RPGaDay2019 Day 27 – Suspense

Suspense. That’s the inspiration for day 27 of #RPGaDay2019, following Idea yesterday.

  • “I’m going to smash the zombie’s head in!”
  • “I’m going to sneak round the back and take the Snargle while no-one is looking”
  • “I’m going to jump across this ravine”
  • “I’m going to fire a crossbow bolt with a rope tied to it at the boat in hopes that it will stick in and allow me to cross”
  • “I’m going to pull myself across the river using the rope and board the boat”

Will it work? Who knows. The dice are rolling…

Oh, the suspense…

And then the dice settle and the result is decided. We move on. But for that short moment no-one knew what was going to happen.

As I mention in my post on Triumph and Calamity, you need the opportunity for failure to make the successes seem worthwhile. But if the decision seems to be arbitrary based on the DM’s whim and whether someone took her last muffin, it is unsatisfying whichever way it goes. By making it depend on the dice, which base their “decision” purely on the laws of physics, it feels objective while still not having the result cut-and-dried.

Imagine a game without dice or some other form of randomisation. At best it’s like playing craps against Big Julie in Guys and Dolls who “remembers where de spots formerly was” on his blank dice. At worst you might as well just read a book to find out what happens.

It’s the randomisation that allows you to make strategies, decide whether it’s a chance worth taking, engage with the game. Is the risk worth the reward?

Studies have shown that the quickest way to addiction is if you get the reward only sometimes and unpredictably. Even if you fail (especially if you fail), you need to keep on trying for the time when you get the hit of success. But you do need to get the success sometimes.

D&D 5e has been tuned so that most attack and skill rolls succeed 30-70% of the time. But better still, you can tweak those odds – use a weapon you are proficient with and which plays to your strengths (Strength or Dexterity) to increase your odds of hitting, purchase better armour to decrease the opponents’ odds of hitting, cosy up to your Rogue so they get advantage.

But whatever happens, there is still the chance of failure by rolling a 1 or the chance of an unlikely success on a 20, so until the dice stop rolling you don’t know the outcome.

It’s the suspense in the game which makes it so fun.

Tomorrow we have “Love”.

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