As I was saying, it sure beats the hell out of watching your ball club lose its third straight in as many days. But you know, I will watch more Mariners games this year (at least if they're on in the pub at the same time I'm eating dinner). And it's not because I'm a big baseball fan, either (I'm not). The M's have been terrible for years, being incredibly deficient in the way of hitting (something kind of important for winning games). But even though they don't always win...hell, even though they have a propensity for losing games...it's still fun to watch. Because there's always the chance they'll win. They do win sometimes...sometimes blowing up even good teams (they swept Detroit and beat the hell out of Texas this year, for example). There's always a chance, and it's fun to see how that chance plays out. I'm not talking about betting or odds-making (I'm not into gambling)...I'm just talking about the entertainment value of watching events unfold; events over which you have little (if any) personal control.
Sooo...have I talked about dice before?
Probably not any more than in passing. Which is fine...they're truly a very small part of the role-playing experience (some RPGs don't even bother with 'em), despite the pages and pages of text often devoted to various (dice-driven) mechanics in an RPG.
In case you haven't noticed the badge I wear on this blog, I'm one of those gamers who are content to let the dice fall where they may. I don't "fudge" dice rolls. That is to say, if I'm running a game (as a DM or GM) and the situation calls for a die roll, then the result of the die roll stands...it doesn't get adjusted by my fiat to result in something more "appropriate."
Is this about fairness and impartiality? It is not. I'm going to paraphrase the game designer Greg Stolze from his essay in Wild Talents: the dice may be impartial, but their application and interpretation sure isn't. And part of the GM's responsibility (and the reason he/she's often stuck with the job of interpreting those dice) is to provide a structure to the game that enforces the logic of your particular game's setting.
Stolze is a pretty smart guy. He points out (in the same essay) that if what you really cared about was "fairness" and "impartiality" you could simply flip a coin whenever there's a dispute that needs resolution to come up with a simple yes/no, succeed/fail answer. Of course, no one wants to give Lois Lane even odds of knocking out Superman with one sucker punch, so we have rules and randomization to determine (what Stolze calls) "degrees of likelihood." After all, it should be tougher to take down Jimmy Olsen than Superman, right?
And as Mr. Stolze also points out, gauging these "degrees of likelihood" and working the odds (and playing these odds) is a fun and entertaining pastime.
Now, please allow me to expand a bit on Mr. Stolze point of view:
The use of dice as a "randomizer" is only appropriate when all possible outcomes are interesting and acceptable.
Got that? The same applies to other methods of fortune generation (drawing cards, flipping coins, whatever). If the possible result of the randomizer doesn't produce an interesting and acceptable result, then you shouldn't bother with the randomizer. Period.
I'll give a quick example: let's say you're playing a game like, say, Mutants & Masterminds. Ol' Captain Protonik is fighting a number of street thugs because, well, they were doing something thuggish. Say, Protonik's player is having a really bad day rolling dice...he loses initiative to the street thugs. All three manage to hit him, and despite only needing to roll a 4 or better to save versus damage (the thugs are using pipe wrenches), he rolls a 1, 2, and 3 and gets all bruised up. Then he misses with his super punch, by rolling a really low roll. Say the next round goes similarly bad and now when he rolls a 1 or 2 on his damage save he is stunned, losing his actions for the round. What if things just get progressively worse with Protonik being bludgeoned unconscious in the alley? This is the equivalent of seeing some street toughs kick the crap out of Superman. Except that you'd never see that happen in a Superman comic unless kryptonite is involved.
But in M&M it IS possible. Sure, it's unlikely...like it's unlikely the Mariners will go on a tear and win the pennant this year. But unlikely doesn't mean impossible. I've seen player characters go whole sessions, with multiple multi-round combats and challenges, and fail every single die roll they attempted (attacks, saves, initiative, skills, etc.). That happens. It's bad luck or an off day. Heck, the PC might still be an effective, contributing member of the party...assuming they are proactive with their other (non-rolling) input and ideas.
But is it acceptable and interesting for Superman to get thumped by the likes of Turk and Grotto? (old school Marvel players will catch that reference) No, not really. I mean, yeah it's entertaining (personally, I'd get a kick out of it) but it's certainly not appropriate in terms of logic of the game setting. And if I, the player, wanted my character to BE the equivalent of Superman, I'd be pissed off at being humiliated in this way. That's not what I signed up for!
But that's part of the M&M game; that's the way the system is designed. You can ignore (i.e. "fudge") the die roll...but then why bother rolling the dice at all? If failure and humiliation are not possibilities, then why make those things possibilities of the randomizing force? Don't bother making the player roll a die if you already know what the end result is.
Of course, some might ask why you bother playing the game at all, when you could just be writing a short story detailing what happens to the characters.
Ugh...it's nearly 2:30am. I started this post a little late, and my brain is shutting down. I'll catch it up tomorrow after I've had some sleep.