Beyond the Dice

My housemate Lloyd was expounding on the topic of dice in RPGs and storygames the other evening: his stance was that we need to try and break away from our reliance on them as the go-to fix for designing new games. In other words, when it comes to that point in the design when we ask "How do we decide what the results of the characters' actions are?", we need to stop reaching for the dice as a solution automatically.

This has got me to thinking: I've tried to break away from the lure of the dice in many small designs, mostly by using coins or cards instead, but aren't they still basically dice in cosplay? I'm currently trying to imagine what a real breakaway design would use instead, but before I can do that, I need to think about the methods that are used. So that's what this thread is about: what methods do we/can we use as game resolution mechanics?

Randomisation: dice, cards, coins, RNGs, the I-Ching, the cut-ups method and so on; any system that relies on a random source for guidance on or determination of outcomes. These might be quantitative ("I rolled a 6") or qualitative ("I drew Temperance.")

Negotiation: talking it out and coming to a consensus about how things happen and what occurs as a result, most often with an emphasis on what is most plausible in the fiction ("I think my thief should be able to pick a simple lock quickly") or what makes for the most satisfying story ("I think it would be more interesting if my thief gets caught and taken straight to the Chief of Security.")

Skill: memory, dexterity or some other human capacity is used to make the calls, e.g. the way the Jenga tower is used in Dread.

Resources: spending story or character points to make things happen; these might be generic or tied to specific elements of the game, e.g. Magic points to cast spells.

The big question is, are there any other significant methods that aren't just a variation of the above? For example, I'm toying with a system that uses coloured chips drawn from a bag, with the colours tied to different stats, but that's really just an intersection of Randomisation and Resources on the Venn diagram. I'm really driving towards a taxonomy of methods so I can see what's been used and if there are really any viable options still to explore.

Comments

  • Are you familiar with the old Drama/Fortune/Karma classification scheme from Everway?

    And yes, all those "open the TV and see what color the news announcer is wearing" oracular schemes are just different randomizers, not fundamentally different from dice.
  • edited November 2018
    Or a subcategory, get the Oracle from another part of the very same game. At its simplest, with binary conflicts, see past conflicts to determine next outcome.
    I would use the sign / interpretation / decision paradigm to make my categories. The base state is "has fact status".
  • I would use the sign / interpretation / decision paradigm to make my categories. The base state is "has fact status".
    I'd really appreciate it if you could unpack that statement, as I honestly don't get what you mean.

  • Fiat is different from Negotiation, in that only one person is making the decision. This is most common in GM-heavy games, but you get it in other places (big chunks of Microscope, when you frame your own scene in Fiasco, etc.) One person has the authority to say what happens in this particular instance. That could be one role consistently (a GM), or each person has fiat power over parts of the game (like in Archipelago) or on a rotating basis, like an exquisite corpse type game (Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, for example).

    Choices are a bit similar, but a bit different. With Fiat, a player can make up whatever they want happens (within the bounds of what the game considers appropriate). When a player is given a choice, they have to pick from a set of established options. This is things like the part in A Penny For My Thoughts where you choose between two options that different players offer to you. This could also be from a predefined list (equipment loadouts in 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars, various PbtA moves) or created on the fly by the GM or another player (devil's bargains in Blades in the Dark).



    I think that the individual resolution mechanics are important, but the most essential part of game design is figuring out how to chain these moment-to-moment bits of resolution together. Like in the Penny for My Thoughts example, it's really two players have Fiat options, that lead to one player making a Choice. And that is all spurred on by previous bits of Randomization, Negotiation and Resource spending to get there. And tied into that is how you relate player goals and incentives, character goals and incentives and the overall structure of play, built out of these individual resolution moments.
  • Except maybe for randomization, there is another big distinction: applying negotiation, skill, resources, and combinations thereof before or after the question that resolution applies to is determined.
    For example, in Amber attribute values of characters are a big deal and are negotiated at the beginning during character creation, preordaining (except for clever moves in the fiction) the outcome of most conflicts between players.
  • Is "highest value wins" a part of "negotiation"? Or a separate category?

    How about "if you escalate, you win"? Also negotiation? As in, "are you prepared to shoot her to win?".

    In Svart av kval, older vampires win over younger vampires, but the loser can release the beast, which escalates and makes them win. But if you have previously refused the beast's commands, you'll have refusals in front of you, and other players can choose to remove one refusal to make you lose again.

    I'd have a hard time fitting this system into your categories.
  • edited November 2018
    I'd have a hard time fitting this system into your categories.
    Thank you for attributing the categories to me: I'll start collecting royalties from everyone now, please! :-)

    But seriously, if someone were going to design a system 'like' Svart av Kval's, how would you describe it? It sort of sounds like competing fiat (Old vampires win unless young vampires raise the stakes and so on) which is pretty similar to negotiation?

  • edited November 2018
    Vast and Starlit comes to mind, too. If I recall correctly, it's something like "one player describes what will happen if you succeed with consequences, another player describes what will happen if you fail, then you choose between the alternatives". It's not exactly that, but something similar. That, too, falls under "negotiation", which is starting to look like a pretty big category.

