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No easy task

Both Knave and Tunnels and trolls share a couple of properties: crawl games, fairly cartoony encumbrance (though in different ways) and a dicing system with a fairly difficult baseline difficulty.

I want to talk about the task resolution. (Practically every game resolves tasks and conflicts in some way; these ones resolve tasks explicitly and conflicts as a consequence of several discrete task resolution checks, or sometimes just one task resolution check.) Both of the games have a baseline chance of success of around 40 % with a big inaccuracy involved, yet it does not make a difference here. Knave does have a possible advantage die to adjust this into an easier roll, but still, the difficulty remains fairly high.

In Knave it was about orienteering when a range of mountains is clearly visible to give a direction; in Tunnels and trolls it has been about slashing webs with a magically sharpened knife, crossing pits and having a few people hold one up as that one carefully puts weight on a pit trap to open it.

These kinds of tasks become highly volatile; either the game master gives an automatic success or it becomes a highly risky act. There is no way to dice "it usually works, but maybe not this time".

If we think of real life risk-taking, having, say, 1/10 chance of getting lost would be seen as highly risky, and likewise 1/10 chance of falling to an unknown destiny. Rpg design often aims towards somewhere between 1/3 and 2/3 for the success chances, plus, especially in more modern games or "story games", significant failure stakes.

This creates a very particular, heightened or dramatic, kind of narrative, or in case of crawl, a game of taking risks rather than managing and minimizing them. Or maybe another formulation: the friction of war is either removed or exaggerated into a dramatic obstacle. This is very noticable after having played tens of sessions where 1/6 (or 5/6) chance with several bonus or penalty dice are rolled as a normal part of the procedure; or sure, my monk is using their psionics with roll under of d20 (20 explodes) against 21, and there 42 would be a second degree failure with possibly significant consequences, and 63 third degree failure, etc, so these have a chance of less then 1/400 and 1/8000, respectively. Yet still we roll, because psionics is dangerous and these might happen. I always have to make the active decision to take the risk to fry the character's brains, even if it is fairly small; exactly how small should the risk be to be worth it? That is for me to decide.

I am interested in further thoughts around very likely and unlikely odds, and especially constructive use of such.

Actual Play


Sean_RDP's picture

Whenever the conversation comes up around odds and more, success and what we consider to be successful, I think about sports and success. It is clearly not a 1 to 1, but here is what comes to mind.

In baseball, a hitter who hit .300 or more in a season would be considered a great hitter. Hitting .400 or better is a truly rare feat. What this means is that the player successfully reaches base, only 3 (or 4) out of every ten at-bats. Less than half the time the player gets a turn at bat, they manage to score a hit. And yet this is an all time great hitter if they do it across their career. 

But at the table, if I make ten rolls in a session and succeed in only three, that might make for a crappy night. Unless those 3 rolls were at meaningful moments? Is there were the vague idea of player skill comes in? Getting your character into position where the only roll you succeed at it may be the only roll that mattered. 

If there are ten people poking a gibbering mouther with spears, and hirelings with with 10 % chance with some player characters having a maybe 20 % chance, and we defeat it without losses, that was a success, right? Even with plenty of missing.

Contrariwise, if someone has gotten their character to a situation where they have an 80 % chance of making a roll to not drown and perish, it is a bad situation. Such close calls will get your character in the long run, even if they survive this once.

While some kinds of knowledge check with a 15 % chance of just knowing a crucial piece of information is pretty nice already. It might just flat out solve a scenario, or at least make it vastly less risky than going in blind, like were the other week; is this witch just an old crone, or maybe some 8+ HD D&D hag, or something in between? If someone had known more local history, that could have been terribly helpful and informed our approach. We ended up managing a minor diplomatic loss wiht potential long-term consequences, but also concrete short-term room to maneuver. And now we know more.

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