LEVEL 1.5: Progress report. “To dice or not to dice, that is the question.”

Bruno Lauris
Sep 17, 2017 · 11 min read

Choosing dice mechanics is hard. A lot of things need to be taken into consideration when talking about dice. But, don’t worry, at this stage in the design process your game`s dice mechanics are not that important… :)

Adding random events to your game can make playing it a lot more fun. Thanks to the unpredictability and tension that randomness adds to the gameplay.

In my previous article, I wrote about a specific tool that can introduce randomness in a game — dice. I hope that in that article I made it clear that choosing dice mechanics is hard. A lot of things need to be taken into consideration when talking about dice.

“They are only dice! Why should that be a problem?” Well… Yeah, except there are probabilities that need to be calculated. There are different types of dice to choose from, randomness and skill need to be balanced etc.

But, don’t worry, at this stage in the design process your game`s dice mechanics are not that important in most cases.

This means that if you DO need to add some randomness to your game it is better to pick a dice mechanic based on an educated guess and roll with it for now.

In this progress report, I am going to show you how to use the “compass” that you created to figure out if you need randomness. I am going to use the compass I created for my own game as an example how to do it.

1. What was my game about again?

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Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

To recap…

My game is going to be about a disruption that happens in a community. The disruption forces the player characters to throw themselves in tense circumstances to confront the disruption, thus hopefully bringing life back to normal and achieving catharsis.

This was my short answer to the very first question “What is your game about?” from the questionnaire.

In some cases, the answer to this question should imply whether you need to add dice mechanics to your game or not. If that is not the case then the answer to the second question — How is the game mechanically reinforcing the experience? — from the questionnaire should give a definitive answer.

In my case, two parts from my answers help me to figure out wether I need dice or not.

First, “…forces the player characters to throw themselves in tense circumstances…” from the first question.

Second, “…the game is going to keep the players in a constant state of uncertainty.…” from the second question.

Both imply that my game would benefit from using dice mechanics. Why? Because dice can add tension and uncertainty to the gameplay as discussed in previous articles.

You should do a similar dissection for your answers as well. Look for keywords etc., that imply what your game needs and then add that. In my case, I need dice because I want to create a tense experience that is filled with uncertainty. Your game might not need dice. For example, if your game is a strategy game where everything needs to be clear so that people can make strategic decisions.

**Another thing to note is that I could use another tool to generate random numbers instead of dice. For example, cards. But, right now I am going to settle on dice since dice are easier to get a hold on and are easy to use for prototyping. Cards need to be manufactured, it takes time and money etc. Dice, not so much. Chances are you already have a six-sided die lying around somewhere. If not, then you can use a dice rolling app. Easy.

2. What is the type of dice that I have chosen for my game?

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

In this section, I am going to go in detail what type of dice am I going to use and what does that add to my design. I am going to go a bit deeper than you need to since this is not a bad chance to talk a bit about probabilities etc.

**Remember all these mechanics are not set in stone and during playtesting they can change.

  1. Most people hate numbers. The more sides the die has the bigger the numbers are going to be and it is going to take a longer time for people to do their calculations. While I’m on the subject, more sides on a die are also more random since you have a wider spread of possible results. There is a difference between 6 and 20 possible results.
  2. A 1d6 (“1d” means the amount of dice and the “6” - how many sides it has) is also a very common die. The chances of people already owning a 1d6 are high.
  1. Probability calculation is easy if you use only one die. Each number on the die has the chance of “1/Dice sides” to come up. Meaning that there is a 16% (1/6) chance to get any single number on a 1d6. This is not as easy as to calculate if you use a 1d10 were every number has a 10% chance, but it is easier than using a 1d100 or other dice.
  2. If your system only uses one die but you need to, for example, randomly choose one thing from a list of 12 items then you can roll the 1d6 two times and add the results together. It is easy to expand on a 1d6 die and use it for many features.
  3. The die roll result can be easily modified with abilities, skills, difficulty, and circumstance in various ways.

The average value of a single 1d6 roll is 3.5. How to calculate it? Add up all the sides and divide by the number of sides. The average roll for a standard 1d6 is 1+2+3+4+5+6 = 21, divided by the number of sides (6), which means the average is 21/6 = 3.5.

While I am on the topic let me show you how to figure out the exact probability of getting a specific role. We count two things. First, count the total number of ways to roll dice. Then, count the number of ways you can roll the dice that gets the result you actually want. Divide the first number by the second number and you’ve got your probability. Multiply by 100 if you want the percentage.

Here’s a very simple example. You want to roll 4 or more on 1d6. There are 6 total possible results (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6). Of those, 3 of the results (4, 5, or 6) are a success. So your probability is 3 divided by 6, or 0.5, or 50% (0.5*100).

3. At which point will players have to use the dice?

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Photo by Dawn Armfield on Unsplash

The short answer is in conflict situations, however…

In general, players are much more likely to accept a random reward than a random punishment or a failure.

Players have a tendency to internalize random rewards. They like to believe that they earned the reward. Sure, maybe it was a lucky die roll that resulted in gaining the reward. Yet, the player was the one who made the decision that led to the die roll, and their calculated risk paid off. Since it leads to a reward it was a good decision on their part. The player is satisfied. :)

With a random failure, players tend to externalize the event. They tend to blame the dice or cards. They say that they were unlucky. If players get punished too often by dice, they might go so far as to say that the game is unfair. Even accuse other players or the video game AI of cheating. The player hates the game. :(

In short. If you have dice in your game use them for giving rewards, not to determine whether the players are going to win or lose.

There is also a difference between when the player makes their decisions. Before or after the random dice roll.

Let’s take Poker and Blackjack as an example.

