Thursday, February 23, 2012

Quick Fix: One Die or Multiple Dice?

Not sure what I had originally wanted to talk about today, but the post never made it up and I want to have something here. So, let's make it a simple opinion pole, shall we?

When playing a game, or deciding to purchase a new game, do you favor the games that use only one kind of die or the ones that use many? Also, do you prefer larger dice pools or rolling a single die to figure things out?

Both have their benefits. Dice pools can reduce variance which can help reduce randomness for certain checks, while leaving the possibility for crits and botches in. Smaller dice pools though are easy to understand, easier to get into, and less intimidating when introducing a new person to the game. Ever show someone all the different dice used for D&D? Yeah, that a lone can scare folks off sometimes, and they haven't even seen the stacks of books that will be used for the rules!

So, which do you prefer?


  1. I gravitate towards smaller dice pools myself. I think there needs to be a decent chance that something miraculous can rolling a nat 20 or that 18 stat from a 3d6. And while you can get that with a dice pool system, I feel like it's harder to quantify so it loses that certain spark.

    I don't have a preference on the one die type vs. many dice types. It's more about what the rules do with the dice it does use.

  2. I prefer die pool systems. I tend to prefer pools between 2 and 10 dice, and not be a fan of over 10 die pools (see Exalted).

  3. I hate dice pools. It's easy to get an intuitive sense of the probabilities with a straight die-roll; it's damn near impossible to intuit probabilities with a dice pool, forcing you to use a spreadsheet if you want to know such simple things as do you have a better than 50-50 shot at succeeding rolling N dice with target number T trying for S successes. Throw in botches and mechanical variations like being able to split the pool, or sacrifice something to add more dice or lower the target number or number of successes needed and it's a complete mess. People I know who prefer dice pools seem to be people who would rather not know the odds, which strikes me as very strange.

  4. Maybe they're just fans of Han Solo - "Never tell me the odds!"

    Of course many modern die pools have limited the ways you change the odds. They have a single taget number and just change the number of dice or the number of successes. This makes it easier to get at least an intuitive feel on the odds.

  5. Out of curiosity Joshua, what strikes you as odd about it? Sometimes it's fun to just roll the dice and see what happens. Hence the phrase used at our game table a lot, "go big, or go home."

  6. I'm not a big fan of dice pools. They seem to hold a great fascination with a lot of game designers and players but they have several disadvantages. One has already been mentioned, it's often not intuitive how to gauge one pool vs another. I've seen game designers try to use pools for their game only to find that the probabilities involved were completely different than what they expected.

    The other problem I see in pools is that they slow down play. The larger the pool, the greater this effect comes into play. Each function a player needs to accomplish to compare the pool to the desired outcome requires a distinct thought. Each thought uses up a small block of time, even if it's a quarter of a second.

    I'm increasingly of the opinion that increased complexity leads to more player decision paralysis because they're using their mental energy to figure out results. Obviously you can get very practiced at evaluating dice pools but why not work toward simplicity?

    Lastly, if a pool mechanic does what you need it to do because it's probabilities follow a curve you need then use it. Most designers are saying they want to use a pool just because they like pools. Know your tools before you try to use them.

  7. Damn Emmett, here we are discussing likes and you have to drop a whopper of deep thought onto the table. Good post man :D

    I do agree with you. In one of the games I made (and need to finish editing so I can shop it around) I went with a pool but the player only ever keeps one of the dice. The idea was to give the player control of how risky the action is by adding effects (via reducing their die pool.) So the more you want out of something, the less likely assured you are of getting a specific result. That isn't a mechanic I can see easily, or intuitively, working with a non-dice pool.

  8. I like polyhedrals, because they look cool and because different situations call for different numbers of outcomes, modeled well by differently-numbered dice. But games I love (notably Traveller) use just one die type (in this case the handy d6). Classic, old-school D&D uses both linear (single-die) resolutions and bell curves (3d6 for attributes, 2d6 for reaction rolls, etc.).

    Pros of dice-pools: when you want to know, not just whether something was successful, but by how many degrees of success (or failure) the action was resolved, multiple dice and their bell curves model that well. (Conversely, that's why I don't like "critical hits" in D&D, because a linear probability doesn't model degrees of success.)

    Cons of dice-pools: you can never say exactly what a "+1" means; if you need to roll an 18 on 3d6 for a success, +1 means you have 01.39% increase in the odds; if you need to roll a 13 on 3d6, that same +1 means a 9.72% increase. On a d20, a +1 always means +5%.

    Also, there's two meanings of dice pool, it seems; I'm using it as a "dice sum", but games like World of Darkness use a success threshold where you tally up successful dice (those that roll above, say, a 7); they also have bell curves, but the math gets even wonkier, as critics of White Wolf's Scion will attest to.