Monday, January 9, 2012

Rolling the Bones

Steve D is reviewing Gumshoe over at his place, and his latest post raised a couple of interesting turns of phrase that I 1) wanted to share; and 2) I wanted to talk about.

The bit comes from the end of the article:
Second, because we’re used to – and enjoy – rolling dice. For us, it’s part of the roleplaying experience, and if you take it away, it feels weird. You can imagine if you took dice rolling out of Monopoly, and just moved one space at a time, it would feel weirdly sped up, as turns would suddenly be a lot shorter – and a lot less exciting, as there would be no thrill of chance in the movement phase.(Not to mention the kinesthetic appeal and inherent excitement in rolling dice – rolling dice is fun FOR ITS OWN SAKE for many people, and so many games forget that.)
Thirdly, because the die roll is a strong connector with the physical action. Again, this is habit, from playing lots of rpgs, but we have learnt from them that doing things and rolling dice are the same thing. So what slows us down and makes us go “Hmm, my character examines the object in a thoughtful way” is the sense of squib which arises from physically picking up a die and throwing it, and the random sense of outcome also provides squib to not knowing if the scene will reveal something to our character. Without that, we had no reason to posit our characters doing something because physically, our players weren’t doing anything.
Fourthly and perhaps most importantly, nobody wants to fail a die roll. It’s not fun. Even if it creates no consequences, rolling low IS NOT FUN. Again, too many game designs forget that one of the fundamental concepts of rpgs is rolling a dice and feeling personal achievement (however misplaced) when you roll a 20, and feeling personal failure when you roll a one. It’s silly but it is undeniably true. We know this. Studies have shown that people who play poker machines believe they have a skill, and get the same sense of accomplishment when they win as they do when winning a game of skill or completing a task. Anyway, the point is, low rolls create downbeats, even if they have no consequences, and nobody wants to roll down their skill list in a row because they risk those downbeats.  Take away the risk of failure, as Gumshoe does, and you can rattle off every skill on your sheet – and so you do.
I like rolling dice. I like rolling about a handful of dice, but I know from my days GMing Exalted, there's something oddly impressive about picking up 15d10 and barely fitting them in two hands and hearing the clatter of dice hit the table. I like the randomness they insert, I like dice as a final arbiter of all the thousand and one things that a game [can't/shouldn't try to] account for at the table. Not that I have anything against resource management and saying that "this is important to me, and it will succeed"; however, I like that to be a statement of authority, not a regular bit - if dice are the rule, then spending some finite, rare resource is the breaking of rules, the claiming of authorship/authority over the action.

And it should have a cost.

But I'm going off on a tangent.

The third point (as delineated above) is something I've noticed at my table - once again from Exalted, if I just said "Okay so you are rolling 20d10 and the opposition has 4d10 to oppose you - tell me how you beat the ever living snot out of him," you could see the players should sag in disappointment. The player was cheated out of that kinesthetic appeal of dice hitting the table, and feeling their PC do something as symbolized by the dice rolling and randomizing. I've generally found that players (and me as GM) like rolling dice. Therefore, I'm generally, informally, instituted the style roll from Weapons of the Gods, where it isn't whether or not you succeed, but how well you succeed by - similarly, the question isn't frequently whether or not you succeed, but what it costs you - what resource do you spend, i.e., does it just cost you a little time to search the room, or a lot of time, or do you lose something scaling the cliff, or do you get a little banged up gathering the information from the various bars? Gets back to the ideas of characters being competent and not failing so much as gathering complications.

And I think that's the key for how I like to game as a PC - I prefer to be a competent person who fails not because I'm not good, but because the universe thwarted me, or that while I succeeded, some other challenge gets raised in my path.

In short, I like dice, inherently dice create randomness and motion in my head for what is happening during the game, they are indicative of something happening - and the happening need be success and failure, but instead "success, success but something bad happens; and success and something good happens".

1 comment:

  1. I need to get a post up about the present my son got me this year.


    But I really agree with the sentiments in your post. There is something great about rolling a bunch of d20 for a volley of arrows, or in proper 1E fashion grabbing up 18d6 for that Archmage's Fireball and rolling damage...