Saturday, September 29, 2012

Should it always be good to be lucky?

This post is based on a post I made in the official Fighting Fantasy Forum back in February 2010.

However, if you are lucky, shouldn't you always get the 'good' result even if it looks bad? I know your aim was probably to avoid the missiles but if fate is smiling upon you then shouldn't you be hit if you pass? Even if it looks bad at the time, you will ultimately win so surely its the result you want. Or should being luck rolls not look at the 'bigger picture' of the book and only show a short term gain? 

Here's an example:
At the beginning of Black Vein Prophecy, if you fail a luck roll, you get struck by something that gives you multicoloured scales. At the time, it looks bad, but you actually need them to win.

You are walking down a corridor in a dungeon and a trapdoor opens in front of you. You can test your luck to avoid it. If you do avoid it, you carry on down the corridor and get killed by a horde of zombies. If you don't avoid it, you fall into another level of the dungeon and lose stamina. Should you fall in the trapdoor if you are lucky or unlucky? 

Here's another one (this is purely hypothetical as I wouldn't do this in a book):

You are on paragraph 1 in a book and trapped in a dungeon. You are searching for an exit to the surface, which depends on luck. If you find it, you get to the surface and ultimately lose the game. If you don't, you have to go deeper into the dungeon and fight a tough monster but you find an item which means you win at the end. Should you find the secret door if you are lucky or unlucky?

Opinions please?


  1. Interesting question. It seems like a lot of FF authors use Luck as a stand in for other abilities. So with the trapdoor example, luck functions more like agility or something by letting you dodge the pit. My gut feeling is that luck shouldn't keep you from winning even if that means making things harder in the short term.

  2. For the examples you cite, it's kind of a moot point because hinging ultimate victory or defeat on a single die roll is bad design. The dice should not usurp the reader as the primary mover of the story.

    From a more general sense, there are plot logic issues with it: Good luck is supposed to be good for you. If good luck is ultimately bad for you, it's not good luck. Further, if the game system in use allows the player to modify or reroll the dice at will, he'll need to be hinted not to use those abilities at this particular point. And even if he catches on, it still comes down to luck.

    Also, you stand a serious chance of double-binding the player with an idea like this. Say, for example, you need to miss a SKILL roll at one point or you're unlikely to make it to 400. If you have a low SKILL, you'll successfully miss the roll, but will then get slaughtered in combat en route to the end. If you have a high skill, you'll be fine in combat, but miss the roll.

    I wouldn't do it without a very good thematic reason.

    1. I'm with LupLun. There is a serious problem if winning or losing the ENTIRE GAME is based on my ability to roll the correct number on a die. It should be based on my own decisions, on how well I interpret the information I have and make decisions.

    2. The only time I think it's okay for a single die roll to kill the player is A) if they've already made decisions to bring them to this point, B) if the death/failure comes promptly afterward, rather than leading you on thinking that you might still have a chance, and C) there is another route that represents better decisions that does not put the player in jeopardy from a single die roll.

      Otherwise, Stuart, I'm inclined to agree with you. I mean--if I thought that luck was a good trait in the first place. I would be very impressed by a gamebook that, if you win a luck check, gives you a minor setback that turns out to be for the best. I would, similarly, be extremely annoyed by any situation that kills me for passing a luck check.

      I mean, I generally think that passing checks or having skills should lead you to better results, not worse ones. But at least if passing a Fitness check leads you into trouble, at least that makes sense--you might just have made a bad call to go that direction in the first place--but a good luck check leading you to bad luck just makes no sense at all.

  3. Another good article, you certainly know your gamebooks!
    The luck stat is a very strange and abstract trait as Zachary also mentions. In most of the final fantasy adventures, judging by some of the horrendous creatures and situations our adventurer finds himself in, I would not consider him very lucky at all (rolling a 6 for luck stat or not).
    That said, I interpret the luck roll as an instant luck check, not an over-arcing kind of karma check. So I think the examples you gave are sound and fair. As an immediate example, I could pass a luck test to leap out of the way of a falling boulder, only to find I've dived off the edge of a cliff. I was lucky in the first case, but there's no way I can expect this luck to last forever...

  4. I'd go with the long-term outcome. If what happens is initially inconvenient, but ultimately life-saving, that's good luck. If it looks favourable at first but then gets you killed, that's bad luck.

    Surprised to see no mention of section 133 of The Shamutanti Hills, where being Lucky is lethal (though at least that one has the option of choosing to be automatically Unlucky).

    1. That came to my mind as well!
      I think that on that occasion Steve Jackson did good by reminding you that you had the chance of automatically failing the LUCK throw!

