Simplifying D&D style role playing rules for use without dice
July 31, 2014 11:37 AM   Subscribe

So for "reasons", I have recently become interested in the idea of simplifying D&D rules that would be optimizing the available resources for play in your average jail. Which is to say, paper and pen, playing card deck, like maybe one of these things, a couple odd Scrabble tiles, and nothing else. Would want to retain a D&D style of playing the odds, so trying to avoid anything like pure storytelling rulesets. Squashing a lot of stuff out like constitution checks, etc since each session could typically only be about 90 minutes tops.
posted by mediocre to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I guess that doesn't sound like a question all too much. Just looking for input on what people would suggest towards that end.
posted by mediocre at 11:38 AM on July 31, 2014

Wouldn't you just assign values to the playing cards and use that as a way of generating random numbers, leaving all the rest of the rules the same? You could shuffle a deck of 10 cards and draw one instead of rolling a ten sided dice. Or you could do the same with Scrabble tiles in a bag.
posted by steinwald at 11:45 AM on July 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know that in the past, gamers in confinement have made random number generators by simply tearing up a piece of paper, numbering each piece, and putting them into a cup.

There's a lot to be said for using a poker deck as a random device, too. In addition to using the ranks of the cards ("This is a difficult maneuver. You'll have to draw a Jack or higher to succeed."), you could also incorporate the suits. Maybe your character is affiliated with Hearts, and you'd get a bonus to your attack if you drew one.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:46 AM on July 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

A playing card deck is all you need for dice. Put spades 1-10 into a deck with hearts 1-10, that deck is your d20 (pick a card - any card - a red 6 means "16", a black 6 means... "6")

Similarly a d12 deck from your clubs, and a d8 deck from your diamonds. If you need to roll a d4, just keep drawing from the d8 deck until you draw a 4 or less.

bear in mind of course that a lot of good DMs only pretend to roll - then proceed to secretly ignore whatever he (or she) rolled (or whatever card was drawn) and continues the game as the DM sees best.
posted by anonymisc at 11:48 AM on July 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I knew a playing card deck could function as dice pretty well. I just couldn't really think of how to adapt it to differing d's, as it were.
posted by mediocre at 11:50 AM on July 31, 2014

Which die are you having a problem with? d1-d10 are obvious, as is d100... in fact I'd just map everything to a d100. Eg rolling 1-3 on a d4 equals a 75% probability.
posted by Leon at 12:04 PM on July 31, 2014

(Hmm, in my suggested decks for d20, d12, d8, there are cards left over to make d4 decks as joker-jack-queen-king. That still leaves cards for a red-black d6, but I probably wouldn't bother. Four decks is a fair amount of table space and shuffling.)
posted by anonymisc at 12:13 PM on July 31, 2014

There's always good old Rock Paper Scissors to resolve contested "rolls".
posted by jozxyqk at 12:16 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you can still find them, the rules for Castle Falkenstein did really interesting things with a deck of cards while still being a game as opposed to a unstructured collaborative storytelling exercise.
posted by Naberius at 12:22 PM on July 31, 2014

anonymisc's setup is pretty good. The d20 deck can also serve as the d10 deck (ignore suit on d10 pulls). If you need a d6, you can use the d12 deck (A-2 = 1, 3-4 = 2, etc). d100 can be done by pulling from the d20 deck until you get two suits.

Unrelated: - for a system based more around the cards itself (I've never run it, but it seemed interesting at the time).
posted by isauteikisa at 12:46 PM on July 31, 2014

There are a few existing games which could work.

Intrepid would work for this. Disclaimer: I vaguely know the guy who made this.

By D&D do you mean adventuring fantasy or simply just RPG? You might also check out Hell 4 Leather which uses a tarot deck.

For writing rules you could also use the Apocalypse World success/partial success/fail with some way of biasing between the three options.

Maybe pure token betting might work as well.
posted by Erberus at 1:02 PM on July 31, 2014

Are you at all familiar with the New World of Darkness larp system? It does almost exactly what you're asking for, except for the fantasy/D&D aspects - and even then it deals a lot with magic in the various genres (Mage, Vampire, etc.) so it would be pretty easy to adapt.
posted by daikaisho at 1:15 PM on July 31, 2014

I would use Dungeon World. It's a lot simpler than D&D, so easier to play for short periods, but it has a lot of the same feel as early D&D. It mostly uses 2d6, so easier to use the cards as a substitute, and you can get a Creative Commons version for free.
posted by siskin at 2:01 PM on July 31, 2014

A book can be used as a substitute for D100 and all the dice that can be mapped to that.

Open the book at random, take the last number of the book page. Once for D10, twice for D100

If your page number is 129, you rolled a 9. Since you're taking the last digit it doesn't matter where you open the book at.
posted by 2manyusernames at 2:54 PM on July 31, 2014

mediocre: "Squashing a lot of stuff out like constitution checks, etc since each session could typically only be about 90 minutes tops."

One thing that can help with short sessions is the concept of failing forward. It or variations is used in a bunch of newer RPGs. From 13th Age:
A simple but powerful improvement you can make to your game is to redefine failure as “things go wrong” instead of “the PC isn’t good enough.”
outside of battle, true failure tends to slow action down rather than move the action along. A more constructive way to interpret failure is as a near-success or event that happens to carry unwanted consequences or side effects. The character probably still fails to achieve the desired goal, but that’s because something happens on the way to the goal rather than because nothing happens.
Suppose a player makes a Charisma check to have his or
her rogue rustle up some clues as to where a certain monk of the black dragon might be hiding. The player fails the check. [...] With 13th Age, we encourage you to rule that the character does indeed find clues as to the monk’s location, but with unexpectedly bad results. Most likely, word has gotten to the monk that the rogue is looking for him, and he either escapes before his lair is found, or prepares for the group, either setting up an ambush or leaving a trap. The failure means that interesting things happen.
Failing forward allows the DM to keep things on track and the story moving forward.
posted by Mitheral at 3:55 PM on July 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

You might be interested in the Amber Diceless RPG game system, based on the books by Roger Zelazny. I think its out of print, but there should still me lots of information online. As the name implies, it doesn't depend on dice, so it might be an interesting way to meet your goal.
posted by nalyd at 6:05 PM on July 31, 2014

Response by poster: Which die are you having a problem with?

I'm basically a math idiot, so all of them aside from d6, d10. For example: d100 is not obvious to me. Would you have a separate draw as a multiplier? Mapping everything to d100 would make a lot of sense, but again.. I'm an idiot and it's not coming to mind how that would be accomplished with a card deck.
posted by mediocre at 12:24 PM on August 1, 2014

Yes, with dice a d100 is accomplished with two d10s - one for each digit. With cards you could obviously just do two suites with no face cards.

Oh and the other game you should read (it's free) and steal a lot from is Lady Blackbird.
posted by Erberus at 1:53 PM on August 1, 2014

I am also a math idiot and I found the GURPS system much easier to understand.
posted by Deodand at 7:02 PM on August 2, 2014

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