No Dice, Use Cards!

I haven’t played Mouse Guard or BurningX yet, so this may be inappropriate in situations I have not yet experienced … but …

I’m not a huge fan of dice. Yeah, I grew up with D&D and all the dice that game came with. Lately, I find using dice to lead to arguments about it being “too random” or “unlucky dice”. And if it’s not that, then it’s the “distraction” of people restlessly rolling dice, or throwing dice around in frustration or anger.

At any rate, I’ve started looking at how other games replace dice. And one of the best substitutions has been the use of a regular deck of playing cards.

Method 1: Direct Translation

Use a deck of 49 cards: all 4 suits from Ace to King, removing the 4 Jacks, and add in one Joker.

Any time you “roll a die”, you draw a card instead.

Ace, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six == Failure
Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Queen, King == Success
Joker = reshuffle the discards back into the deck and draw again
Queen and King count as “6s” (for cases where rolling a “6” matters)

Some key differences against dice rolls to note: the use of cards add “memory” to the random number generation. Until the deck is reshuffled, having streaks of failures or successes will eventually be balanced back to “normal”. The reason the Joker is in the deck is to discourage players from “counting cards”.

I’d suggest having a separate deck for the GM and the players, especially if there are a lot of players.

Method 2: Explosive Jacks.

Use a deck of 53 cards: all 4 suits from Ace to King, and add in one Joker.

Any time you “roll a die”, you draw a card instead.

Ace = “Critical Failure” : subtract one success, (or count as a success for the opponent)

Jack = “Auspicious Success” : counts as a success, and draw another card (note that you might draw an Ace)

Two, Three, Four, Five, Six == Failure
Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Queen, King == Success
Joker = reshuffle the discards back into the deck and draw again
Queen and King count as “6s” (for cases where rolling a “6” matters)

Don’t be misled by the seven success cards vs six failure cards. If I worked out the probability and statistics right, a normal card draw from the full deck results in a 49.8% chance of having (at least 1) success (compared to the 50.0% chance using either Method 1 or the regular die roll).

What I like about explosive jacks is that the number of cards (dice) you use is not a limitation to the number of successes you can get. Normally, if you roll 5 dice, you can only get up to 5 successes (disregarding Fate). With explosive jacks, it is possible to get more without using Fate.

Method 3: Explosive Jacks with a “Destiny Hand”

I mention this separately, because it has a further change to the mechanics. And the change promotes the team-oriented effort.

Use a deck of 53 cards: all 4 suits from Ace to King, and add in one Joker.

Any time you “roll a die”, you draw a card instead.

Ace = “Critical Failure” : subtract one success, (or count as a success for the opponent)

Jack = “Auspicious Success” : counts as a success, and draw another card (note that you might draw an Ace)

Two, Three, Four, Five, Six == Failure
Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Queen, King == Success
Joker = reshuffle the discards back into the deck and draw again
Queen and King count as “6s” (for cases where rolling a “6” matters)

Each player has a “Destiny Hand” – this is one (or more?!?) cards that they “keep” until they decide to substitute them for the cards they draw, or until they replace it with a random draw by providing a teammate with help (ie, helping “dice”)

Huh? Confusing? Perhaps an example would work better.

We have two players: Lieam and Saxon. Lieam has a destiny hand of “King”, and Saxon has a destiny hand of “Jack”. These were cards that were either dealt to them at the beginning of the session (in the case of a new season), or were left in their hands from a prior session.

Lieam performs a test where he’d normally roll 5 dice, and he needs 3 successes. Using this method, he draws 5 cards: Four, Two, Five, Nine, Eight … and that would be a failure due to having only 2 successes. Lieam can decide to replace one of his cowards with a card from his destiny hand (replace Two with King), and pass the obstacle. (On the other hand, he can “save” his King for something else).

For the sake of argument, let’s say he replaces the Two with the King. Now he passes the obstacle with 3 successes. He also has the option now to use Fate to draw an additional card, and hope for a greater margin of success.

Next, Saxon performs a test where he’d normally roll 4 dice, and he needs 3 successes. Using this method, he draws 4 cards: Five, Ace, Seven, Queen … and that would be a failure due to having only 1 success (Ace being negative). Saxon can decide to replace one of his cowards with a card from his destiny hand (replace Ace with Jack), and pass the obstacle. (On the other hand, he can “save” his Jack for something else).

For the sake of argument, let’s say he replaces the Ace with the Jack. Now he passes the obstacle with 3 successes … so far. The Jack allows him to draw an additional card (“Fate”-like, without requiring expenditure). He draws a Ten and now has a larger margin of success.

Rewinding back a bit, Lieam could have figured a way to help in Saxon’s test. Which would mean that Saxon would draw 5 cards instead of 4. To encourage this kind of player behavior, this Method 3 allows the player to replace a card in their Destiny Hand with a random card from the deck every time they help. Lieam currently has a Two in his Destiny Hand (remember, he used the King), so he gladly welcomes the chance to replace it. He discards the Two and hopes for a better card … and unfortunately, he draws an Ace. Lieam is going to look for more opportunities to help … and in the process, help himself.

Having run several card driven RPGs (DL5A, Saga MSH, Castle Falkenstein, a couple of my own designs) and several Cards-instead-of-dice board games (Including Settlers of Catan), simply replacing dice with card draws has several unpleasant issues. Most of the RPG’s use play from hand, and board games draw from deck.

1. if the deck is shared, players MUST sit with access to it.
2. players want a hand of cards to pick from; when they don’t have it, dice are in fact more convinient.
3. Playing from a hand will cause the guy with a bunch of bad cards to disengage from the game.
4. the more hands per deck, the more profound the memory effect.
5. Players wind up hoarding bad cards

In settlers, the cards were a way to reduce randomness, but they also added events; the events sucked. This made the cards unpopular, too. It had no hand, either.

