In yesterday's post, I spoke positively of the fact that Goodman Games's upcoming Dungeon Crawl Classic Roleplaying Game uses all the Zocchi dice, including those weird ones like D5, D7, and D24. Allow me to explain why.
Unless Joseph Goodman or someone else associated with the DCC RPG has explained the rationale behind the inclusion of these dice, I'd be willing to bet that the primary reason for including them in the game is because he likes them -- which is the exact same reason that funny dice were used with OD&D. It is, after all, quite possible to play a RPG without the use of anything but the standard six-sider, as Traveller and other games have shown us. Heck, it's possible to play LBB-only OD&D (more or less) with only D6 and percentile dice (numbered 0-9 twice, of course). I tried doing just that in the early days of my Dwimmermount campaign, before switching back to the full range of Platonic solids (and that interloper, the D10).
Now, you can argue that there are good reasons to use a wide variety of dice types from a statistical or simulation standpoint and there's merit to that approach. But, for me, being able to whip out the D8 whenever someone uses a sword or the D4 when determining kobold hit points has nothing to do with math and everything to do with the fact that I like them. Polyhedral dice are fun little artifacts. I enjoy looking at them, holding them, and, most of all, rolling them. My use of them in D&D isn't because of the wider range of probabilities they offer or how they better simulate this or that in the game. Rather, it has to do with the experience of using them.
When I say "experience," I'm not talking about anything as highfalutin as "emulation." My point is not that using a D12 for a doppelganger's attack is somehow more "realistic" or better conveys the death-dealing capability of an imaginary shapeshifter. No, all I'm saying is that I like the physicality of the dice. I like their presence on my table and the way that they convey, to me and my friends, that we're playing a game but not a boardgame. Even my eight year-old son, who doesn't do tabletop roleplaying and who doesn't have 30+ years of inculcated association between polyhedral dice and RPGs, thinks of them as "Daddy's special game dice." And he's right: roleplaying games are special games and so they can have special dice if their creators want them to have them.
That brings me to my other point. The mere fact that Joseph Goodman likes the D7 is more than enough reason to include it in his game. If I had to point to a single thing that most displeases me about a lot of contemporary game design is that it places too high a premium on rationality. I may have imagined it, but I recall reading an article or an interview somewhere in which one of the designers of D&D III (maybe Monte Cook or Jonathan Tweet?) noted that, in designing the game, nothing was off-limits and they considered changing any aspect of D&D they felt didn't make sense. That strikes me as a terrible design principle when revising a game whose lasting appeal is, to a great extent, founded on the fact that it doesn't make sense.
From the first, Dungeons & Dragons was a great big, gloriously incoherent mess -- which is why it took the world by storm. A lot of the game's incoherence comes from the fact that its creators, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, just threw together a lot stuff they happened to like. They didn't sit down and try to make sense of it all. They didn't worry about rationalizing the way magic worked or the social ramifications of dungeons or why they should use weird polyhedrals when six-sided dice were much more readily available. No, they just went ahead and made a game they liked, based on stuff they liked, and let the chips fall where they may. The result was the only RPG ever to become a mass market fad, so they must have done something right.
I'm not opposed to game design based on solid first principles by any means. I do think, however, that post-old school game designers (and gamers) tend to overemphasize it to their detriment. I contend that D&D's incoherent messiness is a big part of its lasting success and that messiness exists because it was created but not "designed." Again, let me state clearly that I think there's value in designing a game with forethought. Let me also state clearly that I think that this latter method of producing games is no more likely to produce a fun, enjoyable game than the haphazard, rambling "Hey, I like this" method that produced Dungeons & Dragons.
And that's why I see it as a good sign that Joseph Goodman is using all the Zocchi dice. Their inclusion is not necessarily a stroke of genius, but neither is it a sign that the DCC RPG is a bad game. If it's a sign of anything, it's that Goodman recognizes that fun is often irrational and operates according to "just because" principles. That gladdens me.