A "theory" thread

I've seen systems in which you can get in a bidding war with resources until one person backs down. I've also seen one in which if you want to change something in someone else's wheelhouse, they get to say what it will cost you (within the limits of the fiction).

And then there's Amber Diceless, which is "all things being equal, the higher stat wins", and the GM rules when things are unequal enough to matter.
I used to run this super light story game where each PC just has 2 attributes, each is a 1-3 word 'aspect'. You split 7 points between the two. No dice, if you can explain how an attribute helps you, then it's points are added to your total. After that you can add points from your pool. GM does the same, high man wins. You can borrow points from the GM too, though it'll come back on you.

Really has no other rules, setting, genre, nothing. About as basic as an RPG can get.
I think some discussions of "reskinning" in 4e D&D suffered from not reflecting hard enough on where this line should be drawn for particular 4e powers.(Eg a keyword like "fire" straddles the line, as it both establishes something about the fiction of the character, and is a component of the action resolution system.)
Well, I prefer to think of it as kind of a set of constraints which insure that (assuming some modest standard of play) the fiction and the mechanics have something to say for each other. Honestly, my feeling about 4e is that it is a very clever design in terms of providing these constraints and guidelines, particularly for content developers, and yet not really hitting you over the head with them. I mean, not a ton is said about the CONCEPT of keywords, and they do very little on their own, but the cool thing was, the richer the 4e content got, the more things they could do for you. And they REALLY take off when players start getting creative!

However, in defense of more 'narrative' descriptions of things, like classic D&D spells, they can serve a similar purpose. Like, my sister had the power Stinking Cloud and we used the, fairly basic, text description of the power as a basis for her devising an ad-hoc ritual to generate a cloud of poisonous vapor to pour down into a germlaine lair. Obviously the keywords 'poison' and 'zone' coupled with the other mechanical elements are supporting the whole interpretation, but its the "You call forth a thick cloud of bilious yellow vapors. The foul fumes overwhelm any creature within." that is really doing the work here.
 

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Pedantic

Legend
Reminds me of the posited contrast between "American" and "Euro" board games, although even the latter often involve chance in random draws of pieces and cards.
This is very influential on my thinking, though that particular genre divide (usually rendered "euro" often with a weight indicator attached and "ameritrash" generally without malice as time went on) is less and less relevant to modern board game design/criticism. I've got 15 years of hobby boardgaming to draw on, and lately my tastes skew increasingly more toward games without random elements or very controlled randomness. I'm paying a lot of Splotters and even the dreaded 18xx games, though with a dash of lighter, less economic euros tossed in.
ey aren't subjective if everybody involved agrees to what they mean. As for measuring a given actor's intent, games like Over the Edge and Blades in the Dark pretty easily accommodate such shifts in scale on the fly. In each, you can resolve combat round by round, or with a single dice roll. You can also decide to resolve the wall climbing, getting into the building, or getting the magic lamp, base on what is relevant to the story.
That creates weird incentives, depending where you create a given roll. It's for exactly this reason I prefer games that completely divide action and intent. Honestly, I struggle with non-TTRPG negotiation games particularly once they start asking me you to resolve trading beyond the scope of a single exchange.
 

niklinna

satisfied?
I used to run this super light story game where each PC just has 2 attributes, each is a 1-3 word 'aspect'. You split 7 points between the two. No dice, if you can explain how an attribute helps you, then it's points are added to your total. After that you can add points from your pool. GM does the same, high man wins. You can borrow points from the GM too, though it'll come back on you.
Reminds me of PACE, or Active Exploits. I was gonna say Risus but that uses dice.
 

niklinna

satisfied?
Another thought on randomness in RPGs: It matters what results the dice (or whatever) produce. For example, I find games where dice rolls result in "something happens" or "nothing happens" to be fundamentally boring. Games where there's a (usually predictable) gradation of effect are more engaging to me. Games where a dice roll can produce consequential and different results are my idea of fun—although I want to know (and possibly negotiate) what the consequences are before I take the chance! I'm sure there are people who are comfortable not knowing, but I am not one of them.
 

Pedantic

Legend
Another thought on randomness in RPGs: It matters what results the dice (or whatever) produce. For example, I find games where dice rolls result in "something happens" or "nothing happens" to be fundamentally boring. Games where there's a (usually predictable) gradation of effect are more engaging to me. Games where a dice roll can produce consequential and different results are my idea of fun—although I want to know (and possibly negotiate) what the consequences are before I take the chance! I'm sure there are people who are comfortable not knowing, but I am not one of them.

This is often presented a major insight, that the only interesting dice rolls are the ones where a thing happens and the situation changes one way or the other, when I generally think that's a misunderstanding of what the dice were doing in the first place. Most systems with binary resolution are presenting dice rolls as a percentage chance to use a specific action. Again, I would draw your attention to the declared action as the bit that was interesting. Whether or not it "matters" whether the action succeeds or not is a function of the interaction of the declared action and the setting, not a function of resolution.

I don't think it necessarily calls for "adjust the environment to ensure the result is interesting" so much as "adjust resolution so it doesn't waste time." I'm very of take 10/20 mechanics for this reason, and would argue that it's a fault of rules presentations that present rolling dice as essential that they didn't get used more. They provide an entirely procedural answer to "can you perform this action?" that should be the default usage of such actions when time or other environmental concerns aren't a factor. Taking the insight, "why were you rolling in an uninteresting environment?" to the conclusion "rolls should make the environment interesting" I always found as kind of backwards formulation of the problem. The mechanical process of resolution (rolling dice repeatedly) was the problem, not the neutral output of the resolution system and the environment.
 

