creation process with much gusto.

I found, to my dismay, that I was the only player to have put any forethought into my character at all. One player was a completely new to tabletop gaming, entirely ignorant of the rules mechanics and had no idea as to what sort of a character she wanted to play. The other had chosen to play the same type of character she always plays in any gaming setting, a healer.

The four hours we spent doing the paperwork were immensely frustrating for me. The DM spent most of this time in the other room helping the second player create a lawful evil cleric, with very little attempt to hide this fact from the individual playing the lawful good paladin in the next room. I was determined to not let this affect my gameplay, however, and my player knowledge and my character knowledge planned on mixing as well as oil and water. Due to the DM's inattendance, I was left to help the newbie construct a character, myself having little experience with this rules system. Needless to say, we wasted a lot of time leafing through the Player's Handbook trying to figure things out on our own.

However, we did end up with some pretty cool character concepts and backstory. The newbie was to play a gnomic monk by the name of Wyn who shared religious background with my Lorthyne. These two had finished their basic training and had gone out together on a pilgrimage of sorts into the world, to learn of it and its people, and to do good in general. We met the cleric along the road, and since she was traveling in the same general direction, we decided to band together while on the road.

Act 2

Our happy little band of religious junkies was on its way, each of us minding our own business, when the obligatory orc ambush occurred. One orc on each side of the road came charging out of the woods. I, of course, abysmally failed my Spot check, and I became aware of the attack when Lorthyne discovered the large javelin in his side that took away 8 of his 11 hit points. Yes, one thrown javelin took away 8 hit points, don't ask me how. Lorthyne turned around to find his cleric comrade unconscious and bleeding, and Wyn dealing a second roundhouse kick to the nearby orc's jaw. Details are fuzzy, as Lorthyne was fighting for his life and the life of his comrades, but somehow Wyn managed to take out the first orc and collapsed bleeding soon after.

To the right, Lorthyne found the orc that had launched the javelin. Gathering all of his remaining strength, Lorthyne charged at the beast. Using all of his paladinly might to smite evil, my various attack bonuses were just barely enough to tip my low roll into the striking range. I roll for damage. The number comes up........ a 1. My two comrades are lying on the ground close to death, and I can't do more damage than a minor graze.

Several rounds of combat later, Lorthyne has managed to fight off the orc, and he drags the monk and the cleric to safety with his failing strength. As soon as the three of them can walk, they stumble into the nearest village, crying "Medic" all the way.

After a few days of expensive magical recuperation and rest, we were ready to continue our journey when we were approached by the servant of a local wealthy family and offered payment for a "job". Spotting the plot hook and determined to be a good player, I led my party to the family manor. A woman there informed us of her missing son and daughter, who had gone "adventuring" to the friendly neighborhood "Sunless Citadel" about three months back and had never returned. Again, Lorthyne jumped on the opportunity to help someone in need, and after questioning various townspeople about the area, we set off to the location.

Act 3

We arrived at the sunken ravine where the citadel once stood, and found, to our surprise, that there was already a rope tied about one of the former pillars leading down into the ravine. We tested the rope, and found that it was sound enough to hold even my laden paladin's weight. Still cautious about using equipment that we could not guarantee was safe, we determined to use both the rope in place and one of our own. Wyn, being a gnome, and therefore the lightest of us, tied our rope around her waist, and climbed down the old one. Lorthyne, being the strongest, slowly fed the rope out, ready to catch Wyn if she slipped or the rope broke.

We found a ledge about twenty feet down, and stairs appeared to be carved into the rock face below the ledge. Right as Wyn dropped onto the ledge, she was attacked by three giant rats. Hearing her cry, Lorthyne heroically clambered down the wall with all speed, using the old rope and the handholds that just happened to be carved into the rock face. Touya, the cleric, followed soon afterwards.

