Rolling Bones

If you are at all familiar with my system or the Homebrew that I make for D&D on my Patreon it should be no surprise that I want to bring some of that pagan old school magic out of the game and onto the table. Throwing Bones is referred to a type of divination where you cast animal remains and read their placement as a way to tell the future or possible futures so, Rolling Bones is a technique to generate your weather, encounters, and involve the players while doing so. I’ve always liked the idea of rolling bones as a way to tell the future, maybe it is just because at my heart I’m a creep and get all sorts of excited at involving my hands in spiritual work and taking that experience into the tabletop world is an easy thing for me to do. I don’t mean classical ideas of spiritualism but more of the type of ordered chaos we allow ourselves to live our lives in. I could go in depth on the math behind this method of encounter generation but in the end, it is about engaging the table outside of character sheets. To have something that physically brings everyone together and that bewilderment on what does it all mean. So, this set of rules more than being a tool for being a lazy GM/DM, it’s about engaging your table physically and mentally.  

You need a full set of die to Roll Bones, alternatively, you could just have 6 different objects at your table. They should be varyingly round and flat, not so much that it will roll off the table but enough where there is some planned variation on where they will end up after being. As the GM/DM, you’ll assign values to each of these objects. The flattest object or the d4 should represent the party as they have a solid base of cohesion (sometimes). That leaves you with 5 objects. Assign an object to each of the following: Hostile, Friendly/Neutral, Temperature, Wind, and Precipitation. Your most severe threat for the region should be the roundest of the objects or the d20. So if you are crossing snowy mountaintops maybe Wind, Temperature, and Precipitation are your killers. Maybe in enemy territory, your object/die for Hostiles will be the most common. In friendly areas (or occasionally randomly in hostile areas as the fates can sometimes be forgiving) make that object the Friendly/Neutral Token. Once you’ve assigned a value to each object/die call for a player to Roll the Bones.

They’ll cast the objects/dice before them and you’ll take a quick reading for your notes. The furthest object/die away is the main threat for the day. The Second farthest is an accelerant for the primary. If you can draw an uninterrupted line from the Primary Threat to the object/die that represents the party, increase the difficulty/weight of the situation. If there are 2 equal distant primary or secondary threats they both apply. For example, if the Precipitation and Wind die are both equally far from the Party object/die then both apply for the encounter.  If there are 2 secondary, narrate how they both accelerate the Primary Threat. You should be able to Read the Bones quickly and the players will be able to ponder the meaning of this reading. A call to Roll Bones can be done whenever but I recommend to do it after finishing a long rest. If you are underground or inside a structure they might be protected from some elements but precipitation could mean a layer of water sticks to the cave walls preventing easy rest, or wind could be noxious gas building up in the tunnels. This isn’t a method to give fully detailed out encounters for the day but rather to serve as a jumping off point for your imagination.

The party is adventuring through a mountain system infested with goblins. For this example let’s say our objects/dice equal the following:

20: Snow (White)

12: Goblin Warband (Red)

10: Cold (Blue)

8: Wind (Yellow)

6: Traders (Silver)

4: The Party (Pink)

By looking at the casting below I can see that the Cold (blue) and Snow (White) are the main encounters and since the secondary Wind (yellow) is the next farthest it makes the primary(s) worse. We have a perfect blizzard here. And since all three have direct paths to the party it will be a hard encounter. If 1 or more of them were blocked it would be an easier encounter.