Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A combined resource tracking and random resolution idea for RPGs

Okay, time to take my mind off my tumultuous--but increasingly interesting--employment situation with a little game-related pipedreaming.

Universalis is a fascinating little storytelling toy of a system that I haven't yet gotten a chance to try out. Its central mechanic is the spending of a regularly-refreshed resource called "coins" (although they could certainly be represented by any kind of easily-handled token) to create facts about your shared story. Another thing you can do with coins is buy dice to roll in conflicts against other players when competing over where the storyline should go. Since you buy dice on a one-for-one basis, I realized, you could actually just use dice to represent your coins in the first place. But that'd be a hell of a lot of dice. Some people have that many, sure, but I don't.

On the other hand, if you reduced the dice mechanics to a simple 50-50 pass-fail dice pool, you could skip the dice and just use literal coins. That'd be pretty awesome, if only coins weren't just slightly too thin and heavy to handle well, and their heads and tails side were more immediately distinguishable. I mean, flipping a whole handful of pennies, counting out the heads in the result, and then picking them all up again would actually be pretty annoying.

So, I've been thinking, what about the lightweight, bi-colored chips from an Othello (a.k.a. Reversi) set? Those would be great for both resource tracking and simple dice pools (better than dice, in fact). So great, in fact, that they'd be worth building a whole system around 'em. Although I'd like them a little smaller, for easier mass-flipping. And I wouldn't want to buy a whole bunch of Othello boards just to get the chips.

This stumped me for a while, but I think I've hit on the perfect substitute: buttons. I could buy like 200 or so small, black clothing buttons--they don't even have to all be the same size or shape, really--and just spraypaint one side of 'em white or silver or something. I figure that ought to be just about perfect. They'd be easy to pass around and store in piles or little bowls, and you could shake up a handful, toss them down, count the silvers, and collect them again without even having to think about it. Compare your silver results to your opponent's to see whose decision stands. You've got better chances if you sacrifice a lot of buttons on the contest--and also if other players donate to your cause--but the outcome is still random.

I think this could work. I'm not even sure if whatever I'd do with the idea would end up looking like Universalis, but I'd really like to try something along these lines. Maybe I could use it for some kind of group setting-creation session...


Mike Olson said...

Don't use coins -- coins are expensive. A quarter costs, like, twenty-five cents!

Anonymous said...

I greatly approve. Buttons you say... Hmm. Where could Matt find large quantities of buttons for cheap...

Metz said...


I'm late to the game here.

I disagree with the fifty-fifty method, not from a statisticians standpoint (because all dice rolls end up as something around 50-50 ultimately) but from an aesthetic one.

The gravity of rolling one, or an handfull, of dice will always seem more significant than a series of coin flips, regardless of percentile likelyhood.

I remember playing a few sessions of 40k without dice, using a coin-toss mechanic. It didn't FEEL the same, regardless of odds...

The only thing that I think would propel this above a normal combined die-resource method is ease of availability.

Don't get me wrong though, this concept is hugely beyond standard Tabletop game desing.

Matt Sheridan said...

Yeah, I think I know what you mean. There's a tactile goodness to dice that I don't really think buttons could match.

The main benefits I'm seeing in the idea would be that I could get 'em cheaply enough to use them for resource tracking, and that solid black and white sides would be really quick to read. But, now that I look for 'em, I see that I can get a whole pile of blank dice pretty cheap. All I'd have to do would be to color half their sides black.

So, yeah, I think you're right. Dice are probably a better bet, after all.