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Troy’s Crock Pot: Rollin’ Ones and Twenties


Homemade dice tower made from HirstArts Castlemolds.

This is my dice tower, lovingly crafted from HirstArts Castemolds [2] bricks. Simple little thing. Sits right in front of me at the game table.

Not too long ago I would have scoffed at using a dice tower. But then I started to get wrist fatigue during games. The tower started to have a lot more appeal then. So, a few castings (and some liberal application of Aleene’s Tacky Glue) and a dash of paint later, I made this.

I may have mentioned this before, but as GM, I roll in the open anyway. I think it builds trust between the players and the GM. And everyone knows going in — your player character’s fate hinges on the dice. No fudging.

The stars and planets align

So, a recent session begins with me calling for an initiative roll. It that first toss, three 20s were showing, including one produced by the tower. “Well, it looks like it’s going to be one of those days,” I said.

But even I wasn’t prepared for how prophetic my words would be.

I don’t know if the summer equinox had something to do with it, the rumbling of the washing machine in the corner or even the alignment of the planets in the heavens. But it became quickly apparent this was a day when we’d be seeing a lot of 1s and 20s.

Not every roll came up 1s and 20s. But there were a lot of them. One of our players delights in pulling from the Paizo Critical Hit Deck, it’s strange results notwithstanding (“I play this game for FUN,” he said). This was his day. Boom. Boom. Boom. The deck delivered a great deal of bleeding and strange critical effects.

But it wasn’t just the players. My tower kept producing 1s and 20s.  “Is it something I’m doing?” I asked. I even picked up the tower and shook it. “That’s not gonna make a difference,” one the players chimed in.

It was just one of those freaky days.

And the 1s and 20s kept coming.

Fumble deck shines

All those 1s and 20s meant the players had to keep reaching for my homemade critical fumble deck.

Usually, the thing gets only cursory use. In a given session, players might roll 1s on attack rolls a couple of times, at most. You can tell how little or much the thing gets used just by glancing at the discard pile.

Well, on this day, the discard pile kept growing.

More to the point, the fumble deck got a workout. And I have to say, I was pleased with how it played out.  It’s hard to get a feel for it when you only pull it twice a session. But when everyone — including the GM — is reaching in, you quickly get a sense of its effects on game play.

Basically, I want a fumble deck for flavor. I’ve never felt the fumble should be debilitating. It’s a house rule, after all, for what is just an automatic miss. There should be a slight penalty, but nothing that cripples a character’s ability to function.

To that end, each result on the deck also calls for a skill check or save throw (usually against a DC 20) to negate or diminish the fumble. I think giving players that second chance at avoiding failure encourages them.

Here’s what a couple of entries look like:

Melee and unarmed: Snag. Sleight of hand check vs. DC 20. Weapon inadvertently hooks on armor or clothing, preventing smooth attack motion. Suffer -2 penalty to damage for next 1d4 rounds.

Ranged. Ammunition jams. Strength check vs. DC 20. Missile stuck in quiver or pouch while loading. Take 1d4 rounds to dislodge.

Magic. Focus fails. Reflex save vs. DC 20. Spell components or holy symbol falls 1d4 squares in a random direction.

Each card include an 8-pointed star for easy reference for determining random directions, just like one for a thrown grenade attack.

Misfires into melee

The deck has one other function, which is also particular to our group. It offers a mechanic for resolving ranged attack misfires into melee.
Maybe it’s because the Saturday morning crew has had SCA [3]* members with more than a passing interest in archery, but the fact the rules don’t account for where missiles land when firing into melee has always bothered them. Those arrows gotta stick into something, they reason.

Each card indicates that the missile was # squares off its target, either shy or far or to the right or left. You then roll 3d6. Comparing to the chart on the card, that roll determines the square (relative to the target) the missile actually landed in, and the amount of damage. Basically, damage is by probability, so rolling 10-11 is a miss for 0 damage, 8-9 or 12-13 is nicked for 1 hp of damage, 6-7 and 14-15 was a glancing blow for 1/2 damage by weapon type, 4-5 or 16-17 is for full damage and 3 or 18 are critical hits.

I’ve thought this approach keeps the mechanic results abstract enough to stay in the spirit of the rules without us going too deeply down the simulation road (too many attempts to simulate “reality” tend to bog down a d20 game — whose round-based combat resolution is already a time-consuming exercise). But I think this one strikes the right note.

Oh look. It’s time to roll more 1s and 20s.

18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "Troy’s Crock Pot: Rollin’ Ones and Twenties"

#1 Comment By John Arcadian On July 26, 2010 @ 8:39 am

That dice tower is awesome, and I love the idea to use HirstArts bricks to build it. What do you use for the randomizer inside?

I fully agree with your rolling in the open philosophy, especially when the dice are coming up on the extreme ends. Rolling in the open means that you don’t get pegged as a GM who is playing favorites. Really, those kind of extreme rolling games are more fun to me. Rolling mostly failures and awesome successes makes for fast paced play and interesting gaming. It is much better than a long grind of reliable median successes and is much more dramatic.

