Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Dice ≠ Challenge

A thought regarding RPG theory: Without a challenge, you're not playing a game. Instead you're probably just socializing. Not that there's anything wrong with socializing - I've even been known to cancel entire game sessions so we could all just chew the fat instead.

While people play games for a variety of reasons, one common reason is for the intellectual challenge. Another common reason to play is the sense of accomplishment that comes with triumphing over a challenge (whether intellectual or otherwise).

That said, dice do not equal a challenge. I've always more-or-less believed this, but running the MOC sequel the other night really drove it home. As entertaining as the game session was, the dice had nothing to do with that. Simply setting a high difficulty number does not challenge a player (or even the PC they play). You end up rolling, and luck (or fate) determines your success or failure. There is no challenge to the player unless there's something they could have done to alter that die roll. It's not a challenge - it's barely even an event.

It doesn't matter how high you set the target, if the player can't chose to do something to increase the odds of them succeeding, that roll does not provide a challenge. Some folks get a kick from rolling, but rolls without challenge eventually grow tiring. Rolling and getting the only result that would let you accomplish your goal gives the illusion of a challenge, and thus the fleeting illusion of a victory - but the other 9 or 19 or 99 results where you were robbed of victory (and could do nothing about it) just feel hollow.

Applying big consequences to a die roll may feel like a challenge, but that's an illusion. If the player is powerless to mitigate those consequences, it's not a challenge, it's just a random and arbitrary "act of god". Dice alone are not enough. It's easy to lose sight of that when designing adventures.

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