Monday, 13 December 2010

Let's talk about six

The humble D6. Widely used in wargaming, less so in roleplaying and perhaps not taken as seriously as it might deserve. It's on my mind.

The argument for a higher numbered die - or a range of dice - is clear and apparently obvious, that the higher the number, the richer the reality. Maybe, but I would answer with this image at The Angry Lurker, and ask what it has to tell us. My comment there was this: "It's a fundamental law of a fictional universe. You can't get round that kind of thing." And that is what we're talking about here - fictional worlds. A DM/GM and players may not be operating at high magnifications, and may not need to. I'd argue the range of options we expect in any given situation - and are happy to be given - are fewer than we'd think. In gaming we're creating our own matrix, but we surely can't believe we do it in dice over imagination.

So what makes the D6 special? Here are some preliminary thoughts.

First are its four factors - one, two, three and six. Not bad for just six faces. And only a handful of dice can offer a number of faces divisible by three. The D4 certainly doesn't, nor the D8, D10 or D20. And beyond the true D3 (have you ever seen one?) none of those that do offer so controlled a range as the D6. Don't forget, three is the magic number. Not least as a trusty companion on the days when the crowd's three.

Six is a friendly number not only in the forgiving factors. We well know how readily the hexagon tessellates. It's more than friendly, it's welcoming even - the cube is a more familiar shape than other, mathematical, almost abstract polyhedra. We recognise it too from games played with family and friends in the warmth of the home as children. The D6 must be a lot of help in winning new players. For games without a big-budget box or retail network to support them, the ubiquitous nature of the D6 certainly helps.

And if a high number really is needed, the little D6 can offer the sufficiently large D36, that is, the D66. This 36 is divisible by four and nine and 12, which the D100 is not. Nine may not be a magic number - unless you count Tzeentch - but uses can easily be found, especially if breaking new ground - think the Nine, Nine, the ninth, No. 9, even , and its appearances in the Bible, and with four in Tycho Magnetic Anomaly-1. (The D6 is in gaming an enabling force, as are we of course.) Twelve is also far more than six of one and half a dozen of the other.

Putting all of this simply, the D6 is not only whole worlds - and perhaps strange worlds - but the most homely of gaming spaces too. My particular interest is really whether or not it can stand alone, as the one and only die in a complex and deep game. Rerolls and picking from a pool mean options are there. I'd be interested in thoughts on this.


The Angry Lurker said...

D6 to me and my wargaming group is the fairest especially with rules as the calamity is lesssened with only a 5 spot shift between 1 and 6 but some rules require D10 and D20 and these are less friendly with results and can cause a lot of frustration.What I am trying to say is nearly all the time the D6 score averages out fairly but not always.

ArmChairGeneral said...

Good post that has some very interesting and valid points concerning the D6. When I wrote When the Navy Walked I based it almost completely on D6s. When I tackle the RPG variant of the same game I am not sure if I will go with the D6 or use the full set as in traditional RPGs. Who knows maybe this post will inspire me to use different colored D6s for multiple types of rolls.

Porky said...

@ The Angry Lurker - I've had this in mind for ages, but that pic was the trigger. I agree the D6 is the least of the major evils in terms of span of numbers (if we eliminate the D4 as less fun to roll, in its classic form at least). The effect of the spans of the larger dice can be mitigated, but simplicity needs to be considered, and I think perception too. Anyway, I definitely need to think about it more.

@ ArmChairGeneral - I forgot about colour as an option. I've got thoughts percolating on the subject of D6-only RPGs and I like the idea very much. We know it can be done, but it comes down to purpose, and possibly player base too.

ArmChairGeneral said...

Dice is a touchy subject when it comes to gamers believe me as I've already gotten some feedback on using the D12 as a crit die in the miniatures version and I really want to hear from everyone what they like.

If you will let me I'd like to poll you and your readers if you will be so kind. Would you guys rather have an rpg game that uses D6s or a full spectrum of your dice?

Porky said...

Go right ahead! They're not really mine - they just come and go as they please. Must be a door open somewhere...

For me, whether the D6 would work depends on what you're trying to do. My understanding at this point is more or less that the D6 does have everything necessary for a rich interaction with a fictional world, but that it does depend on what you are trying to achieve. I'd say whatever die or dice set you use has to be the heart of the system, with everything built out around it. In that respect it becomes a 'worldview' so to speak, a philosophy. For me there will always be subjective reasons too, given in the paragraph two before the last, but again, the relevance of these depends on purpose.

ArmChairGeneral said...

I like you Porky. You have a dry sense of humor bordering on psychotic and I like that in a friend. OK people that come and go as you please what do you think D6 or D everything else?

Papa JJ said...

I've always liked game systems based on the d6. Even as a little kid (6 to 8 years old maybe?) I would carry a pair of d6 in my backpack for use in some of the choose-your-own-adventure type of books that I read. A few years later I started playing GURPS and so the d6 became my standard. That's probably why, once I started playing a variety of games, using other dice or the full set never felt quite right to me. Having to roll different types of dice for every occasions just seemed unnecessary and felt very gimmicky to me. I therefore vote for d6's all the way.

Desert Scribe said...

One more thing about the conventional die (or the d6, as gamers refer to it): it's easier to read--you can glance at a die and easily grasp the gestalt that is the number of pips. Other dice, with Arabic numbers, take slightly longer to read when they're not in the right orientation, and they are subject to misinterpretation (i.e. "Is that a six or a nine?" or "I thought that seven was a one").

Porky said...

Another good point. On the same lines, the face of a D6 has a larger relative surface area than that of a higher numbered die, making the reading easier and faster still.

Everyone following this should know the discussion is also taking place at the reminder post:

GDMNW said...

Great post.

You touch on the notion of complexity. I'd say that complexity rises from the combination of decision or outcomes rather than from a single event.

To put it another way, it's not how many sides a die has that really generates the level of complexity in determining the outcome of any given action or reaction. It's the number of die you roll in sequence.

Take 40k for instance, it's a system that uses six sided dice. An action as straightforward as shooting someone involves a minimum of two dice. To Hit and to Wound.

At the other end of the spectrum it can involve as many as six that I can immediately think of. To Hit, reroll, To Wound, reroll, armour save, feel no pain.

Sequences of even binary decisions can quickly develop the complexity of an action to near incalculable levels.

I think expecting a die to deliver complexity is a bit of a mistake. Sequences on the other hand must be controlled before they become so complex as to be unwieldy.

I would expect most systems with more than six sided dice would involve fewer instances of dice rolling and may in some instances actually reduce the complexity of calculating the outcome of any given action or reaction.

Porky said...

Thanks, but this is another great contribution too!

You make a powerful argument, again deserving of a good ponder. As you say, the numbers get unwieldy quickly, but the way in which level of complexity rises through sequences - and interactions with other random elements in general - is key, certainly something that needs to be considered in design, in choices of die or dice.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

But, Warmachine uses exclusively D6 and D3, without having this problem. Maybe it's just there seem to be fewer re-rolls, weird saves, etc.?

Porky said...

That could be it. Being a Warmachine outsider, I'm not well-placed to comment, but my impression is that the range of actions is higher instead, that the complexity of the game comes from how these interact. If so, it suggests more player options, more control of events. I'm going to have to look into the system more.