How much math should RPGs require?

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
I think it depends on your intended audience. Generally, less is better; D&D's gotten less mathematically complex over the years, and the whole reason for (dis)advantage was to cut down on all the +1 and +2 bonuses of yesteryear.

Of course some players enjoy min-maxing, and I think optimizing character design is a significant part of the game for a lot of people. But it's hard to compete with D&D for that as I doubt that many people are going to devote that much time to figuring out how to take advantage of the rules on your martial arts moves or magic system for your indie game.

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There's an old post from the USENET days about "Human Factors in game design." It's long, so I'll only post the whole thing if requested, but it does have a section concerning math:

EDIT: I should note that the post is not by me. It's something I agreed with, found useful, and saved as a reference.

Great read. Do you remember what group it came from?

One thing that I think it glosses over, though, is the fact that repetition makes things easier. For example, if you are constantly dividing by seven many times in a session, you will quickly learn to do it fast. But in that same session you could get caught of guard the first time you are asked to add 27, even though the conventional wisdom is that addition is faster/easier than division. Basically, consistency of more complex math can be faster than random simpler math.

The biggest thing it's missing, though, is discussion of probability. While you don't have to be a statistician to play an RPG, it's worth considering that understanding the probabilities of things (i.e. dice) can have a lot of effect on the decision making processes in the game. One of the reasons d20 is mathematically simpler than other systems is because the d20 is both flat in it's probability, and has humanly convenient increments of 5%. The math of rolling a d20 is inherently simpler than the math of rolling two d6's (despite the articles generally true proposal that smaller numbers are easier to deal with).

Also: calculators exist. (Though HP's offerings have gone downhill since the 48GX.)
Point of order! The 50g is the best calculator ever made!

(I lust after the Prime's memory, speed, and color display - its graphing is amazing! - but the betrayal of RPN and RPL hurts grievously.)
Hm, no good. Dimensional analysis. Multiply damage by a scalar and you get damage; multiply damage by damage and you get... who knows what.
Is damage a dimension, though? It could plausibly be a logarithmic scale, like decibels. Though in that case a doubling of damage would be the equivalent of squaring anyway.

I suspect the closest you can get to an "objective" answer is an amount of math that neither falls short of whatever amount you believe to be the minimum required for your system nor exceeds of the maximum your intended player base is prepared to tolerate during their leisure time activities.


Guide of Modos
Generally increased detail and granularity in the game.
More interesting and more varied mechanics.
Improved resource management.
More accurate simulation; increased versimilitude.
Opportunities for more interactions across different parts of the game.
Broadening the "sweet spot" associated with ideal levels of play and modifications to "bounded accuracy".
And some of us just plain enjoy a higher level of complexity.
I couldn't have said it better myself...

Some people like the simulation aspect of role-playing. Does it make sense that a human walks at exactly 30 feet per round, while all dwarves walk at only 25 feet? (I'll overlook you for now, hobbits.) Shouldn't your speed be a function of your dexterity? Why can't attacks divide your opponent's health instead of ticking off integers? Or if you get shot in the arm-section, the damage only counts 1/4, while the main body section takes full damage. Some math could eliminate tables, making more room for art, or saving paper 🤯

Obviously, there's a point where a game can become math class, and to some, a chore. I don't want to play that game. Some games are awesome with little to no maths. It seems to me that games are increasingly marketed toward adults, so some (more?) adult math shouldn't hurt.

But the 48s are much more solidly built, or at least they feel like it. I was peeved when the 50g I got after an important key on my 48SX stopped working arrived and felt like a piece of cheap plastic in my hand.
My 50g is still holding up fine. Though admittedly I more often use an emulator on my phone these days - faster and more convenient, plus I've ported all my programs over.

I loved my 48SX dearly, but it did eventually give up the ghost. But it never had the sheer capabilities of the 50g. There are too many matrix, integer, and polynomial functions I wouldn't want to live without!

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