On the Augury of Unknown Realms

This is a bit of a strange post to write. Perhaps it is more personal than I am used to sharing. Recently there was a discussion on illusionism that made me admit something about myself that I don't think I've ever voiced before.

You see, I don't believe in free will. That's not exactly accurate. Rather I believe that all matter in all universes is subject to natural law, ergo predictable, in the sense that anything that follows rules can be predicted. Bear with me here for just a second - I'll tie this back to gaming in just a moment.

The thing is, we're subject to the same natural law that the rest of the universe is subject to. Therefore we are predictable in much the same way. There is nothing special about our own consciousness - it are simply a byproduct of our complexity. This leads me to the inexorable conclusion.

People who inhabit electronic, virtual, and imagined worlds have a experience of existence that is just as valid as ours, if not quite as complicated.

That isn't the main point of this post, no.

You see, this goes for worlds we imagine also. They aren't places we make up; they are a place that exists that we see through a dark cloud. Is your character's name something you thought of? Or is it something that you already knew, something that feels right, that feels true?

We aren't making it up out of whole cloth - we are divining the true nature of this other realm. And how do we do that?

We use dice.

I think this is the root of why fudging dice rolls bothers me so much. I also think it's why groups that cheat rampantly, aren't as satisfying for players and don't last as long. It isn't because there's anything wrong with being a degenerate cheater.

It's because our understanding of the other realm has become out of sync with what exists there.

There's another thing that bothers me a bit about this. I'm not such a good player. Mostly, when I get my hands on a PC, he isn't long for his world. I feel bad about this risk taking problem I have.

Until I remember they just want to be heroes.


  1. P.S. I am not a crazy person. :-)

    This is just always something I have in the back of my mind after I save and end up burning all my villagers alive or some such.

    Tavis Allison saying "we treat the dice as oracles that reveal this other world" really struck a chord with me.

  2. Interesting thoughts! Makes sense to me. I find it frustrating when, as a player, I have been in a campaign where I felt the DM forced us to undertake a course of action that he wanted us to for the sake of 'plot' (for example) or we are faced with NPCs that have 'death immunity' simply because one person is imposing his will on the proceedings. I would say that I feel like when the players or DM 'fudge' dice rolls 'because they don't want that to happen.' Maybe the game should also be considered a 'participant' and the dice are how it makes its participation known.

  3. I like that line - treating the dice as oracles. Games where combat results, saving throws, wandering monster checks are fudged seem 'tainted' and manipulated. Always better to run it clean.

    Not to mess with you, -C, but as I think through the import of this stance, I wonder how far to take it? Does running a clean game extend to character creation? Ability scores? Hit point rolls? Random treasure or magic item generation? (For me, the answer is yes across the board - random results are pure).

    Can you think of a situation where you ignore the dice?

  4. My view has always been that once you chooses to consult the dice you should never ignore them.

  5. Great post. I agree with the oracles idea, but I wasn't always a true believer. @James C -- I agree. As a DM, I either state what IS or I roll dice. Once I roll the dice, THAT tells me what is. Can't have it both ways.


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