Cavegirl wrote a post about using dice which I agree with, mostly. Her thesis is, “Rolling dice is a tool for when it’s hard for the GM to adjudicate the results.” (emphasis hers) I can’t agree that this is the only or perhaps even the primary use of dice in an RPG. As noted by Brendan at Necropraxis there are other important functions that dice serve.
A thing I have learned in life is that if the precise series of events and decisions that I have made did not happen exactly as they did, then certain other events would never have happened.
I accepted a job, offered by a former co-worker and had to move to keep that job and decided to live in a particular apartment complex because a new co-worker recommended it. Not long after, my fiance broke up with me. I met a neighbor with cool plants and a cool dog. We eventually got married and had a child together. This was somewhat unlikely as she was 10 years older than me and when we first met, neither of us was particularly interested in finding a long term partner or having children.
She nearly died during childbirth. The particular complication she experienced has a 90% mortality rate. In 85% of the women who experience that complication there is permanent brain damage. She survived and did not have any brain damage at all. We just had a great doctor and the nurses on duty at the time were some of the best in the hospital. We were very lucky.
Not long after our daughter was born, we moved to a different state where my wife was offered a job with a full relocation package. I would have never been able to do this on my own with a small child. As a result of this move, I met one of my best friends and had some amazing experiences. My child would not be who she is today without some of the people she met and spent time with in her early childhood which would not have happened if my wife had died.
How do we model these kinds of things in our games?
Dice are a tool to see if improbable events have occurred in the game.
I have seen incredibly improbable series of dice rolls which led to wacky results I would have never anticipated. Fights I assumed would be hard have been very difficult and vice versa. Encounters with certain NPC’s go in directions I didn’t anticipate because of reaction rolls combined with player choices I didn’t see coming.
This is my favorite part of the game. This is what I keep playing for. Yes, dice are an adjudication tool but they are also a tool to help you form the fictional world in which all the crazy stuff that happens in a game.
I also want to mention Grodog who commented in the Necropraxis post I linked to above. In the comment he pointed out the same thing I have in this post. Primarily, that unlikely events determined by dice doesn’t fit comfortably into the category of “hard to adjudicate.”