  5. When I was designing Adventure for Games Workshop in the early '80s (it was an RPG, one of many abortive projects those GW scamps would decide was a good idea for a few weeks and then forget about) Ian kept asking if I was going to have a Luck stat. My problem with that is that suppose one player has a Luck score of 16 and keeps rolling badly while another has a Luck of 5 but keeps rolling well. Which one is actually lucky? In our games, some characters get a reputation of being lucky - because gamers are as superstitious as anyone else - but it's never because of anything written on the character sheet.

    In gamebooks, where the plot is much more under authorial control than it should ever be in an RPG, I quite like to have what looks like a bit of bad luck turn out to be a temporary setback that actually leads to a better result in the long run. Partly I think that began as a way to keep cheating players on their toes!

    1. This is a great point, when you start mixing character luck with player luck it really blurs the boundary and makes a luck stat a little obsolete...

  6. I believe Luck rolls should always be for the longterm good , just played BVP myself.. And thought WTH?!! both about that roll and the game structure in general. If the roll isn't on Luck I think the result doesn't always have to be good for a pass. One of my favourite examples is in Bk 3 of Fabled Lands where you have to take a Sanctity check to join a magical university and it is better to fail that check. The result is one of my favourite paragraphs in the series. Of course my question is should there be skill checks based on dice rolling that are simply pass or fail? Ideally it would come out with a sliding scale or results depending on how much higher - or lower the roll and modifier comes to . Epic fail - minor fail - pass - good pass - Epic success. But should a level 6 mage be able to fail epically fail an 'easy' check? Andy B (Blair_ya)

  7. Back during my playthrough of The Shamutanti Hills ( the book gave me the option of NOT rolling a test of luck. You can definitely have a lot of fun with luck rolls, it can give so many possibilities if you incorporate them into the story.

  8. I think luck (and dice) should be eliminated completely. It's an old gimmick that is losing its shine. The variation from character creation plus the path woven by the player makes a kind of pseudo randomness that is better than reliance on mathy dice rolls. How exciting is it, really, when you can see the exact odds and method? But that is another topic.

    In the trapdoor example, I would say clarity is key. So you could have a case where the lucky outcome is to fall and get injured, BUT someone should be down there to say how lucky the player was to have fallen because they would have died otherwise.

    1. Playing without dices and luck is a very respectable option, as I enjoyed games with and without dices (and luck) - and disliked games with and without them, of course....

  9. I guess in 'Return of the Jedi' Han Solo fails his Luck roll as he's creeping up on those biker scouts... He steps on a twig, tips off the biker scouts that he's there, and hey-ho, it sets off the best chase scene in any Star Wars movie.

    Unlucky? NO! That's how Leia gets to meet the Ewoks, who turn out to be awesome at kicking Stormtrooper hiney - and who, indirectly, save the whole galaxy.

    All because Han Solo stepped on a twig. A butterfly beats its wings in China, and so on...

    The Star Wars RPG (the original, West End Games version) made a boo-boo in that their version of Han Solo was so awesome and super-experienced that he couldn't have possibly failed a Sneak roll like that. The second edition of that RPG decided to introduce a 'wild die' which made unusually bad or good things happen on a roll of 1 or 6 - a fully one-in-three chance of things happening in an unexpected way, in fact. Maybe not the best game mechanic I've come across.

    So, was Han Solo unlucky, or really, really lucky? Well, the guy made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. I'll let you decide.

  10. Since gamebook writers have complete control over both the short-term and long-term outcome of a LUCK roll, dissonance over expectation (a successful roll means the character is better off) and result (short-term luck leading to long-term misfortune or vice versa) is only ever going to happen if the author deliberately designs it this way.

    You have to ask yourself if introducing this dissonance between the expected result of being LUCKY or UNLUCKY and actual result in any way improves the gamebook you are writing. If you want to put the character in a situation where a seemingly unlucky event leads to a later beneficial situation, which admittedly is a fun thing to do, this could be easily handled by a roll against another attribute, a random roll or even the result of player choice.

    As it is easy to avoid this situation, writers are better off using LUCK in the spirit most readers would believe is intended, i.e. a successful LUCK roll always serves to improve the situation of the character (either or both short-term and long-term without any negative consequences), than risk alienating their readership with what amounts to an author's rules lawyering dickery.

    So in short, it's really a non-issue unless the writer deliberately goes out of their way to make it an issue... and what reason would you have to do that?

  11. I think the scenarios you listed above are bad game design.

    Players should die or be sent on long unwinnable paths by early luck checks. At worst a bit of stamina damage.

    BVP is a bad gamebook and would have been a better novel.