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11Oct/120

Randomness in Modules

Reading through a module I picked up, it reminded me to chat about a philosophy of mine and that's don't make everything in your module the result of a random die roll.

i.e. don't let your players actions be dominated by random dice rolls.  Give them the information they need to further the plot, the information that's just obvious, don't make them roll to change a television channel (true story from a pod cast I listened to a few weeks ago).  Don't slow the story and the game down with lots of random dice rolls.

In all the game systems I've designed that have skill systems in them, I use a three tier information/action system.  There's for lack of a better generic term, the Primary/Gimmee, the Secondary/Resource based, and the Tertiary/Random Luck.

The break down is Primary/Gimmee are things that the character can learn/notice/do simply by being present in the scene.   They don't need a roll or a skill.  They just 'get it'.

Secondary/Resource based are things that a character can learn/notice/do because that have 'any' skill/training/resource at whatever it would take or because they have something that would let them do it.  They 'get it' because they have the ability to do so.

And then lastly and least importantly is the Tertiary/Random information/actions.  These I use when I'd like to see possible branching solutions to a problem.   i.e. a PC when making their way home may notice that the crowd seems tense as they walk  through the streets, or they may spot the two figures standing in the shadows near your steps, or a neighbor may decide to give them a warning or whatever.  It's not critical to the story that the various rolls succeed.  It merely provides alternate paths if they do or don't.

Not to point fingers but here's a paraphrased quote from an unspecified module with way too many random rolls -

Getting into the house will require them to use the Lockpicking skill, or break a window which requires a Strength check with a bonus if they use an object to do it.

Anyone else see the problems with this?  There's a chance that a PC might not be able to break a standard house window due to random chance.  I don't know about your windows but I can pop one of mine from a rap with an fist or elbow, much less a rock I pick up anywhere in the street.

Additionally the vast majority of house doors in the U.S. can easily be booted open with a few kicks, door jambs especially tend to be that flimsy.

Under my design this wouldn't even be an entry for this encounter, it falls into the 'gimmee action'.  YOu don't really need to put stats in for everything, just a "The house doors are locked, front and back." and let the players figure out how to get in would suffice.

And the point of the encounter is to let them get into the house, why put obstacles in that path for no purpose other than roll dice?

Earlier on, they also needed a random roll to notice moving NPC's that aren't in any cover or taking any care to conceal their motions during the light of day.   That would fall into the 'primary information' gained. Rather than, "Sorry you had your eyes closed, you missed the ones out in the open because you failed your dice roll."  just add it to the scene description, "You see several moving figures, taking a few seconds to count, you come up with eight of them.."

Anyway, that's been my little discourse (rant) on module design and how much randomness is necessary to have a good story.

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