#RPGaDay2021 – Day 20 – Ally

Today is Friday, August 20th, 2021 and for #RPGaDay2021, believe it or not, things seem to be accelerating toward the end. There are just 11 days of prompts left after today. At this time last week, cuddled in the loving embrace of Friday the 13th, the number of days remaining was not at all the sort to suggest we were nearing completion. We weren’t even at the halfway point yet! How time flies.

Of the four prompts to select from today I rolled a d24 (yes, there are d24s*) to determine how I would approach today’s response. I decided that on a 1-8 I would roll randomly, on a 9-16 I would select the main prompt, and on a 17-24 I would select from the alternates. That later one I made riskier and more interesting by electing to select the prompt I felt least able to write about.

The roll turned out to be a 20, so that tantalizing bit of risk took on more reality and hinted at the possibility of reward if I could turn the challenge into something that I felt was worth sharing today. If I had chosen ‘the easy one’ for today, it would have been lineage, and my response would have focused on d100 games and how they are a good fit for me. Today we aren’t going for the easy way, so I have chosen ally and have made my peace with it as a prompt.

LISTEN to the Casting Shadows Podcast instead


Cue Yoda voice: The DICE are my ally~

I think a great deal about gaming revolves around acceptance and action. As gamers, there are many things that we have the opportunity to learn, to understand, to incorporate into our sessions and groups, to collaborate using, and to accept for what they are. This goes for the people we play with and the people who are also gamers, too. We could, if we choose, try to force things to be what they aren’t, but I don’t find much sense or satisfaction in that particular approach. I may end up accepting that certain games or certain groups are not a good fit for me right now, but if I am lucky, I may end up discovering that my initial perception that I might not like something or someone was both ill-informed and wrong. If gaming has a gift it is this and it is the gift that keeps on giving.

Over the years, one aspect of games which go back and forth in argument about either accepting or changing how they are used is dice. Other forms of convenient uncertainty get more slack – more acceptance if you will. For our dice, though? On one side we can hear folks proclaim that if the dice “get in the way of the story” then they should be cast aside. On another side we can hear folks proclaim that the dice are there to be rolled and that is all there is to it. On yet another side we can hear folks proclaim that it makes the most sense to learn how the game works and how it uses dice and then play accordingly. Go figure~

If the dice are the enemy of some, that is a shame, for I have found them to be a powerful ally. One of the recurring jokes around our virtual table these days is that ‘the dice know’. Know what, you ask? They know what is going on and they deliver interesting results. Of course, that is patently ridiculous because they are just bits of inanimate and insensate material, but like holiday gift-giving, it is the thought that counts. It certainly can feel like the dice are sitting there in their huddled groups, listening and whispering among themselves about what number they will roll.

How could the dice be allies for us, in tune with our satisfaction and delivering the best gifts time after time? How could this not be so for others? Believe it or not, this is another link to the holy trinity of game preparation and play advice. This time it connects to play the right game.

What makes the right game the right game? Well, beyond the surface stuff like the genre, character options, the game’s ability to directly support what it is ostensibly about, and player buy-in, there is the willingness of players to buy-in to more than just those surface aspects and really learn how to play it. They might play it, or they might really play it. They might accept it for what it is and run with that.

Learning how to play a game has its surface level and its deeper levels. Perhaps most of us who play a lot of games spend a lot of our gaming time on that introductory level. I know a goodly number of those who stick to a few or just one game do too. A game might be built like PbtA games on 2d6+modifiers vs Target Number, but knowing that you will be rolling 2d6 and adding or subtracting something from the result is a far cry from knowing when and why to roll, how to frame that roll in context of its instigating moment of play, and how to integrate the result into the moment or moments which follow, and in and among the contributions of the other players. That in and of itself is a far cry from knowing when is the right time not to roll.

Most important of all of this deeper knowing is knowing which group of dice and which format for rolling them is going to be a good fit for the group that will be invoking them. It does no good to love the way a dice mechanism works, but never let it work as designed, and it does no good to pretend to use it while just doing something else.

The dice, remember, rely on you to give them a chance to participate in the game, If you use them right or use them wrong, or fail to use them at all, or fake using them and lie about the results, it’s not their fault. That is all on you.

When the dice are your ally, they work for your entertainment. That is true as far as it goes, but an alliance is not a one-way relationship unless you are some self-serving sycophant who conflates power and control for worth. When the dice are your ally you do not overwork them or underwork them. You do not invoke them for the wrong reasons, and you do not ignore them when what they have to tell you is inconvenient. They are your ally. Both of you take care of the other. They do their part and you do yours and your collaboration is greater than the sum of your separate parts.

Interestingly, there are many aspects of gaming, people most of all, who are our allies in this hobby we all love. Each of these groups have different perspectives and interests, different levels of experience, and different capabilities and requirements. Like the dice, there are combinations and permutations which will not gel in the best possible ways all of the time. Like the dice, that doesn’t mean we reject them or that we must embrace what is popular at the expense of what is fun.

Imagine a world of allies where people championed and assisted you in your pursuit of fun and you did the same for them. Imagine an alliance of the willing where a game was described for what it is, not what it isn’t, where the people who respond to it are described as its fans, and where being a fan of that game does not mean attacking another game.

It’s not hard to imagine it. We are gamers.

We know about accepting things which seem impossible, fantastic, magical, or of a bygone age.

We know, like the dice, how to be an ally.

*There are odd numbered dice, too~

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