Although many do not appreciate them, a really long time ago, I was thinking and drawing a diceless RPG system.

There are already several notable diceless RPG systems, like the one listed here, but I'm not sure if any of these use a math-based system to evaluate conflicts.

The big issues are:

  1. How to resolve conflicts between creatures with the same skills/characteristics?
  2. How to emulate the fate in a mathematical way w/o using a random function?

A couple of practical examples:

The Highest just cloned Conan, and he wants to know who will win in a tournament.

Teodius, a new thief of the Roast Guild, is trying to open a kind of lock he has never seen before. It's immediately clear that it's a complex one, but ....

The idea would be to use some math for comparison, modifiers for comfortable/uncomfortable situations (like a thief in the thief school), and some Fate points used by the master and/or by the players to tilt the balance in favor of one or the other.

  • Do you have some nice ideas (math and background)?
  • Do you think it's interesting?
  • Do you know any free (in terms of license) existing projects?

Thanks a lot.


By Math, I mean some simple (or rather complex) formulas to compare one or more characteristics (or skills) against another creature's skill set or against a difficulty level of a certain task. Let's give an example:

Conan : Str (80), Dx (60), sword (30) Teodius : Str (60), Dx (80), sword (20)

Which formula can I apply to compare the two? I'd say simple differences and Conan should win.

Conan : Str (80) Wall: Str (120)

This case the wall should win, but if Conan will pass the whole day to beat, slam, whisk, bang, whip, flap, and knock the wall?

The difference between points/bidding system (if any) is in the way players and the master can use the points, and how many. I think that opportunity should come in certain specific moments, not every time the user has a bunch of them. This is what dice simulate really well (the chaos).

I'm looking for some nice solutions; are you aware of any? Do you have any nice ideas?


I was more thinking about a cause/effect system, where the action of each creature can effect the destiny of others.

A system like this needs special rules and formulas to calculate the result of some actions.

What would have happened if Conan didn't open that door?

The Master can take note of these special events and allocate some fate points (positive or negative), then he can decide himself how to change the course of some events or give the choice to the players.

  1. Destiny is written (by the master) and math formula provide the result of actions.
  2. If a PG takes unexpected decisions, it changes the destiny.
  3. Positive and negative fate points are applied to each formulas used during a session/party (by either the master or the player).
  4. As the master change the main story he will apply fate points as he likes.

So normal events are already written my the master that will just use narrative techniques to show the result. It's the player that have the power the change these events, and will get positive or negative points depending of his choices.

If this is a good idea, how would you translate this in rules?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you explain what you mean by "math" in this case? How does this compare with points/bidding based systems? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 25, 2011 at 12:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Brian Thanks, I've updated it, I hope it clarify better. I don't want players to be able to use points at any situations, but just when the Fate allow it (let's say the lucky day, hour minute of the year) \$\endgroup\$
    – tmow
    Commented Jan 25, 2011 at 12:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @tmow re: 012611 update: That's an interesting idea but I think it will require more math than will be feasible at the game table. I feel like that's the sort of thing best used in computer games. But if you're able to come up with some formulas that are speedy enough for the game table, I'd love to be proven wrong. \$\endgroup\$
    – valadil
    Commented Jan 26, 2011 at 15:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is an extremely open-ended question that I don't think has a concrete answer without extensive discussion (blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective). I would suggest splitting it into two or more concrete, answerable questions on some specific point that can be answered factually. As a general rule, Stack Exchange is not an appropriate medium for doing actual design work. It's a library, not a workshop. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I agree, it's fine with me, how can I split the question? \$\endgroup\$
    – tmow
    Commented Jan 28, 2011 at 7:56

4 Answers 4


I've had some similar ideas with valadil, but since commenting is restricting I thought I'd post a full answer to expand on his. I've been thinking about this for a while and I've had a few ideas revolving around game theory.