    Edit: Also Nerves of Steel. Any player not involved in the action can give you thumbs up or thumbs down to tell you how it's going to end. Similar in Fiasco, I think.
  • Svart av Kval is state and resource-based resolution, seems pretty straightforward. Characters have the attribute of "Age" and (negative) resource "number of refusals". Comparison of age gives us a tentative winner, which can be over-ridden by the loser if they want to, except that if they have any refusals the opponent can spend one to make the initial result stick.

    That might be easier to analyze if you distinguish between "state" and "resources" as concepts (as is usual in rpg system analysis): comparing the ages of the vampires is using comparison of attributes (character state), while expending a refusal is an expenditure of resource. Neither is random, but they're not quite the same, as state-based resolution doesn't cost you anything, while resource-based resolution generally speaking means paying something to achieve something else.
  • Fiat

    Choices
    Good additions! I've played a lot of games that use Fiat and Choices: I think the ritual phrases of Polaris could be categorised this way?
  • Is "highest value wins" a part of "negotiation"? Or a separate category?
    This is more or less how "Karma" works in Everway: the person with the higher stat wins, or you can pass without difficulty if your attributes meet a certain level. It certainly sounds different than the other categories provided. But it's a common element in a lot of games.

    Sometimes that can be just a binary issue: either you have it or you don't, like if you have a thing that says "any character of evil alignment that picks up the sword is burned alive". That's a simple, foregone conclusion, based off of a binary attribute.
    How about "if you escalate, you win"? Also negotiation? As in, "are you prepared to shoot her to win?".

    In Svart av kval, older vampires win over younger vampires, but the loser can release the beast, which escalates and makes them win. But if you have previously refused the beast's commands, you'll have refusals in front of you, and other players can choose to remove one refusal to make you lose again.

    I'd have a hard time fitting this system into your categories.
    This just sounds like a choice tied into resources. By making one decision, you're providing resources to other players (the refusals, which they can spend to make you lose).
  • edited November 2018
    It's a combination of resources (age, beast) and negotiation (dissuasion mostly).

    *Unpacking. You want to make something that is not a fact into something considered a fact.

    This involves a decision.

    A decision is based on interpretation (however arbitrary) of facts (therefore made signs).

    That's the frame I would use. Then see all theoretical combinations and real observations to get the full picture without forgetting unusual corners. It will allow some perspectives. A method used in Levity. It's a long homework, and it's not mine. I'll give an example or two :

    Fiat stops the process at "decision". It's not really a game rule if it's not elaborated beyond that (alternating). Hey ! Just found rule zero.

    Dice generate facts. Players read them as signs and system limits interpretation. Nothing exotic here, except : this hides lots of things. Like : who makes the decision in the end ? GM ? consensus ? player ?

    Tarot ... an error has occured unpacking Tarot

    Negotiation... Unpacking aborted*

    But maybe you have something more pragmatic in mind and it's time to share your project more precisely. Sometimes the answers come with the formulation of the problem.
  • edited November 2018
    I think the drama-karma-fortune categorization works pretty well, when complemented with resources. Expanding drama into fiat and choice is even better. Plus skill, of course.

    Fiat, Choice, Fortune, Karma, Resources, Skill. These then affect and trigger each other

    So Svart av kval:

    * Karma decides the older vampire wins.
    * Then choice decides whether or not to override by escalation.
    * Finally resource can trump choice (negative resource, in this case).

    In PbtA, you will often find fortune triggering choice. In Archipelago, one player draws a card (fortune) that is handed to another player, who interprets the effects (fiat). A common GM technique is taking your rule-zero fiat and transforing it to choice (you could get away, but you'll have to leave Jimmy behind). Card games where you have a hand mean that you have fortune that triggers a resource game of skill.

    Edit: I guess if you want to be really technical about it, most "fortune" systems are really fortune+karma, in that you first roll your fortune, and then there's a karma-like comparison between the fortune and some other value.
  • This is awesome: thank you everyone!

    Just to check that we're all on the same page regarding terms here, my interpretation is:

    Fiat: What you say goes; may be empowered or supported by rules that invoke other mechanics.

    Fortune: Roll those dice.

    Choice: Choose from 2+ options you are given, by the rules or the other players.

    Karma: The rules dictate what happens, without choice (such as Cthulhu Dark's "If you fight the monsters of the mythos, you die.")

    Resources: Spend those points

    Skill: A real-world ability of the player themselves is tested.
  • There's also a combination of randomness and player skill and state and sometimes resources that feels like a distinct category to me: simultaneous player decisions. Simplest example is rock paper scissors, which is mostly randomness. More complex examples are Riddle of Steel's secretly choosing attack or defense dice or Mouse Guard/B* conflicts. Shows up in board games a lot. David Sirlin calls this category "Yomi", reading the opponent.
  • I do remember the days when people would get absolutely furious at me when I said "Ah yes, Dust Devils! A really good diceless RPG. It uses poker hands to..." and then everyone lost their minds screaming that "they just replaced the dice with another randomizer!! It's not really diceless!" and then I looked at the camera slowly while it freeze framed on me.
  • edited November 2018
    Just to check that we're all on the same page regarding terms here, my interpretation is:
    Here's my preferred phrasing:

    Narration: Say what happens.

