When you put all of your faith in the dice, you’re absolving yourself of responsibility for how things go. Sure, players get “punished” for making bad decisions, but they also get rewarded for bad ones when rolls go well. Is that paradigm what we want? There’s a lot to be said for uncertain outcomes and the random factor, don’t get me wrong. It forces us to improvise, and that’s fun. Putting so much weight on that, though, negates otherwise skillful roleplaying and solid storytelling. I’m not about that. Critical thinking matters, because otherwise you might as well be playing Monopoly.
Critical Thinking Matters, and Here’s Why
This is an extension of my opinion on random character death. I’m against it. In 40 years I’ve never seen a player “learn a lesson” from it. There’s never been an instance that I’ve seen where it motivated them to be a better player. The opposite it true. I’ve seen players stop investing in their characters. They quit trying to roleplay and focus on tactics. Story becomes and excuse to string encounters together. If you want to play that way, fine. It’s not for me, and it’s not enjoyable for a lot of people. When random factors have too much power, it starts to feel like nothing other than rolling the dice well matters.
The guide and the players need to take responsibility for the game. It’s why I designed the Lighthouse System the way that I did. The risk die system allows players to control the complications their characters will face. If they want big success, they need to accept the possibility of a big consequence if they fail. Shared narration means that sometimes they get to describe the outcomes of their character’s rolls, whether they succeed or fail. The guide still narrates some of those as well, randomly, so there are interesting story developments. And players get to narrate the outcome of supporting characters’ rolls as well.
All of which serves to give the players more agency, rather than taking it away. What it requires, though, is creativity and critical thinking. You need to be able to frame the success or failure, and the degree of each, in the context of the characters, the setting, and the current situation. What you end up with isn’t a string of random events. What you end up with is an actual story.
About Dancing Lights Press
Dancing Lights Press publishes story games that embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation. Our print books are affordable, at $10 or less. The 6×9 digest format makes them convenient to carry around. The spotlight belongs on the creativity of the players as they converse and collaborate on plot, worldbuilding, and character development. Roleplaying is an activity, not a book. Our titles are merely part of the delivery system.