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Iterative Rolls and Excitement (or not)

September 2, 2012

Further thoughts on yesterday’s 90 minute D&D game, has me thinking about the part where things slowed down – the boss fight.

I’m realizing a key aspect of game design that infuses most of the rpgs I play at this point is how much the game state changes compared to the amount of effort put into resolution (dice rolling, card drawing, etc.) – very much the stuff I was talking about Whiff Factor.

D&D has you roll an attack, then roll damage – if the attack misses, nothing changes, and technically, until hitpoints are 0 (or, the monster is bloodied in 4E) no changes happen either. Add in the fact my boss had 30 hitpoints, and 15 AC, meaning a) it’s going to take an average of 9 hits (3.5 damage on a D6) and b) at best 50% of any attacks will hit.

This means we’re talking (average) 18 attack rolls (assuming no one does anything else, like heal, or stunt, etc.) and 9 damage rolls. Divided by 4 players, 4.5 trips around the table. In actuality I think it was 6-7 trips around the table, because, as I pointed out, people end up doing more than “attack, attack, attack”. The last 2 rounds for the players were pretty slow because everyone started rolling poorly, and you could see the energy starting to drop around the table.

This makes it very different than say, a fighting videogame where you’re not going to get too many misses before the counterattack, and 3 seconds is a lot of time for things to happen. It also is very different than craps, which at least for being a completely randomized game with no real strategy or dressing, changes the game state (do you win or lose money?) very quickly. In both cases, at least, the turnaround time between “failure result” and changes to game state are very quick.

This is also why a lot of D&D ends up talking about “the sweet spot” which is a place where the iterative rolls are not too out of hand (because, the hitpoint totals are not too high, such as “E6 D&D”). 4E tried to add conditions on to failed rolls, but either the effects were too small, or only useful in narrow situations.

Compared to other games where either the iterative rolls/resolutions are limited to specific, short number (Covenant, Trollbabe), resolution spirals towards completion (Sorcerer), game states change quickly (Apocalypse World, Riddle of Steel), the typical assumptions in a lot of D&D and D&D descended design where misses and non-results approximate 50% of the results, are kind of a thing to just avoid or keep minimal from the get-go if you’re making a new game.

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