Design Curriculum 9: Dice injection

You can go all the way back to 1998 to see me saying, “I want to talk about point-builds and dice, so let’s get past some easy points about goals of play and get to the good practical stuff.” Twenty-one years later and people are still blubbering about “but but simulation.” I’ve repeated this plea many times, ever more plaintively … Can we fucking just talk about dice already?!

Fortunately that’s what Justin really wanted to do so here’s this session, very heartfelt and very grateful on my part.

  • Part 1 (embedded below): When are dice used in the larger framework of play, the dilemma of whether they’re used to support portraiture or to disrupt it, compensating badly for the dilemma (i.e. most RPG design), and the lies we tell to avoid thinking about it.
  • Part 2: Search time and handling time, and a brief bit in the middle about fictional contribution; these topics switch back and forth throughout videos 2-3.
  • Part 3: When dice don’t bounce, what they “hit” in a fictional situation, and a callback to search and handling time.
  • Part 4: The role of talking feeding into rolling, and an extensive look at percentages and distributions; I want to follow up on my points about mode in the comments.
  • Part 5: This is the longest clip from this session, including my experience with Burning Wheel, the reminder that “dice” in this conversation are a stand-in for any randomizing objects/procedure, and answering Justin’s question about when dice are more exciting toward the end of a conflict rather than grinding down what was pretty much resolved early.
  • Part 6: A closing, more general discussion of mechanics/physical techniquest, including preferences from a design perspective and the crucial point that no single such technique “has” or instills purpose into play.

This isn’t an introductory talk. It’s our ninth session in the Design Curriculum after all, so it presumes you’re able to get the quick references to different junctures and scales of looking at play, or just what Bounce means. To state briefly about the latter, it’s more general than “random method.”| Randomizing methods are a means of getting Bounce, which is why this session asks why a lot of RPG design is devoted to backpeddling out of it.

5 responses to “Design Curriculum 9: Dice injection”

  1. A small clarification on video #4

    Really interesting series. The search/handle time comparison is extremely fascinating and feels incredibly accurate.

    One small thing I noticed in video 4, pertaining the discussion of flat line vs bell curve probability. 

    The impact of a +1 on a single d20 roll is always a 5% increase in my odds of success, but would it be correct to observe that in relative terms it becomes less valuable the higher my initial odds of success are, and more valuable the lower they are? Blunty, going from 75% to 80% and going from 10% to 15% are technically the same increase in probability (I'm simply adding another usable result on the d20), but in relative terms in the first case I'm just 13% more likely to succeed, while in the second I'm 50% more likely to succeed.

    Does that make any sense? 

    • It does. It certainly played

      It does. It certainly played a big role in enjoying skill improvements in early RuneQuest, in which most of your skills start from 5% to 25%. I'm seeing something similar with Legendary Lives (another % system similar to Marvel Super Heroes), in which I'm not especially invested in improving my high-valued skills.

      In comparing a bell to a flat distribution for dice resolution, I'm usually thinking about the middle range. The big jumps in effectiveness for the bell are quite exciting to achieve in the course of play, but that's about the time when they start getting less exciting if you've been working your way along the flat distribution.

  2. Again, small musing about

    Again, small musing about video 5, where the discussion touches alternative resolution tools from dice.

    In my opinion one of the most interesting properties of cards as an alternative to dice is the possibility to have non-incremental progressions and custom decks. With dice, you are generally stuck with a number of results that is equal to the number of faces on the die itself, and (unless you create custom dice) results that are in an aritmetical progression (where D is 1, generally). I can have a custom dice (FUDGE dice comes to mind, but the recent FFG rpgs too and so on ) but I'm still stuck with having a fixed number of faces and an unevolving tool.

    With cards, we can alter the deck's composition during play (by discarding/eliminating cards, for example) but we can also assemble the deck how we want. I'm thinking for example of boardgames: in Gloomhaven your deck is made of cards representing values ranging from +3 to -2. Now the amount of said cards in the deck is subject to change – you may acquire more +3, or remove a couple of -2 as you gain some perk or level up. You may acquire cards that let you apply and effect and draw again, and so on.

    Most of the time when I see people discuss the perks of cards vs dice, they seem to focus on elements that I don't find particularly distinctive (the most common one being "you get both number and suit, so a single draw conveys more info!").  I still have my preference in the use of dice, but to me the real perk of cards seems to be that you can have well, literally anything in your resolution tool. Class specific cards, a flop of event cards in the middle of the table players can acquire by doing certain things/playing certain cards, and so on. Even sticking strictly to numbers, the idea of one guy having his "deck" being formed by the usual ace to kind sequence and the other guy having the same cards but twice as many 7s and 8s can produce interesting probabilistic effects, in my opinion.

    • All good points. I worked

      All good points. I worked hard to utilize exactly what playing cards can provide for my (inter-related) games Spione, Shahida, and not completed, Amerikkka. The ambition at the time was to include two others, one based on the experience of Cuban soldiers in African wars, and another set in 1950s, 60s, and 70s Vietnam and nearby nations.

    • Sadly I don’t have as much

      Sadly I don't have as much experience with those games as I'd want to, but I think I can say Spione! is a very good example of how to utilize the fact that we're programmed to accept the existance and presence of a card on the table, taking a certain position and being a carrier of informations, even its subsequent manipulation, while with dice it seems like once they're rolled their relevance to the game expires. Probably because a die feels – as an object – as the entirety of the results it can produce and must be utilized in the now to have a meaning, while a card has a presence, it doesn't change if you move it or manipulate it or shuffle it back in the deck – it's always there, the 7 of spades exists at all times, somewhere, while the 7 on a d20 only exists when you roll it. 

      It's incredibly fascinating to me, this subject.

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