The randomness of game design through Dungeons and Dragons

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I know this is a bit off topic, but DnD (Dungeons and Dragons) is awesome and can teach us a lot about game design, especially if you are the DM (Dungeon Master) creating your own scenario.

Of the 3 pillars of game design, today’s topic is about the randomness of game design. This is not about saying putting anything into your game, but about how to randomize games to make every game different. It allows players to adapt their strategies and test who is the best at it. You may have chess down to a science because every game is set up and played the same way if the two players so wanted. But in say in Settlers of Catan, the board setup and thus placement of the cities are different with each game. Also when you draw a development card, it is also random.

To a less extent, I will also be talking about putting random aspects of different games/ideas together to make new ones that may or may not work. Such as combining worker placement games with dexterity to see who can flick a coin to the spot their want.

Before we begin, for all that do not know, here’s a preface about DnD:

DnD is a tabletop RPG that people envision when think of nerds sitting around a table eating pizza bagel bites, drinking 7-up, and rolling dice with so many sides it looks almost spherical. As they roll these 20 sided dice (d20), they spout words that appear to have zero context, from wizards binding you in chains that burn and sear your skin to minotaurs that animate from stone, to casting magic missile into the darkness.

However, DnD has an immense amount to teach us about the limits of game design. It is about creating a cohesive world that makes sense within itself while still drawing upon its fantasy lore about humans, elves, vampires, werewolves, gods, and goddesses. It is about making something people want to play because of the challenges you present in form of puzzles, multitasking, plotting, and story telling. In my opinion, the 3 pillars of board games is the physicality, social, and randomness of the game. You get to touch and feel pieces, collaborate with friends, and deal with whatever random things you encounter. Unlike a video game where things are scripted, DnD’s possibilities are up to the players. Instead of fighting the guards with your weapons with your feeble character, convince them to join your side, or make them fall asleep so you can walk by, or distract them with noise and sneak past.

All my friend do not want to be associated with playing DnD so their names will be omited cause they are losers and think they are too cool for people to know they play. I always wanted to play DnD ever since I was a kid, I thought it was so cool to do/say anything and your friends react to it with infinite possibilities. I have been playing DnD for about 1.5 years now while DMing for about half a year. For our current campaign, our DM had to sit out this week due to school; I took over this week to make a small 1 day campaign (campaigns usually last months, if not years). As DM, I get the responsibility of structuring the game about a goal or theme but not dictating what my players do. Imagine I am the computer that set the parameters of the game. The arc of my game was guiding my players through a 10 story house tackling word, math, and logic puzzles.

For the first puzzle, I had the party approach the house but to get in, a certain phrase (“Manor of Yahal”) had to be spoken not by the players, but by the guard in front. This is a slight twist in have secrets. An idea I have for this in a tabletop game would be encouraging someone to do an action but they would have to trust you and your knowledge. Ah! I just had an idea! What if you had a social deduction/betrayal game where there were two sides, the good guys and the bad guys. Say for a 4 person game, there were 4 spaces on the board. Each person, including the bad guy, puts in 1 card face down in one of the 4 spots they choose. Everyone would close their eyes and, the one bad guy (chosen at random) would then change one of the cards with a a disaster card causing the team to lose points.

The 4th card is replaced by the bad guy's disaster card.
The 4th card is replaced by the bad guy’s disaster card.

Everyone would vote on which of the 4 cards to turn over. You would have everyone voting for their card but there would need to the tiebreaker. But only the bad guy knows where the bad card is. He could change his vote to the bad card and thus the meta game starts. When there is majority, the card is flipped over and the card is scored. I can see two ways to score, either the bad guy is kept the same every turn and if after, say 3 rounds, the score is negative (the disaster card would score -1 points), the bad guy wins and the good guys lose. OR the bad guy can change every round and if the good card is chosen, the good guy gets 1 point each. If the bad card is chosen, the bad guy gets 1 point. Hmmmmm I think I am going to have to try this out and report back.

In this game, the randomness is who gets selected as good or bad and where the cards are placed down. Even though what people say could be random, this would fall more under the 2nd pillar of game design of social because it involves the players’ interactions with each other.