Lorthyne leapt from the cliff wall roughly five feet above the ledge, his halberd cleaving down toward the nearest rat. I made my attack roll. Critical failure. Yes, I rolled a 1 again. Lorthyne's gallant attack fails as he stumbles, hitting the ground and rolling nearly off the edge. He did manage to grab a hold on the edge of the ledge, and hung there as his halberd clattered off the ledge, falling down several levels of rock stairway. The nearest rat attacks, sinking his teeth into one of the hands clinging to the edge, dealing 3 damage. I abysmally fail my Reflex Save, and fall down several levels of rock stairway. The good news? I land several feet away from my weapon. The bad news? I took another 5 points of damage from the fall.

Here I am, once again with 3 hit points left and having been entirely useless in this fight. Once again, Lorthyne musters his strength, grabs his halberd, and goes charging up the stairs. Swinging his weapon, Lorthyne does manage to hit the rat that knocked him off the ledge, killing it with one stroke. Looking up, he watches his friend the monk fall to the remaining two rats, and sees Touya surrounded by them. Lorthyne charges in, again, his halberd cleaving down through the air. Once again, I roll a 1. The blade of the halberd completely misses the giant rat and sinks into Lorthyne's shin, dealing 4 points of damage and knocking himself out of the fight. I couldn't believe that my heroic paladin could be this clumsy, even at first level. I had to watch miserably as Touya took out two giant rats by herself.


We rested on this ledge for probably a week, with Touya casting all of the "Cure Light Wounds" her first level cleric could afford. The rest of the adventure continued in a similar fashion, although Wyn, my monk friend, began to shine. I was talked into bashing down a locked door within the citadel when I didn't really want to resort to violence. Inside the small room was a large keg of liquid. I wanted to open the keg gently, but the lid was stuck, and I was again persuaded to muscle through it. Inside the keg was some sort of water creature that immediately spewed some sort of acid. I watched my noble paladin fail his Fortitude Save and lie retching and heaving on the ground while Wyn pummeled the creature to death, with help from the cleric. After healing, again, we were jumped by a stream of kobolds who laughed at me as I failed to land a single blow. Yes, I was taken out by a few kobolds. Wyn managed to drag my once again mangled body to safety as she fought off the rest of them. After healing, again, Lorthyne decided that he had had enough beating for one adventure and high-tailed it out of the cursed citadel. The rest of the party followed, thankfully.

Here I stand before you all, having my first experience with modern DnD ruined by bad die rolls. Had I been at least somewhat competent, I probably would have had an immense amount of fun. As it is, I think I'm going to buy myself some new dice before playing again::.

Funny thing is, A few days after this event, I went down to the friendly neighborhood gaming store to buy myself some new dice. While kicking around down there, I found amongst the DnD sourcebooks a module entitled "The Sunless Citadel". Hmmm.

And before you ask, no, I didn't buy it, or even look through the darn thing. But I was tempted...

I've run the module for some friends, a couple of years ago... or, at least, one session of it. The group sort of fizzled after that.

At the bottom of the citadel there is a $%@ גדכדגכ ^G$JJ$J with 376#*@^$& and an amazing &#G כדגד !

Regarding critical failures (or Fumbles): In my game, if you roll a '1' , you then have to "confirm" your fumble by making (and failing) a dexterity check, much like confirming a critical hit. I'll have to check to see if this is the official rule.

In any case, if a PC does fumble in my game, it can cause him to fall prone, drop his weapon, interrupt another PC or stuff like that, but I don't like making it actually damage the character (not beyond a single point of damage if you dropped your halberd on your foot, and even then it might only be subdual damage).

In my session yesterday, a new player also rolled badly (not bad enough to fumble, but enough so he didn't succeed in a single roll-related action he tried).


I'm not too keen on the use of Fumble rules myself, especially ones where you wind up hitting yourself. It's actually pretty difficult to hit yourself with a short arm such as a sword unless you're really rubbish (or drunk).

It's impossible to do with a reach weapon such as a halberd or spear. Just picture the physical mechanics of hitting yourself in the leg with a halberd at full swing......

Saying that you fumble on a 1 means that you will fumble, on average, once every 20 rounds of combat. That's a lot of fumbles throughout your adventuring career. Do you have the same chance to fumble regardless of your level? That doesn't seem right!

