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Thoughts on Role-Play: RP Dice Battles

Thoughts on RP

Over a few(!) years of RP in World of Warcraft, plus other games both MMO and table-top, I’ve seen a lot of examples of “done well” and “could have done better”. I’ve certainly developed preferences for things that make for what I consider “good RP”, and I’ve been told a few times that I’m fun to RP with. So, I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with you on the odd chance you find them useful.

RP Dice Battles

Conflict is the core of exciting RP. At some point, when the happy tank runs dry and a table gets flipped, things get interesting for everyone present. One of the easiest ways to resolve conflict of any kind — be it physical, mental, emotional, spell-craft, cunning, whatever — is to allow an element of random chance to have a hand in the outcome.

In game design, “agency” is the term used to describe how much effect the player has on the outcome of the scene or the game. The more random the situation, the less agency the characters — and thus the players — have. That can sometimes feel frustrating to the players … it’s like playing in a lottery.

Too much agency, on the other hand, means that the player feels they cannot loose. That can get pretty dull, pretty quickly. A sealed fate does not need to be RP’d through.

Somewhere in there is the “Goldilocks Zone” … not too much, not too little … just the right amount of agency for whatever feel the players and / or guild as a whole want in their story.

Where that Zone is dictates the dice philosophy for the RP.

Dice Philosophy

There are a few different ways to handle RP conflict resolution using dice. No matter what you choose, however, speed is of the essence. A typical round of conflict goes like this:

  • Adam emotes his intent to act, and describes the mechanism of the action, but not the outcome. He might also say something appropriate to the moment (“I have you now!”)
  • Adam rolls dice in “party” or in “raid”, based on whatever dice system has been agreed to, which shows the success or fail. The roll of the dice indicates they are done.
  • Eve emotes the outcome as it affects her character, ensuring that she tailors it to show the success or fail given by the dice roll. She might say something as well to add emphasis to the moment (“Not today, Sparky!”).
  • Eve then OOC indicates they are done their response.

Each of those steps can take 1 – 3 minutes each, depending on the speed of the typists. So, for example, a single attack that happens in the blink of an eye in game can take almost ten minutes of real play.

If you add the concept of opposed rolls, where Eve rolls against the roll of Adam to thwart the action, you can add another 1 – 3 minutes. This will mean that the “moment” time out-of-game is now possibly twelve minutes. If you have many players, all engaged against a “boss” type fight or in large-scale many-vs-many combat … a single moment of game time can stretch to an hour or more.

Keep it simple and streamlined, and try and keep the act-and-react emotes to the length of a tweet, or maybe a bit more.

There are a few different systems you can use for your dice philosophy / procedure. The most common is the ubiquitous /roll. This, in WoW, produces a random number between 1 and 100, and you are either trying to roll above a “target number” — say, 55 to succeed — or verses the roll of either the “Story Teller” or another player.

A variation on this is /roll 20, which limits the range to between 1 and 20, for those folks who love their Dungeons and Dragons style gaming experience.

Some times, players who know each other well and have some accepted In Character things that affect the final die-roll. This is most common in Guild RP, such as “Adam has a magic shield, so you need 75+ not 55+ to hit him” or “Eve has very powerful magic meaning she get +10 to all her magic rolls”.

A common “success mark” in /roll systems is 60 – Character Level / 10. So, a Level 90 character succeeds on their actions on a 51 or better. A Level 10 character succeeds on a roll of 59 or better.

In general, however, the player has very little agency here. No matter how cool their character is, if they succeed or fail is entirely random chance. The only question is the odds of success. The outcome is always completely unpredictable.

In “Classic Rap Battle: Peon vs Garrosh”, the Peon might roll 99 five times in a row, and Garrosh rolls in the low 30s every time.

Another way to handle this, which adds complexity is using two dice. So make two rolls and add them together … this produces an effect called a “bell curve” where some rolls are statistically more likely to happen. For example /roll 6 + /roll 6 will usually produce a 6, 7 or 8.

So, if you say that on 2 such rolls, the player must roll 8 or higher to succeed, then we can expect certain outcomes. The normal is that success is hard.

On the other hand, if you say that a 6 or higher is a success, then we know that success is relatively easy.

World of Warcraft, unfortunately, does not support this the way that other MMOs like “Star Wars: The Old Republic” do. You cannot just /roll 2d6 and have it work in WoW. That means needing to make two rolls every time by hand, which slows things down.

If you are a fan of Mods such as Gryphonheart items (GHI), you can create an item that does this sort of rolling for you. I’ve even seen one guild where they use GHI objects to create a full combat system that used GHI buffs and such to note wounds, etc on the characters.

Alternately, there are some add-ons out there that allow you to do custom RP dice rolling. They are well worth looking into.