1. During a MG conflict, you’d probably be shuffling the deck at least once an exchange with any of the methods proposed.

Agreed with your comments, bud. Method 3 tries to address some of the issues you’ve mentioned. I don’t have the Mouse Guard game yet, so these really are just ideas … not proven-in-stone rules.

1. Deck Sharing: I forgot to say it, but for Method 3, I’d actually suggest that each player use their own deck.

2. Player’s Hand: I agree with what you say, and it is kinda funny: Players want to have a “collection of random numbers to pick from” … and if they don’t have it, they want their own “collection of lucky dice to use”. I remember buying myself a new set of dice each time I made a new character.

The size of the hand is somewhat important for game balance, as the larger hands will definitely tilt the game to the player’s advantage. And for Mouse Guard, I get the feeling that “too much success” will lead to broken games more often than other games where I used a “Destiny’s Hand”.

I haven’t tested the idea yet … but I think unimportant NPCs will have no hand, somewhat important NPCs will have one, and the rare key NPCs (Gwen and Midnight) will have two. All the players will have one, and I think the only exception would be Captains and Leaders have two.

Right now, I’m not sure what having 3 or more cards-in-hand will do.

1. Bad Hand: Frankly, I disagree. In my opinion, if Kenzie had two Aces in his hand, he’d be looking for every opportunity to get rid of them through “helping die”. And that means more interaction, and more engagement … not less. In addition, Kenzie also has the option of “guaranteed failures” which could help make skill advancement a lot easier. In the GM’s turn, Kenzie could take the stance of “hey, I’m going to take my beating now and use my Aces in addition to gaining some Player Turn checks” … and in the process of using up the Aces, gain better cards in their hand.

2. Memory Effect. If this is truly an issue, just add a second joker. I think the average number of dice rolled is 4, right? So a deck of 52 cards without reshuffling would produce 13 sets of results. Having the joker’s effect essentially reduces that to about 7 sets, before the deck’s “memory” is reset. If you have 2 jokers, you’ll only see about 4 sets (16 cards) before the memory is reset.

3. Hoarding Bad Cards. I’ve seen that happen in other games. And in those games, it was easy to do because the players had pretty big hand size. You can easily hide all the aces when there are 4 players in the game and they each had at least 3 cards in hand. That’s primarily the reason I’m suggesting just a hand size of 1 (and rarely 2). In that case, if your team wants to hoard bad cards, then you’re really settling for the random card draws, and you’re not able to fully utilize the power of choosing and keeping a better-than-a-success card.

4. (Stormsweeper) Reshuffling Every Exchange: That’s probably true. It might not be a bad idea to reshuffle at the beginning of every conflict / obstacle.

For comparison: my players would have had to shuffle every other action… assuming NO hand.
With 2 jokers, you aren’t likey to make it through 2 actions

One roll last night was:
Skill 5 + 3 Help Dice + 1 trait die + 5 nature +1 advantage die +2d weapon= 17D!

Many of the rolls were in the 8-11 die range.

Even with individual decks, at one card per die, that’s shuffle every couple actions… every other turn.

Quite honestly, if you’re going to do cards, a single-card-per-action is far more comfortable and less noisy.

Great wonderful discussion. I really wish you would continue your MG game (referring to another thread).

Wow! Well, I honestly wasn’t expecting 17 dice, I knew it could get above 8, but I wasn’t expecting “8-11” to happen on a regular basis.

Even with individual decks, at one card per die, that’s shuffle every couple actions… every other turn.

Agreed, given the experience above. Still, I don’t have a problem with individual decks and shuffling every 2 or 3 actions. Then again, I used to play Magic the Gathering, so shuffling decks is kinda “normal” …

(then again, most kid gamers these days have played either Pokemon or Yugi-yoh … so they can probably shuffle decks better than most normal adults)

Quite honestly, if you’re going to do cards, a single-card-per-action is far more comfortable and less noisy.

Yeah, I like that single-or-few-cards per action concept. I think I’ve seen a game where you would “sum up the values of the dice (or cards) and divide by X” to get a total number of successes. Unfortunately, at that point, it’s no longer a simple change in the mechanics. I was trying to stay within the MG concept of a die being either a success or a coward, with only a few exceptions for rerolling or adding more dice.

Did you have something else in mind for a single-card-per-action mechanism?

Looking at the 17D thing again … I still think I prefer laying out 17 cards (ala “Tarot” … and I can almost do some dramatic play-by-play as I lay out each card). Rolling 17 dice sounds fun at first, until I start having to chase them around.

… I did mention I have a 3yo son, right? (hmmm … must be the other thread) I’ve had to carefully choose the games I play lately due to my toddler being too curious about what Daddy is doing! heh heh!

Playing devil’s advocate, I think this system is too much of a complicated way to reduce dice distraction. If they get distracted, have the dice sit as a pool in the centre of the table. They grab what’s needed, as needed, and helpers physically grab a die from the centre and hand it over.

I’m saying this because I just foresee people shuffling cards or flicking the corners of cards (or having them explode everywhere while messing with them) happening in lieu of dice clacking; you’ll have the same situation, just via a different medium. If people get frustrated with dice and randomness, won’t they feel just as frustrated with random cards whose values for the game need to be worked out on top of all the other rules considerations they’ll be thinking about?

I guess what I’m saying is: It seems like curing the symptom… by introducing complications.

Why not just run on Colour. Use a full deck with 54 cards (2 jokers).

Black is a success, Red is a coward.

for the open ended rolls. Black Joker, King, Queen, Jack or Ace explodes (thats a total of 9 cards which is 1/6th of 54).

Both Jokers trigger a resuffle (note that the red Joker is sill a coward).

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