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Randomizer Gimmicks: Key to Tone or More To Learn/Buy?

Started by David "Czar Fnord" Artman, October 20, 2003, 01:58:41 PM

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David "Czar Fnord" Artman

What makes a new method of randomizing results worthwhile?
Speed, versimilitude, strategic play, capturing the tone of the game world?

If a unique randomizing method requires players to purchase a product, how much "value add" should the additional product have?
Aesthetically pleasing (to look at or touch)? Useful in other games? Captures the "essence" of the genre?

Some examples, to help focus discussion: dice with special values on their faces, custom cards, special coins or tokens, sets of colored beads, electronic game aides (think Pokemon Eggs).
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For me it would be scaled based on the cost of purchase.  If i can buy it all for three to five dollars i would probably write it off as cost of entry.  This assumes that one set works for any number of players.

If you are considering something that is more expensive, or something that everyone has i would consider some guidelines:

1. A really cool system - Come up with a system so cool that its worth the price to use it (Fastlane uses a roulette wheel which is pretty cool)
2. An incredibly immersive setting - You need a setting that is incredibly cool if you want to do something special tied to setting (think Glorantha)
3. Both

These guidelines are what i personally would be willing to pay money for.  Your experience may vary.

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Michael S. Miller

Welcome the Forge!

FVLMINATA is a Roman alternate-historical that I co-authored. Its resolution is based on Roman Tali, which were the bleached knucklebones of sheep. They had four sides numbered 1, 3, 4, 6 and four were rolled together in gambling games. In the first edition, we included preprinted stickers that could be cut out and applied to standard-sized d8 to make them serve as Tali (each number appearing on 2 faces). Before 2nd edition, custom-made d8s were created to serve this purpose. Their reception, like the reception of many aspects of FVLMINATA, has been bipolar: most people love them or loathe them.

In designing the game, we felt the "Roman-ness" that the Tali evoked outweighed any negativity that some gamers exhibit toward "funny dice." I know some folks have been looking to buy actual plastic molded sheep knucklebones to use with the game (Lxndr, IIRC), but we wanted to balance ambience with cost and ease-of-use. The molded plastic knuckbones are expensive, and difficult to read. The Tali dice have nice, clear Roman numerals on them, and they clearly distinguish the VI from the IV, which is important for certain aspects of the resolution system.

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Jack Aidley

I use cards for my current system for the very simple reason that my cat has an inordinate fondness for dice and keeps stealing them and chasing them round the room.

Probably not the most profound reason ever, but important to our game.
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Ron Edwards


Czar, if you haven't seen it already, my article GNS and other matters of role-playing theory spends a lot of time on how "Fortune methods" factor into the goals of play. Take a look at the concepts of Search Time and Handling Time, for instance.



Yeah, I'm the guy who first found the sheep's knucklebones and introduced them to, though I think someone else bought them before I did (well, since I haven't yet).  That didn't stop me from buying regular Tali, though.

Anyway, sometimes I wonder whether or not the Roulette wheel is "worth it" for Fastlane.  I quite honestly feel that it's a neat investment, and I love just spinning the wheel, but I'm all for bizarre purchases like that, and most people quite honestly aren't.  Heck, I bought the wheel with the thought that "maybe, just maybe, I'll design a game based on it."  And I did.

The best price I've found for retail-price roulette wheels is $15 (plus shipping), but that includes chips in six colours, the croupier's crop, and a layout, and prices quickly skyrocket from there.  You can also find 16" roulette sets on ebay that rarely go for over $20 - that's where I got mine.

Anyway, why do I think my alternative method of randomization for Fastlane is worthwhile for the game?

First, I believe it captures the tone of Fastlane - when using the physical wheel, it quite strongly underlines and reinforces the theme of dissipation, and of risks and rewards. Of course, the game was designed with the wheel first, theme second, so I guess that's inevitable.  

Second, the wheel's spinning (and the whole "you can only bid between start and stop" rule) gives a distinct sense of urgency and immediacy to each and every bet that's made.

Third, the wheel gives a very strong amount of control over how much risk a player wants to take.  The roulette bids span a range from a 47% chance for a win on the even money bets, to a 2.6% chance on a straight (single #) bet, and the roulette payoffs reinforce the whole "the greater chances you take, the bigger your windfall if it works out" mentality that I'm wanting to encourage.

