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Rampant Coyote on Dice Rolls and Luck

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Rampant Coyote on Dice Rolls and Luck

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Fri 18 January 2013, 00:59:58

Tags: Jay Barnson; Rampant Games

Jay Barnson (that's the developer of Frayed Knights in case you've forgotten) has an insightful new blog post. After a particularly brutal experience with the dice in a board game called Talisman, Jay had some thoughts about the ideal degree of randomness in a CRPG. Here's an excerpt:

You’d think that with a few stories like this one (and I have a lot of ‘em), I’d be in Craig Stern’s camp, all “randomness in RPGs, BOO!” But no, I’m actually a fan, seeing it much more like Daniel Cook in his article, “Understanding Randomness in Terms of Mastery.” Particularly with modern RPGs, I really tend to go with systems that allow enough strategy to either minimize the role of luck of I’m at an advantage (which in normal RPGs tends to be the norm), or to actually maximize its role when I’m at a disadvantage. I try to see what I can do to get the numbers on my side (my side often meaning, “my team’s side” when I’m playing with others.) That skill – and being able to discern see through the random ‘noise’ as Daniel Cook explains it – are key items that make me feel like I’m in control of the game.​

So if I’m so focused (usually) on marginalizing randomness, why do I not favor getting rid of it altogether?​

In three words: Because it’s fun.​


It just comes down to making sure that a little bit of bad luck doesn’t ruin the game. Major failure (the kind that requires a reload) shouldn’t feel arbitrary. This can be resolved by at least three ways:​

#1 – The game system is forgiving enough with random chance that deviations are limited and have limited impact on the game. Most JRPGs (at least that I’ve played lately) are like this – misses and crits are rare, and damage is in an extremely predictable range. But the occasional misses and crits that give it some “spice.”​

#2 – The game system grants the player the ability to ‘equalize’ bad luck (or setbacks) – like Frayed Knights‘ drama stars, or the ‘overdrive’ meter in (non-random!) fighting games which can fill up from (among other things) taking hits.​

#3 – The game AI pulls the sort of dramatic intervention a human might in a dice-and-paper game, and tweaks AI skill or decision making to give an unlucky player an opening to recover from setbacks.​

Chance can be a very fun element in games, but it can also suck the fun right out of a game if handled poorly, as I felt during the Talisman game. It really comes down to whether or not the players can feel like they are either the masters of the odds, or masters in spite of the odds. But they should not feel like they are at the mercy of the random number generator.​

In short, randomness is good, but give the player enough breathing space and options with which to manage it and avoid arbitrary failure scenarios. I wonder if Jay has been reading Josh Sawyer lately - their approaches seem to be quite similar.

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