When and why should you roll dice?

I was re-reading my notes that I had jotted down for the upcoming work on LH and I came across this:

Why Roll?

  1. Part of the hobby
  2. A character can “do” what a player can’t
  3. Resolve a conflict of interest
  4. Because it’s fun

I wondering how much truth are in those four reasons. What do you think?

Point 3: “Resolve a conflict of interest”, is what Carl’s article in F10 go on about. Only roll the dice when something interesting will happen if they succeed or fail. When I first heard that I didn’t think much of it. It only hit home while read Spirit of the Century and they pointed out that if you make a player roll her super-duper Skill for a pointless check, they have a chance of failure. If they fail, the player will feel like her super-duper Skill is… well… pointless. It made a lot of sense to me as one of our GMs was a stickler for using the rules too much and wanting us to roll for many many pointless things. If often made us, the players, feel frustrated, reducing our favoured abilities to randomness.

However, I think the other points are just as important. Point 1: “Party of the hobby”: We use dice because they are a convention of the hobby. Sure you can use tokens or cards instead but I’ve never seen a system that doesn’t have some sort of prop to help resolve conflict. I haven’t got an issue with going completely free-form as a GM, however players do. They need to trust you. Dice seem to give them that sense of trust because the dice is random, it holds no bias. So sure, sometimes players want to roll because they want their character to have an effect not dependant on the GM’s perceived bias (we are only human after all). Also, props like dice, tokens or cards are nice in a table-top environment. Gives the players things to mess around with and fiddle when their character isn’t “on stage” at that moment. I’ve found poker-chips as tokens to be especially satisfying as a replace me for dice-based system.

Point 2: “A character can ‘do’ what a player can’t for me is also an important factor. In general our group tries to roleplay as much as possible. Often you can’t roleplay every thing your character can do, like combat for example. Sometimes your character knows things the player does not. So they want to fall back to their character’s traits. It can be equally frustrating then when a player asks what does my character know with his super-duper Skill about this, and the GM says “nothing”. It feels arbitrary and even unfair (even if it is true) - just like rolling for a pointless check. If the player rolls, he gets the impression of control, even if he’s successful and the GM gives him only a little. The player feels he tried.

And Point 4: “Because it’s fun” as indeed it can be fun to throw the dice and see what happens. In my early days of gaming, a lot of our best gaming was gotten out of bad dice rolls as we had to deal with the fallout. And then some times players want to game rather than roleplaying, if you know what I mean. And rolling dice can fulfil that need.

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