This week Li asks:
This question comes out of an absolutely fascinating discussion between longtime GMs and gamers. It was fun to watch.
Narrative Guy says, “Some of the best games I’ve ever played didn’t involve a single die roll; we decided what our characters could do and the GM took us through a story.” System Mechanic says, “That’s not gaming. If you don’t have a mechanic, then the characters are subject to the capricious whims of the GM. And how can you make sure everyone is on the same page? Also, you lack the random element.” So…what do you think? Make your case!
I’m not going to agree with either directly. In either case, everyone has to agree (at least largely) about character competence and system results or you’ll have frustration. If an Amber Diceless game has characters wandering around on simplistic quests and failing constantly like first level D&D characters, you’re suffering from the whims of a capricious GM. But that’d be true whether you rolled dice or not- it’s the style of adventure, the way the GM has statted the opposition and such considerations that make the adventure futile. The same thing can happen (easily) when a hostile or incompetent GM railroads the characters through a diced plot.
The random element is handy at times; I like the extra suggestions that they make- often they’ll twist an adventure in a way that planning wouldn’t. They can be frustrating though- once people have dice, DM’s will have them roll them, even for critical plot elements… then poorly shoehorn the required results in, no matter the dice result.
Summary: Diceless gaming is still gaming, but I prefer the added “impartiality” of dice, handled reasonably. When dice are thrown around to cover for lack of plot, etc., you’re much worse off than not picking the dice up to begin with.