Jerry Holkins (Jereford K. Holkrim, Tycho Brahe, Ominifous Haerwardran, of www.penny-arcade.com and www.acq-inc.com fame) posted a pretty good dice game for use in his ongoing Twitch-streamed D&D Game Acquisitions Inc.: The “C”-Team (I am Proficient in Punctuation checks, and that bit right there gave me disadvantage. Nerds.)
I liked it a lot. My brains began to twist and crackle, as they do.
— Amy T Falcone (@AmyTFalcone) June 26, 2017
Then this statement by Amy T. Falcone of Strip Search and Acq Inc. fame suggested a costume themed party aligning with the circumstances in which they played this fictional dice game, a kind of blind push-your-luck betting game called Halflings & Giants.
My first thought was “Please let it be at PAX East.” My second thought was – why wait for Halloween? Make it a Child’s Play Charity event – costumes required with a door price donation. I suggested as much.
And then my shit started to crank at a frequency that may have yielded unsavory results. I thought, “Oh, what if there were a way to include, as the centerpiece, a celebrity charity poker tournament, but playing Halflings & Giants?!”
And then I thought, “Well, it’s not great for Tournament play…”
The basic rules are that one player plays as the Halflings, rolling 2d6. The other player plays as the Giant, Rolling 1d10, with agreed upon stakes. The Giant sets the “Knee” (or target number) by rolling the d10. Any roll of 2-10 is a valid target number and play continues. A roll of a 1 is called a “Kick” and the Halflings represented by the d6s are “Kicked” by the Giant and that player loses.
Assuming a Knee of 2-10, the Halfling player then rolls 2d6, hoping to get a total on two dice greater than or equal to the Knee, but less than an 11 or 12, which represents the gaping Maw of the Giant. Rolling an 11 or 12 results in being Eaten, and the Halflings lose.
Rolling double 1s (snake eyes, in traditional parlance) summons a snake that scares the Giant away, and the game is pushed – bets stand, and the game starts again. Rolling any number below the Knee causes the Halflings to be kicked and the Giant wins. Rolling any number above the Knee causes the Giant to topple and the Halflings win.
Rolling doubles of any number that isn’t 1 allows you to Split the roll. Choose one of the dice to remain as that value and roll 2d6 again. Remember, your goal is to exceed the target number and not reach the Maw. So if the Knee is a 4 and you roll double 2s, you win, no need to split.
The Giant represents the “House” and pays more to the Halflings if the Knee is higher. A knee of 2-3 pays 1:1. A knee of 4-6 pays 2:1. A knee of 7-9 pays 3:1. A knee of 10 pays 5:1.
This piece isn’t often used in friendly games but reflects the difficulty. The push your luck piece comes when rolling doubles – if you roll double 2s and the Knee is 8, you need to keep a 2 and roll two more dice, hoping the value of this roll does not exceed 9 (Maw value – 2 for the value you initially rolled). If you rolled double 2s again, somehow, you would be at a total of 6 and need to split again, now shooting for your next two dice to yield less than 7 total. If you succeed, that’s Legendary as hell.
Then I said, “But there may be a way to fix it into a thing that’s tournament-ready. And if I haven’t seen it on the internet yet, then I’ll give it a shot, why not.”
This inspired me to come up with a way that this game could be played by multiple people against one another and the house. Below is “Fearless Rogues Hold ‘Em”, which is a draw-poker inspired variant with a touch of inverse Liar’s Dice in there. If you don’t know what Liar’s Dice is, it’s probably one of the oldest games in the world. The biggest change in the rules is that you’re not fixed to 2 halflings per player, and a player isn’t out until they’re out of money or they’re out of halflings. When it’s down to House vs 1 Player, it’s back to normal Halflings vs. Giants rules, but the Player may have gained significant advantages and built a large pot by the time she or he gets there.
I’ve mostly done some very simply maths in here; some of it’s bad and some of it needs to be fixed. My guess is messing with the Maw target isn’t going to work tons and there will be more ‘abusive’ games where the new splitting mechanic can make a game harder and harder to win. This game can also just be played as Halflings & Giants: Rogues Hold ‘Em by removing the Fearless rule that’s mentioned in the text; I think that would likely make for a longer, more casual game.
The house does collect the pot if all Halflings are Kicked.
*** EDIT: ***
I’ve updated the betting rules and clarified the options for Fleeing (which is what I’m calling folding). Check out Jerry’s excellent and much simpler original dice game over at twitch.tv/pennyarcade; you can actually play the game right in the chat.
Fearless Rogues Hold ‘Em
Players: 1 Giant, 2-6* Halflings
Each Halfling has 2 dice.
The House rolls Giant plus 1 / 2 / 3 d6s in individual cups based on number of players in the game. (1 cup for 1 or 2 players, 2 cups for 3 or 4 players, 3 cups for 5 or 6 players).
While there are more than 2 players, the Maw is 10 through 12 as opposed to just 11 & 12.
Each player’s cup starts at 2d6.
