Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fudging dice in times of industrialized warfare

I've come about a great deal of conversations involving fudging dice, how bad it is and the process of limiting it by mechanical means. For example game rules that explicitly limit fudging by rolling in the open. I want to talk a bit about the impact of these rules in certain genre and settings, namely late industrialized warfare settings, as well as post atomic and futuristic/sci-fi.

Industrialized warfare brought us the long range rifle and the machine gun. Post atomic developments brought us the shoot and forget missile, the bunker busting weapons and a whole set of long range weapons. Even such thing as the FASCAM (Family of Scatterable Mines) that can be delivered by bombs or shells.

War was no longer close and personal.

This means that players must be kept in the dark as to the outcome of some of their actions. To roll in the open is to reveal way too much information. As a game designer I have two options: limit fudging by mechanics, or trust my players and have them trust their GM as well.

If I limit fudging by mechanics and force all rolls in the open then players will know the effectiveness of the mine field they left behind, they'll  know how many targets are hiding in the bush and how many they hit with the machine gun strafe, they'll know how well the outcome of the shelling, etc. They'll be privy to knowledge their character is not, they'll have information to metagame, and I'd have to trust them not to metagame. It seems like I'm solving a problem to get myself into an even bigger one.

Now, you as reader may say that players could also not metagame. That players can willingly keep themselves from metagaming. True, except it does happen. More so, many games are built so it does happen, it even requires it to happen. Metagaming with this information is so common we don't even realize we are metagaming. It's so intrinsic in so many rules that we don't recognize it as metagaming anymore. Let me explain.

Take for example the following encounter. Your party is on patrol and falls prey to an ambush. Your party is taking fire from a treeline so your first action is to take cover and fire back. Ok, how? at what? At the puffs of smoke? It's smokeless powder. At the muzzle flares? It's broad daylight and even if you got to see the muzzle flare whoever is shooting is probably using the proven tactic of fire and displace. So the target is most surely no longer where you spotted it.

Yet the first thing that players ask and GM gives is the location of the enemies. This is usually because the encounter is unsolvable without that knowledge. The attack roll, the range, cover, modifiers etc., all have to get factored in to this roll that is done in the open and dictates if your bullet hits or misses the target. More so, the player gets to roll for damage too. So somehow the character knows the bullet hit and the amount of damage done. All this through the smoke of the battlefield and the thick jungle bush. The character must be some type of borg to see that clearly that far off.

Now let me make a parenthesis here. This isn't about being overly realistic or simulationist. It's about telling a story. Realism is taking extreme care in representing all the factors in a sniper shot. The barrel length, bullet type, wind, scope, etc. Actually keeping the sniper hidden and damage secret is about the story. This is what makes a sniper so deadly and the story around the sniper so interesting. If the players know the exact location of the sniper (because they need to for the roll) and the amount of damage handled (because they're rolling the dice), well then, a bit of that story dwindles away. It dwindles away no matter how good a player may be at not metagaming.

So it is my strong belief that game rules and mechanics need to evolve as technology in their settings evolve as well. Industrialized warfare took the "close and personal" from the medieval and pre-industrial encounters we're used to in fantasy settings. Sure there are still close and personal encounters, but also beyond visual range encounters. To really harness the story potential of these post industrial settings we need a bit more trust and a bit less metagaming.

Image source

Monday, August 17, 2015

Metal robots make no sense

We know monsters such as the T-800 terminator unit are made of hyperalloy. The hyperalloy is said to be "a durable metallic alloy of unknown composition", but lets face it metal is a rare element on earth. Sure the core is 1220km ball of molten iron surrounded by a 2180km ball of molten nickel iron alloy. If you could drill to the core and extract all that metal it would sure provide for a lot, I mean a shitload of a lot of T-800 units. But that's a very big if, not to mention that said core provides the magnetic field for the planet. Take it away to build a shitload of T-800 and you'd have a whole new set of problems to solve, and I mean whole set of planet wide problems.

Coltan is an element used to build the higher heat resistant terminator units (vs the titanium based T-600). Using coltan, practical as it may seem for heat issues, is adding scarcity to scarcity. Silicon is also known to handle heat well. A lot of advanced ceramics are very good at handling heat (and can be made superconductive too!). Silicon is nearly and order of magnitude more common than iron on Earth's crust. If you're a super advanced computer from the future, doesn't it make sense to use your super advanced technology to build super advanced machines from the more common elements and not the scarcest?

There's a reason life built itself around carbon and not another element like iron. Carbon is extremely common! It also gives room for a huge diversity in structures and molecules: the soft and brittle insides of your pencils, the diamonds in industrial drills, nanotubes, DNA, the exoskeleton of insects, etc. Maybe the truly advanced robot from the future is a carbon based, ceramic enhanced, nanotube fuel cell powered, quantum computer driven machine more akin to David or Bishop than the T-800.

Sure, maybe a coltan built robot will be an order of magnitude more durable than an "organic" one, but given the abundance of materials there might be two or three orders of magnitude more organic bots. Numbers do count and ammo runs out sooner or later.