#2 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On July 26, 2010 @ 9:56 am

There are two angled shelves within, so when you drop a die, it hits the first shelf, hits the far wall, drops to the second shelf, hits the near wall, drops to the angled floor and rolls out. Three shelves would be better, I suppose, but it’s a short tower.

#3 Comment By Razjah On July 26, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

How come you have a homebrewed fumble deck but a purchased hit deck? Did you buy the fumble deck and not like it or was it simply how it worked out with life?

I wonder becasue I am using a homebrewed critical hit table, not made by me, and I don’t like the weapon drop from a natural 1. I keep messing with ideas on how to make critical fumbles more fun and less “I drop me sword, take a move action to pick it up, cause an attack of opportunity”.

#4 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On July 26, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

[4] – Not everyone in the group uses the crit hit deck. Some just want to take their x2 or x3 dmg and go.

I looked at the Paizo crit fumble deck and it just didn’t have the same appeal. Mainly for one of the reasons already stated — I wanted a mechanism that gave the PCs a second chance to save themselves and, to be frank, I think some of the conditions on the Paizo deck are too penalizing.

Mine’s more flavor than mechanics in its effects.

#5 Comment By Airk On July 26, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

Not to be annoying or nitpicky (Note: this is secret code for “I am about to be annoying and nitpicky”) but… ammo jam? In a fantasy game? That’s silly.

Okay, you get an arrow ‘stuck’ in your quiver. You know what happens when you try to pull it out? You spill all your other arrows all over the ground. It’s not a gun. The arrows don’t magically wedge against one another and prevent you from removing them.

#6 Comment By Razjah On July 26, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

Could you give some more examples of your critical fumble deck?

#7 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On July 26, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

[5] – Here’s some ranged ones:

Stinging eyes. Perspiration drips into your eyes, blurring vision. -2 Pen on ranged atks d4 rounds.

Spots in your vision. Reflection from mirrored surface or burst of light momentarily blinds . -2 atk for d4 rounds.

Winded. Cant catch your breath. Drop to last in Init order.

#8 Comment By Razjah On July 26, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

I like them, they are penalties but nothing that takes you out of combat or makes you useless.

#9 Comment By robinmotion On July 26, 2010 @ 6:45 pm

I think the ethics of open-source gaming suggest that, now that you’ve told us that it exists, you’re going to have to do a little better than just post examples from your deck, Troy. You’re gonna have to share the whole dang thing. Ideally in .pdf format ;).

#10 Comment By Razjah On July 27, 2010 @ 5:13 pm

I agree.

#11 Comment By Scott Martin On July 27, 2010 @ 6:55 pm

Sounds like a rough night. It’s always tough when the dice go wonky– though worse when they lean to one side instead of just pushing both sides to the extremes.

#12 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On July 28, 2010 @ 8:25 am

[6] – I’ll think about it. (I’d hafta find the original file — that could take longer than Indy’s search for the lost ark of the covenant ….)

But in the meantime, there’s nothing like whipping up a deck yourself that caters specifically to the needs and whims of YOUR players and their sensibilities. That way it would also be keyed to your gaming system.

#13 Comment By Roxysteve On July 28, 2010 @ 9:53 am

[7] – very cool tower.

Very cool idea on the fumble deck too. However, I disagree about the “ethics of open source gaming”. The source in question is the idea itself. Nothing in open source gaming says that you get to sit on your backside and insist someone else do the work for you to produce an instance of the deck :o)

Your tower tumbles back and forth? My own design (yet to be fully built I hasten to add and therefore vastly inferior to yours in every way) tumbles back, sideways and forward. Probably overkill and subject to dice-snarls now I come to consider it from a distance.


#14 Comment By Roxysteve On July 28, 2010 @ 10:06 am

Oh, and DAMN YOU for showing me those molding kits! Aaarggh! Must…resist…urge…to…build…stuff…I…have…no…room…to…store…or…display…aarrrgghh!

#15 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On July 28, 2010 @ 10:45 am

[8] – Well, if you only make a set of modular floor tiles, they at least store flat …. Castings for buildings, though, tend to take over the basement … and the dresser top … and the workbench … and you get the idea.

But it’s so much fun …. it’s Legos for gamers.

#16 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On July 28, 2010 @ 10:47 am

[9] – I think the “ethics of open source gaming” was said tongue-in-cheek (At least that’s how I read it).

#17 Comment By jdebelly On October 19, 2010 @ 10:58 am

I know that some people would cry “Heresy” at me, but I usually use an online dice roller form my rolling : [10]

When I’m a player, I roll the D20 for my Init, Saves, and attack rolls – but I started using the DND Dice Roller when playing a high level Sorcerer ( “…I hit with the Disintigrate? Hold on, I need 36 d6’s…”).

As the DM I have no problem using the Dice Roller, and I want to modify Excel to make it easier for me to have all the monsters/npcs on a worksheet so I can make one “F9” update and have all the Reflex saves, Sense Motives, etc. at the touch of the mouse.

#18 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On October 19, 2010 @ 11:21 am

As a GM, what ever works for you it what you should do.