Recently I saw some discussion on Twitter regarding mechanics and house rules for D&D that would allow for players who are having a rough go of where the dice fall to still have fun. A way to make sure they still feel effective after experiencing a series of bad rolls. Listen, I realize that D&D is a versatile game and system, and when I think about house rules I’m never at a shortage for ideas. There’s lots of things I’d like to experiment with and mechanics I’d like to extrapolate on (looking at you inspiration), but passing out consolation prizes for poor die rolls has never been a thought that’s crossed my mind.
Sometimes die rolls are bad and you don’t get to do “cool stuff” for a bit, but it’s part of the game. If a player (or GM) can’t handle a potential streak of bad rolls, they should consider a pastime that doesn’t center around randomly generated numbers. Being guaranteed some sort of reward no matter what the actual outcome feels as if it stabs at the heart of the very purpose of rolling dice to begin with. Do I let certain players accomplish the cool thing they want to do regardless of die rolls occasionally? Of course. Setting up another structure within an already structured game to somehow mechanically solve this “problem”? No. Would I rather just play a different game that handles these situations better? Absolutely.
All Show Is No Show
I’m a firm believer in variety being the spice of life. In the same way 4th edition homogenized so many of the game’s classes, I also dislike the idea of D&D itself being a one size fits all game, diluting the elements that make it shine. You could argue that one of those very elements is the game’s malleability, and I wouldn’t disagree, but that holds true for the tabletop genre as a whole. So for argument’s sake, we’ll leave that one at the door and just be thankful for the things D&D specializes in. If everyone can do everything, and every game system can do everything, then essentially they’re all doing nothing.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with specialization, strengths and weaknesses should be celebrated. The same way a rogue is a master of subterfuge and sleight of hand within a game is akin to the actual Call of Cthulhu system itself being a testament to “no one gets out of this alive (or sane)”. We talk about variety and spotlighting all of the time when we discuss building our games, letting each character shine at different times and for different reasons, the same should go for the games themselves. There are tons of games out there that mechanically differ from D&D, and I don’t think that necessarily makes them better or worse, just different.
A great example of a mechanic to compensate for bad luck is the 2d20 System developed by Modiphius (Conan, Star Trek, more) with its momentum and threat mechanics. Players and GM’s alike have a pool of resources to draw from when they aren’t doing too well, or when they really need things to tip in their favor. These mechanics are baked into the core system of the game though.
Don’t get me wrong I love house rules and borrowing from other games, but I think there has to be a line drawn somewhere. I believe that the threat of death and failure is something that’s been baked into D&D from the very earliest of days. I know that Tomb of Horrors and adventures like it ruined some’s childhood, but for the rest of us with manageably-sized egos we might argue that it’s iconic of D&D for a reason – there was high risk and high reward. Whether the game’s lethality is a flaw or not is infinitely debatable, but it’s most definitely a foundational pillar of the game itself.
The Value of Variety
The bottom line here is obviously that D&D is a game and if a game isn’t fun, then why play it? I’m not trying to tell anyone they’re doing it wrong or how to play. What I am arguing for though, are two things:
- Persevering through failure just makes success all the sweeter, if you see someone struggling with this try and remind them of all the other cool stuff their character can do that doesn’t rely on die rolls.
- I actively encourage you and your group to be open to trying other systems rather than just trying to piecemeal other “fun bits” into D&D.
Take the time to learn other gaming systems, even if it’s only reading the rules, and appreciate their nuances. Learning from other game systems can help you realize what you truly want out of a role playing system. As time goes on after trying many systems, you may find that D&D isn’t your top choice for certain groups. By all means, accommodate your players regardless of what game you’re playing, but also do some research over the months and years of your gaming career to find out what truly fits your group like a well oiled gauntlet.