Bag pick mechanics: Yea or nay?

There's a few games out there that rely on picking at random from a predetermined pool of possible results, like picking a stone out of a bag. What do people think about this mechanic? Fun? Annoying? Both?

Comments

  • I enjoyed it for Fate of the Norns at GenCon, but have no idea how well I'd have liked it if I were gming the game.
  • edited March 2017
    When randomness is too random, this is a good way of creating controlled randomness.

    In a game I made, 1-2 on 1d6 would create an issue, but I noticed during playtest that if that result came up too often, the game would come to a halt. So I used colored stones instead. White instead of rolling 3+ and black for 1-2. This meant that I, as a designer, could then have more control over the randomness.
  • edited March 2017
    Picking a stone from a bag can be also combined with more interactive mechanics that make players responsible for putting different numbers and kinds of stones into the bag.

    It would be obviously suitable for important random resolutions that are done once, as a reckoning, at the end of the game; imagine accumulating good or bad dice during a Fiasco game and picking all of them to determine the success or failure of the same number of actions or objectives in the finale.

    Picking stones is also a great way to manage nonbinary random choices without memorizing lookup tables or imposing an artificial ordering on the different results, and to employ one of many similar random distributions instead of only one.
  • There are many interesting uses of such a mechanic, as people are pointing out, above.

    However, I will also say this:

    They are (often) tremendously awkward to implement in actual gaming, particularly in online gaming.

    (Of course, it shouldn't be long before someone develops a simple software solution to this for online games, such as we have for dice, but today it's still a bit of a barrier.)

    Perhaps this will change if it becomes more common - gamers will start showing up to games with tokens/beads/dice and a bag or a hat!

    For now, drawing from a small set of cards can be used as a substitute.

    I like the idea of semi-random tables. For instance, you have a list of ten items, which starts out blank. As you play, you fill out the blanks.

    When you need a result, each person puts a card face down - the number on the card indicates the result from the table which they think should/they would like to come up. We then shuffle the cards and draw one at random.

    If it's a random encounter, and three players choose "Orcs", while one chooses "Dragon", you now have a 75% chance of Orcs, and a 25% chance of a Dragon.
  • They are (often) tremendously awkward to implement in actual gaming, particularly in online gaming.

    (Of course, it shouldn't be long before someone develops a simple software solution to this for online games, such as we have for dice, but today it's still a bit of a barrier.)

    Perhaps this will change if it becomes more common - gamers will start showing up to games with tokens/beads/dice and a bag or a hat!

    For now, drawing from a small set of cards can be used as a substitute.
    It's really easy to set up a custom deck on Roll20 that will work basically the same way as a bag draw. You can even set it to deal "face-down" or "face-up" depending on whether you want the draws to be known or secret.
  • Interesting!

    Is it possible to deal out "hands" of cards, pass them from player to player, arrange them on the "table", and other similar typical-card-game things?
  • Interesting!

    Is it possible to deal out "hands" of cards, pass them from player to player, arrange them on the "table", and other similar typical-card-game things?
    That's stuff I don't see very often (in RPG design), which always surprises me a bit.

    More often, I see cards as simple "flip for random result ( possibly while depleting deck)".

    I would be interested in other applications.

    ( And with cards, I'd also like to see more interesting info on them than the way they were used in Castle Falkenstein)

  • Rickard points out one of the cool aspects of "bag pick" mechanics in that you can adjust the probabilities on the fly, or even make rigging them in your favor part of the game; for example, spending a currency to toss extra positive options into the bag, or looking at how the probability changes between one pull and multiple pulls if they are permanently removed instead of added back each time. That also theoretically imposes a natural cap on how many pulls are needed before you will eventually succeed, which I feel like someone-who-is-better-at-math-than-I-am could come up with a justification for that being a good thing.

    komradebob: Oh my god I could talk about cards forever (I grew up right in the middle of the CCG boom) it might almost warrant it's own thread. I think you'd get a kick out of Arcadia: The Wyld Hunt; you use the cards to build a character and a map and go adventuring on it.
  • Is it possible to deal out "hands" of cards, pass them from player to player, arrange them on the "table", and other similar typical-card-game things?
    You can certainly deal out hands and arrange them on the table as you like; I used Roll20 extensively while playtesting the sword-fighting mechanics for Blade Bind, and those functions were essential.

