Monday, July 9, 2012

Just Keep the Damn Earth Flat

Let's talk about the player's weapon.

Above we have what I am sure at three completely modern-produced swords, despite the website they came from (not important).  The origin of the swords does not matter.  What matters are the blemishes and the nicks and chips that the sword may be conjectured to have lost or gained.  Did that black spot come from a dragon?  Was it discolored when it came into contact with the polar worm's gullet?  Were the carvings added later, by the King of Wisteria?

We have no idea.  All we have is a word, "sword," written on a character sheet.  We can't begin to know the effects of combat on the weapon, because to work out the effects of combat on a weapon with dice would take a ridiculously long time.  It would take a long time to throw the dice, it would be painstaking to write out said effects - and it would take far too fucking long to draw out the sword every time the "visuals" changed.

Hey, you know what doesn't take a long time to do shit like this?  Computers.  A computer can compute two swords hitting one another; it can compute (given perameters) the damage one sword does to another sword; and it can RENDER the image of both swords, so that as you fight, you can see minute, moment to moment changes affecting your weapon.  In this marvelous age of computer graphics and terabytes, this is possible.

Oh no, wait, it isn't.  We mustn't replace dice with anything closer to reality.  That would be wrong.

Still, it might be sort of interesting if everyone's weapons were recorded on their lap tops; if we incorporated a kinect-like graphic into the system so that you chose the weapon you were going to use, you reached towards your laptop, you 'grabbed' the handle of the weapon ... and then swung the weapon, generating those random numbers and then waiting, breathlessly, while the computer calculated the effect.  You could play the system both ways - incorporating your actual swing into your chance to hit ... or simply retaining the swing for the sense of doing something, and letting the computer roll the effect strictly randomly.

Oh, wait.  Yeah, that would be boring.  Why should it happen that the mace I have in my equipment list swings different or odd compared to someone else's mace?  That's boring.  Why should it be that my sword hits a bit less now since it was bitten by that gorgon, leaving that big scorch mark that sort of looks like that bitch Kardashian.  Fuck, that is SO boring.  What I really don't want is a sword that has complex modifiers that change and develop over time, depending on how the weapon is reforged or how long I've had the weapon, and how used to the handle I am.  Heck, I don't want to have to put up with slightly shittier effects from a NEW weapon I haven't broken in yet.  How fucking boring is that?

Yep, just give me those dice.  Those static, inflexible, limited, unchanging, nuance-free dice that give me all of twenty possibilities when I roll them.  Wow, just think:  TWENTY.

Fuck, that's enough for any game.  I don't want animals with complicated personalities that require me to make careful choices about how long to ride them and what food to feed them and what I say before I mount them.  "Horse" on my equipment list is ALL the information I need, thank you very much.  Anything more than that and I start to feel, well, inadequate.  It's just too much information, you know?

Yes, true, the computer handles all that information and I just get an answer that says the horse is a bit "spooky"this morning - but fuck, just because the computer can automatically account for my class, level, wisdom, previous experience with the animal and so on, and instantly flash that up on a screen for me, that doesn't make it better than writing things on paper.  Damn, I just so love writing things on pieces of paper, especially when I've forgotten to bring my character or I can't find the sheet that's important right now or I forgotten to write it down.  You know what's even better?  When the four other people at the table are rifling through their character sheets to find three words written about the mule they bought last week.  Now that's goddamn roleplaying!

Look, it's your game.  You can be happy with this two dimensional approach forever, or you can ruin the game by incorporating tools that have been invented since 1990.  Obviously, we know where I stand.

Fuck those computers.  Let's have a sword just be a word on paper.


Eric said...

Did you see this Kickstarter?

Alexis said...

I am not alone.

ScrivenerB said...

I'm getting a vague idea that you don't like dice. That's fine. Despite any wishes to the contrary I will not condemn you for it, nor will the legions of game programmers who, believe you me, revere no polyhedrons and have long since cast off their shackles when it comes to generating numbers. Your argument is better addressed to them than to some conjured cabal of hidebound dice-rollers; the programmers revere the multi-sided shibboleth no more than you. If the game you wish does not exist, take it up with them, not with this airy band of clattering dice rollers that haunts you. Enough, Don. Lay aside this lance. The windmill you rail against is pierced through and through.

Alexis said...

I have nothing against dice. They serve the purpose they serve. They are like toilets that way.

I simply don't love dice.

Alexis said...


I am sorry your comment is not here. Please make it more relevant to the subject matter at hand, and less like you are writing a post of your own.

Emma Peel said...

I don't understand why modeling the effect of use on a weapon and using dice for the attack roll are in any way mutually exclusive. What you describe is a cool idea and sounds like a lot of fun to me, but opposing it to using dice seems very strange.

Why couldn't you have your computer program that models the sword and comes up with whatever current modifier to hit and damage its present condition would warrant, and then just apply that outcome to the attack roll?

