Game Mastery

Brainstorming on non-randomness

by on Apr.08, 2014, under brainstorming

First off, yes I realize it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I have a new job and a new baby, so no blog posts is simply a reality. I’m not even going to apologize for it.

But, new job means new programming books to read. And new (to me) concepts in programming send my mind a’wandering. And when my mind wanders it almost always leads itself back to table top RPGs.

So here’s another brainstorming post on a lack randomness in games. And no, this one has nothing to do with the diceless game I keep telling myself I’m writing.

Today’s Ruby reading brought me to . The layman’s oversimplification is the it sets up the pseudo random number generator (RNG). Given a seed the RNG can produce a series of numbers that look random. But if you keep using the same seed, you’ll keep getting the same sequence of random numbers.

My immediate reaction was why the fuck would I want to use that? I’m sure there’s some use in crypto or hashing functions or something. But those comes second. My first use case is almost always RPGs.

Okay, let’s say you’re playing a game in Maptools or something similar. What use is fixing the RNG’s seed? That’d mean all die rolls repeat*. So what happens if you run a game like this?

Groundhog Day. Sort of. Okay, not really. But in my head this is the Groundhog Day game. The players wouldn’t notice what was going on immediately. I suppose a spectacular set of rolls would make it more obvious (ie, a player would remember rolling 20 for his first roll of the night every single session) but I think players would pick up on the sequence sooner or later. I also think they’d have to game it. I’m not sure that’s something you could approach from the PC’s POV. Depends how metagamey the table is.

Okay, so the players have figured out when their successes and failures happen. And if you’re sticking to the Groundhog Day theme maybe they’re stuck reliving a day. Cool story bro, what happens next?

Well, if you’re me, it’s time to fuck with the players. Just when they think they have all the answers, I change the question.

The predetermined random number sequence is only going to get them so far. I don’t really care if it lasts a single session or a single day in game, but it does end. Let’s just call it 50 die rolls per player (in D&D, that might have to be 50 d20 rolls, or else the rogue and wizard run out of dice a whole lot sooner than the rest). Roll 51 is a 1. So is everything else. (At this point we’re no longer imposing a specific seed on a random number generator, but this is an exercise in game design rather than computer programming.) Whenever this happens should be far enough along into the session that the players aren’t guaranteed to notice it. I might even go so far as to only figure this out a few sessions in once the players have figured out the existence of the sequence.

Did I mention changing the question? Roll 50 isn’t the end of all things. It’s just the end of all things on the first day. The next day/session gets them 49 good rolls, and then everything comes up 1 (which is the exact opposite of everything coming up Millhouse). Next day 48 rolls from the sequence. Etc.

As the players figure out what’s going on in the world, their ability to affect it diminishes. I find that very interesting. I actually find that more interesting than the single repeated day scenario the players may or may not be stuck in.

So what’s going on? Well, it’s gotta be on the cosmic or metaphysical scale. But it’s gotta be something the players can affect from day one, because they’re not likely to get more powerful with so few die rolls remaining. Some ideas include:

  • Evil god making a power grab
  • Doctor Who done fucked up
  • Unnamed time travelers fucked up
  • Yo dawg, I heard you liked Bags of Holding so we put Bags of Holding in your Bags of Holding.
  • Something that doesn’t exist in a rule book
  • Time Stop gone awry.

I’m not really in love with any of these ideas.  I feel like I could make any of them work, but none sticks out to me as a clear winner.

I’m also not sure how the players would overcome this, but that’s their problem, not mine.

* Actually that’s a lie. When you ask the computer for a random number you get something between 0 and 1, then multiply and round that to get a die value. The series of numbers between 0 and 1 will be the same, but the results you get out of the dice is going to depend what dice you throw. ie, a 0.5 is going to be a 10 on a d20 but a 3 on a d6. Depending on which dice are rolled, at which position on the set, it’ll look like you get different results. For the sake of discussion let’s assume there’s a series of d20 results, a series of d6 results, etc.

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