By: Jennifer Bisson
As the GM, you are responsible for applying the rules of the game, but you are also responsible for creating the world and everything in it. Unless you are using a completely pre-generated world and campaign (and even then, players are tricksy things and like to go places you may not have thought of or prepared for!), you may find that coming up with new ideas for every game can be mentally taxing, and without a little inspiration, you might experience burnout.
Of course, as a GM, you will be using dice, but there are so many more things that dice can help you with besides just rolling outcomes. They can not only enhance your game, but can make your life as a GM easier.
Dice give you other ways to spark that creativity, so that you have a seed to work with. They are great tools for handling unexpected twists. You know, those times when your players ignore all your carefully laid out plans and pick something entirely random to do….well now you can give them something random right back!
Building your dungeon
Now, before you even get to game night, you probably want to have a basic plan for what is nearby and available for your players to do. This might mean creating a town or making a dungeon. DungeonMorph dice are excellent for giving you the framework for locations. Each side of these large (about 1 inch square) dice details out a part of a dungeon, city or cave. And not only do they have the rooms and connecting roads or tunnels marked on them, there are some other unique features (each set has its own special icons and key) to inspire you.
The great thing is all the connections on the dice match up, so you can mix and match, if you want your city to have a secret dungeon entrance that then opens up into a rough cave. Once you have rolled the dice, you can draw out the map in a larger scale, using the icons to help give you ideas on how to fill in the details.
You can also just use the dice as building blocks, picking and choosing sides that peak your interest, to create your map. And of course, you can adjust what is shown on the dice, either adding in extra tunnels and rooms, or removing those that don’t fit your vision. The dice are there as a way to help you, so use them in the way that suits you and your GM’ing style best.
Once you have the main shape of your dungeon, it can sometimes be a struggle to come up with good descriptions of details within a room. GM Dressing Dice are themed by room type, with icons that depict different things that might be found in those rooms. You can use any kind of picture dice for this, but because GM Dressing dice are themed by room type (like temple, barracks or cave), they are great for adding really thematic details.
Populating your dungeon
With your dungeon rooms decorated, you might want some help figuring out new critters to populate them with. Now, many games have great random tables to help you out, but there are some dice that can assist you as well.
A few places make monster dice, where you can roll a die (or a handful of dice!) and have several choices of monsters to fill your dungeons with. New Comet Games has an RPG Random Encounter Dice set that has a variety of dice for different types of monsters. Want a dragon? You can roll a die to see what type is there. Flying Buffalo has a set of monster dice that separate their critters into difficulty levels, and has a die that shows how they will react to players.
You can also use more general dice, like the animal die from Roll A Story. The fish might be an underwater beast (if that could work), or it could be something with scales or one of the reptile based monsters. The bat could be a flying threat or one that attacks at night. The more you play with creatively interpreting the results of your dice, the easier it will become! This set of dice also includes a few other great dice for GM’s. There is a weather die, allowing you to roll at the start of a day to see what the general weather will be like, very useful when describing travel. The snow might mean unseasonable coldness or it could be a freak snowstorm (which might lead to the players trying to figure out what caused the strange weather). The emotion die is a fun way to give NPC’s a current mood. Because we all go through many moods during the day, and if the shopkeep is grumpy when you approach him to ask for a favor that might affect how he responds to you.
When it comes to finding the big bad that is in charge of everything, sometimes you want to get a little creative. I love both the hero and villain dice from StoryTime dice. These are themed sets, so you have a regular (modern day), fairy tale and horror set of dice, and each one has appropriately themed options on the dice. However, you can use the results rolled as archetypes and adjust them to fit your game. A clown might be a jester who got tired of being mocked and decided to take his revenge, while the journalist might be a local historian who thought that becoming a local legend would be an easier way to be remembered than being the hero.
StoryTime dice also have some interesting options for figuring out plots and story hooks. They have a ‘twist’ die, which is some kind of event that triggers a change in the story. This is great for creating a new quest to offer up your players, or a way to alter one they are already on (perhaps forcing them to split up or go to a new location).
Filling in the details
One of my favorite things to use dice for, when GM’ing is sorting out the small details. I’m the type that tends to agonize over small decisions (like what day of the week will the players be returning to town on), and I love having random dice for situations like that. When it is important to the story, I will keep a calendar, but normally I am pretty vague about dates and such, so having an hour, day of the week, month and moon phase dice (one of the games I run is Werewolf, and so knowing what phase the moon is on is important) is really handy. It can be fun to use these dice, when planning quests, to give them a sense of urgency. You might have a magical ritual that needs to be performed on a full moon that falls on a Tuesday, and either the characters are trying to complete or stop the ritual.
