Gambling in Role Playing Games
Gambling is something that will probably come up in your campaign sooner or later whether you are running Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars, or Numenara. Gamemasters shouldn’t shy away from them as they can be a great source of amusement.
The most recent example of gambling I can think of in a published adventure would be the NPC Jimjar in D&D’s Out of the Abyss. Jimjar is obsessed with gambling and constantly makes wagers with the heroes.
There’s a million games of chance within the D&D world. The most famous of which would be Three Dragon Ante, a real card game you can actually purchase. In Dragon Magazine #409, there is a list of dice games that can be used in almost any setting including Goblin Army, Red Rogue and Dragon’s Hoard.
The biggest problem with introducing entirely new games into your campaign is the fact that the game is going to slow down. You have to teach your players the rules, and many of these games are too complex for their own good.
Many game masters may find it simpler to re-skin an existing game of chance like poker, blackjack or slots. Poker cards have been used in many games for all sorts of things. Frequently, a poker deck is used to simulate drawing from a deck of many things. In fact, the deck is itself a game of chance that few players can resist. A scenario in which the heroes can make a wager with The Raven Queen for the fate of a soul seems like an awesome way to spend an evening. In fact this scenario is played out in the Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure Blades against Death.
In the criminally under-rated Deadlands RPG, the poker deck actually replaces dice for most of the mechanics. There’s a big system for using the cards, which of course are perfect for an Old West game.
Most towns and cities in a fantasy RPG have a gambling house, and most of those have thieves’ guild. If the characters saunter up to a table, they should expect danger. Most groups have that one guy who will try to pull some sleight of hand, or a wizard who is willing to use a crystal ball for less scrupulous reasons. Remember that the bad guys would do the same.
As far as slots, Shadowrun and Numenara could do a lot of cool things with them. Shadowrun deckers could have a field day trying to hack into a slot machine to give the runners piles of nuyen. You should definitely keep in mind that slot machines would be protected by all sorts of ice. In fact, setting an entire adventure in a casino seems like an awesome session of Shadowrun.
Gambling is an essential part of between-adventure hijinks that no group should go without. While it may seem to be a bit of an annoying distraction from the overall plot, sometimes the most memorable moments of a campaign come out of the downtime between quests.