With how abstract D&D combat is in the first place, a perfectly functional program would just have to know how many rounds the fight went on and against what weapons and armor (depending on the detail of the simulation); a tiny bit of data input at the beginning of the fight for each combatant and a simple one button pressed for each round of combat and the program generates the newly updated modifiers. Perhaps a result of 1 or 20 on an attack roll would be noted in the program as well, but I don't think you would need much more record keeping than that.

I realize your point was less about actually modeling condition of weapons over time and more about bashing on a hidebound fixation with dice, but I like the idea and wish you would explore it on its own merits.

Carl said...

Hmmm, I seem to have posted a comment while logged in as my wife's gmail account, emmapeel. That last comment was me.

Eric said...

OK- "hit points are a gross abstraction. They were clever in the 70s, maybe. Are they something you see yourself trying to replace at some point?"

I then provided an example from Dwarf Fortress, which is fiercely simulationist and does not use hit points.

Alexis said...

Still technically off topic.

In the four posts I have written on this subject lately, I did not use the word "abstract" or "simulation" ... the word I used was "nuanced."

As such, I'm not asking for something more true to life. What I am asking for is more shit that can be incorporated in the game.

To put it another way. I don't want to get rid of hit points (which isn't an 'abstraction,' by the way ... fuck I hate when people don't know the meaning of words), I want hundreds of more sorts of rules LIKE hit points, that are interesting, easy to understand, fast-paced and contributory to risk assessment.

Unlike that Dwarf Fortress shit that just so manages to sicken me the more about it I learn.

Kaspar said...

What is hp in your game then?

Alexis said...

I'll answer it in another post when I have time - but consider this:

Does it really matter?

JDJarvis said...

Where's the digital character record and when do the players get to scribble in the margins? The computer requires a democracy of skills and economy that isn't here just yet that was (technically) attained with paper a long time ago.

Blaine H. said...

All in all, a really interesting post but I don't think we are quite there just yet in terms of computer power and speed between computers to be able to actually get the full rendering of sword and weapon damage to each other and to armor in an accurate manor to fulfill the requirement you set forth in this piece. Mind you, I love the idea to be honest.

I would love a computer to be able to hand a good deal of the material but the moment you start needing to bring multiple people into a world, a good deal of problems start to come up. Some I hope increases in speed and computing power will be able to solve.

At best these days, you only are probably going to get a series of models and texture skins that will appear on the weapon or armor in question till which time that it breaks at preset periods of time... namely do to the needs of programming and modeling.

Again, I am hoping that time will improve these systems to get away from the use of a random number generator of any variety, be it dice or a computer. But on the other hand, there is part of me that does not want to flail around in my living room, namely due to lack of space for the motion tracking controls like the kickstarter project listed above or play a twitch high reflex game (the Mount and Blade series of games for example) when I want to play an adventure... so there is still room for the more traditional RPG.

Still, I enjoyed the piece and I do agree that dice are not a great tool and they really do need to be improved upon. Computer games hopefully will be able to fill that hole but right now, most of the adventure module creators require a good amount of programming knowledge and some experience with using a 3d modeller to get the most out of them to make the most of them.

Maybe in a few years... lets hope.

Scarbrow said...

An interesting point being raised here: the inequality of knowledge and programming ability among people, as opposed to the comparatively equality of skills with paper and pencil.

Also, not only I'm able to write "HORSE" on a sheet of paper quicker than I can model a horse, I can also teach somebody to write it much more quickly than I can teach him to do it (please understand my point, it's not a question of graphical libraries or pre-rendered horses).

So it's not only a question of how I'm able to tell a story with a pencil or a voice synthesizer, it's an education problem on a more basic level, on merely using those tools.

ESR said...

I'm personally in favour of the simplicity of RPGs. The problem with computer models and such is that if you want to get creative and do your OWN work/models, you suddenly have to be a professional programmer - but maybe that's where you're headed with this? That once you hit a certain level of DM'ing and creativeness, you need to take the next step and start designing SYSTEMS, rather than just adventures?

But here's the beauty of dice: simplicity, without all the boring, annoying, or simply overwhelming options that reality brings - that's why it's a game.

Alexis said...

I feel that if it is done right, a system can be created for anything that is as user friendly as excel, blogger or word.

Allowing a DM to keep it as simple, or make it as complicated, as they like, so that no one needs to learn to be a programmer just to choose from all the options that are made available.

Computers must always be made as friendly as pencils and paper - or else the programmer isn't doing the whole job.

Jeremiah Scott said...

A computer is a wonderful tool to multiply and administrate the emergent complexity of thousands--millions--of numbers generated randomly in service of the multitude of exciting rules that could be added if a system like this were available to the DM not versed in writing code. I would love that! It could serve as a virtually assistant to the DM and players. I hold as a D&D axiom that increasing complexity while maintaining difficulty is always desirable.

The only hesitation I have is that I would want such a system in every way to stimulate imagination rather than replace it. And I fear most of the CS guys I know wouldn't understand the difference.