Old Fezziwig

a man builds a city with banks and cathedrals
They provide an entirely procedural answer to "can you perform this action?" that should be the default usage of such actions when time or other environmental concerns aren't a factor. Taking the insight, "why were you rolling in an uninteresting environment?" to the conclusion "rolls should make the environment interesting" I always found as kind of backwards formulation of the problem. The mechanical process of resolution (rolling dice repeatedly) was the problem, not the neutral output of the resolution system and the environment.
For what it's worth, I'm also a huge fan of Take 10 and Take 20.

As far as what you're saying here, if I understand you correctly, I feel like your position is a lot closer to mine at least than not. I agree that a procedural answer to "can I do this?" is useful, and I don't believe that rolls should be used to make the environment interesting — it should be interesting or we should be finding somewhere it is interesting at the absolute minimum before we're rolling dice. Interesting is actually probably not enough — I think Vincent Baker says the situation/environment should be "fraught" before we're rolling dice. And that sounds about right to me.
 

Pedantic

Legend
For what it's worth, I'm also a huge fan of Take 10 and Take 20.

As far as what you're saying here, if I understand you correctly, I feel like your position is a lot closer to mine at least than not. I agree that a procedural answer to "can I do this?" is useful, and I don't believe that rolls should be used to make the environment interesting — it should be interesting or we should be finding somewhere it is interesting at the absolute minimum before we're rolling dice. Interesting is actually probably not enough — I think Vincent Baker says the situation/environment should be "fraught" before we're rolling dice. And that sounds about right to me.

The bit where I'm expecting we'd diverge is that I then view it as a player incentive to avoid being placed in a fraught situation (and to minimize/escape from them as quickly as possible) while still achieving their intent, and would argue there's compelling gameplay in doing that.
 

niklinna

satisfied?
This is often presented a major insight, that the only interesting dice rolls are the ones where a thing happens and the situation changes one way or the other, when I generally think that's a misunderstanding of what the dice were doing in the first place. Most systems with binary resolution are presenting dice rolls as a percentage chance to use a specific action. Again, I would draw your attention to the declared action as the bit that was interesting. Whether or not it "matters" whether the action succeeds or not is a function of the interaction of the declared action and the setting, not a function of resolution.
I already stated that I find dice rolls as a percentage chance to use a specific action—the alternative being "nothing happens"—to be boring, and guess why? Because they leave the action statement as the only interesting thing, and even that isn't very interesting—to me (since it seems I have to be clear about that). But a something/nothing action statement doesn't have to be the only interesting thing.

Whether or not such a something/nothing action succeeds or not as a result of interaction with the declaration and setting, or via resolution (random or not), it's just as boring to me. That is, it isn't about the resolution method. For me. But random resolution methods seem to be one focus of this aspect of the conversation so that's what I used as an example.

I don't think it necessarily calls for "adjust the environment to ensure the result is interesting" so much as "adjust resolution so it doesn't waste time." I'm very of take 10/20 mechanics for this reason, and would argue that it's a fault of rules presentations that present rolling dice as essential that they didn't get used more. They provide an entirely procedural answer to "can you perform this action?" that should be the default usage of such actions when time or other environmental concerns aren't a factor. Taking the insight, "why were you rolling in an uninteresting environment?" to the conclusion "rolls should make the environment interesting" I always found as kind of backwards formulation of the problem. The mechanical process of resolution (rolling dice repeatedly) was the problem, not the neutral output of the resolution system and the environment.
When the only possible outcomes are "thing happens" and "nothing happens", I personally find resolution—of any kind—to be a waste of time, too. When the possible outcomes are "something interesting happens" and "something else interesting happens" (etc.), then I personally find resolution to be exciting and engaging—regardless of the resolution mechanism, since that seems to be a sticking point. I enjoy every bit as much a game where I state an action and the GM gives me several possible outcomes and lets me pick, so long as they are all interesting (to me). Or maybe the GM lays out the possibilities and just picks one, or puts it to the other players. Or maybe I have a limited resource to spend to get the result I want. But I generally find that when "nothing happens" is an option, things fall flat (for me, personally).

But I do, personally, like rolling dice—when all possible outcomes are interesting, to me—because it I, personally, find it fun and exciting.
 

Old Fezziwig

a man builds a city with banks and cathedrals
The bit where I'm expecting we'd diverge is that I then view it as a player incentive to avoid being placed in a fraught situation (and to minimize/escape from them as quickly as possible) while still achieving their intent, and would argue there's compelling gameplay in doing that.
Hmm. If we don't diverge there, then we're at least coming at the same thing from such different angles that we may as well be diverging.

To me, a player trying to avoid being placed in a fraught situation while still achieving their intent is just a different fraught situation, if that makes sense. I think there's absolutely compelling gameplay in that. What I'm kind of curious about though, as we talk about this, is how that would play out at your table. At my table, the player who wants his character to avoid or otherwise mitigate the situation would be rolling dice to avoid or minimize the situation (assuming the game doesn't provide other resources that don't require rolling but can be used/spent to avoid/minimize the situation).

Now that I think of it, maybe a better way to ask this is, when do you require dice to be rolled at the table? When do you determine that there's not a way for a player to achieve their intent without rolling dice? Does the player get to determine this?
 

JAMUMU

actually dracula
Some immediate thoughts on randomness from reading this thread and via my current Burning Wheel campaign:

1) The players rarely undertake any "big" actions unless/until they can build an overwhelming dice pool and spend enough metacurrency to back it up

2) The Die of Fate (on a 1, whatever random thing we thought could happen, happens) undermines that certainty on an emergent narrative level

and the tension between competent certainty and the world randomly producing random stuff is where the best parts of the game have happened. So i'm starting to lean towards certainty in action resolution, but random instability in the setting. Or something.
 

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