The basic mechanic I propose is a bidding system. In simple terms, when there is a conflict, all relevant actors secretly put forth some of their chips. Then, everyone's bids are revealed simultaneously and the bid with the most chips wins the conflict.

Obviously, there needs to be a counter-incentive to bidding everything you've got. So, you can rule that chips that you bid are lost, or lost only for the winner, or that the winner pays them to the losers, or something. Further ruling is needed to decide if and when the chips are replenished.

Also, you need to have rules about where chips come from. A simple implementation would be to assign ranks to skills, traits, stats etc. Each rank would provide a chip that can only be used in conflicts where the skill/trait/stat is relevant.

In economic terms, this is an auction, a mechanism for distributing resources. On one end you have the chips which are like money, on the other end you have conflict outcomes, which are like goods. The players and the GM have to evaluate the outcomes and decide how much they are worth to them, then bid accordingly.

I've done some playtesting on a system based on these ideas and the results were less than stellar. There's something magical in dice, psychologically speaking, that is just missing. I started rather optimistic about the whole thing, but now I'm not sure if it's a good idea to remove dice altogether from a RPG system.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't gotten around to testing yet. I like bidding as a mechanic but I'm worried it'll be a) too slow and b) too labor intensive for the poor GM (although that may be fixed by giving the GM a single pool rather than pools per NPC). re: Counter incentives, I was planning on making all bids get spent. This is because my bidding is based on Game of Thones board game's mechanic. I was planning on having a character's base skill be the limit on how many chips could be bid at once. So at best they could double their skill for a single check. \$\endgroup\$
    – valadil
    Commented Jan 25, 2011 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ A note about speed: At first I had players taking turns, deciding whether they wanted to increase their bid or not, which was extremely slow. However, secretly deciding on a number of chips and then having all players simultaneously revealing them is pretty fast. Definitely not a problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – Naurgul
    Commented Jan 25, 2011 at 19:42
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Ok, now this is exactly how Universalis handles diceless. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 25, 2011 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Seven, Ok now I have to read Universalis. @Naurgul. I was planning on the simultaneous reveal method. I think that'll work for single resolutions. I'm worried about longer back and forths like combat though. \$\endgroup\$
    – valadil
    Commented Jan 26, 2011 at 0:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Naurgul Thanks, this is indeed a good solution, but as @SevenSideDie highlighted it's an existing solution and anyway it slow down the game a bit. \$\endgroup\$
    – tmow
    Commented Jan 26, 2011 at 9:26

Tthere's very little point to using math without statistics. A statistical roll requires a function to determine success or failure. A deterministic system (non-die based) does not require an accurate model-of-universe, and therefore doesn't require math.

Most deterministic systems are narrative in focus, exploring the stories of the protagonists without allowing anything like "unforeseen bad luck" to get in the way.

However, your request is looking for a intermediate stage: you want some of the narrative control to rest in the universe's hands.

In a curious aspect, it is quite possible to model 4e D&D encounters without using die rolls. Instead, statistical modelling is employed to explore the impact of the average to-hit multiplied by the average damage. In this way, probable decreases of resources can be estimated.

Therefore, one way of performing a somewhat simulationist dice-less mechanic is by allocating attention or intent.

Say one has a "wrasslin'" pool of 5 beads. The pool represents the total amount of attention the player can allocate. During the "allocation phase" (timed) every player furiously sends beads across the table, representing offense: hindering the enemy and defense: helping a friend. Damage is a static number and is a function of the difference in attention.

Consider this scenario: Alice, the famous pirate is fighting Bob, the not-so-famous mook.

Alice has a duelling pool of 5 (green), and Bob has a duelling pool of 4 (red). There are 2 cups on the table. Start is called and alice drops 4 beads into Bob's cup, indicating that most of her attention is on offense. She reserves 1 bead. Bob reserves 2 beads, and drops 2 beads into Alice's cup.

