Oh, damn it. I have really messed up my posting schedule. The reasons are:
A) I have been playing old games. I’ve played some Space Marine online, and I don’t have much to say about it. Space Marines shoot Chaos Marines, Chaos Marines shoot Space Marines. I’ve also been grinding achievements on Civilization V, killing Dredmor in Dungeons thereof and Silencing people in the Crusaders.
B) I have been playing uninteresting games. Race for the Galaxy, 7 Signum and Elder Sign have all been new purchases, but they have turned out to be… shallow.
C) I have been preparing for my job.
Regarding the last point, I have some projects underway, but I am unsure whether or not I can openly discuss them. I have had a couple of game-related ideas, but mostly I have presented them to the other team members or mulled over them myself. One of them has already blossomed into a product. But now I have moved to another city, and can begin a new chapter in my life. Expect a more steady post schedule to continue. Here’s one thing that I have pondered to give this post some substance:
I tend to have a terrible relationship with my luck, mostly when I need to roll dice in roleplaying games. Whenever I find myself inspired and describe damn awesome actions, my die results plummet. Case in point: My average result for Acrobatics and Athletics-skills (which were pretty much maxed) was 4 when I played D&D. And usually when the result does not matter (attack against a guy with 1 HP) or when I’m GM:ing, I tend to roll three 20’s in a row. This has given me a very clear perspective for luck-based RPG systems: I dread using them.
In theory, randomization is good. It levels the playing field somewhat and enables tension; It’s not very exciting to constantly succeed/fail in everything. It gives the ability to try desperate, last-minute ditch attempts, which are all the greater if they succeed. But personally, I find luck-based actions problematic.
You see, flat results create statistical anomalies. In one 10-round D&D encounter the highest number I rolled was 7, and I made about 1.1 attacks per round. Had my compatriots not been as fortune-challenged as I, my character would have certainly died. And dying creates good stories in very limited situations.
At this point I remind readers that the points written in this post only apply to games where there’s a great, heroic story present, like in D&D or Star Wars. In Paranoia, Dark Heresy or other more lethal games dying is an essential part of the game and fits the dark humor/grimdark setting well, and bad luck just creates more funny/appropriate deaths.
An observant reader will notice that A Better Star Wars Roleplaying Game follows a similar TPK-avoidance priciple: Failing does not reduce resources or kill charactes, but instead creates complications. I gave a similar advice to a friend who is GM:ing a roleplaying game for me: Do not kill characters until the final chapter. Here’s some elaboration:
If you have a story that you want the players’ characters to experience, but are unwilling to leave tension-generating die rolling out, you need to have some contingencies to turn failures and deaths into resource losses. Every time the characters fail, it should add to the final, climactic encounter. A simple example is a wound: Instead of dying, a character suffers a grievous wound that will hinder him when he is facing the arch-nemesis in final combat. Instead of coming to a simple dead end when missing an important clue, the characters lose valuable time in the final scramble to re-seal a waking eldritch abomination.
In the climax the whole adventure has been building towards, pull out all stops and inform the players. This will be it, loss or failure. Every success and failure will have had an impact, every lost ally and broken bone will play their part in the villain’s lair inside the supervolcano.
And soon I might design a system to follow these principles. We’ll see.