Across the folding table John tossed his d20, this was an important roll. It caught on his finger and went high into the air. The die came down, hit the edge of the Player’s Handbook open in front of him, and shot across the table towards me. Reflexively, I dropped my forearm along the edge of the table to keep it from continuing its runaway path across the room. It bounced back to the center of the table and end its path with an 18 on top.
“You touched my dice!”
“What? I just stopped it from going off the table.”
“You touched my dice. I can’t use them now. Well, at least, not for the rest of the night. And, that was the set I wanted to use.” He turned and looked at our GM, “That roll doesn’t count. He touched my dice.”
RPGs are similar in many ways to other games of chance. You have a strategy you are using, but the element of luck comes knocking and the best laid plans run and hide. Later, a person with no thought about what is happening, and no plan, looks up with wide thoughtless eyes and wins the day with the random roll or lucky draw.
Players have superstitions. I don’t think I have superstitions, but I’ll bet people gaming with me can point out my quirks and odd behaviors. And, the more stressful the situation, the more our personal behaviors come out to play.
I have witnessed many actions players have used to influence their dice, and other aspects of a role-playing game (RPG). Because dice play such an important part in the outcome of events in RPGs, most of our superstitions are an attempt to control those generators of random frustrations.
The two I’ve seen the most are touching and staging.
People feel a connection with their dice. This personal connection builds over time and space, or depending on if they bought new dice, dwindles over time and space. In either case, the connection is an ethereal cord binding the player to each member of the set to pull them together for the game session.
Dice are bound with a ritualized selection process at purchase and when selecting a set at the table.
Binding the dice at time of purchase is a secretive matter starting before the player ever enters the game store. Systems are developed that must be handed down from master to apprentice. Therefore, to maintain the sanctity of dice purchasing I will say no more on that matter.
They pour their dice onto the table and carefully look over the results of their casting. Dice continue pouring out of the bag of holding and flow beyond their allotted space to clatter across the table to towards other players. Those that chose not to stay close have weakened bonds. They are immediately returned to the darkened dungeon of dice holding, along with the rest of their irreputable set.
Next the dice are organized. The sets are grouped and compared. One player owned over a dozen sets of dice and would add up the results of each one. The highest results got the honor of representing him during the gaming session. Another player I met looked only at the d20s. Ties were re-rolled until it was determined which set would bring the best luck for the evening. At times side bets would break out between other players (and characters) on which set would be in play for the evening. Once the selection was made, gold would be traded and the game could commence.
Another way of controlling the randomness of dice is how they are placed on the table. I gamed with a guy who always made sure when he set down a die, in with his waiting horde, that the highest the highest number was exposed. He explained this would get the dice used to sitting that way, so when they were rolled they would be more inclined to roll the number. Within our group this led into a lengthy discussion of the law of averages of random numbers. Which, in turn, led another person to setting all his dice to the number “1” when he was finished using them.
One of our current players mentioned how he, and his old gaming group, would buy a new set of dice for new characters when starting a campaign. Each of his characters from that time had an individual set of dice used only for that character. The binding was with the character instead of the player. I didn’t dare ask what happened to the dice when a character died.
Those numerical abstractions are not the only aspect of gaming coming under the scrutiny of superstition—everything on the table is in the game.
Miniatures and the map are also bound as major tokens of luck
I met a player who would go into near a full-on panic attack if someone moved his miniature on the game map (they were also this way when playing board games). They explained after one of these episodes that there are energies wrapped around the miniature (or token, or coin, etc.) representing the character, and him as a player. These energies would become more aligned as they are only handled by the one person. So, no one else was permitted to move his pieces. Not even a GM. If the GM moved it, his luck was ruined from that point forward because the only goal of a GM is to kill the characters.
Players also will only use a specific figure for their character. One woman couldn’t play one night because she had left her figure at home. We were set to play one of several campaigns the group was involved in and she had brought the wrong figure. She wouldn’t play the campaign she hadn’t brought the figure for.
I know a GM who only allows painted figures to be used, even for his monsters. One of the players mentioned it was a nice addition, but not needed. The game stopped as we were given an impromptu lecture about how using unpainted figures was more than aesthetically pleasing.
At a convention, I met a player who bought all of his figures in twos. He painted them the same and kept one in front of him and one on the board. I mentioned it was great way for everyone else at the table to know which figure was his. He was shocked. He hadn’t considered that. His reasoning was to create a connection between him and his figure on the table, which led to a greater connection to the character, which provided good luck for his character, and success during the adventure.
Beyond the figures, other elements are in play at the table.
I met another player, for superstitious reasons, who would not allow anyone use their mechanical pencil or eraser. They brought extras to every gaming session for others to use, but not the one they were using. He even bought them en masse. He would pick out the luckiest pencil and eraser (it was never divulged how he knew which ones were lucky) and set the rest out for use by the groping group.
Even having the right snacks on the sideboard can mean the difference between life and death of a character. I was invited to a game that was delayed because the wrong brand of snacks was brought and the person had to make a run to the store.
How we handle the turn of the worm called luck is important.
Dice shaming is a recent application. Posting pictures of the offending dice so they will start to behave as desired. But, in many ways it is not new. When the luck has drained out of the dice people get rid of them, in one way or another. I have seen dice given to other players, thrown against a cement wall to shatter it, hammered into pieces, and melted. I was told how one player kept “losing” dice, figures, and any other item they thought contributed to the lack of luck they were facing.
Luck is a fickle friend. It comes and goes as it pleases. RPGers are willing to try just about anything to control the luck at the table. The ways will continue to change and reflect the players and the game. I for one am glad I haven’t fallen into the trap of worrying about people touching my stuff on the table. But, please, when you’re in my game room, don’t get too close to the shrine in the corner.