Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #100 - Critical Reaction


First of all, holy crap, 100 of these things!

Secondly ... holy crap, 100 of these things ... *phew* no wonder I'm tired.

OK, enough grousing, back to the show!

I made a comment today (the day I wrote this, not the day it published) and the more I think about it the more it remains true. I said...


At the time I was just thinking about how a fighter can do all kinds of cool stuff with stunts in AGE the same way a fighter in DCC gets to do cool stuff with their Deed Die.

But then I got to thinking about it and I realized that a lot of DCC captures the "potential for awesome" that the AGE system uses its stunt mechanic for. For spell casters the tiered spell results from spell checks is a more extreme version of getting an AGE Spell Stunt. Fighters obviously get their Deed Die which works much like a Combat Stunt with ability to deal extra damage, push a foe, and similar.

I gave this some thought. Why does the Stunt Die still jump out at me as one of those truly great mechanics? Why does the design of DCC similarly enchant me? And then I thought, why do we remember natural 20s and critical 1s so much more often than the other 18 results of the die?

Reactivity.

There's a certain desire for mechanics with a level of reliability. It's human nature to want to know that something will work. But there's also the gambler's desire to win big, to play the risk. This is why we love to roll the dice and are overjoyed at those high critical results and similarly dismayed by the low critical failures. And the mechanics tend to reinforce those dice rolls by making those moments stand out further from the surrounding events. Critical successes do double damage or have some additional superlative effect, and critical failures deal setbacks or fumbles or the like. These moments stand out because they are designed to do so. They are by no means the only way a moment can stand out, but I'd guess that more than half of the anecdotes we hear about gaming are related to a critical result of some kind.

Not all games use a d20 of course, which leads to mechanics that do similar jobs. The AGE system uses stunts for when you roll doubles on your 3d6. The FFG Star Wars system (does it have a name?) uses Triumph and Despair symbols. DCC has criticals and fumbles AND graded dice rolls for spells AND heroic Deed Dice. DCC is a veritable smorgasbord of exceptional dice potential. Savage Worlds and other systems use "Exploding" Dice. The list goes on.

But there are games that don't have this same level of chance imbibed into their design DNA. FATE's dice coming up all minus or all plus doesn't do anything more than any other roll. I don't recall that Dungeon World had anything special around the dice, but I could be remembering incorrectly. I think in hindsight and with some reflection that this is perhaps why I am less attracted to those games.

Where am I going with this? Good question! Actually I think its just that I realize now that as much as reliability in character skill and abilities is a good thing that players strive for that many of us also seek out and crave those random aspects of gaming that bring surprise to the table and help spin unexpected and unique events into our own personal legends.

What's your take?