    Fortune: Roll those dice.

    Choice: Choose from 2+ options.

    Rule: One or more rules dictate what happens.

    Resource: Spend those points.

    Skill: A real-world ability of a participant is tested.

    Combination: You can totally roll those dice to see who gets to say what happens as constrained by a number of rules and choice options which is in turn dictated by how many points are spent, with a bonus for being particularly entertaining. Fortune -> Narration (Choice - Rule + Resource + Skill).

    I think "Fiat" and "Karma" are legacy terms useful only to certain hobby wonks.

    I also think it might be worth distinguishing between individual choice, majority choice, and consensus choice. So Vote and Compromise could also be on the list?
  • So that's what this thread is about: what methods do we/can we use as game resolution mechanics?
    The concept of "resolution" implies that player characters attempt to perform actions with an uncertain outcome that needs to be determined, but it is only a point in the middle of a continuum: there are player "moves" that don't even involve character actions (e.g. asking questions) and different distributions of information and details between the "action" and the "outcome".

    For example, in combat the action could be a statement of what you are trying to accomplish (hurting someone or something subtler), leaving the means (e.g. using a weapon) to "resolution", or a detailed description of a character's intended actions (e.g. aiming a spear at the enemy's neck at close range) leaving their success to be determined (usually quantitatively), or a fact with uncertain consequences (e.g. "I drive my sword through the middle of her chest, is it a deadly heart wound?").

    There can also be formal or informal multiple stages of resolution, for example D&D like combat: initiative -> hit rolls -> critical hit rolls (when the hit roll is very good) ->damage rolls -> shock caused by damage (stunned etc.) -> survival checks if badly hurt. The resolution of each logical stage can be completely different.
  • The concept of "resolution" implies that player characters attempt to perform actions […]
    Does it? I mean, why does it even imply the involvement of a character? Doesn't it just mean the act of clarifying a point of uncertainty in the game?

    Bob: "What's in the chest?"
    GM: "I don't know. Let's throw the dice on this random treasure table."

    or

    Bob: "What's in the chest?"
    GM: "I don't know. Alice?"
    Alice: "A lock of blonde hair and a baby tooth."
  • Yes @emarsk , that was my intention behind the word 'resolution', no matter what place in the game/narrative it occurs. Some games you can even play _without_ characters, but they still have mechanics that regulate how things are determined. :-)
  • edited November 2018
    I also think it might be worth distinguishing between individual choice, majority choice, and consensus choice. So Vote and Compromise could also be on the list?
    "Compromise" has a slightly negative ring to it, but it's basically the way most actions get resolved, right? I say something and if nobody disagrees, we move on.

    "I punch you in the nose"
    "I grab my face, stumbling backwards with a look of shock and surprise."

    Maybe "consensus" is a better term for this?

    And yeah, voting is a thing used in some games. I'm thinking of mechanics like in Mist-Robed Gate, The Marquis of Ferarra and Follow, where players vote by putting colored markers in a bag and a random marker is drawns from it. Vote+fortune.
  • edited November 2018
    The concept of "resolution" implies that player characters attempt to perform actions […]
    Does it? I mean, why does it even imply the involvement of a character? Doesn't it just mean the act of clarifying a point of uncertainty in the game?
    I read the OP as rather explicitly focused on character actions (e.g. "How do we decide what the results of the characters' actions are?" in the first paragraph); and accordingly resolution normally means task resolution.

    I agree that in general RPGs have fundamentally similar rules for different types of "fact creation" beyond resolving character actions; theory should consider them all uniformly and generally.
  • Another interesting twist: procedures about the intent of the players (the questions) and not only the answers.

    For example, in 3:16 combat turns are semi-simultaneous and players (including the GM playing the enemy) are explicitly instructed to take into account what other players are trying to do in the same turn when declaring their action for the turn, all before the "resolution" of determining action order, making skill and damage die rolls, and deciding whether to correct the result with special actions (exhausting armour, spending flashbacks, etc.)

    Or more informally, there's typically strong peer pressure against impractical and unpleasant player actions (consider the patience, clever analysis, and arguments needed to design and craft a magical item in GURPS or AD&D)
  • Great thread! I'm glad that Ewerway terminology is finally giving up its seat to better and more complete classifications. Nice job, everyone!
  • edited November 2018
    I made a list from game designers trying to classify uncertainties in games:
    http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/comment/422143/#Comment_422143

    I use social contingency a lot in my games, and I think most games and roleplaying game development would benefit from thinking more about this.

    Emergent complexity and perception uncertainty might look a like, and how it's handled basically decides how I decide whether the game is a great one or a really bad one. In other words, it's hard to pull off but if you do, it will lift your game to another level.
Sign In or Register to comment.