Monday, March 28, 2011

The Dice Alternitives: Gimmick or Game-Changer

Dice. Every RPG gamer has enough to build a small model of the Eiffel Tower (that's a normal thing to do with dice, right?), but for some reason some games choose to forsake dice, and instead use some other device for determining randomness. While I can understand some of these, others I find stupid.

The most common alternative to dice, also the main tool to play the timeless 52 Pickup, are the dice-supplement/replacement that makes the most sense to me. Playing cards were also designed for creating randomness. Another cool thing that a card-based mechanic can do is that there are already hundreds of card games you can draw upon. Perhaps your conflict resolution works like Blackjack, or War, or Texas Hold-'Em. By doing this, a segment of your rules becomes instantly recognizable to the newest of RPG.

A similar idea to this is what I call the "Inception mechanic", that is, a game within a game. This can be seen in Dread, a game whose decision makibg mechanic is a Jenga tower. The flaw I see with this is that the inner game must match the tone and function of the shell game. Dread is a game that relies on horror, a feeling that is complimented by the suspense of a mangled Jenga tower. This would be less successful is the mechanic was, say, based on Bop-It. Also needed is that the game doesn't begin to focus on an irrelevant mechanic. If you pull out Risk mid-game, you are no longer playing whatever you were. Now, people are going to focus on Risk.

An idea I also have heard of is scrapping dice all together, instead opting for a skill based conflict mechanic. Usually, to my limited understanding, this means that if a character is stuck in a situation they are not good at, they are going to shift it to something they are. The problem I see with this is that unless your system utilizes some form of umbrella skill (like a generic Combat or Tech skill) these links could be manipulated by minmaxier players, shooting wires in a computer to hack it or winning a fight by using embroidery to sew a dude's arms together. While this is a minor concern and could be irrelevant in lighter games,it is one that can still sometimes come into play.

Out of all of these, the one I want to experiment with the most is the Inception game. I personally want to try making a game with some sort of TCG-esque conflict resolution. While I think of that, other designers will be exploring the potential of card, diceless, and Inception mechanics, and others yet will be seeing conflict resolution in new forms. As a game designer, sometimes it is important to note randomness can be found in more places than a shiny little die.