Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Mini-Game of Chance: Quick gambling rules for RPGs (part 1)

If you're playing a low-fantasy, western or grungy modern role-playing game, gambling is likely to turn up at some point. It might even be a  regular occurence in some campaigns. Occasionally you might find it worthwhile to play out the games with actual cards, but if you really wanted to sit down for a round of poker every other week, you'd just have poker night instead!

This mini-game is one way of simulating a round of gambling, or even an entire evening's worth, in a short space of time, with reasonably meaningful results. It determines the outcomes based on the characters' abilities and gambling skills, rather than that of the players, and with the advanced rules in part 2 (coming next week,) it allows for cheating and bluffing with mechanics. One last benefit of this version is that it allows for virtual characters to participate without the GM having to attempt to play multiple hands of cards simultaneously while attempting to be fair.

Note on mechanics: The basic version of the mini-game presented in this article is completely system agnostic, but the advanced rules for cheating and bluffing in next week's article will use example mechanics specific to d20 games, specifically Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition. They are fairly intuitive, and should translate quite easily to whichever system you are using though.

You'll Need:

A set of Poker Dice:

These are standard d6s but with special faces representing card values instead of pips. The faces are 9, 10, J, Q, K and A. They come in sets of 5, and you'll need all 5 for this mini-game. If you don't happen to have a set, you can simply use 5 standard 6-sided dice, in which case, treat 1 as a 9, 2 as a 10 and so on, with 6 representing the ace.

Basic Mechanics:


Gambling is all about risking something to gain something bigger. To keep things simple, a single round of gambling with this mini-game requires each participant to pay an upfront fee to play. In poker, this initial forced bet is called "Ante" and even though this game doesn't necessarily represent poker, we're co-opting that word. They'd deduct this from their cash count on their character sheets before the game starts and it's considered spent. The prize is made up of the sum of all the Antes, and winner takes all.

The prize does not always have to be coin however. It could also be a magical treasure that's just been discovered, or it could be some privelege, like claim to the only decent bed in a dodgy tavern. In this event, skip the ante and just get down to business.

Turn Order

It's best practice to establish turn order before starting. It doesn't matter much in the basic version presented here, but with the advanced rules for cheating and bluffing in part 2, it can be slightly advantageous to go later than the other players. Turn order is simply initiative order, but in reverse, so the "slowest" player rolls first, and the "fastest" rolls last.

The Basic Game
Each player, in turn order, gets to roll the 5 poker dice once. Whatever they get is considered to be their Hand and they are stuck with it (Part 2's Advanced Mechanics do allow some modification). They should make a note of what their Hand is and pass the dice on. NPCs get rolled by the game master when their turn comes up in the order.

Once everyone's rolled, compare their Hands to this chart to determine who wins. If there's a tie, then the player with the highest card in his hand wins. If there's still a tie, then tied players should roll a single die each to break it.

Next tuesday we'll bring you Part 2 where we will go over the rules for cheating and bluffing and luck, and the following week,  Part 3 detailing the rules for gambling houses and handling a night's worth of gambling.

The illustrations in this article come from our comic: Live by the Sword.
All Artwork and Characters appearing in this article © 2013 Kevin Richard John Berry

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julie andrew said...
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Катерина Михайловна said...
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Sagar Gurjar said...

It's hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic.

Avid Bindsen said...

Hi! i think you idea of a mini game to picture a poker game is great and i'll use it in my compaign of dnd5e.
But i don't see the second part of the article about cheating and use intimidation or bluff.

I have some ideas like sleigh of hand vs perception check or intimidation vs intelligence/strength/constitution ("well i'm stonger than him" or "i'm bigger than him" or "i dont break at the front of a thug") or bluff vs insight but i would have your thought about that.
How do you deal with this stuff?

Great Job anyway!

Lounge Lizard Kev said...

Avid, I never got around to writing up the second and third parts as I landed up getting buried in work and when that massive project ended, I'd forgotten about the article. Will definitely have to look at correcting that at some point.

Cheating, bluffing and the rest were handled by rolling a standard opposed check of the appropriate type. If you succeeded in the check then you'd get to reroll some poker dice depending on the magnitude of your success in an attempt to improve the outcome. If you just barely succeed, you could re-roll 1 die. If you succeed by more than 5 then you could reroll 2. If you succeed by 10 then you could re-roll 3.

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