Friday, November 19, 2010

Dice in game books - conclusion

how to Anyone ever played Civilisation 3*?  It's great to be able to build up your civilisation and lead them through exploring unknown territories, building cities and wonders, barbarian attacks, natural disasters, wars and finally get them to Alpha Centauri?  It's even better when you've lost a few times before. 

Then you can do it on cheat mode.  You can create hordes of units, build cities all over the place, have nukes when every other civilisation has bows and own every wonder in the world.  Then you wait a while as you watch the other civilisations desperately struggle amongst themselves before you crush them like flies.  And then you realise that it wasn't half as much fun because you knew what was going to happen.

*Can apply to almost any game with a cheat mode.

When I started writing about random elements in gamebooks, I had a bit of a downer on them.  Then I started writing about the good points of dice in gamebooks, thinking that it would be a short post with lots of 'but they only work if...' after each good point. 

However, after reading the post, I realised that there are a lot of good points of having a random element in gamebooks.

Basically it boils down to the escitement of having an element you are not completely in control over.  You can play the game to improve your chances, but you will never know for certain.  You might win or lose depending on the roll of the dice. 

It's straying into psyhology here, but there is a sense of excitement about the unknown.  Knowing everything and being in complete control can get boring.  So in theory, gamebooks with dice last longer than diceless gamebooks. 

The flipside is that it has to be done very carefully to be done well, otherwise it will spoil the whole gamebook.  It completely destroys the thrill of the risk to know that you will lose. 

There are a lot of gamebooks that are spoilt by requiring you to perform an almost impossible series of dice rolls.  This just gives a sense of frustration.  This is the reason why I had such a downer on dice in gamebooks. 

Before I wrote this series of posts, I was against using dice.  Now, I'm open to it again, but I need to make sure I do the following things with any gamebook I write where I include random elements.

  • With the combat system, I will work out the probabilities to make sure that all combats are challenging but not impossible.  By doing this, I can estimate how many hits the hero will take and then plan how damaging other situations will be.  I will only place super powerful monsters if there is a means of making the combat easier in the book, or if it is a result of the hero doing something completely stupid.
  • I need to playtest the book to see if the dice rolls needed for victory are not too unlikely.  This opens the new question of what should the probability of victory be if you make all the right choices.  Should it be 100% or a little lower to add tension.  If so, what should it be.  95%?  90%?  85%?  How low could I go before it becomes frustrating?
  • If I use die rolls to add variety (random monsters, random items or random encounters for example), I need to make sure that they do not unbalance the gae one way or another.
  • I will give my hero alternatives in the adventure so they can increase scores that they have low values in or choose not to if they want a challenge.
  • I need to make sure that I don't overdo it on the numbers and bookjeeping.  I need to keep it simple.  This raises the question of how simple or complex I can go.
So my conclusion to 'Are dice good in gamebooks?' is yes - but only if done well. 

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