Dice Play God With The Universe
Dice are the necessary evil of role-playing games. Sure, there are some role-playing games that have taken a swing at dice free mechanics, but that removes the element of chance that dice infuse into the resolution of in-game actions. As a consequence, players and GMs invest much significance into how dice are handled. These habits can manifest in such mild forms as ‘dice etiquette,’ to tongue in cheek statements about the ‘proper’ use of dice.
More commonly, players and GMs engage in rituals and superstitions that make dice handling a form of Kabbalism. Among such players, understanding the capricious ways of dice can only be derived from acknowledging that they possess a mystical or divine essence. Thus, mastery and control over the dice can only occur in the possession of transcendent knowledge.
Of course, we live in enlightened times, and our knowledge and mastery of the material world is marked not by alchemical pseudo-science gibberish but empiricism and statistics!
What that means is that newcomers to the world of dice-based gaming wield greater mastery over polyhedral ballistics than their grognardian forebears. Now I’m not saying that dice no longer hold secrets. They are, however, less mysterious than they used to be much like matters of physics, chemistry and the human body.
However, like any modern scholastic field, diceology is splintered across different schools of thought. Some subscribe to the mathematical or statistical school of thought, in which dice rolls can be determined by observing laws of probability. Others view dice as sentient entities, which despite not being recognized by the Catholic Church as having souls, can be coerced through principles of behavioral psychology.
Paul Hynes of Daddy Dungeon Master subscribes to the latter principle. Many years ago, he exercised capital punishment as a means of coercing his dice to roll better. Every bad roll sent his dice into a wood stove where they would experience a hot and fiery death.”This is one of the darker moments of my relationship with dice, when I believed they could be swayed by fear,” Paul writes. “I now know that your relationship with dice is not that of master and slave, but of equals.”
Hynes uses principles of operant conditioning to train his dice, but these days he has adopted the role of a nurturing parent. He calls a time out for dice that perform poorly and reinforces good rolls with continued use at the table. He also plays nurturing parent by recognizing that dice that roll a certain way may do better in specific gaming contexts such as old-school saving throws. Still, Paul does not suffer a foolish die gladly, and does recommend some benign forms of punishment for dice that continue to rebel over some imperceptible slight.
Those that hold to the conventional view that dice are inanimate constructs hold that dice rolls are subject to the laws of probability more than anything else. For example, the character of Pete from Darths & Droids has made popular the idea of pre-rolling dice to gain a statistical advantage within future rolls. Of course, the reliability of Pete’s method depends on whether or not previous rolls hold influence over the outcome of succeeding rolls, or whether each die roll is an isolated probability incident.
Nonetheless, diceology has come a long way. Today, we use scientific principles of observation and experimentation to ground our knowledge. I think the future will be in engineering. Future dice rolls will be made by shooting raw energy across ‘probability superconductors’ made of frictionless surfaces. Others will make use of matter compression to compact probability into supertensile solids.
Until then, we have a lot to learn about diceology before we can start sending them into space and making the first crit on the moon.