When the timer dings, comparisons are made: Bob has 4 stones in his owie cup, and has 2 beads in his reserves, suffering 2 "attacks". Alice suffers 1 attack. They both deduct HP, describe wounds, or otherwise display the results of combat.

In many ways this is an abstraction of normal combat. The math determines pool size and attack damage, but doesn't need to be calculated on the fly.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @Brian, yes and not. I want the Master to have one (or more) narrative plot(s), with its(their) failures and successes already written, but with the players having the power to change these pre-written events. It's not bidding at all... You, as player, collect points and at a certain moment you use them to change the course of the events, like you have God behind you, blessing your steps. On the other hands, the master have to find out how many points, in positive and in negative, he has to distribute or assign during a test. Normal tests don't needs any check, are already written. \$\endgroup\$
    – tmow
    Commented Jan 26, 2011 at 13:30
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ another point, why do you say "There's very little point to using math without statistics.", what I'm thinking about uses maths and therefore statistics, isn't? \$\endgroup\$
    – tmow
    Commented Jan 26, 2011 at 14:25

I've had some ideas for a diceless system for a while now that sounds similar to what you've described. Basically I noticed that in some systems I was playing with the players had points that they could spend to alter the effects of die rolls. The players and GMs took turns whittling away each others collection of points. When someone ran out, they usually ended up losing. I came up with a system that abstracted away the dice and just used these points for conflict resolution. Basically everyone has a score devised by their skills and stats. During conflicts they can bid additional points which are added to the score for that one resolution. Figuring out how many points people get, the range of scores, and how often points refresh is going to take a lot of beta testing on my part.

Here are my initial thoughts on the system: http://gm.sagotsky.com/?p=9#more-9 I've since taken more notes but they aren't in a presentable form. I'm trying to put together some one shots for alpha testing, but my D&D players keep showing up with expectations that I'll GM for them and so that's cut into my system writing time. If what I described sounds relevant to you I can try and elaborate.

  • \$\begingroup\$ it sounds really interesting indeed, I'll take a look and maybe we can work togethere on it (???). \$\endgroup\$
    – tmow
    Commented Jan 25, 2011 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is similar to how Universalis does without dice. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 25, 2011 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie and @Naurgul, I've got an idea, please read the update and let me know. \$\endgroup\$
    – tmow
    Commented Jan 26, 2011 at 9:54

There are several kinds of pseudorandomization used in diceless play... only a few of which actually count as random.

RSP (Rock-Scissors-Paper) is used in the formulaic Masquerade LARP rules - rules which do, by the way, play fine at the table top. Bid a trait, opponent may bid a trait or retire. If both bid, play RSP. If lose, may opt for overbid with another trait - at which point number of relevant traits is compared, and higher number wins.

Another variation on this mode is in BTRC's Epiphany (now out of print). In Epiphany, both sides total their number of traits, and then divide them into an attack and a defense, on count holding out the correct number of fingers. You do effect if your attack hand exceeds their defense hand's number of fingers. For one sided tests, the same process was still used, but both hands were attack on one side, and both defense on the other.

Others, like Marvel Comics Group's Marvel Universe RPG use pools of expendable points to allow temporary increases in a given stat, and conflicts are stat vs stat comparisons. I'll note that this wasn't very popular. In this case, the pseudorandomization factor is the willingness to spend points.

Theatrix did similar, but with smaller pools, and GM fiat for bonuses for good (or particularly poor) narration. Essentially, Theatrix uses a decision tree...you evaluate how hard it should be, if the character is skilled enough, if the outcome should be fixed one way or the other for the good of the story, and if other factors should sway it from that (including spending plot points). It was, for a time, one of the more popular diceless systems.

I find all such systems interesting in theory - I've found epiphany and Masquerade to actually play well, and theatrix I've only run with the option for percentile rolls based upon skill vs difficulty.

I'll note that your proposed mechanics are essentially the same approach as the much lambasted Marvel Universe - while I've read it, I've not run it, as point management alone isn't my cup of tea.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .