Hands throwing dice in the air.

A very simple trick that I’ve used in many games and might have picked up from someone somewhere along the way is using the equivalent of a coin flip when I need to decide something quickly, or to see if I answer some player bid for advantage, or whether a guard can be persuaded. I’ve come to call it “Odds or Evens” but have also done “High or Low”.

The Setup

Suppose you have a situation like this:

Player: Hey GM, are those people who tried to con us out of a bridge toll still back at the bridge when we come back? I want to make them an offer for information.

GM (Thinking to self): Hmmm. Would they be? It’s likely they moved on after they failed and got intimidated, but they might also have stuck around to try to con some other poor sucker. I kind of want to say yes, but there’s a likely chance they would be scared off. Hmm…..

or one like this:

Player: Hey GM, can I find any plants in the area to make some poisons with? I know we’re in a desert, but oooh, wait, I could probably find a scorpion and milk the venom..

GM (Thinking to self): Scorpions would work, but plants would be more in line with the character and I have rules for that. I know the roll they would make to find it and to make it, but are there poisonous plants in a desert. Probably, but what kind and how much longer would it take to find the poisonous ones or Doesn’t matter if it’s realistic….

or the one that always pops up for me due to my generous use of inspiration as plot points ala Fate games:

Player: Heeeeeey GM… So, if I were to offer you 3 inspiration points, would I be able to morph my spell to…..

My normal inclination in most situations is to say yes, but I realize there is a power in letting the players “feel the win” from the dice going in their favor. In situations like this, I often decide to leave the decision up to fate by calling for an “even or odd” roll. What is that? Well….

The Execution

It’s so super simple. I ask the player to decide “even or odd” just like a heads or tails on a coin, and then I roll whatever die I want to represent – 1d6, 1d10, 2d6, 1d20 – anything and it will work. If the die comes up how the player calls it, I decide in their favor.

Yup, the con-men are back at the bridge. You can pitch your idea to them.

Sure, you can find enough plants to make poison. If you want to capture scorpions though, it’ll be some different rolls.

Alright, you have enough capability with spellcraft I need an arcana roll of ### and it happens. If you fail, you don’t spend the inspiration.

So why not just a coin flip? Well, the die roll feels more right for the gaming paradigm. Plus you can use the level of the roll as a random gauge of sorts if you want. They call even and you roll an 8 on a d10 –  bigger effect maybe. They call odd and you roll a 3 on a 10, sure but maybe the follow up isn’t as easy.  It helps you decide how receptive the con-men are to the pitch based on previous interactions or how easy it is to find poisonous plants.

There’s really not much more to it than that. Replace a coin flip with a die roll of evens or odds and use it when you need to determine something that would “feel better” with a bit of randomness – those on the fence moments. It helps remove any feelings of bias (for or against the players) and makes the players feel a win or a loss, even if it’s a 50/50 chance.

I would guess that a lot of GMs have systems or tricks similar to this, maybe just behind the screen. Moving it out in the open though creates a sense of player agency, a kind of exposure of the random chance and a feeling that the players staring at the dice as they roll will effect something as the click clack determines the fate. As Einstein once said “God tirelessly plays dice under laws which he has himself prescribed.” This system feels like a perfect example of that paradigm, deciding an equally viable left or right, up or down with a random binary choice that doesn’t feel binary, even if it is.