Gaming Philosophy: Up to Chance

I’ve seen plenty of arguments about the matter of random chance in an RPG. Some people love it, for the risk involved; some don’t, for the way it takes the power to resolve out of their hands. Some don’t like the way the die rolls interfere with their suspension of disbelief, some just plain love rolling dice. (There’s a lot of mix and match between those two sets of sets, for that matter.)

I, personally, am not generally one of those chance people under most circumstances. I chalk it up to a number of factors—the times it’s ruined an utterly spectacular move on the part of one of my friends, my own d20s and their apparent inability to roll anywhere between 11 and 19 (the 20s, of course, only come when I don’t want them; interestingly, I don’t have near as much trouble with my d10s), the break in game pace and suspension of disbelief, the desire to win on my own skills, and the fact that most of the random chance is in life or death battle scenarios and I’m not particularly fond of the risk of death as a motivator.

But at the same time, there’s the need to see the improbable not be completely impossible. I once spent an entire evening in an argument with one of my online friends on the subject: the idea that a nigh-on-invincible warlord could, if a combination of hubris and other factors allowed one to get close enough, be bopped in the knee by a kid with a stick. (Whether it would actually do anything was another matter; I just wanted the stick to be able to make contact.) One can make a case that under certain circumstances, flukes should exist. But the thing about what many of us play is that it’s really hard to stat for a million to one chance.

So how do we handle it?

Most people go to one extreme or the other, just trying to fit everything possible into the mechanics or trying to dispense with them whenever possible. Or they come up with houserules to try to modify it.

One thing I’m toying with is the idea of mostly eliminating chance in anything but even matches, but allowing for some sort of in-game currency to allow for things where we want to see if the fluke actually comes through. I’m not sure about the exact mechanics, but I think it would be interesting to work out—maybe something limited to really slim odds, and ones where it isn’t going to have a major negative effect on the storyline if it fails (or possibly even if it passes).

What’s your take on chance, and how do you balance its quirks?

Leave a Reply