Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The bad GM roll, having a TPK day

The GM rolls and the whole party dies. Bummer, that sucks!

My recent post on the lethality in a modern combat RPG stirred some comments and concerns regarding players or GMs rolling poorly and causing player death or even a TPK in a highly lethal game. Is this so? Does high lethality translate directly to high player death? Shouldn't it be a latent game element that leads to a more exciting adventure and becomes more or less evident as a consequence of the dice selected to determine outcomes?

For me die rolls are not in the game to define the fate of the player or party, but rather to introduce a degree of randomness and entropy into the outcome of a single action. The succession of these actions is what seals the fate of the character, not a single roll. I use more than one die in hit rolls to reduce outliner values that may produce extremely bad outcomes. Thus if the character is well trained and the player thinks (hint), lethality should be low, at least for the character. Can't vouch for the bad guys. ;)

Now getting back to dice. When using 2d10 instead of 1d20 the odds of the roll summing 11 (10%) is very different from the odds of summing a 2 (1%). With a d20 the odds of getting a 2 (5%) are the same as an 11 (5%). Thus the odds of getting two successive 2s with a d20 is the same as getting a 2 and a 11 or a 2 and a 20 or two 11s for that matter, 0.25%. With a 2d10 the odds of getting two successive rolls each adding 2 is 0.01%, the odds of getting two successive rolls each adding 11 is 1%. That's a hundredfold difference in favor of things turning out right.

What does this mean in layman's terms? Basically that it takes a succession of highly improbable die rolls to seal a character's fate on die rolls only using 2d10s. If the character is highly trained and prepared, the odds of actually dying are slim. Player decisions become a more relevant factor in determining character fate than the die rolls on behalf of the GM, be them good or bad. Sticking your character's head into a room without proper precautions is going to get you killed more often than a bad roll by the GM.

I've ran games with some players who stay put waiting for that lucky roll or storm rooms without preparation, believing die rolls and hit points will save the character. Wrong. In a real firefight there's sporadic fire, movement, then some more fire, movement, spotting, relocating, fire again, and so on.

Laying behind a log rolling for initiative and then resolving a nice volley of fire, first me, then him, then some more initiative, now him, then me, initiative again, now me killing him and turning my machine gun to his buddy and going over the drill all over again is not how real firefights turn out. Does the expression "sitting duck" ring a bell?

In a real firefight if you sit behind a log firing round after round like that you'll have a lot of "blowing the fuck out of you" going your way real soon. From heavy machine guns to grenades and mortar fire.

In a real firefight the bad guy isn't going to be there, round after round, with his head sticking out nice and dandy just waiting for you to blow it away before he blows your nice and dandy head, that also happens to be sticking out. You're going to be moving, he's going to be moving and it's all going to be a big mess of a fight.

In a highly lethal game as is the case with modern warfare games, tactics, preparation and character training should supersede die rolls. So characters don't actually die. Catastrophic failure should come after either a) player stupidity or b) a succession of bad yet highly improbable die rolls. When failure comes it should be swift and final, to remind players what is at stake.

Players in turn should shift their tactics from rolling high to thinking fast. If the dice will make it less probable to get hit, but if you do you're done for, you might think the odds are in your favor. Think again, recall the part of a whole lot of  "blowing the fuck out of you" that's coming your way if you don't move and keep thinking fast. Take the battle to the enemy, keep him pinned down and move in a whole lot of "blowing the fuck out of them" quicker than they move in a whole lot of "blowing the fuck out of you".

At this point forget about simulationist realism, who cares about the exact trajectory of the bullet when all these interesting dynamics are emerging once characters are no longer pampered behind high hit points and players aren't psyco about scitzo die rolls that may land a 2, 10 or 20 just as easily. When the stakes are high and speed and planning really matter, a great deal of previously ignored or omitted tricks and tactics take a center role.  They now have real application in the game and give the party an upper hand in the game.

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