Treasure and trap dice are ones that I feel are great not only for planning, but a fun way to add a little boon or bane as the game unfolds. Using them to plan, you can roll them as inspiration for treasure troves or hidden loot that characters may find. Or, when a character does something exceptional in game, you might roll the treasure die and find a way to include a little something extra. This is great to do as a bonus reward for quests, when the characters not only do what was asked but go above and beyond. The trap die gives variety to your traps, helping inspire you to do more than just put in another pit trap. And it can add a twist when you use it for spectacular failures, as a character might trigger a trap that they weren’t aware of.
I really love the Writer’s Dice for their broad scope. Writing and GM’ing are very similar, and these dice have a lot of uses to help break through GM’s block (which is very similar to writer’s block). There are dice to help you determine what type of location might be featured, an urban valley location might be an idyllic farm community, while and indoor mountain could be a cave…or maybe a wizard created a tower that looked like a normal building on the outside, but once you walk in the door you are faced with a mountain cliff to scale to reach the tower! There are dice to help with motivations, and these are great in figuring out new ways to flesh out quests. The innkeeper might be trying to woo the baker lady, but he is afraid of being rejected, so he wants to do something kind for her, and asks the adventurers to seek out a rare ingredient he knows she has wanted to use for a while. Grabbing a handful of these dice, and rolling them gives you really interesting combinations to play with, and an endless variety of ideas!
On the Fly
Most of the dice we’ve talked about so far are geared at game preparation, but there are some great options for game night as well. We talked about mood dice earlier, and Randice has some great options for that as well. What I like about these is they not only let you roll the general temperament of an NPC (the green dice shows ideas for this, from someone who is very sneaky and might have a dark secret to someone who is vain and self-centered), but also the current mood (the red die, which ranges from calm to angry to sad). Combine them together and you have a more complicated look at the current mental state of anyone. The blue die is intended to be a good/neutral/evil die, but it could easily be a general mood die as well.
Along those same lines, I feel like Fate dice have a lot more potential than most people realize. I love the Divination version, which is a pendulum showing yes, no and unknown/maybe. This is a great way to answer surprise questions that you might not have planned for. I also find Fate dice to be a neat way to modify other rolls. You can secretly roll a fate die as the ‘hand of the gods’, either making a character’s roll more or less successful.
My favorite way of thinking about the Fate dice is to think of it as an ‘and’ or a ‘but’ addition to the roll. If your character’s roll was a success, but you rolled a -, that is a ‘yes, but’. This might be something like, “Yes you picked his pocket, but you failed to notice the shady character in the corner who watched you do it.” With a failed roll and a +, it might turn out that, “No, you couldn’t bribe the guard to let the prisoner go, but you feel his reluctance, and you think he might be open to other bribes where less is at stake.” If the +/- aligns with the roll, it becomes an exceptional success or failure. The character might not only disarm his opponent, but do it in such a flashy way that the other foes are intimidated and gain a negative modifier for their rolls next combat round. It gives you a way to play with luck, if you wish.
These are also great dice for resolving simple tests that may not have a skill related to them, like determining if the traveling merchant had been to the nearby town before, or deciding if the party draws the attention of the local countess at her big birthday bash. Sure, as the GM you can just make a choice, but sometimes you may want to leave it to the fates, as it were.
Speaking of fate, many games include some kind of augury or way to divine the future. Creating the signs or message for the characters to interpret is something these rune dice are great at. Each symbol represents a different item and has a different meaning. Rolling a few gives you several things to weave together, creating a more meaningful fortune. Not only does it work great for actual fortune telling, it is a neat way to handle dreams as well. You can roll a few and combine whatever the result is into a crazy story, because dreams rarely make logical sense.
A final useful tool for any GM’s toolbox is a hit location die. While some skills and attacks do include ways to determine where they hit, often this is not specified. Sometimes, a player will aim for a particular part of the body, while other times they will just roll their attack and not think about it. But describing the outcome of the hit adds great depth to a combat scene, and can make the after effects much more real, because a serious leg wound would create different problems than an arm wound. Giving this die a roll lets you easily add in those extra details, without needing to consult another chart.
As a GM, it is our job to not only create the world, but determine how everything in it moves and reacts (except for the player’s characters), and sometimes this is a lot to manage. Using specialty dice can not only shake up your regular patterns (especially helpful if your players rely on their knowledge of how you ‘tend’ to do things to get an advantage), but also ease your mental burden. Let the dice determine all those little details, so your mind is free to handle the bigger picture and the story that draws your players in.
Interested in the dice shown above? Find them at the links below!
Fate/fudge (link is for the Divination Dice, which are the yes/no/maybe ones and DoubleSix which are both shown in the picture)
Day/Month/time/moon phase (the moon phase die is from WhiteWolf and is OOP)
Rune dice (also this is where the monster dice I mentioned can be found)