Random is Lazy

Hey gamers. It’s ya boi Salty back with another hot take on what’s just sticking in my craw this week.

Today we’ll be talking about Randomness.

Now I don’t mean “hi every1 im new!!!!!!! holds up spork my name is katy but u can call me t3h PeNgU1N oF d00m!!!!!!!!” random.

I’m talking randomness as a core game mechanic.

“But Salty,” you say, “Dice, a random number generator, is the very symbol of table top gaming, it’s where it started!”

“Aha!” I retort “People also didn’t have transport, good clothing, social security, or guaranteed food to start with. Starting with something doesn’t mean you should continue it indefinitely without reason.”

So why does a game developer choose to use dice, or random card draw, or any other random mechanic at the heart of their game design?

It’s Not Realistic

Randomness is hardly something you encounter in your day to day life. Everything from getting a string of green lights on your way home, to walking along a beam without falling is not random. Either it’s pre-determined (based on when you left + traffic slowdown) or based on your innate abilities (balance) .

Let’s take a thought experiment: I attempt to kick down ten standard wooden doors. If I successfully kick down the first, would you say I’m overwhelmingly likely to succeed at doing the same to the remaining nine? Of course you would! I’ve demonstrated a requisite strength skill to defeat the challenge!

So why does my Barbarian have to roll a dice to do the same? Is a one on the dice a sudden bout of Ross River Fever?

Reward and Punishment is often Undeserved

The amount of times I’ve seen a good roll turn a daunting task into a cakewalk is far too many. Similarly, having played tabletop games with card-draw, I’ve seen players get lucky and win out without stress or lose everything digging for the last puzzle piece to open the $*#% door.

Using a system that has no guarantee of success, no matter how well the game is played, is just asking to underwhelm players.

In a system like this, the emaciated librarian always has a chance to drift the 1932 Oldsmobile around a corner like Colin McRae, and the Military-Man can always fail to land a point blank shot on the broad side of a barn (looking at you X-Com).

No random here.

It’s Not Strategic

This part is more for competitive games, not players-vs-game systems.

By using randomness as part of your game, all you’re doing is forcing your players to act within a probability spectrum, positioning themselves well for the most likely outcome. By this definition (and the section above) it’s not a fair assessment of that player’s skill, they can do everything correctly and still be defeated by a lesser opponent.

An old Magic: The Gathering player used to say to me: “Luis Scott Vargas could lose to an 8-year-old because of the draw” it’s hyperbole, but it’s not incorrect. I looked it up and even at their best, MTG pros have a 70% match win percentage.

To my mind, even though I have no love for the genre, Real Time Strategy is the pinnacle of competitive gaming. Balancing resources, army generation, tech trees to counter your opponent, and so many other little things makes the game entirely skill based. There’s no randomness, no “sorry, you mined this node but got zero resources!”, and it’s perfect. It’s just chess for people with insane actions per minute. The better player with the better strategy should always win.

I hope all of that has made sense. Feel free to disagree, maybe you find randomness more exciting. The propect of not knowing what will happen lends mystery to your role playing sessions.

For me, just let me have my realism and sensibility. I don’t want what I can achieve to change based on nothing but the luck of the dice.

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