Dice Aren’t My Dad

I have a distinct memory of watching an actual play many many years ago, and it’s burned in my brain. They were playing D&D. The players had essentially completely taken out this monster they were fighting, it was unconscious in front of them.

The fighter stepped forward and said “I’m going to cut its head off.” And the GM said “Ok, roll for it.”

You could see about a dozen different emotions and questions run across the fighter’s face. Why did he need to roll for this? Isn’t the monster completely unable to prevent the attack from hitting home? What is gained from this? There was a long exchange, and ultimately, being the days very imbued with GM fiat, the fighter rolled, missed, and the whole thing came crashing down.

It’s an extreme example, I realize that. But it’s been stuck in my head for about a decade now. I’ve never really liked rolling to hit that much. Actually, I’ve never really liked rolling in general. Dice pool games, and those with success ranges (PbtA games for example) at least alleviate some of the issues with roll-to-hit, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

I was a board and card game person before I got into RPGs. I’d been playing hobby games for most of my life, with varying degrees of luck and chance built into them. It was an inherent part of games as I saw it. When I learned about RPGs, and the sort of collaborative storytelling that was supposed to happen at the table, I was very excited. But once I started reading about dice being the things that shaped the story, I started to sour on the whole concept.

I’ve told this story before, but the first groups I played with were full of Chicago improvisers. Like, really really good ones. You know what they thought about dice being the dictators of their collaborative storytelling? Well, they didn’t have nice things to say about it.

I created LUMEN as a system that would reduce dice rolling as much as possible. Removing skill lists would force players to describe how they were doing things, as opposed to what they were doing. And by giving them 3-4 cool powers, they had an opportunity to push the “do cool shit” button again and again, without dice saying “no, you can’t do that.”

And then I wrote NOVA, and immediately deviated from my original intentions. Dice rolling is essentially nonexistent in NOVA when in combat. And honestly, outside of combat, I’m amazed if someone picks up the dice more than 5 times in a session. I was already moving in this direction of removing dice from my games.

I’ve joked in the past that if I made a second version of LUMEN, I would change it so that you couldn’t fail dice rolling. If you rolled a 1-2, you would succeed, but really wish you hadn’t due to collateral damage or other external complications. I made a different decision instead.

LUMEN 2.0 is on the horizon, and with it comes the complete removal of dice. One reason that makes sense with LUMEN is because a core conceit of the system is the characters are very capable beings. Immortal guardians, mech pilots, and other badasses. These characters can do things, it’s not a question.

To me, the more interesting question is how much can they do? What are their limits as they go out on these harrowing missions and quests? What is their breaking point, and what happens when you reach that?

LUMEN 2.0 won’t have dice for any component of the system. It was already the case that combat in NOVA was about resource management, and that’s what I want the whole system to be. Parity in and out of combat.

I’m done having dice be the thing that tells the story for us. I’m tired of rolling to hit with my legendary sword and missing. I’m tired of interpreting one 7-9 roll after another with a complication, but the inevitable success that comes alongside it. I just want us to tell the story.

We’ll see if it works.

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