    I know you can take random cards from other players' hands. I assume you can probably pass cards to other people, but I don't think I needed to actually use that option.
  • I have a small RPG out there in the wild with a bead-drawing mechanic. I haven't playtested it.

    I liked it because the game is a "traveling wizard solves town problems" game, and it felt very wizardly to draw stones from a bag.
  • Y'all are right on the design / probability benefits you can get from bag pick mechanics, but on a pure physical experience level, I typically find it less fun to do than rolling dice but more fun than drawing from a deck of cards. This is completely overridden if the game's theme matches the mechanic, like the one Adam_Dray just mentioned.
  • ...looking at how the probability changes between one pull and multiple pulls if they are permanently removed instead of added back each time. That also theoretically imposes a natural cap on how many pulls are needed before you will eventually succeed, which I feel like someone-who-is-better-at-math-than-I-am could come up with a justification for that being a good thing.
    Talking about drawing from the bag with or without replacement makes my math teacher heart go all a-flutter! ;-)

    I'd highly recommend you all check out the board game Village. It's a favorite in my apartment, and won the Kennerspiel des Jahres a few years ago, but it's not nearly as dense / impenetrable as, say, Agricola. And it has some really interesting bag-pick mechanics. There's also a seed of a story contained in the game, one about life and death and legacies in a medieval village.
  • Interesting! Noted.
  • There's a few games out there that rely on picking at random from a predetermined pool of possible results, like picking a stone out of a bag. What do people think about this mechanic? Fun? Annoying? Both?
    Follow, by our resident Ben Robbins, is the most exciting implementation of this I've played, and it's really tense. Part of it might be that we're used to dice and cards as randomizers, while a bag of stones still carries some novelty factor - but we usually held our breath when drawing and we (foolishly) cursed the stones for their unfairness.

    Usage of the bag and stones in Shreyas Sampat's Mist-Robed Gate is similar to Follow, but not quite as exciting - I think by design, as it's employed in choreographic duels which are, basically, a vent for excess tension in that game. It's the deterministic, not random ritual of the Knife that escalates tension.

    The above games are similar in that players make moves (in the broadest sense) to put stones into the bag and then draw one (two, in Follow) to find out the outcome of their actions so far. A more sophisticated, quite complex take on the same is found in Paul Czege's The Clay That Woke, where about a dozen different kinds of tokens exist (some common, some unique) representing both aspects of the character and their situation, and a sequence of 1-4 draws is to be "read" as a unit of meaning to discern an outcome, complication or development. It thus moves a step further away from randomizing a binary outcome (pass/fail) and toward the traditional arts of divination. Unfortunately, I've yet to play that game.

    Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple (Daniel Solis) - which I quite enjoy, though it's been a while since I've last played it - is sort of the reverse of the above designs, IIRC, in that play starts with all the stones in the bag. Drawing a combination of stones is the first act in a player's turn, yielding constraints on what they can narrate on said turn, and the summed up pool of all stones drawn by a player is relevant to the endgame.
  • For me, this is all about watching the options go into the bag. If that process is meaningful and builds anticipation, then I like the bag-pick. Otherwise, the bag-pick is merely utilitarian.
  • Great observation, Dave. I agree in full.

    However, there is also utility to using a bag-pick mechanic in a situation where you want to make sure certain results come up a certain number of times in your game (much like working your way through a deck).

    Perhaps I have a game where I *need* a traitor to be revealed, but just once. Putting a "reveal traitor" into a bag from which all tokens will eventually be drawn could be a good way to do it.
  • edited March 2017
    Oh, yeah, good call! Non-refreshable bag-pick with known quantities can have a very different dramatic arc than refreshable bag-pick with known quantities.