Of course, in the end that's all moot, because there's also an odds-equivalent system that uses six-siders, so my game doesn't quite "require" players to purchase the product.  It just strongly suggests and encourages it.
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Paul Czege

I *cough* bought the resin sheep knuckles. And they're pretty damn cool. But just as an aside, you can't actually use them for Fvlminata. The traditional Roman 1, 3, 4, 6 value distribution for the knuckles is based on how frequently the various "sides" turn up in play. The Fvlminata mechanics are based on each side having an equal probability.

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And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans

David "Czar Fnord" Artman

Quote from: Ron EdwardsHello,
GNS and other matters of role-playing theory

I started to read it... then put it on my Reading List as I realized the scope and skimmed it. I hope you got some college credit for that, because you've anticipated the work I hope to do for a Masters in Philosophy. I think I might take a bit broader approach, though, by trying to incorporate all aspects of "games" in general (basically integrate RPGs and LARPs into a bridge of Game Theory and Literary Criticism). A thesis has to be heavy, I hear. ;)

My initial impression would be that you would recommend a Randomizer Gimmick (the Fortune component of System) in the following ways:
Gamist game - Provides strategy; perhaps allows increasing player skill to improve character performance.
Narrative, Simulationist games - Provides Color by echoing Setting.

Sound right? Now, if I am considering a "universal" system (your term: general), then my emphasis is on Simulationist elements. So would that necessarily drive me to conclude that there is no need for a Randomizing Gimmick, since a given Setting might have one Color but another Setting might not? Is that why dice are neigh-ubiquitous: because they are "Colorless" and, so, useful for general systems (I like the terms "universal" and "portable" as defined here:

Thank you for the food for thought. I will "let the cat out of the bag" by saying that I am looking for a mechanic that will work in LARPs, and I am trying to decide if I ought to develop a product for use as a randomizer, or if I should work with normal cards, coins, hand gestures, or some other everyday, household randomizer.
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Michael S. Miller

Well, for use in LARPS, let me remind you to think about practical matters as well (you seem to have the theory down pat). Search and Handling time have to be quick, and should not require a table or other surface, if possible. Common, inexpensive randomizers have the advantage of being easily replaceable if someone A) walks off with them, B) ruins them during the course of the LARP, C) breaks them while trying to cheat (I've seen it happen) or D) God knows what else....
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Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Actually, your take on Fortune is a bit too simplistic relative to GNS. I've surprised a lot of people by claiming that Fortune plays a similar structural role in Narrativist play as in Gamist play, but for purposes of "pumping" Theme creation through adversity rather than providing consequences for strategy.

Check out some of the recent threads about Simple and Extended Contests in the HeroQuest forum. They provide a lot of insight, as various people's questions illustrates their adjustments to this unusual and powerful system.


M. J. Young

Multiverser has one mechanic that uses a d30. I can't swear to it, but I believe E. R. Jones put it in there because every gamer he knew owned a thirty-sided die and no game he'd seen to that point ever used it. He actually included it in several applications, most of which were removed in the development process (for one of them he was trying to use a d30 against a 31 point scale because he forgot there was a zero in the middle; for another, it was apparent that the d30 added an unnecessary layer of complexity to what could be resolved simply with a skill check).

Having the d30 involved, even in a small way, does sometimes negatively impact sales. People will say that they don't have that die as a reason not to buy. I'm not sure how strong a negative that is in the full spectrum, but it has an impact.

I'd say that if you want to include something unusual as a fortune generator,
    [*]make sure it really does add something to the game, whether in terms of a resolution curve that you would not otherwise be able to generate or in terms of ambiance/color that will encourage the feel desired;[*]avoid anything overly complex, since if you both must have and learn to use some esoteric method of resolution you're going to balk at some point;[*]choose something that is easily replaced, since as mentioned people will lose, break, or otherwise disable the first set they own--I'll mention that I still have the dice that came in the original boxed Basic D&D 1 set I got in 1980, but the edges are all rounded and the twenties at least don't roll true anymore.[/list:u]
    Those thoughts should help.

    --M. J. Young

    David "Czar Fnord" Artman

    d30, huh? :)
    I wrote my first RPG system in 1986 that was similar to Toon and used a d30 for everything: roll under stat/skill to succeed, roll d30/x for results. I think that was the year the d30 came out (it's the year I first saw one)....

    QuoteFortune plays a similar structural role in Narrativist play as in Gamist play, but for purposes of "pumping" Theme creation through adversity rather than providing consequences for strategy.
    OK, it does that as well as "provides Color by echoing Setting". Or perhaps that's an extension of Color: adversity types are a part of the game world, right? Theme seems very closely coupled to Color; but that observation probably just shows my incomplete understanding of your GNS model.

