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mrinku

The dice are fixed! Blame cards!

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You often run across people who get frustrated by random chance - usually when they get a bad run against them. Most people don't seem to have a good handle on probability, have selective memory and so forth.

 

But it occurred to me recently that aside from Craps players, most people outside of the RPG and wargaming communities probably only encounter dice rolling in games such as Monopoly, where trends and clusters really don't stand out much. Most people's hands on experience with games of chance are through playing cards, which are actually a totally different beast altogether.

 

So my thought is that many people probably come to a dice based game with card game expectations of "random chance". Subconsciously they expect "high cards will turn up eventually" (true) and "this run can't last" (false, but with different chances than using dice). Dice famously have no memory. Cards have an open past and hidden future history, and players can track the former and make informed decisions on the latter. Which is why you can make money counting cards at Blackjack but keeping track of dice rolls in Craps is only useful for detecting cheats.

 

Card games commonly require memory and optimisation skills and can be mastered - dice games are much less likely to do so (there is some optimisation in Craps in regards to betting, but it pales before Poker or Blackjack).

 

So maybe some people's expectations are skewed by experience? Thoughts?

 

(Open discussion point - I'm not looking for a conclusion.)

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I once came up with an idea for using a deck of cards that consisted of only two card face values: a red square or a black square. The idea was for use in making basic action resolution "rolls". Rather than hand dice to a player, as GM I would hand the deck of cards, which might consist of, say, 20 cards. They were allowed to shuffle them and then draw a number of cards equal to their skill level. The number of reds that appeared indicated the number of successes they achieved.

 

That's the basic mechanic. But what this allows the GM to do is literally stack the deck according to the situation. Maybe the situation is truly hopeless, and so all 20 cards are black, and the player just thinks they had bad luck to draw all black cards. Or maybe the task is trivially easy, and so 18 of the cards are red. Or maybe the GM wants the heroes to automatically succeed in the task for dramatic reasons; well he can stack the deck with all red cards and the fudging won't be obvious.

 

In any event, this was a way of representing the difficulty of a task based on the situation without the players knowing all the hidden, unknowable variables only the GM was privvy to. It also had the effect of dismantling any bias for or against dice that players might have. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to put it into practice.

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The deck idea sounds neat -- but also very slow to implement/manage/maintain ... as the GM would constantly be mucking with the deck to get it stacked the way he wanted it for particular situations.  (Realistically I think a GM would need a certain number of pre-stacked decks ... which s/he could switch between.)

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Lace & Steel used cards to run its fencing game. The mechanics were sound enough, but in practice it was a bit awkward.

 

Cards work well for things that you hold on to to play later, and especially so if there are specific rules that apply since you can state those directly on the card. That's one of the reasons MTG works. And sometimes particular selecton-by-lot tokens are thematic - Deadlands had (has?) a mechanic using poker chips.

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The deck idea sounds neat -- but also very slow to implement/manage/maintain ... as the GM would constantly be mucking with the deck to get it stacked the way he wanted it for particular situations.  (Realistically I think a GM would need a certain number of pre-stacked decks ... which s/he could switch between.)

 

Yeah, that could be an issue. It would probably only work with a game system that doesn't involve a lot of dice rolling to begin with. In a typical combat situation, where there's lots of rolling to determine lots of different things, having to derive a Resolution Deck every time would be a major bottleneck.

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Not an RPG, but the tabletop version of Blood Bowl uses Special Play Cards that you draw at the start of a game and can use during a match to simulate underhanded trickery, random events or magic. It's otherwise a dice resolution game.

 

Cards could replace a luck or hero point mechanic quite easily.

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Cards could replace a luck or hero point mechanic quite easily.

 

Ars Magica had a deck of Whimsy Cards available as an accessory. The cards could influence the plot. They'd have something generic like Unexpected Aid or Turn of Luck or similar on them, and the player using one would create the situation. I think the idea was that it'd have to be approved by either the Storyteller or the players or some combination, to keep things from getting too crazy (or at least at the level of crazy the group was comfortable with).

 

The game used a troupe style where some players would play Mages (most powerful due to magic, lacking in most other areas) or Companions (skilled hero types who were friends and companions to the mages), and others would play groups of Grogs (grunts and red shirts). Grog players would get three cards, Companion players two cards and Mage players one card. So, they also served as a tool to keep people engaged who were playing the supporting characters. IIRC, players were encouraged to have a mage and a companion character and the grogs were a pool that anyone could run.

 

I always thought they were a pretty cool concept. I still have them around somewhere.

 

edit:

 

Ohh, just found out Drive Thru RPG has them on the Pay What You Want option:

 

http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/177643/Whimsy-Cards-PNP?

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An honest physical card deck can develop a skewed probability distribution (compared to truly nondeterministic dice) if it is used with long intervals between shuffles, as card-counters at the blackjack table know. That can be an intended game feature, though I can't think of many RPG systems that use that.

 

OTOH, if you shuffle after each individual card draw, a card deck acts like a funny-shaped die.

 

On third hand, computer implementations of both dice-like and cards-like randomness are almost invariably rigged. And I'm not talking about implementation of a pseudo-RNG with adequate statistical properties (which is a technical issue); rather, every game programmer in the world believes his game is made "more interesting" by having it do things that would -- no, should -- get you shot if you actually did it at a real card table. I flat-out will not play a computer card game any more that isn't solitaire.

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Another handy use for cards is providing a random distribution of actions and non-actions in a fixed sequence, as is being discussed the Champions forum thread on randomised Speed. Shuffle up red cards equal to the character's Speed with black cards equal to the number of segments they don't act (i.e. 12 minus Speed) and turn them over each segment to see if they act or not.

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