Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Look Behind Dungeonteller's Dice Mechanics

When I was developing Dungeonteller, my goal was to have a task resolution system that gamers as young as 4 or 5 could resolve on their own.

First, no addends would have to be held in working memory to resolve a task in-game — no juggling numbers in your head while you're rolling dice.

Second, no player would ever have to count higher than 10.

Third, the dice themselves would serve as manipulatives to help players track whatever bonuses and penalties that did apply. When the GM said 'take away 2", you would literally take away two dice from your hand.

If you've played Dungeonteller, you know the dice mechanic is all of those things. 
You pick two "lucky numbers" from 1–6, roll a number of dice equal to your skill rating, and count every lucky number showing on the dice as "a success" towards your action. You seldom have to count higher than 5 or 6, and most results give values of 0–3, very manageable.

One sticking point I encountered early on in play testing is that many young children can't subitize (recognize at a glance) the pip patterns on dice, or they would get hung up on counting the pips instead of just recognizing which dice came up "lucky". These are the workarounds I came up with:

1. Use dice that have written numerals instead of pips (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
2. Use dice with colors or symbols instead of pips or numerals. Our "official" Dungeonteller dice at home are printed with colored circles: red, pink, green, black, yellow, blue. The players choose two lucky colors instead of lucky numbers. Mine are black and blue, heh, heh, evil GM laugh.They look like this:

3. Use dice with symbols instead of pips or numerals. Come on fish and rabbit!

Well, that's how you do dice games for really young gamers.
Do a search for "dice with colors instead of numbers" if you want to order some for your own Dungeonteller game. Til next time.


  1. You can also get great blank dice: I like to use paint pens on them and make symbols or drawings on them. Krylon metallic paint pens are pretty good for that.

  2. That would be cool -- each die could include three players' "lucky" symbols or initials or whatever. Do the paint pens really resist wear and chipping?