Exploring Diceless Play: A Beginning
I have found, as I near the three year mark here at the Rhetorical Gamer (and it amazes me that it’s been that long) that I have landed on a few topics I feel very comfortable writing about. One of these is diceless gaming. Specifically, I’d like to explore diceless games and play – an endeavor landing somewhere at the intersection of review and rumination.
I thought it might be helpful to have a first post which set out certain basic perceptions I’ll be carrying into the work; for example, what I mean when I say diceless (vs. without dice). So this first post will be short but it is also a chance for me to get my head on straight as I commit to writing about a specific topic in a less-than-random fashion (something I tend to be less good at).
Diceless vs. Without Dice
Many games exist which could be termed “Diceless RPGs.” Some of these games are truly diceless – meaning that they don’t use a randomizing element at all. Some are strangely diceless – in that they don’t use an external randomizer (like dice) but still have some method of injecting a little chance or “gaming” into their systems. Some are “diceless” but use another method – such as playing cards – to achieve the same effect. (as an aside, I often find when gaming that I truly enjoy the many and amazing ways that games in our industry/community have found to manipulate the basic roll of the dice or turn of the card to achieve differing levels of control over these randomizing elements.)
The first category, games with no randomizer at all, can still be broken down further in the way they deal with having no element of chance working on the lives of characters in the game. These range from strict number comparisons vs. static difficulties to resource-juggling systems, and points between.
Games which use cards are another fantastic category all their own (and one I am also fascinated with) but in many cases the use of cards is merely a substitute for dice and the random elements are still powerful controls over the game… though in cases where a hand of cards is kept they give players a stronger sense of control.
The middle category – a weird alternate world that blends a competitive randomizing element with an elegant resource mechanic is an amazing example of game design – one that still fascinates me and is the place I intend to start this exploration.
A couple of small disclaimers… I am not completely opposed to “games with dice/randomization.” Diceless games are my preferred play-method and I find they work better for me but I know that such games tend to be at their best only for specific play-styles. And they are infinitely harder to make work well in some ways – as a game designer or a game master (though also freeing in other ways). Also, as I work through this – I ask for a little understanding. I have made a habit over the years of playing games – both diceless and “without dice” – but I have not played every game that uses some other option besides traditional dice any more than I’ve played every game that uses dice. If you happen to know of a great diceless or “without dice” sort of game that you think I should read or learn – please – let me know!
I still feel that games without dice – or any sort of traditional randomizer – are a fascinating subset of our collective hobby and one that deserves some special attention, even if that attention does nothing more than make us think a little bit about the way we play.
As always – thanks for reading.