    And the practical points of Fortune systems used at LARPs is certainly in the forefront of my mind. That's why I have already rejected any notion of using "custom cards" (expensive) or dice (hard to use, easily lost) or anything electronic (expensive AND fragile)--unless it's just an electronic dice tool, which would be marketable with or without a LARP system employing it.

    Yet I do still like the notion of having something in the $1 - $3 range that is used for Fortune. One principle reason--in spite of the GNS indicators that one isn't really needed--is that I would like the randomizer to be something which can be affordably given away (with a core rule book) to promote the game at cons or other gamer gatherings. Thus, the randomizer ("Fortune Tool") really needs to be part-and-parcel of the game's System (actually, Color-as-a-part-of-System), or it's just a "gimmick."

    So I am trying to balance:
    Promotion, Color-reflection, and Fortune-utility
    Search time, Handling problems, and Cost.

    Next, since I hope for a "generic" system, I need a fairly open-ended scale (i.e. Aunt May to Superman). We could faff about for days talking about how to create stats and abilities that are on an open scale. What really matters with regards to this thread is what sort of Fortune Tool will work with an open-ended scale while serving the above needs and avoiding the above problems. Initially, I would suggest that Color is the least important factor, as the system is generic; it might be nice, though, to have an exciting-to-use Fortune Tool (in essence, injecting aspects of Color into the System).

    I have thought hard about using custom poker chips (d2), since I know they can be ordered for about 16¢ per chip, with just about any graphic that I want printed on each side (monotone). But the most obvious way to use a d2 with an open-ended scale requires using pools (i.e. a fist-full of chips) and we hit the speed bump (Search and Handling).

    That lead me to consider a "bid-up" system with d2s (pennies), using 5¢ and 10¢ denominations (see this thread on RPGnet for details). But that was no better: I realized that someone would ALWAYS use the higher value coin when allowed; there was no real strategy at all. Plus, coins/chips only benefit the Cost aspect of my above six-way balancing act; they provide almost no Color or Promotional benefits and have Search and Handling problems even when no more than five are ever used.

    So you see why I tried to get this thread rolling? It's no simple task, and I have stalled production for weeks, thinking about this one aspect of my system. I am stuck, pure and simple. Everyone's responses have certainly helped more accurately define what it is I want out of a Fortune Tool... but it's like we have a useful legend with no map.

    Another nebulous idea I tried out (mentally) is a variant on Rock-Paper-Scissors ("R-P-S") that uses a 2-sided, laminated card. Each edge of the card has "something" on it, and a test--opposed or not--involves the player revealing a side and edge: there could thus be eight possible "throws" rather than the three possible with R-P-S. But how to relate this "d8 bid" to the open-ended scale? R-P-S has a nice 1:1 relationship between each selection, but it seems a 8-way selection could not. Idea (nearly) rejected....

    I'm rambling. Is the above any use to those of you still giving thought to my initial question? Anyone willing to share ideas for Fortune Tools that work with LARPs with open-ended scales? Is it, perhaps, impossible to make a Fortune Tool for an open-ended system that has good Search and Handling characteristics?
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    Michael S. Miller

    Check out these rules for TORG Live! created by Todd Furler. It uses multiple sets of standard playing cards to simulate the die roll in tabletop Torg. Since Torg uses a logarithmic scale, it should meet your need for scalability.
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    David "Czar Fnord" Artman

    Interesting system, reducing the standard deck. It is susceptable, however, to a general problem with card draws: stacked/marked decks and/or cheating.

    Yeah, cheaters can always find ways to cheat. Yes, a cut can help stop stacked decks. Sure, we can "audit" the players' decks, to be sure there aren't extra sixes or what-not. But the chance is always there, and the GMs must spend time on enforcement.

    Also, there's no real Color to a standard deck, and I would worry about the included math operation (-4), for the sake of speed. I do like the exploding trumps--I have that in a card-based randomizing system I already devised--but anything exploding leads to slower reesolutions, and I need SPEED. Anyone who's been in a mass combat in a turn-based LARP knows how critical it is to have a resolution system that can be Handled in, like, 15 seconds or less.

    I hope I don't seem to be capriciously shooting down ideas; thank you for the information! I just think I need something with a bit more "flair" and a good deal faster.
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    Mike Holmes

    QuoteInteresting system, reducing the standard deck. It is susceptable, however, to a general problem with card draws: stacked/marked decks and/or cheating.
    You're serious? You have that much mistrust of your players? If I thought that the people across from me at the table might cheat, I wouldn't play with them.

    I take it you don't play cards at all, then? Or is trust different in an RPG, somehow?

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