Monday, November 9, 2009

Design Spotlight: Abstract Dice Alternatives

Design Spotlight: Abstract Dice Alternatives
After having a few conversations started by this Blog (the Design Spotlight on d100 Systems in particular), I got into talk about alternatives to dice. Some of them got a little far out (see "Is it Fate" below) so I made sure to tack the word "Abstract" on the front of this! This week's "Game-A-Week" will use one of these as it's focus!
Happy gaming!

It's all in the Cards
We can start off with the pros and cons of designing a game with standard playing cards as alternatives to dice. Your standard d6 (a single six-sided dice) can generate a number 1-6
. This only accounts for 1 variable (when only using 1 dice). In a standard deck of playing cards there are:
-52 different cards (53 with a joker)
-4 suits (13 cards in each)
-The numbers 2-10 represented (or 1-10 if you count ace as "1")
-4 Face Cards (of each suit)
-Joker (optional) as a wild card
This sounds like a designer's paradise! All the possibilities! All the nice even numbers! (ok... 13's not so even...) The familiarity! This could potentially be a way to get new gamers into pen & paper games! ("Like cards? You're gonna love this game!") Cards also carry a unique "feel" to them. They are seedy, they are associated with gambling, the unknown, and strategy. These things lend themselves very well as design mechanics!

There are several downsides to cards however. Once a card is removed other players can't draw that card again. (So "rolling doubles" is impossible in a sense) This can be remedied in two ways. One is shuffling (this takes time however and slows down game play) and the other is to incorporate it into the design.

Currently I can only think of playing a single game that uses playing cards as a game mechanic. The pen & paper system, "Savage Worlds" uses cards for turn order (decided each turn) with Joker's being "wild cards" that give you the option to to whenever you want! (PS: I LOVE the Savage World system! Best $10 you will EVER spend! (

Time for a Change
I know we all have some spare change sitting on our dresser in a blue cup (or at least I do...) or in our wallet, wouldn't it be nice to pick up a game on the fly? Since "2 sided dice"
(aka pennies) are so common, using something more like Shadow Run's system might be viable for a small-scale game. (For those not familar with it the basic principle is rolling a lot of dice based on your stat and trying to get a certian number of sucesses)

Spin me Right Round Baby Right Round
Another simplistic device is the ever popular "spinner". This is great when you have a set variables with predictable percents. (For example: Your players have only a 25% chance to block. A 25% chance to get hit in the legs, a 25% chance to get hit in the head, and a 25% chance to get hit in the chest) The problems with spinners are that you can't change their odds once they are set and there are very easy ways to "cheat" with them.

I mentioned standard playing cards above so how could I NOT delve into using the Waite tarrot deck. This needs a little history lesson. Tarrort cards originally had nothing to do with fortune telling. They were as common as English playing cards of the day. (And have nothing to do with Egypt...) Over time they became associated with the Roma people ("gypsys") who used them to interpret fortunes to suck-... foreigners and locals alike. They have been assigned "mystical" properties. (USE IT!)

The standard deck (Waite) has the following cards for you to use in your design:
The Major Arcana
01 -The Magician
02 -The Highpriestess
03 -The Empress
04 -The Empror
05 -The Hierophant
06 -The Lovers
07 -The Chairiot
08 -Strength
09 -The Hermit
10 -Wheel of Fortune
11 -Justice
12 -The Hanged Man
13 -Death
14 -Temperance
15 -The Devil
16 -The Tower
17 -The Star
18 -The Moon
19 -The Sun
20 -The Last Judgment
21-The World
0- The Fool

The Minor Arcana
Each suit (Cups, Wands, Swords, Pentacles) has the following: King, Queen, Knight, Page, 2,-10, and
Ace (counts as 1 or the "low card")

Now after seeing all the standard cards you can use your imagination to see where this can get you! (I know I will... later this week!) Keep in mind that the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana can be used separately or in conjunction with one another. (Imagine pulling "Death"!) The four suits can be used for a verity of options

Sheep & Entrails
While looking into this topic a little bit I came across a rather novel idea Mark Kobrak. ( He suggested (cynically) something to the effect of this. Each player must bring several livestock to the game. The GM simply disembowels one of them and interprets
the entrails to determine success of failure. ( While this might be a costly option, I would certainly deem this an effective one. (The entrails of 9/10 goats agree!) Hepatomancy is hardly a dead art and it will encourage new DMs to really get into the "satanic" feel that most pen and paper games have and push violently onto their players.

Once again! Happy Gaming!
PS: Look for the game for this week later!

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