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GM's Corner

When in Doubt, Roll a d6

How to Think in Six-Sided Options

The d6 is a magical little die. I had no particular fondness for it, prior to designing OSR+, except maybe nostalgia for games like Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game from 1987, where the GM would scoop up a handful of d6s to represent Emperor Palpatine electrocuting you to death. After having designed OSR+, I realized that the d6 is, in fact, a goldilocks die. It doesn’t have too many faces (d20), and it doesn’t have too few (d4). The faces represent options—possibilities you can deploy in the game as fictional realities. A d10 has too many options to hold in working memory ( Yes, I realize that this factoid comes from largely unnuanced psychology from the late 1950s. they say the average number of items a person can remember at one time is between seven and nine ).

Dice introduce serendipity as much as they introduce randomness into the game. But in order for players to bleed real fear or hope in the fiction, they have to be able to grasp, in the moment, what's at stake.

That's why, I think, six options are exactly enough.


One of the most common ways I use a d6 on the fly is with found supplies:

  • 1, 2, 3: Consumable
  • 4, 5: Cheap
  • 6: Luxury

The simple benefits here are not to be overlooked or underestimated. I can list the options aloud from memory. My players intuitively grasp that luxury items are rarer than cheap items, which are rarer than consumable items. There are boundaries to the options. We need graspable boundaries to frame our imagination.


In downtime, I often prompt players to contribute to the fiction in various ways. Maybe their PC is having a conversation with an NPC or another PC, maybe they are contributing something material to the scene, or maybe they are each contributing backstory to another PC's rival.

Coming up with stuff out of thin air is exhausting. We should know, after all, since that's our job as GMs. But when you have a little seed to start with, you can germinate it into something fantastic.

If I ask you to describe a magical place of great peril you encountered along your journey, the possibilities are endless. So much so that some players will freeze up and be unable to answer without first retreating to a safe place to think. But if I ask you to roll a d6 on each of the below tables, well now you're not doing the heavy lifting by yourself. You roll "Courage" and an "Ancient Statue," and who knows what you could do with those things.

  1. Loyalty
  2. Duty
  3. Respect
  4. Selflessness
  5. Courage
  6. Honor
  1. Dark Tower
  2. Endless Pit
  3. Ancient Statue
  4. Starlit Lake
  5. Volcanic Plain
  6. Withering Tree

Having just six things on the list is obviously way less work than 8 or 10 or 20, but it's also suggestive that your players can have most of them, but not all. The number of players at a table in OSR+ are 4 or 5 at most, To obviate the need to re-roll because "we rolled that number already," skip the roll entirely and just have them choose options between 1 and 6. The roll can be used for who gets to pick first. which means one or two of those options will be forever unrevealed .

Thinking in Sixes

It may seem silly, but thinking in sixes begins to simplify every random choice you have to make as a GM.

How many guards are there in this room? Roll a d6.

How much damage does this undefined peril do? Roll a d6.

Who gets attacked by the zombie first? Roll a d6.

How many rounds do we have left before the bomb explodes? Roll a d6.

Serendipity in OSR+ is mediated though the dice roll.

So when in doubt, roll a d6.

D. James Quinn

D. James Quinn is your friendly neighborhood Game Master and the creator of OSR+. His favorite holiday is Halloween and he is a fan of Oxford commas.

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When in Doubt, Roll a d6

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