When I first started playing tabletop RPGs, I was playing in adventures where we left the dice at home, despite playing tabletop RPGs which called for their use. Even my first adventures as a gamemaster were done without a die in sight. It was actually years before I was in a game where I actually needed to have dice. Now, it's been a long time since I've actually left the dice behind, but I remember well the lessons learned during these early adventures. This series of guides will compare diceless adventures to those using dice, will describe the unique problems brought up in gamemastering these adventures, and make recommendations on how to deal with these problems.
While there is at least one diceless RPG system out there (the Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game), I have no experience with such. These guides will cover either simple freestyle roleplaying or playing tabletop RPGs that normally use dice without them.
To Dice or Not to Dice
The first issue is to decide whether or not a diceless adventure is even likely to be enjoyable for you, as a gamemaster, and your players. As with adventures using dice, it is very helpful to know your players ahead of time. Generally, not all adventures will work well without dice, while most adventures can work at least adequately with them. It's usually hard to go wrong deciding to use a dice-based ruleset, or at least to have it available. However, some adventures may work better without them. The characteristics of your players matter a lot here, because they have an important part in guiding how the adventure will flow. To make a good decision regarding whether to use dice or not, one needs to know what the players find enjoyable. Your own preferences as a gamemaster are equally important.
Diceless adventures will work best for those gamemasters and players who enjoy deep, interesting stories and character development in terms of personality and interaction. In a sense, they work well when the players enjoy the actual roleplaying aspect more than anything else. They won't work nearly as well for players who mostly enjoy character advancement, defeating monsters and other enemies, and gaining treasure and equipment, as with "hack-and-slash" players. This is because diceless adventures generally need to have an engaging plot to keep the players interested and will usually focus on challenges other than combat. While it is possible to run combat without using dice, it is more difficult to do so in a way that will maintain interest among the players.
If you already have an adventure idea in mind, that will also determine whether leaving the dice behind is a good idea. Generally, any adventures which rely heavily on combat are not good candidates for diceless roleplaying, especially those where the primary challenges are combat. It isn't necessary to avoid combat entirely to have a good diceless experience, though it's worth considering, but it is generally better for combat to be minimized or to provide ways it can be avoided. The challenges of a diceless adventure should generally be mental or social in nature, requiring logic, creativity, or good roleplaying to overcome. In other words, a diceless adventure should focus more on what the players can actually themselves do while roleplaying their characters. Players can't actually fight for their characters, pick locks, or steal from NPCs, obviously, but they can develop strategies, make persuasive pleas, or solve puzzles. An adventure having challenges that are primarily of this nature is a good candidate for being run without dice.
The player characters are another important consideration. In a diceless campaign, it is more important for a character's background, personality, and motivations to be well thought out and emphasized; characters where this is not the case will be poorly suited to diceless adventures. Also, players generally will want to use a character's best abilities, so characters which are heavily reliant on physical or combat skills probably won't fit in well in a diceless adventure. There is a possible exception if tactics are emphasized in the adventure, but in general, without the dice, the players of these characters aren't going to experience the same satisfaction they would from defeating enemies in a encounter using dice.
Also, as the gamemaster, it's more important for you to either have good adventure planning skills or solid improvisation skills to run a diceless campaign. Combat using dice is an easy way to eat up time and thus allows a gamemaster to plan less story or, at least, improvise less. This means it may be more difficult to create an appropriate sense of freedom and choice for the player characters; at the very least, the illusion of such needs to be maintained as much as possible.
Thus, it is difficult to say whether one is easier than the other; this will depend somewhat on your skills as a gamemaster. If you are good at creating flexible adventure plans with solid stories and at quickly improvising, but poor at learning and remembering rules, doing math in your head, and otherwise running combat encounters, you might find running diceless adventures to be easier. In addition, you may find them easier to plan since most game statistics are no longer relevant and can be ignored; they will no longer need to be in your mind, in your notes, or otherwise handy while running the adventure, either. A gamemaster which can handle the rules and math well as well as plan and improvise well probably won't find diceless adventures to be much easier. Those who aren't as good at planning campaigns or improvisation will likely find diceless adventures more challenging.
More to Come
Future guides in this series will focus on different aspects of planning and running diceless campaigns, including character creation, character advancement, adventure planning, and diceless combat.
The next guide in this series, Diceless Adventures: Characters, is now available.