How to randomize?

Hi amazing community,

It’s been a while since I’ve been on the forum (teaching during Covid AND getting married internationally during this Pandemic has been rough) but now it’s Christmas vacation so I have some breathing space. I ended the school year with playing a short (30 minute) game based on Electric Bastionland. This made me think about randomness and the need for it in game. Is it needed? What is it’s function? Etc…

So I’m trying to write down some thoughts:

  • Randomizing stats creates inequality between player characters. This can be perceived as something by the players. (especially if playing with kids) Now in this case it didn’t, and it was a one-shot so there’s always the chance of rolling up a new one next time. I guess that’s tied in with the lethality of OSR type games. But I’m curious about how much this is just an artifact from old style play that we just use because it’s a roleplaying game. (I know this isn’t a new revelation, but I’m just typing). Some games dropped it, like Fate or RISUS or lot’s of story-type games which derive their joy from the story instead of random emerging gameplay because of randomization.

  • Dice rolling in general is a form of randomization. It makes failing or succeeding at a task largely dependent on luck. Some people like this, some don’t.

In tase cases randomization influences how well you might do with a character. But there are other options!

  • In the game I just played I had some Mad-Libs style “spark tables” for encounters in each node of the mini-adventure. The fact that the kids got to choose things to fill it in proved way more enjoyable for them than rolling well on a stat or succeeding on a roll (even though they also enjoyed that). Even just having something that might alter the encounters you have filled in before can give a theme but an uncertainty about what exactly the adventure will bring which is enjoyable to me as a Conductor/GM/Referee… It gives surprise and wonder for me as well.

  • Electric Bastionland and Into The Odd have randomizes backgrounds/characters which doesn’t include stats all that much but give variations in theme and feel and starter packages.

So my first question for you all is what are your thoughts on randomization and it’s purpose in games?
My second question is what interesting types of randomization do you know of/have you used that don’t just influence stats?

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Hello,
Rickard Elimaa did a recollection on uncertainty here on December the 16th.
And congratulations on your mixed household !

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Oh, that’s interesting! Gonna have to re-read it again later though. Thanks for sharing!

I’ve been thinking about dice and randomness a lot lately, especially in the context of player and character actions.

While I do love math rocks, playing BX D&D on Roll20 has meant very little actual rolling and often the outcome is that a capable adventurer fails. As a DM, I’ve been running World of Dungeons a lot, for which I realize that dice rolling serves to interject interesting outcomes instead of simple succeed/failure.

In the last session I ran, we totally eschewed dice rolling and tried out Diceless Dungeons. It has great little guidance for task success based on degree of Prep, character Talent, and Player narration. For combat, it is deceptively simple and I was skeptical at first. A static number of rounds are defined at the outset by the DM as is maximum bonus damage. Each round, everyone narrates their actions and the DM doles out 1 point of damage plus the appropriate bonus damage. The players divide it up appropriately.

We have a high degree of trust at my table. For a group of old guys steeped in OSR and dice rolling, it was the most electrifying RPG experience we’ve had in a long time.

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My personal view is that random character stats are exactly what you suppose – a relic of old times. That said, some people like the feeling of “not knowing what you’re going to play”. However, I think there’s probably a better, more equitable way to achieve that than the current “Haha, your character’s highest ability score is 13, good luck.” approach. (And I say this as someone who literally did play a character whose highest ability was 13. I think his lowest was 5. In Constitution. He was entertaining, but nothing about him was improved by his terrible stats).

In terms of randomness “in general” for resolution of tasks, there have been lots of ways of framing it in the past 15 years or so that make it less a case of “Do you look like a buffoon for failing something that you’re supposed to be good at?” and, indeed, which give the players more control over when they succeed or fail. Some people really like this. I am one of them. However, a LOT of people in the hobby are in the hobby BECAUSE of D&D and either prefer the random hand of fate or at least have difficulty adjusting their expectations to exclude it.

I think randomness is best suited to situations when you really have very little to no information about what factors are at work – I did a lot of rolling for faction goals in my Blades in the Dark game, because in most cases, I had very, very little other way of determining how well one faction’s plan to assassinate someone in another faction was going to go.

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