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I am interested in using a diceless resolution system for my roleplaying, but am not sure what my options are in that vein. I can think of basically two categories of diceless tabletop role-playing systems - systems which eschew any randomisation, and those which randomise by some method other than dice.

Examples

Non-random tabletop systems

One option is of direct comparison of stats or other game statistics without a randomization factor. The obvious example here is Amber DRPG, but I suspect that there are other narrative driven RPGs out there that I don't know about.

Even in Amber, situation resolution it is rarely by direct comparison between stats. Narrative techniques can be used to manoeuvre two characters into a situation which narrows the gap between their ranking, widens it, or brings other stats into the picture - the classic example of course being Corwin relying on his stamina to stretch out conflicts with his siblings such that it becomes a dominant enough factor that he can escape.

Other randomisation techniques

I have seen card-based randomization system. Over the years, I've played quite a few home brew games based on the original SAGA Dragonlance system, which was similar to the SAGA Marvel superhero system.

The basic mechanics were that you had a hand size according to your experience, and for any skill check you would play a card from your hand and replace your card from the draw pile. If you had a card of the right suit as the skill check (a strength card on a strength check) you would also draw a card from the draw pile and add that to your skill check, so a small trump was often worth more than a medium value card not of the correct suit. When you were wounded, you would discard cards to the value of the damage, but those cards wouldn't be replenished - your hand size would be reduced until you were healed. One nice aspect of the system was that it simulated fatigue beautifully, you might start a scene with a spread of high, medium and low cards, but as your high cards were played they would more often than not get replaced by lower value cards, until you were left with a bunch of useless cards and feeling very vulnerable.


The only other system I've played without dice was Everway which, if I remember correctly, used a combination of these techniques, stats based resolution, card resolution and GM fiat.

What I would be interested in is what other diceless resolution techniques exist, ideally with examples of tabletop diceless resolution methods people have tried and how they found them to play.

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locked by mxyzplk Nov 12 '13 at 0:35

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: help center.

    
Please discuss question validity on Meta: meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/1370/… –  mxyzplk Mar 10 '12 at 3:18
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Related: Statless & diceless systems –  SevenSidedDie May 8 '13 at 15:33
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This is an older question whose answers are pretty bad, being a list of games rather than an exploration of diceless techniques. Since we have a newer question on this, I'll bounty it to get it cleaned up (a lot of the existing answers should be deleted probably, for just listing a game rather than really answering with techniques first). –  mxyzplk Nov 8 '13 at 16:13
    
OK. Given the meta discussion, I think it'll be impossible to save this question. It was originally written as "list me games;" we refactored the question into being technique oriented but it's full of off-point answers and isn't pulling any better ones. I'm going to historical lock it, but if someone were to ask a basically identical question in the future it would be on topic. –  mxyzplk Nov 11 '13 at 13:41

7 Answers 7

Castle Falkenstein

This 1994 game was the first steampunk game I'd seen since Space: 1889. It uses cards as a randomizer because Gentlemen of Quality, and Ladies (most certainly!) would never game with dice! This game is a lot of fun. Should be combined with the Comme il Faut expansion.

The Marvel Universe RPG

This early-21st-century superhero game is pure resource management. You have a limited number of tokens you can use to try to meet / beat target numbers when combined with your stats. I have this game, but have never played it.

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Another well known diceless RPG is Nobilis. I haven't played it but I have read it and the resolution mechanism does come down to who has the most ranks in a category allow characters can essentially overpower their miracles allowing them to do things over their base stat. It's a little tough to get your head around but from what I've read it allows for a lot of interesting roleplay and since everything doesn't come down to dice rolls it encourages very creative descriptions of powers and how they are used.

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Dread uses a Jenga tower for resolution. There are about a hundred others.

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I haven't played Dread, don't like the sound of it. Less "pretentious" and more "party game" in my mind, on that "one shot" end of indie RPGs. And sure, the list isn't comprehensive, but it also has stuff not listed on here already. –  mxyzplk Apr 19 '11 at 23:07
    
Dread works really, really well. The environment can help a lot, and the players have to buy in to playing a horror game, but these are not issues unique to Dread. –  okeefe Nov 8 '13 at 16:29

GUMSHOE isn't fully diceless, but reminds me personally a lot of Marvel SAGA which you cite in the question. It is an investigation ruleset (used in Trails of Cthulhu, Fear Itself, Esoterrorists, and Mutant City Blues) which eschews using dice for finding important clues, instead stats are usually points you spend to get better effects. You do roll for the more "adventurey" skills.

In fact the thing that worries me about GUMSHOE is that I played Marvel SAGA but hated it, it was too easy to get stuck in a place where you had all bad cards and so deliberately didn't do anything, or only tried very innocuous actions to try to clear out the low draws. Diceless but point spend/card draw mechanics can get you into that passive "don't try anything" mode if things go badly because it's so deterministic. I asked a question on this SE about how to prevent that, and "railroad" was the gist of all the answers.

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If you are willing to look at indie RPGs, there's a lot of non-random systems around. To name a few:

  • System DL: if skill is higher than difficulty then it is a success. Obviously there are luck points that allow you to get automatic successes (with a price...).
  • Active Exploits: players manage a limited pool of "effort" points.
  • No Dice: freeform narrativist, uses a deck of cards for resolution.
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Games not yet mentioned:

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I got to play Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple at GenCon, and I can tell you that the "stones pulled from a bag" is not a resolution mechanic, per se. It's a story-direction mechanic. It determines who / whether you can help and whether you end up in trouble, but not whether a given action succeeds. –  gomad Aug 15 '11 at 15:51
    
Primetime Adventures uses cards, but it uses them in a way that is indistinguishable from a dice pool resolution mechanic. In particular, you don't hold cards for any duration and play them at strategic points, you just draw them, look at the color, and tally the red ones. Since you then replace them into the deck and reshuffle, that gives you exactly the same odds as rolling the same number of d6es and counting any 4-6 result as a success. So it doesn't really offer a different gaming experience, in the end. –  amp108 Nov 8 '13 at 20:24

d20 "Take 10" and "Take 20" combined with circumstance modifiers for narrative don't sound much different than your Amber description or RB's System DL.

Fudge/FATE is practically dice-less; the curve sitting on 0 with +/- 4 at the extremes gives much more weight to static die modifiers.

Even simply using multiple dice (bell curve), rather than a single die (uniform) will go a long way toward reducing randomness.

Any of these methods will reduce randomness, helping modifiers for narrative trump the random component of task resolution.

It's a bit hard to answer without knowing the "why". Because you describe non-random and random methods, it isn't clear what the end goal is.

As far as other physical methods, cards or even wheels could be used, but dice are probably the most practical.

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