It will happen to you one day and when it does don’t be embarrassed, it happens to all gamers. I’m talking about cold dice. Eventually the dice run cold for all of us. Maybe the d6 keeps coming up 1, the d12 won’t roll higher than 3 or the d20 isn’t cooperating at all and you haven’t hit a monster all fight. Eventually the dice gods will correct the problems and balance the scales, but until then a streak of poor rolls can crush even the most experienced player.
When a player goes through a bought of bad dice karma it can actually have a detrimental effect on the entire group. Even though everyone else rolls as expected and has fun doing so, one player’s poor rolls can effect the overall mood of the entire table. I’ve learned over the years that when this happens (and it will, if it hasn’t already) players and DMs can actually do a lot of things to turn the tide.
What Players Do
As a player with bad dice karma you can ride it out or follow the three steps below until you achieve satisfaction and turn your luck around.
- Verbally abuse the dice: Yelling, complaining, and even cursing at the dice may not actually help but it will often make the player feel a little bit better. I’ve seen more than my share of dice get berated only to roll the desired number on the very next throw. It could be luck or it could be that the die took your threats seriously. Either way I’m a believer.
- Switch dice: I’ve never met a gamer who didn’t own more than one set of dice. When the dice are running cold it’s time to cal in a reliever. However, even this isn’t always effective. After all, even relief pitchers need to warm-up before they can strike out the next batter. By the time the new dice warm up the battle could be over… and your PC could be dead.
- Destroy the offender: In extreme cases where a die just won’t roll the number you need when you need it, a player might go to the extreme of destroying the dice. I’ve heard players claim that they’ve smashed bad dice with a hammer, melted them in the microwave, thrown them in a lake, or subjected them the wrath of a soldering gun. One of the players in our main group actually used a paint stripper to melt his pesky d20. (Note that destroying dice can be dangerous so please exercise caution if you’re going to do more than throw a d20 into a lake.) One important reminder if you’re going to go to this extreme: be sure to line up the rest of your dice where they can see the show. By witnessing the execution they’ll know that you’re serious when you threaten to destroy them for poor rolling.
What DMs Do
In all seriousness there will be times when a players dice just won’t roll high enough for him to make a meaningful contribution. I’ve been that guy and it’s awful. The game drags on and you actually dread your turn coming up in the initiative because you know you’ll miss again. As the DM I see this happen a lot. It doesn’t usually happen for more than a coupe of rounds but every so often it becomes a real problem.
As the DM you have ultimate control over what happens in your game. There are plenty of things that you can do to help the player suffering from cold dice. Make them a more active participant by adding elements to the game that don’t depend on great dice rolls or that don’t require dice rolls at all. Here are a few examples.
- Miss effects: A lot of powers in 4e D&D still do stuff on a miss, most daily powers for example. If a player is going through a cold dice streak encourage them to use powers that will have some effect regardless of the dice roll. Since most PCs only have a few daily powers you might have to come up with a way for them to use these powers more than once a day. I’ve let players recharge a daily power by trading in two encounter powers or cashing in an action point. Be creative and do what it takes to keep the player involved. If none of the PC’s attacks do anything on a miss you may also allow them to retrain on the fly.
- More than just fighting: The most interesting combat encounters usually have something going on other than just the fighting. It’s a good idea to include non-fighting options in any encounter, but it is especially important if you’ve got a player with cold dice. Mini-skill challenges are a popular choice but they usually require decent rolls as well, so that isn’t always going to be the best alternative. Try to include tasks that anyone can do, tasks based more on role-playing that aren’t dependent on dice. These should make sense for the encounter and be more than just busy-work. Try to work in some kind of reward for the PC who completes the non-fighting tasks to emphasize the task’s importance to the encounter and the story.
- Get a new job: Sometimes there are tasks that need to be done during combat that no one else is willing to do. Don’t feel that just because you’re a striker you HAVE to attack every round. If the dice are cold find another way to be useful and get a new job (until your luck changes). We’ve found that giving one PC a bunch of healing potions and then having him go where he’s needed most has been very effective when a PC can’t perform his usually job (usually because he’s out of healing surges). As the medic you can also aid you allies by performing Heal checks to trigger their second wind or grant saves. These tasks do require a roll, but if you’ve got a really good Heal skill then you may only need to roll a 3 to succeed.
- Assist others: As mentioned above, performing a Heal check on your allies can certainly be a useful way for a guy with bad dice to contribute in a meaningful way. Along those lines there’s always the opportunity to assist with other skill checks. Assisting is usually much easier and won’t require you to roll a 20. Worse case scenario if you fail the check you only impose a -1 penalty which isn’t that bad.
- Accept help: Many players and DMs forget that it’s possible to assist others with attack rolls or assist to pump up their defenses. If a player is consistently rolling badly, introduce a few friendly NPCs to assist him. This can really improve a PC’s odds. Alternatively the DM can find ways to give the slumping PC combat advantage as often as possible. A helpful NPC can become the PC’s flanking buddy, or maybe there’s a terrain feature that knocks creatures prone. It seems like such an obvious and simple thing, but sometimes that +2 to the attack roll can make all the difference.
- Group checks: The beauty of group skill checks is that the entire party isn’t screwed if one guy rolls poorly. In a party with six PCs, only three need to make the check successfully for the group to succeed. By using more group checks when a player is on a cold streak you let them roll dice but alleviate some of the pressure if they roll poorly. If the group does fail, the blame isn’t solely on the one player’s shoulders.
- New dice: If all else fails and one player has unprecedented bad luck it’s time to go to extreme measures. This is when the players need to pass the hat, collect a few bucks, and just buy the player a new set of dice. This gives the player the freedom to get rid of his old dice. Depending on how unlucky he’s been of late he may even want to destroy the bad dice permanently. Just remember to let the new dice watch.
What did you do the last time you went on a really long cold streak with your dice? As a DM, how have you handled this situation when it’s happened at your gaming table? Please share your ideas and your stories.