Hello gamebookers! I'm sorry I'm a bit late - spring is a busy time for me.
This post is an introduction into what is probably going to be a few posts and it is about whether or not you should be making people roll dice (or use some other random method) to determine things.
Random elements provide replayability value and they also provide excitement because you don't know what's happening.
Of course, it's really annoying if the random element decides to screw you at the last minute (or maybe it isn't because it's the thrill of anticipation that's important?) or if the random element is lots of work, but the results are pretty consistent anyway.
In this series, I'm going to explore whether random elements are needed a particular gamebook, and, if you decide to put them in, how do you implement them.
These thoughts probably started whilst I was playing Fighting Fantasy, which involves rolling 2d6 for your opponent, 2d6 for yourself and adding your skill values. The highest one inflicted 2 stamina points of damage on the lowest one. If both results were the same, no one got hurt. You could choose to test your luck to either increase the damage you inflict or decrease the damage dealt to you, but since luck decreased with each use, this was almost never a viable option.
I have crunched the numbers for the Fighting Fantasy system. If your skill is 3 points higher than your opponent's then you will almost certainly win. Which means that my skill 9 hero fighting a bunch or orcs in Firetop Mountain or a skill 6 stamina 16 statue in Demons of the Deep would be rolling a ton of dice just to see if they lost 2 stamina points or not, which, for a game where you carry 10 items of food that is so yummy, it can cure two blows from a sword, is negligible.
Add in the fact that when I rolled the dice, I had no options to manipulate the rolls by spending resources (not like Destiny Quest, where you have a ton of options!), I was basically just going through the motions to see how something turned out, but with no tension because I knew that it would ultimately have no effect on the game.
I found this a bit wearing some times.
So this series of articles is about deciding how to maximise the fun in a gamebook using random elements.
The first question, though, is whether you think your gamebook will be enhanced with random elements.
Some gamebooks don't need a random element at all. Sometimes, they want to tell their story and the game elements don't add to anything. In fact, they might detract from the message of the book. I realised this when I was writing Rulers of the NOW. At first, I wanted it to be a huge open world gamebook with a complicated game system (similar to SCRAWL) which had lots of choices. Then I realised that the core of the book was not about that. The core of the book was the message of doing something now or (NOW) to avoid the dystopian future presented. That didn't need a random element, because if the player failed a test, they might lose the game and not get to the message. It would also take away from the message of having control over your future if you lost through chance.
Trying to include all these elements in Rulers of the NOW also contributed to why it too 11 years between the Windhammer entry and me actually finishing the book. Once I had stripped away all of the superfluous elements from the central message, the book was actually really easy to write (on a side note, if you have a project you want to do, but can't finish, why don't you see if there are superfluous elements to strip away?). I had originally tried to release it for 21st December 2012 (Mayan calendar apocalypse day), which I could have done if I had just focused on the core.
So, if random elements are necessary, how can it enhance the gaming experience? How much rolling are people willing to put up with before the excitement wears off?
I remember playing the Trial of the Clone app. Whenever you had a test, you rolled three d6s and used the best result. The app presented this like a fruit machine with one number coming up at a time. I remember feeling the tension and excitement if the first number was not high enough - will the next number be high enough? and if that wasn't high enough, then the excitement would build at the anticipation of seeing the third number come up. That really milked the tension.
You know what would also milk the tension even more? Giving people options to manipulate those rolls, but not make them auto successes.
Michael J. Ward, writer of the Destiny Quest series, is a master at this. He gives your characters a whole load of options for rerolls, rolling extra dice, bonuses, negating effects, enhancing effects and more. It really is a gamer's dream.
So that's it. I'm not really sure what the post titles will be - but I'll make a lot of them.
Does anyone have any opinions on random elements? How much they like? Which gamebooks do it in a way that they like? Let me know!