26 August 2009

Dice: Is “higher = better” better?

In games involving dice, do people expect higher rolls to be better than lower rolls? Do they find a game odd if that isn’t the case?

Higher isn’t necessarily better in Craps. In Backgammon, higher numbers get you closer to your goal, but a lower numbers are often better tactically. In Yahtzee, although there is some value in higher numbers, it is generally more about the pokeresque combinations. In Monopoly what is a good or bad roll depends entirely on what square your piece is currently on. In Magic Realm, as I recall, you always wanted to roll low. Higher isn’t better in Bunco.

Of course, I can think of some games where rolling higher is always better. e.g. Risk. It seems common enough that higher rolls are not necessarily better, though.

7 comments:

kelvingreen said...

Higher rolls aren't necessarily better, but I prefer them. Consistency also helps; I'm not hugely fond of systems where in one case a higher roll is good, but in another, a lower roll is desired.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with it if low rolls are better, and especially like it in RPG systems where you roll under a number on your character sheet. That's nice and easy to understand. I think some of the bad feelings towards "roll low" systems, is from the way D&D varied which was better (Some things you wanted high, others you wanted low) and how you'd get things like "+1" armor which actually subtracted one from AC. It seems needlessly confusing to many.

Jeff Rients said...

My experience is that players who have just rolled the maximum result on a die are expecting something good to happen, so I always specify if low is good.

Robert Fisher said...

Now, in regards to role-playing games...

I think AD&D got confusing because of lack of consistency and having a lot of mechanics. Although...

For the mechanics that we (myself and my AD&D group) actually kept in our heads, it was easy to remember. For the things we had to look up, we were looking them up anyway. (And with straight D&D, there aren’t enough mechanics for the inconsistency to matter to me.)

I think it wouldn’t have been half as bad, though, if they had used something like Traveller’s n+ and n- notation. A bare target number with whether you want to roll high or low buried in prose on another page was the crux of the issue for me. Being consistent is another way to deal with that, but even if a game is being consistent, I’d still prefer to have “or higher” explicitly stated or notated along with target numbers.

(Especially since even games whose designers explicitly expouse the “higher should always be better” position often end up with something somewhere where lower is better.)

Robert Fisher said...

My main point—by the way—was that I’m not convinced that “roll high” is more intuitable or expected in the general case of all games. (And I recently saw someone claiming just that.) When the focus is narrowed to role-playing games, then other issues start to come into play.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

If I had to settle on a consistent method, I think I would go with higher is better.

After all, the 6 original attributes and hit points are arranged so that higher numbers are better.

That assumes of course that you want to be consistent. Sometimes its good to mix it up, if only to get the creative juices flowing.

Robert Fisher said...

You know, Anonymous’s comment hits on an issue I’ve run into in my own design attempts.

“...especially like it in RPG systems where you roll under a number on your character sheet.”

I didn’t come into this hobby expecting that high rolls would tend to be better than low rolls. I did, however, come in with the notion that a higher score for a stat should be better than a low score. (Yeah. I thought AC was weird. I never thought it was worth complaining about, but I did think it was weird.) So, when you want to do something simple like use a stat as a target number, “roll low” is actually more natural. QED, IMHO, YMMV, WTF, ETC.

In fact, you get a similar thing in the d20 system. They decided to use d% rolls for things that they didn’t think should have modifiers. (Which is a whole discussion of its own.) “Roll low” is so natural for d% that even one of the biggest proponents of “rolling high should always be better” went with it in this case.

Although, it was pretty clever to make the armor stat “spell failure”, so that the player wants a high roll. ^_^

Oh, and Jeff: I really did LOL.