In the old school-flavored Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, they use a lot of “funny” dice. And I don’t just mean the d20 that your uncle Tom can’t stop fiddling with, I’m talking about d16s, d14s, d7s, even the dreaded d24. DCC uses these dice to describe improvement and hindrances. As your warrior advances in level (for example), the die you roll for mighty deeds grows from a d3 to d4, d5, and so on until d10. Similarly, the die you roll for critical hits also advances up this “dice chain.”
The dice chain, in full, runs like so:
d3, d4, d5, d6, d7, d8, d10, d12, d14, d16, d20, d24, d30
As you can see, the gradations between these dice are sometimes pretty granular (d4 to d5, say), but with a little creativity, we can apply the same concept — shifting up or down the chain — to our non-DCC games, even without the specialty dice.
Use the dice chain to make your players feel powerful (or like the world is out to get them). Using standard dice, our dice chain might look like:
d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20
In other words, the dice that come in a standard set from any FLGS. Here are just a few creative applications that you can use at the table to surprise your players.
- A second-level character has 2d6 hit dice. After ridding a holy abbey of a demonic infestation, when the character heals, they instead roll 2d8 hit dice. (When the player looks up at you, puzzled, simply inform them that the gods of the abbey thank them.)
- A player describes their warrior’s mighty swing via chandelier, arcing across a castle ballroom and cutting the rope at the last second, crushing three of their foes and then rolling across the tile, unscathed. When they roll to hit, call for a d24 (or d30!) roll instead of the usual d20. (Similarly, if you’re playing a game that uses standard damage based on characters instead of on particular weapons, that character can roll a higher base damage.)
- In a Powered by the Apocalypse game, after a particularly epic moment narrated by a player, have them roll one d6 and one d8 (instead of the usual 2d6) for whatever move they find applicable. (Some moves in certain Dungeon World playbooks play with this idea already.)
- A character obtains a magical artifact that affects one of their rolls: now, whenever they roll damage, their weapon’s base die is improved by one; or, their hit dice (associated with health) are always improved by one — so long as they have the item (call it the “Amulet of Improved Combat,” or the “Tiara of Healing,” respectively). This gives you a powerfully flavorful tool to toy with — players won’t give up something so powerful easily, and you can build whole adventures around it.
- Finding that Advantage in D&D 5e is getting a little rote? Give your players the option of using their Advantage to go up a die size instead, whether that’s on damage or attack rolls!
My own instinct would be to use this idea to make characters feel special and powerful, as opposed to using it to apply restrictions, but of course you could come up with creative examples of hindrances just as easily. Just remember, if you’re breaking the rules as blatantly as this, your players are going to know, so make sure to keep things fair (or at least seemingly so). (If you want access to those crazy dice, or even more granular options, you can use any internet-based dice roller to the same effect.
With an example like this one, your troupe of adventurers has suddenly become much heartier, and you can throw at them some higher-level monsters that they normally wouldn’t have encountered for several more levels.
As the example above also illustrates, however, be aware that if you’re going to use the dice chain in a meticulously balanced game (like D&D 5e, for instance), it’s going to break things a bit; but, if you’re okay with some silly rules experimentation, this can be a fun way to turn the tables on player expectations for a one shot or single session.
What do you think? Have you played games that climb or descend the dice chain during play? Give this a try and let us know how it goes!