Wow so this turned out a lot longer than I expected. This is becoming the norm it seems. For this post, I want you to understand the physicality of board games, social aspects, and the randomness of tabletop. I understand I didn’t exactly make the first two clear but again I will finish this story up next visit.

Do any of you guys play DnD and did you ever want to get into DnD but never did? Also, how do you feel about the randomness of tabletop games? Also, which pillar would you prefer me to go over next, the physicality or the social aspects of tabletop games?

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Welcome to WePlayAvalanche, a blog about board game design.

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Hello there and welcome to my first blog post. Through much reluctance of my own I have been holding back on writing a blog for my board game. This is mostly because I like to keep my internet self and my real life person self as two separate entities. However, as I started more and more to use twitter and instagram I realized the worlds could not be separated. People want to know who I am, why I am creating AVALANCHE!, and the thought processes as I am making the game, so please enjoy the posts as conversations between me and you.

My name is Tony Tran and I am an amateur board game designer. There, I said it.

I am currently munching away on some strawberry cereal and 2% milk while typing this up on my $10 keyboard. It is a chilly Sunday morning in Boston, MA. The weather says it is currently cloudy with a strong chance of rain so I will most likely be staying home and catching up on homework. Like most other game designers, I do this as a passion and definitely not as a paid job. I chose dentistry as my career choice and I am currently a 3rd year dental student at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine (TUSDM). Most of you might feel your stomachs sink a bit already and I entirely understand.

I am creating AVALANCHE! because I love gaming culture and I want to share that with my friends, your friends, and that person that just entered the room and wanted to sit down and make new friends over a board game. Growing up as an Asian-American, I was usually shy and was hard to make friends. I still kind of do even though I am in my mid-twenties. I grew up playing games with my family, whether it was cards with my grandma or board/digital games with my cousins. My fondest memories were playing and losing every game of monopoly, learning to “count cards,” or just making a huge skeletal army that rampaged the deserts in Diablo 2. I always made friends over games, like people make friends over watching TV shows and sports. It was my impetus.

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When I moved from Georgia to Boston, MA for dental school, I never knew how that was more real for me than it ever was. I came to Boston without knowing anyone in the area. All my friends were made in dental school but after a while I wanted to meet people outside of school. Imagine talking about teeth for 8 hours a day then going home to your dental school roommates and talking more about teeth. Between you and me, it’s terrible. So I set out to make some gamer friends because my current friends were not gamers. To be clear, gamer just means someone that plays games, not someone who is obsessed. I wanted to talk with people that shared my interests.

There was a FLGS (friendly local game store) where I live. I went to check it out on their board game night and let me describe to you the awesome feeling. It was a comic book store with one side of comics and one side of tabletop games (bigger category of board games because not all games need a board, some are just cards). Some people were already sitting down and setting up. I opened my mouth and asked, “Do you guys need 1 more?” They replied “yes”, I sat down and that was it. It might not sound like a lot, but imagine doing that at a bar (Boston is a big bar city IMO). It would be incredibly awkward and just not what people do. It was like a pick-up game, but instead of soccer or basketball, it’s a board game.

Instant social acceptance. That is why I play and create games.

It doesn’t matter your race, age, nationality, or even language in some cases. People who play tabletop games are happy to teach you and they will convert you to a believer. The great thing about tabletop games is the insane range of difficulty, play styles, genre, and themes. If you want to play a simple, short 15 minute game where you shoot up outlaws and renegades, play Bang! If you want to play a 6 hour epic where you, as an alien race, take over the entire universe through diplomatic, military, and economic might, play Twilight Imperium 3. If you want to play a medium length, game where you roll dice over and over again to screw over your friends as you climb to top of a mountain, play AVALANCHE! These are just some of my favorites.

This is who I am and why I create games. This first post has become longer than I thought it would (I am just typing as I go). I will most likely update this blog at least once every 2 weeks but I will aim to write one once a week. Thank you for reading. Next visit: I will talk about my game and why I choose to make it like it is.