This puts me in mind of the old Chaosium Runequest rules on fumbles. Someone once calculated that in a battle to the death involving two sides of 10,000 axemen, 50 of them would meet their end by decapitating themselves. I think it was in 'Murphy's Rules'.

Hitting an ally by mistake is a more plausible fumble effect. Even then, you're unlikely to whack them with a full-power blow. Attacks that veer off course or are deflected will have lost a good deal of kinetic energy already.

Firing into melee with missile weapons is the most appropriate application of fumble rules, I think. Otherwise I don't bother with them. The above practical considerations aside, they reduce the game to the level of slapstick.

I do not use the optional fumble rules. They increase the randomness of combat, thus reducing the importance of strategy by another degree. This works to the detriment of PCs (which meet many monsters) over the detriment to the monsters (which each fight the PCs only once).

I also don't like that even high level characters, capable of dizzying attack bonuses and feats, can drop their sword just as easily as a level 1 rube, or trip. It feels cartoonish and slapsticky, reducing the strategic component of the game.

If you must include crit misses, then make sure you confirm them with another miss, just as you would for critical hits. If not - this gets even more punitive on PCs.

Be careful about negotiating the optional punishments for critical fumbles. While some GMs will give you a minor penalty, some seemingly minor penalties end up being quite severe. Something that pulls you out of a turn, for instance, can open you to an extra attack.

As a sidepoint, The Sunless Citadel is perhaps my favourite low level adventure. It's worthy of study for anyone who wants to see how to build and stock a large dungeon. Two PCs and an animal companion died there in our campaign - all very exciting. The wee villain in the upper levels and her company proved to be an interesting and intelligent baddy for a while.

Yeah, I don't use fumble rules either in my campaigns...pretty much for the reasons that others have listed before me.

It's interesting to see some of the things like this that develop during play though (the bad rolls, not the fumbles rules). I once had a player who's dwarf gladiator would fail any roll related to swimming or not falling into water. Add to that the fact that he always wore full plate armor...he did alot of breath holding and walking on the bottom of rivers with that character. Somehow he managed to live, defeat the great evil in the land, and be granted a wish by his gods...he wished to go to a new world where he could continue the fight against wickedness that had ended on his home plane. He, another PC, and their river boat were transported to an alternate reality, right into the middle of a lake. As the boat landed in the water, rolls were made for balance...and Glenn promptly sunk to the bottom and drowned. How heroic.

As I stated before, I'm not all that familar with the updated DnD rules, so I just flew with whatever the DM said, for the most part. But now that I think about it, hitting myself in the shin with a halberd DOES seem a bit ridiculous...

I don't know this, but I assume that the DM was working off of some randomized fumble chart or whatever and rolled up with a "player damages self" result. Our DM is very good at describing combat actions based upon hit and damage rolls (going so far as to describe the twitching of a orc with nervous system damage), and I think this was the only result he (or I, for that matter) could come up with that made some sort of plausible sense.

I don't really hold any of this against the DM, I'm mostly mad at Chance or Luck or The Fates or whatever force it may be that controls so-called "random" events. I even tried rolling with my left hand, to no avail. Where's the justice in that?

If it comes up again, have the damage you do to yourself be from whacking the blade of that thing against the stone floor. We've all hit something at one point or another with a baseball bat that was stronger than we expected and can relate to the feeling.

While I also use fumbles, I'd reccoment setting the confirmation roll to something that becomes easier as the levels go on (reflex save or attack roll vs. fixed target number). Otherwise, characters will fumble more when confronted with enemies who are better armored or quick, and would not reduce these chances at higher levels.

If you're really interested in this, check this out.

Personally I prefer the 3d6 GURPS uses for its critical system. If you are reasonablly skilled (Skill 9+) the odds you will screw up bad enough to require a roll on the critial table are 4/216 ie about 2%(natural 17 or 18) and then you would have to roll in the 10% of the table (it is also a bell curve) for something really bad to happen.

I never like the d20 when it was used for THACO and I like it less in D&D3.x; the linear nature of the d20 just does not lend itself to a critial fumble/success concept very well. It is a lot harder to get a crappy roll on a 3d6 than on a d20 (conversely it is also harder to get a really good roll as well)