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Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

In Poker, players calculate the probability of them having the winning hand. Then they try to predict what their opponents are going to do. As more cards are revealed, the players adjust their strategy.

In short. The game introduces a random element and the players react to it. The player who understands the probabilities and can react to changes during the game has a bigger chance of winning.

In Blackjack, by contrast, you place a monetary bet at the beginning of the game. This bet is made long before you even know what starting cards you are going to get.

That means that you make a choice first and then get hit by a random card. The sad thing is that you can’t adjust your strategy. In Blackjack, there is no option of “raise” or “fold” as you see more cards revealed. Meaning that if you bet a lot of money, nothing that you do can save you from loosing it if you were delt a bad random hand of cards.

What does this mean for my game? It means that in my game I am going to strive to use Input Randomness rather than Output Randomness.

Input Randomness is when random events happen before you have to make a choice. Like in Poker. You get random cards and then you have to make a decision. Input Randomness leads to increased variety and promotes strategy (decision-making) over memorization and luck.

In other words, dice in my game are going to be presented before important decisions are made rather than after them. This means that people can adjust to the randomness rather than be victims of it.

Some advanced things that are not relevant, yet, but hey, whyle we are at the topic…

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Photo by Lysander Yuen on Unsplash

Fictional positioning — is a fictional space that a character is occupying in the game. The word “space” does not only mean physical space but also mental. This space has to affect the mechanics of the game.

Why is this important? If in a game you would be trying to shoot someone. Is there a difference between shooting a person from kilometers away or at point-blank-range? There is a big difference.

Yet, in some games mechanically the game does not address that. What some TRPGs do is they give the player disadvantages based on how far the player is from the enemy when shooting. Yet, even if you give a +8 to the dice roll when trying to determine whether the bullet hits, shooting from a point-blank-range, there still might be the chance of missing.

What this means is that when determining when we should use dice we should be taking in consideration Fictional Positioning. Fictional positioning should be used to determine whether a dice roll is needed at all.

For example, if I am shooting from a point-blank-range I should be able to hit automatically. No dice roll should be necessary.

Automation is one of those things that get frowned upon in some tabletop RPG communities. At least from what I have seen. Not going to go in depth why it is like that. Not worth my or your time.

In my game, I am going to use some automation. Why and how? Let’s start with the why?

Imagine if the movie Alien was turned into a traditional tabletop RPG. That would mean that when the human characters would try to attack the Alien they would have to roll dice to determine whether they can hit the Alien or not. If you roll dice that means that there is a chance to WIN and to LOSE.

Now let me ask you something. Have you seen the alien from the movies?

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A screenshot from the movie Alien:Covenant

There should be no chances for the players to win against that thing in the first place, but if you add dice to the game then they can win. The chances are going to be slim, but still.

Many times this happens in RPGs. The Game Master comes up with a super cool boss monster for the players to fight, but one lucky roll kills the monster in the very first 10 seconds of the game. Sight…

Randomness can destroy horror if used incorrectly. Why? Because randomness can give weak characters the chance to beat monsters that they should not be able to defeat. Sure, you could use Fictional Positioning and say that the monster is too strong or something. Yet, disputes can arise from this.

To solve this problem my idea is that players and non-player-characters should have stats that are going to be compared to one another to figure out who might win, for example, in a combat situation.

This is going to get rid of the chances for players to win in situations where they obviously should not be able to win and is going to mitigate the disputes that can arise from Fictional Positioning.

Conclusion

This concludes this progress report. It wasn’t easy writing this and the previous article since dice and randomness is a hard topic to tackle, especially at this stage in the design process, but I had to do this now. I wanted to illustrate how crazy it is to worry yourself about all these probabilities right now.

Don’t fall into this trap! There are more important things that need your attention right now. In the next articles we are going to tackle them.

I think that after writing this article I should increase my “Insanity” stat and get enough experience points to skip 5 levels, but sadly, that is not the case. :D

In short, let me summarise the main points of this article:

  1. Use your “compass” to figure out whether you need to add some randomness to your game in the first place;
  2. If it turns out that you do need to add some randomness then at this stage of designing your game use a simple way to generate randomness. Like a six-sided die. There is no need to overcomplicate stuff;
  3. Latter, when designing other mechanics and elements for the game you will be able to tweak the randomness, maybe even choose to use a different type of die. Why can’t you do the tweaking and other stuff now? Because you do not know what you are tweaking and you have no data to base those decisions on. The best time to worry about tweaking probabilities is when you have designed your prototype and can playtest the game with real players. Unless… you want to start using Excel spreadsheets.

Continue to the next article.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article! :) If you enjoyed it, hit that clap button 👏 , share the article on social media and follow my publication. It would mean a lot to me and it helps to get this article in front of other people who might like it as well.

A Taste of Madness

A personal blog about Fighting Depression and the Horror…

Bruno Lauris

Written by

Archenemy of Depression. A Grasshopper of Game Design. Self-proclaimed Try-Hard. Has his own company in the future. Right now studying business administration.

A Taste of Madness

A personal blog about Fighting Depression and the Horror Game Genre. Right now the blog prioritizes publishing articles on Game Design and progress reports for an upcoming TRPG game project about Social Stigmas and Taboo Desires, based on the Freudian concept of Death Drive.

Bruno Lauris

Written by

Archenemy of Depression. A Grasshopper of Game Design. Self-proclaimed Try-Hard. Has his own company in the future. Right now studying business administration.

A Taste of Madness

A personal blog about Fighting Depression and the Horror Game Genre. Right now the blog prioritizes publishing articles on Game Design and progress reports for an upcoming TRPG game project about Social Stigmas and Taboo Desires, based on the Freudian concept of Death Drive.

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