Thursday, December 07, 2023

Game Design Part 4 - Seeking Player Agency (Six Key Options)

In part 1 of this series, I stated that I needed to look at the answers to some specific questions when determining the game play for my new RPG. To review, these were the questions:

    •  In what different ways do the dice interact with the game? 
    •  How much agency does a player have to influence the dice?
    •  How tactical are these choices? 
    •  What makes the choices interesting?

In what different ways do the dice interact with the game?
Assigning dice to take action is an okay but singular way to interact with the game. Is it enough? I think the interaction between sets of options is interesting enough that for now, that answer is, “Yes.”

How much agency does a player have to influence the dice?
Currently? None at all. That’s not good. Changing this should be a priority.

How tactical are these choices?
With no agency to effect the dice, I don’t see tactical options either. I don’t want to simply create player powers that enable players to change the face of a die, because that eliminates the tension of the focused choice array. I need something else. Hopefully, finding an answer to the second question will also help to solve this problem.

What makes the choices interesting?
As with the first question, I think the interaction between sets of options will be interesting enough to keep these choices engaging.

My focus, it seems, should be on creating some answers to the question, “How much agency does a player have to influence the dice?” perhaps first refining that question to, “In what ways does the player have agency to influence the dice?”

The first thing to pop into my head is a game called, Can’t Stop. Can’t Stop is a great push your luck style dice game created by Sid Saxon. In the game players roll and match sets of dice in order to race up tracks. The thing I’m interested in is in the agency that the player has to affect their dice roll.

Each turn the GM rolls four dice, then the players match these dice into two sets of two. In this way, the players can create a variety of possible totals. Let’s say that you rolled a 1, 3, 4 and 6 on the four dice. You could potentially create 1+3 = 4 and 4+6 = 10, or 1+4 = 5 and 3+6 = 9, or 1+6 = 7 and 3+4 = 7. You end up with three possible sets of two numbers.

I like this method of dice agency very much. Now, players have to discuss how to arrange sets of dice before assigning them to action choices on their character sheets. Different combinations could mean different things to the group, assuming that the entire group is locked into a single set of combinations.

However, these number sets won’t match the patterns that I found in my previous design. Do I now scrap that design after only having thought it up and written about it? Do I keep it and scrap this idea? Before I choose, I’m going to flesh this idea out a little more fully to see what it might look like compared to the previous design.

In this design players will have a sum of two dice to assign to their character sheets. Specifically, they will have two sets of numbers, representing two actions, to assign to their character sheets, and these numbers will be in a range from 2-12.

How? What do those assignment choices look like? The sum of two dice create a number that belongs to a mathematical property known as a bell curve. It means that numbers in the middle of the array are far more likely to occur than numbers on the ends of the array. You might think that the array is: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. In reality the array is: 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 9, 9, 9, 9, 10, 10, 10, 11, 11, 12. That’s a One in Thirty Six chance to roll a 2 or a 12, but a One in Six (Six in Thirty Six) chance to roll a 7.

This makes distributing dice equally between options far more challenging. I don’t think that the four basic options concept, presented in my previous post, will work with these numbers at all. What if instead of addition we used subtraction, always subtracting the larger number from the smaller number, so that negative values were not possible? That array would look like this: 0, 0, 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5.

Looking at this distribution of the numbers, I can more easily even the numbers out by grouping certain numbers together. Adding the 4 set to our 0 set gives the same number of options as choosing 1. Adding the 5 to our 3 set gives the same number of options as choosing 2. This puts me back to a base 4 again.

This is only using number values, but I have a slightly weaker set of two and a slightly stronger set of two. This could work much like my single dice placement mechanism from the previous post. If I add an Even/Odd option to this, I will get a fifth and sixth choice with 50/50 probability of each.

     High Options / Most common (50% likelihood of each)
          Option A: You may assign any even value to this option
          Option B: You may assign any odd value to this option

     Mid Options / Average (28% likelihood of each)
          Option C: You may assign value 0 or 4 to this option
          Option D: You may assign a value 1 to this option

     Low Options / Least common (22% likelihood of each)
          Option E: You may assign a value 2 to this option
          Option F: You may assign a value 3 or 5 to this option

There isn’t much difference, probability wise, between the mid and low options. Only 6 percent, which is fairly negligible. I’ll keep it in mind as I move forward, but I don’t think it’s a feature. On the other hand, the difference between the high option and the others is substantial and should be leveraged in the character design.

I also have some Even/Odd pairings in each of the other option sets. Option A pairs with Options C and E. Option B pairs with Options D and F. These groupings can be made to work together. These are interesting design levers that I can manipulate in order to shape the look of the final design.

This new action economy assumes that the GM rolls 4 dice and then allows players to arrange them into two sets of two. These are then subtracted (larger from smaller) to reach a number from 0 to 5. This provides 2 numbers that players can then assign to actions on their character sheet. I believe this satisfies the requirements for some player agency with the dice without breaking other requirements already satisfied.

(Welcome to the world of “game design maths.” I hope this post wasn’t too boring.)

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