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Creating Diceless Chaos (long)

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OKay, I can't remember if this has been done or not before... [if it has, someone please point me in that direction]... but here's something I want to discuss/generate ideas about:

Many people agree that there needs to be some form of chaos in the game, this is good because:

A) Each game will turn out differently from the previous one, making replayability high,

B) Players have changing circumstances they must react to as the game goes on, keeping their focus and interest in the current game.

C) It keeps players who aren't as good motivated to keep playing, as there is still some chance they can pull off a victory.

However many people do NOT like chaos in the game, because of the following:

A) They believe that the better player should generally win the game, randomness defeating a good player is a bad thing.

B) They want the security that the strategy they have come up with for the game will not be defeated by a random factor, only by an opposing strategy.

So as a result, dice are both overused and demonized.

But there ARE games where a great deal of chaos is included in the game... without any actual "chance" factors.

An example would be Strategy War (a variant of the card game War), in which each player has half the cards (i.e. the red cards vs. the black cards) and chooses which card to play each turn. That basically boils down to a complex game of Rock-Scissors-Paper.

Abstract games manage it sometimes, like Chess and Chinese Checkers, where the chaos comes from the interaction of your pieces with the (theoretically) unpredictable moves your opponents make.

A better example IMHO is The Amazing Labyrinth, mentioned elsewhere in this forum, in which all of the maze pieces are set up on the board and every turn one player shifts a row of pieces, completely redrawing the maze in the process. The guaranteed chaos comes from the rule that the only restriction on the player's shift is he cannot simply reverse the previous shift.

Many would argue that there is NO chance involved in Chess, Chinese Checkers, Strategy War, and The Amazing Labyrinth (although there are other chance elements in The Amazing Labyrinth). However, all of these games SIMULATE the desired chaos very well...

What other ways can we come up with to create or simulate chaos? What has been done already?

Creating Diceless Chaos (long)

I'll throw in a combat/movement mechanic here that I really admired from a friend's homemade RPG, which he may have ripped off from another person.

He took apart three decks of cards, and put one ace, two twos, three threes, etc. all the way up to ten tens into a new "initiative" deck. This deck was then used to measure the speed of combatants and their actions. Each character had a "speed" rating based on his dexterity, the weapon he was using, and some other factors. To start a battle, the deck was shuffled, and then cards revealed one at a time from the top. Whenever your Speed rating came up, your character was entitled to make an action of some sort (move, attack, whatever). Thus characters with high Speed ratings could quite realistically move faster and do more than characters with low Speed ratings... If someone somehow acquired a Speed rating higher than 10, say for example 14, they simply moved on 10s AND 4s. When the deck ran out, it was reshuffled and started again.

The chaos of the system was that the cards were in random order, unlike the similar Impulse system of Star Fleet Battles. You never knew when your actions were going to come up in the deck... so you had to pay attention to the situation and take advantage of opportunities that came up, and take risks based on how likely you thought you were going to be able to move again before your opponent was.

There were also things that could affect the speed of characters during the combat.. injuries, fatigue could reduce it, magic could increase or reduce it, changing weapons or being disarmed mid fight, etc...

Joined: 08/03/2008
Creating Diceless Chaos (long)

I like your friend's combat system, very neat! I still think the game that does this best is Wallenstein, in which participants in a battle throw cubes representing their armies into a tower. Some cubes will fall out of the tower, but some will get stuck. Players subtract units simultaneously until only one player is left, and that player is the winner, and he keeps whatever units remain.

It's cool because it makes individual battles uncertain, but because your cubes stay in the tower, there is a good chance that they'll fall out in some future battle, and you can plan around this to some extent. So it isn't like die-rolling where you're hoping statistics will even out lucky rolls--the system evens out necessarily.

The only downside is that it requires the dice tower itself, which not everyone has access to. But it's definitely the coolest "chaotic" element that generates the "Woo hoo!" effect of an against-the-odds success and the "aha!" effect of die rolling, but also doesn't rely on luck alone.


Joined: 04/23/2013

Random Theory is one of my favorite things to talk about.

