7 May 2010

...And Let That Be The End Of The Matter!

 This Dice vs. Cards thing is now irritating me. Not because everyone keeps saying how much they wuv their dice and would marry them if they were not polyhedral lumps of plastic; although that is slightly creepy.

No, what's getting me is that people say that Cards = Dice and therefore Cards !> Dice. In the Core Book we went into some detail about why this was not the case but now I think about it we probably didn't get to the heart of the matter. All the things we say are true, cards are more versatile and excellent mnemonically to keep system in people's heads instead of forcing them to bookmark rules and charts or refer to their super secret GM Screen to remember what numeric value on what chart means what.

But this doesn't cut to the very greatest thing about cards, i.e. they save you time.

I have not run a session that ran longer than three and a half hours in at least a year. At the same time, no one leaves these sessions feeling short changed. This is not a usual state of affairs in the hobby of RP. Of course I did my hahasoamusing little experiment write up in yesterday's entry. Although intended to be sarcastic it does have a serious point behind it. My session plans have gone from being good for two to three weeks worth of play, doing four and a half hour's worth at a time, coming away from every session feeling we should have done more, to cramming a good deal of plot and action into three to four hours with space for a tea break in the middle. Where did all this time come from?

Some might reason that I had simply become a more efficient Host. Well, possibly, but I know some cracking Hosts who have been in the game far longer than I have who still have a problem keeping in the limits of a good six hour run.

Maybe it is a combination of elements, fair enough. But here's one thing I know for a fact. Rolling a dice isn't just more time-consuming compared to drawing a card, it has the potential to introduce a finger-pause in the action that threatens to deep-six your session. Now, I have noticed that this is certainly not the case when properly playing your game of choice on a tabletop. Board games and the like seem to take a throw of the dice in their stride, it's part of the fun, and I have enjoyed exactly that fun on more than one occasion myself.

No, where dice are the kiss of death is in the sofa-lounge scenario. There's something quite luxurious about loafing about on a sofa engaged in RP something that gets players into a rhythm and even seems to put them in something of a trance. Nothing shatters that concentration like everyone craning forward to see a dice roll. Now, if you were to display dice rolls on a television screen or similar so they were big enough to be read without people craning forward to see them then that might mitigate the problem; but why employ technology when a playing card is usually clear enough to be seen by someone just holding it aloft?

This is where I think the time gains are made. There is some time at the beginning of a session where people are settling into the game. In a way the game takes a while for everyone involved to become fully engaged in it. I believe that in the past when people have rolled a dice it almost jogs them out of the game. Having a tea break also has a similar effect but that happens maybe once in a session, dice rolling is supposed to be a more frequent event.

Now I come to think about it I remember when I used to run Over The Edge by the book, with dice pools and what have you, we used to swerve rolls wherever possible. In fact the habit of being a dice dodger was one that infected all the games I played (not necessarily Hosted, just partook of) before starting in on No Dice. Now I come to think about it I can remember a lot of times the Host of the game, and sometimes that was me, made a Host Fiat decision before allowing the rhythm to be upset by a randomiser check. Randomiser checks which were supposed to be common became a last resort.

Some gamers still wear the "we hardly ever roll dice" thing as a narrative badge of honour. I always felt it made the whole thing less fun if you were afraid of trusting the vagaries of chance. If you stick to the unforgiving mistress that is chance the story is likely to be a lot more dramatic for the players than it is if you are the Host who enforces most of the rules but is basically on the player's side. Choices become important. In a fudged game choices are not really choices, they're just scenery on the mystery tour which really only has one destination and outcome.

Host Fiat in such cases is evil. It should be used to decide whether a proposed player plan even has a chance of succeeding; it's not intended to replace the element of chance altogether. The problem is that when your arbitration mechanism is destructively intrusive it encourages destructively simple Host arbitration. The most effective arbitrary Hosts are the ones who sustain a healthy distance between themselves and the players, although I always find this overcooks the player experience, the game becomes one of [Insert Host Name Here]'s games which are unique and untouchable.

Unless it can be systemised and is approachable it needs work. At least, in my world it does. For these reasons:
  • discourages "fluffy Host syndrome"
  • encourages randomiser use
  • preserves fictive state
  • shortens game length
  • while increasing game quality
I say cards are indeed > dice. And that's all I have to say on the topic ever.

The Bloody End (of my NSHO).

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