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Metagame Mechanics: The Dice Pool

Metagame Mechanics: The Dice Pool

Egyptian dice (600-800 BC)I tried out a lot of gaming groups in college, and they weren’t all good fits. I liked a serious story, epic in scope, digging deep into the mechanics of the game while developing a living, breathing world around it. One evening, I tried out a group recommended by my girlfriend for a night that would change my view of gaming forever.

It was, for lack of a better word, a party. The music was loud, the beer plentiful, and the attic cloudy. And though it wasn’t my pace, I was amazed at how they had hacked their game of Dungeons & Dragons to create an entirely different play experience.

The action centered on a crude crane mechanism they had rigged over the game table.  A small dish, about the size of a compact disk, was suspended on a string from a ceiling hook. That string was threaded through other hooks to a position behind the DM, who could slowly raise or lower it to the game table. It was this suspended dish that they referred to as “the Dice Pool.”

There were no dice in the Dice Pool. Rather, it served, in gambling terms, as the pot. They would ante a quarter or a cigarette, which was considered “legal tender” in this particular group, at the start of the game. On a natural twenty, you won the pot, and the DM lowered it down to the table so you could collect your winnings.  Half the money went to the house, paying for beer, pizza, and minis. The other half went to the lucky gamer.

The pot refilled quickly due to a variety of house rules that would result in the payment of a quarter/cigarette into the Dice Pool:

  1. Ante after someone wins
  2. Rolling a natural 1.
  3. +1 for each consecutive natural 1.
  4. Dropping a die from the table.
  5. Spilling a drink (x4 pay).
  6. Lighting a cigarette (to reduce the pollutant effect on the homeowner’s attic)
  7. Reroll (x4 pay, max once/round).
  8. Getting crit by a monster

I’ve told this story several times since, and I have collected ideas from different gamers about the sorts of fouls that could tie into the Dice Pool for gaming groups with different dynamics. For example:

  • Swearing
  • Going out of character during combat
  • Forgetting your character sheet (x4 pay)
  • Rerolling hit points on level up
  • Forgetting the name of an important NPC or location
  • Heal 1 hp
  • Flatulence
  • Using the GM’s printer
  • Per bad pun

Implementing the Dice Pool in your game need not involve the construction of your own Goldberg Machine, but some sort of tray/pot/bucket/Pringles can is in order. Settle on the house rules with your fellow gamers, and be willing to add new ones as the concept unfolds around your game table. Consider other forms of tender as well—snacks, cheap dice, or I.O.U.s for services like cleaning the game room or a ride home could all work in the right environment.

Do you have an idea for another tabletop party foul that could warrant a drop in the Dice Pool? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Metagame Mechanics is a monthly blog series that provides house rules for tabletop roleplaying groups. The example wording uses an imagined RPG where the numbers are simple and the story always comes out well.

4 thoughts on “Metagame Mechanics: The Dice Pool”

  1. I would quickly be a poor, poor man thanks to the Bad Pun rule… and the flatulence one too…

  2. Wow! What an strange and yet fascinating way to play!

    Part of me thinks it’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard … and the other part of me can’t wait to try it out in a game! :)

  3. It amuses the heck out of me. I would impose a charge for everyone who stalls their character’s turn for more than a minute.

  4. It’s something I should have instituted in my home games a Long, long time ago. Back then my players would have loved it.

    Well, they’d still get a kick out of it, but we’ve gotten old and set in our ways and a change like that would be hard to get by them now.

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