Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dice, Dice, Baby

An Irish Blessing: "May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light. May good luck pursue you each morning and night."
I noticed mention of an article by Greg Costikyan entitled Randomness: Blight or Bane over on Grognardia late last night and, given the name of my blog, I felt a slight o-blog-gation (ouch) to slog through Greg's very long post and pop in a few roleplaying game/game master comments of my own.

Winning by Luck: I abhor winning a game purely by the role of the dice. Randomness is best used in moderation, as with anything else in life. With regard to game mastering, I've found that dice shouldn't be used to decide every outcome, nor should dice decide the really big ones either. My rule of thumb is this: avoid feeling like a slave to tables; use them to help make decisions, not decide for you.

If you already have in mind what should logically, reasonably or desirably happen then "make it so." This too is random in a way because we make decisions based on a number of fuzzy factors such as mood.

Use dice too much and the roleplaying experience can become painfully nonsensical. You might as well flip a coin, get to the end outcome without even playing and save yourself the time to spend on something else. Use dice too little and you're on a "railroad to adventure" rather than on a "journey of discovery" though the veins of decision tree. Lay down cause you're already dead.

Winning by Skill: I personally love to win by using brilliant tactics or outwitting a skilled opponent but without randomization there's little happenstance to the challenge. The game becomes relatively predictable. I also don't like to win by the mistakes of the other player.

Kirk: "I don't like to lose." Well, who does?!
I become a John McEnroe lycanthrope when I play Star Fleet Battles. Captain Kirk doesn't like to lose and neither do I. This game has the potential to make me feel especially inferior as a tactician. Also, the high school friend I once played hundreds of games with loved to gloat. He didn't even have to say anything!

In my defense, I've played with other folks without suffering from extremely bad sportsmanship. One of the big reasons I seemed to lose at this game was crappy phaser damage (1d6), even at close range! Don't even get me started on wild weasels...

Illusion of Luck: Luck is a myth, a beautiful mortal illusion that's hard to ignore or pass up. I actually believe that everything in the universe happens for a reason, though we may not understand what exactly that reason is. At the most base level, air currents and dust particles move about the dice as they fall, the accidental edge of the notebook (about which players love to complain so they can reroll), the surface of the table, the ceiling fan, maybe even the photons of light coming from the game room bulb, have an effect on the outcome. There are more physics involved than luck, fortune or "pure" chance. That's my take anyway.

Predestination: I took some medieval philosophy in college, but I'll stay in the shallows today. Anyway just because luck is an illusion and everything happens for a reason, doesn't mean that everything is predestined just because it's "known in the mind of God." Free will is still a factor, or in the case of gaming, skill. And skill boils down to the ability to make good decisions.

The Gambler: The illusion of luck is too compelling for even me to pass up, so I express things in terms of luck too, just like anyone else. Human being love to gamble. I just prefer to avoid the real world risk of gambling. (No comment on horse racing or poker. Those aren't games that interest me.)

(Yet I find it fascinating that Jennifer Tilly, as an attractive, successful actress, would have any interest in gaming, that is poker. She even won the 2005 World Series of Poker.)

Science and Superstition: I think people, including gamers of whatever "stripe" (preferring skill vs. luck) are still far more superstitious than the article says. My supposition is that people have actually changed very little and still attribute luck to divine or other forces, no matter how far we move into the "computer age."

I think what's changed is how we express superstition. In gaming its expression is just less serious. I've seen more than one player reach for that set of "lucky dice," throw dice at the "blast shield" to realign the "molecules" or even utter a little faux prayer.

Blast Shield (n.): Blast shield, in this context is a set of vertical blinds covering a patio door that cushions or deflects the angry throw of failed dice. Possibly a reference to Star Wars, but more likely the original Battlestar Galactica.

Backgammon: The decision of which pieces to send home first is a factor in winning, so I do see backgammon as a game of both chance and skill, yet it bores me to tears.

Chess: "No Chess player ever leapt from a board shouting "Woot! Ph34r my l33t sk1llz!", and "pwned" is not likely to become synonymous with "checkmate" anytime soon."

This one made me chuckle. My wife and I have several chess sets, including an "Official D&D Chess Set." We've played many games of chess and we enjoy playing a lot as long as we're able to concentrate, which isn't often with four kids and two cats. Nevertheless chess remains a really amazing game. It really is a game that takes minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. (Slogan stollen from Othello, a game that's more of a bore than backgammon.)

FPS: My favorite first person shooter is Half-Life 2. I killed my son by throwing a wooden crate at him with the gravity gun last night. It was everything I dreamed it would be.

I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing: Yeah I read through the whole article.


Kael Hunt said...

I would like to mention, despite not liking the purchased adventure, you managed to turn it into a really interesting campaign :-)

Kael Hunt said...

Oops - posted my comment to the wrong entry *blush*