Podcast: Iterative Design

NarrativeControlSo, a little while back, Luke Crane was on an episode of Narrative Control where he – being Luke – said some controversial things.  Those things touched on Fate and Apocalypse World, so Sean invited me and Vincent Baker on to talk and sort of respond. It was fun. Sean is always awesome, and Vincent is genuinely one of the nicest guys in gaming. The episode has been posted, and you can listen here if you have ever been interested in hearing my sinister laugh (ok, not really).


That said, I’m going to call out something that I let pass during the podcast because it would have been a total sidetrack.  To Vincent’s mind, 2d6 + value vs target is the most obvious dice mechanic, with rolling d6s and counting 50% successes as the second most obvious.  I respect his opinion, and they’re both solid dice mechanics, but I say poppycock. For a couple of reasons.

First, the obviousness of any die mechanic that is not “read the value on the dice” is pretty damn spurious.  Some mechanics may be easier to learn or simpler, but that is horse of a different color.

Second, if there is a natural die language, it is hugely user variable.  To me, there is no die mechanic more obvious than that used by Risus – roll some dice and add them up. More dice are better.  I feel like it’s very nearly perfect.  But for some the idea is utterly repellant.  If you’ve played a lot of other games, Feng Shui’s dice mechanic (d6 – d6) is “weird” but that’s the force of habit.  Hell, it is only time which has made D&D’s polyhedrons “not weird” to a lot of us.

Vincent is a genius. One of the greats. And he should absolutely design to his intuition.  But don’t feel bound to it.

PS – I’m not even going to pretend that Fudge/Fate dice are intuitive.  I could make the case that the actual die roll itself is pretty grokkable, but the ladder is something you learn, for better or for worse.


2 thoughts on “Podcast: Iterative Design

  1. Adam Schwaninger

    I’d be interested to get your take on what Vincent said around that portion of the cast, where he qualified his obvious dice mechanics with “unless you’re designing a dice game”. It got me thinking about the endless variations of dice mechanics in RPGs and really, it seems in nearly every case you want to consult the dice as quickly as possible while getting as much information from them as you need. Ignoring the probability curves and how stats/skills/etc might plug into the dice results, the dice could also be considered a piece to be swapped out, because they’re just there to tell you if you jumped and if you did, how high?

    My RPG knowledge is pretty narrow, but are there any games where that’s not the case? Viable RPGs that are, as Vincent says, “dice games”? The best I can think of is maybe Hollowpoint, where you’re engaged with the entire table’s dice for the conflict round rather than discrete actions and you might make certain game-mechanic-level decisions based on the results in order to resolve the narrative. Like “if you take THIS hit on YOUR dice, then MY dice can knock out his other set and we can take out the opposition”. My only other thought would be card-based systems, of which I know even less, but I would think that when you have range of known possibilities (good cards and bad cards rather than an in-the-moment dice result), it adds an element of strategy to action resolution rather than “let’s see what the dice say”.

  2. Gerald Cameron

    I’m a little late listening to the podcast, but Vincent’s statement really stood out to me as well. It seemed oddly un-Vincent-like as I was hearing it. I’m pretty sure what’s “natural” is a byproduct of your culture and gaming heritage.


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