There’s a game sitting in the garage of my friend’s house. My friend is a “miniatures guy”, and he’s my mentor when it comes to all the fiddly bits of the hobby, things like painting, airbrushing, assembling and gluing. The game is called “Runewars.” Not the board game, mind you, the “starter set” edition of the miniatures game.
I was immensely excited when I first heard about Runewars. I had previously played a fair bit of X-Wing, and taking the dial-driven game-play of that game and applying it to a fantasy, rank-and-file tabletop game seemed, to me, like a match made in heaven.
In design, re-roll mechanics sometimes get a bad rap. The thinking goes that if a game is designed well enough, they effectively become superfluous, and at worst, damaging. After all, if the players can re-roll the dice any time they like, why even bother rolling? There is a school of thought that says once the dice hit the table, there are no take-backs. The die is literally cast, come what may.
But here’s the thing. No game is perfect. Whenever you introduce variance, you will, inevitably, run up against edge cases. The master thief rolling a 1 and crashing through pots and pans. The famed warrior botching a roll and sending their weapon flying out of their hands. If these eventualities happen too often, the game becomes slapstick. But, argues the other side, if these things never happen, then the game becomes stale and boring.
What I think is missing from such a view is the prospect of player agency. When a player rolls the dice, they are, in effect, giving up some amount of agency. The GM, or the system, or some mixture of the two decides what happens next. If the result determined by the die is too incongruous with the vision the player had of their character, it can lead to disassociation and frustration with the game’s mechanics.