    This is actually the genius of Fortune's Fool, where the players share a deck that will be drawn from one card at a time (with the results making a big difference in the ongoing action), but have special abilities to adjust the deck at times.
  • A more sophisticated, quite complex take on the same is found in Paul Czege's The Clay That Woke, where about a dozen different kinds of tokens exist (some common, some unique) representing both aspects of the character and their situation, and a sequence of 1-4 draws is to be "read" as a unit of meaning to discern an outcome, complication or development. It thus moves a step further away from randomizing a binary outcome (pass/fail) and toward the traditional arts of divination.
    This is really cool, I've considered something like this for story games or even adventure board games. If we trust players to be creative enough to decide how they will respond to game elements, why not trust them to interpret the outcomes of those decisions as well? Thanks for bringing this to my attention.
  • Modern versions of Tetris do this. Instead of giving you a random one of the seven pieces, it'll instead take all seven, shuffle them up, deal them out one at a time, then start over.

    I have zero problems with this bag or card style — it certainly would not turn me off from a game — but there's just something intangible to dice that makes me love them over cards/bags. That every day is the first day, every day is the last day. Every roll stands on its own throughout infinity. It's stateless, memoryless. I can't argue for this position, it's based in emotion, there's something drawing me to it. I have 1 in 20 chance of rolling a crit even though my last roll was a crit or even though I haven't rolled a crit in three weeks. I just... I just prefer it.
  • That's a very interesting observation on the dice, S!

    I tend to agree - I'm also biased towards dice.

    I would only use a bag pick or card deck mechanic where it provides a superior range of outcomes or ease of use. (For example, in my game Musette, you play cards face down and move them around. That allows players to secretly allocate values to different outcomes effortlessly - which would be almost impossible with dice.)
  • Am I just a letter now? :D
    After I caught a bit of Dunning-Kruger-effect when it came to my mathematical "ability" last year.

    Anyway, we wrapped up Curse of Strahd (it was awesome) and then I prepped Golden Voyages for al-Qadim but I canceled the first session and then I didn't run anything for half a year, I played in an OSR game around new years (w/ a great group and a great DM) and then I ran a session of 5e at a con a few weeks ago. It was well-received which makes me want to get back into running games but I'm just procrastinating on prepping all the time, and playing video games. (It's been a week since I put Ganon in his grave but I'm doing some of the side quests.) My home is a mess and a lot of the D&D knowledge I had in my head is a bit tangled up.
  • It seems mildly more awkward than cards, but in probability terms it does the same thing (pulling elements from a diminishing set.) Unless there is some specific flavor thing you are going for with the bag, I don't see the particular advantage (and if you were, that would seem gimmicky to me.)
  • (I was about to use your name, and then I thought - hey, maybe she's staying anonymous for a reason, and I'm being a jerk by not respecting that. I suppose I hit the most awkward middle ground possible, huh? :) I remember the other letters, too! Haha.)
  • (Hahaha, yeah! I wouldn't have minded "2097" which is what I go by on some forums. But the full Sandra is fine too. I guess S-G just removed the little text that shows the "title" (which is where my name used to be) when they upgraded vanilla versions a while back. No worries)
  • edited March 2017
    This thread got me thinking about what situations would really benefit from tangible, visible items over dice, and I'm going to try something this week. I'm running a con-game next weekend and one of the things about my OSR game is that strangers often don't get that they are supposed to recruit hirelings, even if I tell them pretty explicitly—so I'm going to grab a deck of fancy Italian playing cards and write up hirelings directly on them to deal out on the table right after character creation. (Clubs + swords are men-at-arms or level one fighters in the face cards, coins and cups are torch-bearers or magic-users and clerics respectively, jokers something odd I guess).

    I'm also really looking forward towards ripping the cards in half when they get killed!
  • Great idea. Tangible items can sometimes makes things much more relatable; I bet it will work.
  • edited March 2017
    The bag pick mechanic worked really well in the Arkham Horror card game; but then, it's a good implementation of it. A good implementation of anything is probably going to work very well.

    The guys at Shut Up & Sit Down did a good summary of what made Arkham Horror's bag work, so if anyone hasn't seen it, you can check it out here. (the rest of the video is also good, if you were curious about Arkham Horror at all.)
  • Lots for me to think about here. I'm glad I found this thread, as I was considering a bag pick mechanic for my 200 Word RPG game. :D
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