Warning… This one is going to wander a lot! But, in some sense, it’s a direct sequel to last week’s discussion of jinxes.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a gamer. Although I certainly play computer games, my favorite form remains the pen and ink, dice rolling, role-playing games (hereafter RPGs) that I’ve been playing in one form or another since I was a freshman in college.
(My preferred system for those of you who wonder about these things is GURPs, Third Edition, but I’ve played most of the standards. My preference is for skill-based, not character class-based, systems.)
I’ve played diceless RPGs. Erick Wujcik, who promoted diceless RPG’s in a role-playing game set in Roger Zelazny’s “Amber” multiverse, was a friend. I have many fond memories of the times I played diceless games with him. Heck, I’ve even run a couple, including a memorable one where my husband, Jim, and our friend Walter Jon Williams, played ravens.
But, in the end, I prefer using dice. For one, rolling dice provides an unbiased moderator for action – especially in those critical situations where a character’s life is on the line. In these circumstances, the dice provide a buffer between the player and the game master.
Let’s face it, it’s never fun to have a treasured character severely injured or even killed, but it’s easier to take when luck simply wasn’t on the player’s side.
But there’s another reason I enjoy using dice in my RPGs. This may sound crazy, but sometimes Luck seems to manifest through these polyhedral avatars, stepping in to become another character in the game.
For this reason, gamers may be among the most superstitious people in the modern world. In my gaming group, Tori is known for her above average success rate. Let me just clarify for all of you who are wondering if Tori sets her dice or if her dice are in some way worn or deformed; the luck holds even when she’s rolling someone else’s dice. It holds if she needs to roll high – as for damage – or low, which is what is needed for a success in GURPS. Therefore, when Tori rolls poorly or – worse – fumbles, the impact vibrates through the story.
Rowan, by contrast, has a much lower than average success rate. Except for one area… Ask her to roll for anything to do with attracting romantic attention and her dice will be off the charts. Her character, Olive, has had more romantic entanglements than the rest of the group combined. Many of these were not part of my initial story. People just fall for Olive. Clearly, Olive is lucky in love, if not elsewhere.
Then there are players who roll right within the normal curve except for one particular skill. Walter Jon Williams had a character who, if he had to climb, would fall. Walter kept raising the level of the skill, but it didn’t matter. Ed would still fall. Or there’s Dominique’s character, the lady knight, Persephone, who, when combat demands that she roll for a random hit location, will nearly always roll eleven. Eleven or “The Eleven,” as it has been dubbed by my group, is low on the torso. Very low, if you get my drift…
Superstition begets more superstition… Most gamers have far more dice than they would seem to need. This is not just because dice can be very pretty… It’s because if a set of dice goes “bad,” it needs to be retired and a new set chosen. A regular background refrain during a heated battle is something like “Well, that’s it for you. You’re out!” Or sometimes, in really desperate situations, “Tori, can I borrow a couple of dice?”
As an aside… Early in our history of gaming together, Tori gifted me with a pair of her spare dice. Honored, I added in one of my own hoard, and made the “Tori dice” my dice of choice when gaming. They do seem to have retained some of their giver’s luck. Tori has been known to say, in a voice both deep and glum, “Worst gift I ever gave…”
When we were discussing dice and dice luck at our last game – a conversation that evolved out of my WW on jinxes – Cale confessed that when someone in the group’s dice seemed completely out of whack it was “not unknown for them to be subjected to salt purification.” Salt, you see, has a reputation for neutralizing psychic energy.
(At this point, I should probably mention that my gamers are not the maladjusted troglodyte nerds so beloved of the mass media. They are lovely, socially adept young adults — or in Jim’s case, older adult – most of whom hold advanced degrees – the majority of which are in the biological sciences, although Rowan is a paralegal who shares my love for Lit, while Cale is a multi-lingual sign language translator.)
During our discussion, my gamers also told me about a new ritual for making dice “behave.” This is called dice shaming. “Shaming,” as you may know, has a long tradition as a form of social control. Remember what poor Hester went through in The Scarlet Letter? That’s shaming.
Apparently, someone with a sense of humor updated the tradition to apply to dogs who were photographed with a picture of the pillow they’d torn up or the shoe they’d chewed, with said picture posted to the internet.
From there, it wasn’t much of a jump to shaming the dice that had let you down…
So there’s another example of how superstition is alive and well in the twenty-first century!