At, one of the definitions of randomness is 'the quality of lacking any predictable order or plan '.

I like to define randomness (in game terms) as outcomes that are difficult to accurately predict.

A lot of people like to say that Chess has no randomness. I like to argue that your opponent and even you yourself can behave in an unpredictable manner. There are all sorts of external forces affecting a person that may cause a person to make one choice in a given situation, and a completely different choice on a different day. Is this true randomness? It's hard to say.

On the flip side, if you could throw a die the same way everytime with the same conditions, theoretically it would land the same everytime. If you could duplicate the starting the position, the force and direction in which you throw the die, and could maintain static external forces affecting the die, it WOULD turn up the same everytime. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for us gamers), it is impossible to completely duplicate all or even any of these conditions from one toss to the next. Therefore, we maintain the illusion of randomness by being unable to control, and therefore predict the outcome of any given situation.

In another example, suppose a game mechanic involves a dice cup where there is placed a different color cube, one for each player. Now suppose the cup is passed around and each player chooses and secretly removes one of the cubes from the cup. Now as an outsider (or non cube choosing player), how would you predict which player took which cube? In real world terms, nothing random has taken place. It was only a matter of players choosing between the remaining cubes that were passed to them. However in game terms, it is impossible to predict which player took which cube. Is this randomness? In real world terms no, but practically speaking in game terms, yes it is!

My point? I think, we, as game designers, put too much emphasis on randomness and methods to go about achieving randomness. A lot of times, randomness, or the inability to accurately predict an outcome, are 'built in' to games simply because of the basic social interactive nature of games. Am I suggesting we do away with various mechanics for generating randomness? No, not at all. In games, as players start to learn the game environment and develop working strategies, they are more likely to be consistent with their choices. Because of this, I do believe that some method of preventing accurate prediction is necessary. The whole point in randomness is to create a sense or urgency or apprehension about having to make a decision. If I know that if I move my pawn to square A that I will win the game, it presents me with no stress about having to make the decision; the outcome is guaranteed. However, if there are several possible outcomes for moving to square A, such as winning the game, losing a turn, or moving back to start, I may spend a great deal more time weighing the possibilities and drawbacks for each. This adds to my apprehension for making the decision, and ultimately it makes the victory all that much sweeter or the loss all that much more agonizing.

Again, what is the point? Simply, just because your game does not have dice or card shuffles or spinners or what have you, does not mean it does not have a method of randomness (or methods for hindering predictability). Oftentimes we over look this point and our game designs suffer because we feel we must forcibly and consciously add randomization elements. A lot of times we take our well balanced strategy game and catapult it into a dice fest simply because we feel we need to include such mechanisms to add variety.


Brykovian's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008
Re: Creating Diceless Chaos (long)

waywardclam wrote:
What other ways can we come up with to create or simulate chaos? What has been done already?

I'm becoming more and more a fan of "picking things out of a bag" ... such as cubes or chips. This accomplishes something very similar to a deck of cards, however gives a nice tactile feel such as Gil mentioned on the dice-rolling thread.

Speaking a little bit to what darke just posted, any time you allow the players to interact or make choices which impact each other -- bidding, dealing out N+1 cards and allowing players to choose in order, 1 player forced into a judgement role between 2 other players, etc. -- you are putting the "human element" type of chaos into the game.


Creating Diceless Chaos (long)

Thank you for the great and perceptive responses.

Maybe I should have been a little more short winded though. :)

But I appreciate the concept of pulling things from a bag... many games come to mind from that... Scrabble for starters, plus the initiative mechanic from Shogun.


Just giving a player a set of opposing choices and limited resources creates a sort of a chaotic element. Consider a farming game, where a player could plant new crops, harvest crops, sell harvested crops, or trade crops but could only do one of those things per turn. Each player may choose something different, no one can correctly predict everyone's individual choice each turn no more than they could predict what could be rolled on a six sided die.

Another real fun element is the secret ballot. The current hottest element in every reality TV show knockoff, each player has a secret vote, and the votes are tallied and something happens. It triggers a mechanic in the game, reward, punishment, or some other factor.

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