Friday, June 19, 2009

The problem with dice and the casual gamer

There is a special group of people who always have dice with them.  Outside of specific areas, carrying dice is not acceptable.  If you are in Las Vegas then carrying two 6 sided dice is common, if you are in a Comic Book Shop, Hobby Store or convention (comic, anime, etc) then carrying a good 20 sided die might be common.  But how often have you been with friends who play RPGs and wanted to play but no one had the necessary materials?  

I first wanted to make my own RPG while a friend and I were no where near the required shelf of RPG books and bag full of dice.  We ended up playing what would now be a LARP style game that progressed awkwardly and no one was happy with the end result.  I decided that a good game system could accommodate the materials at hand and not require extensive books or equipment.

While a random number generator is easy to make on the computer (sample code to follow one day), but the dice assortment usually associated with RPGs is not as easy.  You can find a deck of cards and a pack of 6 sided dice at most convenience stores.  But what if you have a Orc with a battle axe that does 1d12 damage?  Or a Kobold with a dagger that does 1d4?

Another issue is the casual RPG player.  Someone who is trying it for the first time might not like the strange dice RPG gamers use or how to read them.  Many people don't know a d8 from a d10, but do they have to in order to play a game?

Some games avoid these issues by using fist-fulls of dice  where you roll under a number a proper number of times to be successful.  This is also confusing to the casual gamer who might be more used to board games or card games.

In this system all rolls are base upon an average roll.  This might be mathmatically and statically unsound but if you suspend calculation and accept the premise it all makes sense.  A six sided die rolled an infinite number of times will give values from 1 to 6, and the average is 3 (actually 3.5 but we can round down.)  In the same way a four sided die is 2, 8 sided is 4, 10 sided is 5, 12 sided is 6 and 20 sided is 10.  

These average rolls allow for two important things.  The first is that a power/weapon/whatever has an effect (usually damage) which can be paid for with a set number of points.  So a sword might cost 10 points because it does 10 points of damage.  The second feature of using average rolls for dice is dice substitution.  When the character does the damage they can take those 10 points or they can roll.  When they roll for damage, it is based on the average roll of the dice.  For 10, they can roll 3, six sided dice and add one point (3*3=9 + 1 = 10), one 20 sided die or even 5 four sided dice.

Dice substitution is good because it gives players flexibility with what dice they have to use or if they have to use dice at all.  Also, different dice combinations give different ranges of results.  While 3 six sided dice plus 1 is the same average roll as rolling one 20 sided die, the ranges are 4 to 19 for the 3d6+1 and 1-20 for the 1d20.  The 20 sided die can give a higher result as well as a much lower result, ask someone who just rolled a 1 about which way they would have rather rolled.  But if you roll both ways you might end up with a 1 or a 4, had the roll not been chosen then the player would automatically get 10.  It is up to the player as to how much they are willing to give up to chance.

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