I personally favour using 2d10 (common rolls, 10-11-12) with a custom dice add-on. However, no matter what you choose, talk to your friends and / or guild mates in advance so everyone knows the rules. It saves hurt feelings later on when someone feels taken advantage of because of the die-rolling system.

Character Health

Generally, there are two kinds of RP dice conflict. Player vs NPC, aka Player vs Environment (PVE) or Player vs Player (PVP). If the conflict is going to result in injury to a character, I strongly suggest deciding on how the RP “Health Bar” of the characters involved are going to be represented.

There are different ways to do this. One common mechanism is that you get 8 hits, total. That’s all. When your character reaches zero, they are out of the fight, unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.

Another mechanism is the character’s Health Bar is based on their armour:

  • Cloth : 5 + 1 = 6 Hits
  • Leather : 5 + 3 = 8 Hit
  • Mail : 5 + 5 = 10 Hits
  • Plate : 5 + 7 = 12 Hits

The character has a base of five points of health. Above that is armour. So, the “leather” wearer can take 3 hits before the character is physically injured. Up to that, the damage is going into the armour.

Regardless of what system you use, the bigger the Health Bar of the character, the more of a beating they can take, and the longer a fight will go.

Damage can be dealt any number of ways, but a favourite of mine is:

  • AOE Damage : 1 Hit
  • Direct Damage : 2 Hits
  • Poison : +1 Hit
  • Dragon / Giant / Mammoth: +1 Hit
  • Boss : +1 Hit
  • Critical Hit (if used) : +2 Hits

Note: A Boss Dragon with poisoned breath on an AOE critical hit (1 + 1 + 1 + 2 = 5) will nearly one-shot a Cloth wearing character using the health bars suggest above. Keep that in mind when building your PVE encounters.

Character Death

No one kills your character but you, ever. “God Mode-ing” is the bad practice of telling another player what happens to their character. Don’t do it. You are allowed to beat another player’s character to within an inch of their life, but that last inch belongs to the player.

Pressuring or being rude about the other player’s unwillingness to have a player kill their character does not make them a bad role-player. It makes you a jerk. Don’t be that person.

On the other hand, it takes a long time to crawl back from Deaths Door. A common answer is that without magical healing aid, you need two days to regain 1 Hit. RP it; make sure your RP “Currently” says something like “Badly beaten and bruised, with bandages covering parts of his face and right leg”.

Magical healing, RP’d daily, lets you heal twice as fast.

That’s just one way to handle it. Talk with your GM and other Guild mates and come up with something that everyone can agree on. Taking part in a fight with swords and sorcery should have a cost — even for the winner sometimes.

Running a PVE Encounter

There are a few things you should consider before taking on the mantle of Story Teller for an RP PVE battle. One, go look at the area you want to have the battle take place. Write a mini-script:

“Hmm, so there is a barn, an upstairs, and a couple windows.  I’ll have 1 Evil Elven Doom Ninja hiding in the Bar — he’ll show up only if things start going badly for his buddies, or someone goes to the barn.

“When the battle starts, two will come through the windows … and one will spend the first round climbing up the outside of the building to come in the top.  So that EEDN will either fight anyone upstairs, or come down stairs on the second round of combat.”

“And since theses are Evil Elven Doom Ninjas, if they loose more than half their number, they will throw smoke grenades and run away … to come back for a re-match in a couple of days.”

Pretty simple, yes? If you have a plan to start, then you’ll look smart when you run your encounter. Make sure that you type out any monologues or Bad Guy comments into a text-file before you start the encounter. That way, all you have to do is cut-and-paste; lots of flavour and colour, but no time wasted for the players.

I strongly encourage putting everyone taking part in a Raid group. Use /raid for OOC discussion and die-rolls, and /say and emotes to In-Character (IC) describe what is happening. As the Story Teller (ST), I also suggest that you use the world Raid Markers available to show where your Bad Guys are. It make it easier for everyone to “see” what is going on.

If you have a lot of players, but want the fight to feel dangerous, give the Bad Guys +1 Base Damage. On the first round of combat, start with an AOE from one or two of the Bad Guys so everyone is involved right away, and injuries abound. AOEs should not be used by the Bad Guys any more often than every third round (so: 1, 4, 7, 10). More often will almost always result in the players getting mauled.

If you want the fight to feel like a siege, give for every five players, have one Bad Guy able to cast an AOE heal of +2 Hits on his allies on any “odd numbered” round. Players will almost always try to focus down a visible healer, but that, in itself, adds some excitement and tension to the battle.


I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me. This is a great opportunity for you and your guild to start deciding what “rules” you want to play by.

Published inGaming TheoryRole-Playing Games

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