The house rolls the Giant and places it on the table, covered with a cup. The house then rolls each cup with 2d6 in it, presenting the die whose value is nearest the Giant (e.g. if the giant rolls a 2, and a Party roll produces a 5 and a 6, the House plays the 5 to the Party. If the Giant rolls a 3 and the Party roll produces 2 and 6, the 2 is presented). This is public information on the table. These dice compose the Party.
Play proceeds from the House’s left to right. Each player has the chance to roll their dice secretly and decide whether to Flee, Trip (make a play for the Knee) or draw from the Party and then choose to Trip or, if it’s available, Split. If they choose to draw from the Party, they draw one of the party dice from the table and discard one of their dice such that they have a hand of two dice. The house then plays the remaining party die from that cup to the table. In a Fearless game, only the first player may choose to Flee as opposed to Splitting or Tripping after Drawing; otherwise, each player declares if they Flee or Trip with their current hand. If Fleeing, they scoop their dice into the cup and place it right-side up. When a player Flees, their ante is forfeited, but they cannot be Kicked or Consumed.
If a player has rolled a hand that includes a double (any two dice of the same value), they can choose to Split. Instead of the normal rules for Splitting, the player gains an additional die into their cup and “folds,” sacrificing their ante and removing themselves from play this round.
After all players have had a chance to play, the table may engage in an optional betting round. See the section below called “Liars and Thieves” for some popular betting options.
Once the play and optional betting phases are complete, the House reveals the Giant and compares to each of the players’ hands in the order they were declared, proceeding to the House’s right. If the Giant is a Kick, the first player to play a Trip loses a die and all subsequent players Flee. Each player who plays a Trip compares their score to the Giant’s result; a roll equal to or higher than the Knee results in a victory. A roll below the knew results in a kick, causing that player to lose a die from their cup.
If any player rolls the Maw, they are Consumed and lose both dice from their hand and forfeit their bet. If any player rolls the Snake, all players to their left Flee, and a new round begins.
A player that Flees can neither be Kicked, consumed by the Maw, or make a bet in the betting round.
The player that is closest to the Knee wins the round, but pots are often split among all players that win. If there is a tie, the pot splits.
At the end of the round, each player antes up with a buy-in. The buy-in is a fixed amount per Halfling die in your cup. If you do not have sufficient money to ante-up with your deck of dice, you are out of the game. If you do not have any dice, you are out of the game. The House matches the buy-in.
In subsequent rounds, the starting player moves by one to the right. If a player received additional dice via Split, they can roll those dice in their cups as well, but they can only ever choose to play two of the dice they roll to their hands. A player can never have more than 2 dice in their playing hand at any given time. If a player Draws from the Party while in possession of only one die in their hand, they need not discard that die.
Play continues until all Halfling players but one are eliminated. They then play a standard round of Halflings vs. Giants for the entirety of the pot, with standard stakes. The House may optionally forfeit if the stakes are unmanageable.
Thieves and Liars
After each player has had an opportunity to declare their play, a betting round may be instituted. This is an optional round of betting that can raise the stakes and alter the strategy of the game, but is often omitted in friendly games. There are two common forms of betting, often referred to as the “Thieves and Liars” methods, described below. The Circuit of Thieves presumes that every player believes they have the best hand or purports to believe that to damage another players’ pot. The Liars’ Den emulates parts of the popular pirate game “Liars’ Dice,” with slightly altered rules.
The Circuit of Thieves
The most common form of betting is the Circuit of Thieves, which is a simple gamble on a win – you declare an amount of money that you believe your hand to be worth, hoping that you win the round. Once you place your bet, the next player to bet cannot bet lower than that amount. If they lack sufficient funds, they can go “All-In” to call your bet or choose to change their play to a Flee (if they had previously Fled or Split, they do not bet in the betting round, as they are out of this round of play). Fleeing at this point sacrifices their play but does not require them to match the standing bet. Betting can continue in this manner around the table until all of the players have “called” the bet, meaning they have each matched the standing bet or have gone all-in.
In the Circuit of Thieves, betting is done in reverse order from the play phase, so that the last player to choose their play (Trip, Split, or Flee) is the first player to bet, proceeding to that player’s left (House’s right).
The Liars’ Den
In this betting variant, each player makes a proposition in the betting round regarding the number and value of dice currently in play. For example, the first player to bet might bet on “Four 2s.” Their guess is that, including the Party dice, the Trips on the table contain at least Four 2s. The next bettor may now bet that there are Five or more 2s, or that there are Four or more 3s – this is called a raise. They have two other bet options: Snake or Tumble. When calling the Snake, you make the bet that a player on the table has rolled a Snake. If no Snake appears, you are Consumed, as though you had rolled in the Maw. If a Snake does appear, you and any other player that bets on the Snake split the pot instead of pushing the round. Any bettor that calls a Tumble believes that the house has rolled a Kick and splits the pot for the round. Once all bettors have declared, play proceeds as normal – the player that wins the round bets first next round. Whenever a round ends without a winner or during the first round of play, the first bet goes to the last player to have declared their play.