Friday, July 29, 2011

Discussion: Should Good Die Rolls Be Rewarded?

When discussing the differences between L5R 4th ed and L5R 3rd ed (or 3rd ed revised, if you prefer) with one of the people in my game, I noticed something.

The thing I noticed is this: one of the things that my friend doesn't like about 4th ed, is that in 4th ed you do not regain a void point if you roll 3 or more explosions on a dice roll. He feels like you should get something for rolling well. This is also a view he expressed when running a trial run of one of my games, where he immediately put in the optional rule for multiple 6s to give a bonus to the die roll.

The thing is, both the system I made and L5R are specifically designed (at least for the most part) to not care what the person rolled, aside from how it answers the question "did you beat the difficulty?" There is no default "critical success" mechanic in L5R, nor is their a "botch" mechanic. You either succeed or you fail. If you want to succeed more, and do better at the task, you need to call raises. Those raises give you the extra effect, but even with raises it doesn't matter if you roll a 40 or a 400, as long as you beat the difficulty you completed the task with the extra effect.

Obviously there are some exceptions (initiative and damage spring to mind), but my question for you today is this: is there something about a good die roll that is inherently deserving of reward?

My personal belief is to say no. I don't think so. Sure, some systems have crit/botch mechanics, and in those systems you have the reward for a good/bad roll. However, I do not think such a thing is necessary, or should be seen as a bad thing if it is gone. My reason for this? What did the player do that was special? Nothing. They through the die, it bounced, it rolled, and it came up on a good value. It was just as likely to come up a 2 as it was that natural 20, and I've never heard anyone say they expected something awesome because they rolled a natural 2.

Keep in mind, I am talking about systems where the die roll is used for a binary result (success/failure) and not used for degrees of success. Those systems have a reward built in, and that is fine. But to answer the question, you need to assume there is another way - not die related - to determine degrees of success or failure.

On the side against me, I can see some of the arguments. Other games have us trained that high rolls are better than lower rolls, and that truly high rolls get a reward (crits). However, those games also (usually) have penalties for truly low rolls. A nat 20 critically succeeds; a nat 1 critically fails. Is that acceptable? Random awesome, but also random horrible?

I'm curious what some of you will say about this, from GM, Player, and a Game Design stand point. Obviously, rewards are awesome and make people feel good. But does a high roll inherently deserve to be rewarded? By the same token, does a bad roll inherently deserve to be penalized?


  1. The main reason I dislike not rewarding high rolls is the feeling it gives me (and other players I have talked to, but this is mostly a personal bias). It feels bad when you blow the target number out of the water, and rolling well, in my opinion, should never ever feel bad. Lets take L5R for example, say my target number is 20 and I am rolling 3k2. 3k2 averages out to 13, and as such I don't call raises. Suddenly, I roll a 35. It feels like a waste, I "pulled off" something that is really difficult and it feels like I wasted it. And that feeling, actually gets worse as we scale things up. You should feel awesome for having achieved a hard goal, but it feels wasted. That feeling might be because on the games I started on either had degrees of success or was L5R 3ed which had a reward in place, so I could be "trained" to feel like I should get a reward, but I am not sure.

    Intellectually, I know that beating a roll like that was a 1 in 100 chance (or whatever the actual statistic is). I know that I just succeed at something hard, and I know that my "succeeding" was really just me getting spontaneously lucky when I shook up and released some dice. But it consistently leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Now whether or not games should be attempting to squash random bad feelings that could hinder fun is another thing, and whether or not this should register if they do is another. But thats my two cents on the situation.

  2. Obviously your feelings on this would be your own Adrenrocker, and I'm not trying to change that. However, trying to look at it objectively, my feeling is this: A 3k2 beating a TN 20 is not a waste, as 3k2 should not, except in the luckiest of situations, be able to make a TN20 at all. So when it does, the person has been rewarded with success that should have been beyond their means.

    At the same time, someone who is rolling 10k5 should be expected to beat a TN20. So them beating it, whether by an inch or a mile, is nothing special. They haven't tried for something beyond their reach. In fact, they're trying for something that everyone would expect them to be able to do unless they were unlucky. So, why reward them for doing what everyone knows they can do?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Not sure why it deleted that post. But what I said was your right, and that was part of the point i was trying to make. I was rewarded by actually making the hard to hit TN. But, because I went over so much the roll feels wasted, and generally my initial feeling is just as bad, or in some cases worse, than had I just failed the roll. To me thats an issue, when succeeding feels like failure. Now I a acknowledge this on me, but I thought game design was supposed to try to stop things like that. Humans are emotional creatures, and alot of times the emotional response overrides the logical or correct one, something Game design takes into account. I'm not saying enough people agree with me to make it worthy of worrying about, but it does irk me abit. I do agree that rewarding 10k5 for beating a TN 20 seems silly, but I think thats a trade off thats worth it.

    I think the best way to handle something like this in game design is exactly how you did in M.A.C.C., with the optional rule. It lets the GM and the group in question deal with the situation as they see fit. If it bothers them, no harm, no foul, just add the rule. If not, just ignore it.

  5. What game design is or isn't for, I'm not sure aside from making for a fun game. And optional rules, or specific games aside, I'm more interested in the general here.

    For that, I'm putting your answer as "yes, they should be." Which is perfectly valid.

  6. What I feel is important here is that you are not testing the player's ability. This gets a little muddled in some games. A dice roll is a mechanic that is intended to represent the possibility of failure of the character.

    With that important distinction, a dice roll represents how well the character does with the skill they have. It may represent the energy that the character puts behind an action or their focus or just for some intangible reason it just went right. As such it's my view that a very good dice roll represents the character getting things "just right".

    I'm not so big on critical failures but I'm not opposed to them. Most games don't really have much said on critical success but in play, when someone aced a role, we would role play it that the character did even better than they had expected to.

  7. Emmett: That is the case for normal systems. But some systems, like L5R, the player chooses how much the character is putting into a test by calling raises. So, it's not "I beat the TN by 10, so I did it that easily" it's "I beat the roll with two raises called. So I did it easily."

    in that situation, does the good roll inherently deserve reward, when the player is able to call their own extra effects - or not, if they just want an easier time on the roll.

  8. I understand thats how it's supposed to work but all it's really doing is limiting the success of the players. The reason that I say that is, if I have to declare when I'm going to roll well, I'm going to miss some of my good rolls and so therefore some of their potential is wasted. In most cases if you call your raises and pass, you still rolled slightly higher and maybe you could have raised again.

    I'm not saying that every point of a high roll needs to mean something and the raise system is nice for a player showing they want to do exceptionally on a roll but I don't think a naturally high roll should be ignored especially when it's important to the player. Maybe it doesn't have to do more damage but maybe just up the difficulty for the opponent to defend. Even if it's just a narration of how the character performed the action flawlessly that can sometimes be enough.