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  • Designing A System To Replace Virtual Dice Rolling

    - Joris Dormans
  • For Unexplored 2: The Wayfarer's Legacy we came up with the ‘fortune system': a special, recurrent game mechanic to handle any situation that the real-time mechanics of the game cannot. In this case, the fortune system covers physical activities such as climbing and clearing rocks from a path, as well as social interactions with NPCs. In this post I like to present our journey as designers to create it. Spoiler: our road was longer and had more twists and turns than we anticipated. 

    A fortune test to decipher an ancient inscription.
    A fortune test in action: trying to decipher an ancient inscription.

    Design Goals

    When we started work on Unexplored 2: The Wayfarer's Legacy, we had a clear idea of where we wanted to go, although we didn't quite know how to get there. Unexplored 1 is a fairly traditional roguelite dungeon-crawler, where we mostly reached high with the quality of generated levels in an action-based game filled with lock and key puzzles. For the sequel our ambitions were grand: we wanted to take the same type of gameplay out of the dungeon and generate a whole world for the player to explore. But most of all we wanted the player to feel they are in control of their own adventure.

    Now, we are definitely not alone in this ambition. Many games in the action-adventure and action-RPG genres promise the player they can become the hero in their own adventure. But we tried to place ourselves firmly in the table-top RPG tradition where adventure has meaning beyond combat. In a traditional fantasy table-top RPG players will fight numerous foes, but they will also use the same or similar rules for stealth, climbing, social encounters, magic, and much more. We feel these types of actions complement combat in adventure stories and table-top RPG sessions in a way that is rarely seen in a computer game.

    There are many reasons for this omission. Combat translates very well to real-time mechanics, and in many cases the same goes for stealth. Both involve a lot of maneuvering and create opportunities for players to make many small decisions that affect the outcome of an encounter. Mini games for lock picking, climbing, and magic have been done in the past quite successfully, but the difficulty of translating the variety offered by table-top RPG to computer games is more strongly felt in social interactions. Many have already written about the difficulties of dialog trees, and I assume the shortcomings of that common solution are well known.

    A fortune test to handle dialogue
    Performance in a Fortune Test can determine the outcome of a social interaction.

    Looking at Table-Top RPGs

    Table-top RPGs typically use dice rolls to handle any situation with uncertain outcomes. These dice rolls are commonly referred to as skill-checks because your character's abilities and skills are very likely to factor into the chance you have to succeed. Some RPG systems can have quite elaborate rules for making these skill-checks, but even simple, single dice roll against a certain target number can be quite fun and engaging. 

    Skill-checks are not uncommon in computer RPGs either, but when implemented with similar mechanics they do not seem to offer the same level of fun. The physical experience of picking up a die, and shaking it before rolling in order to find out whether your action succeeds, is vastly different from simply clicking a button to the same effect. The result is often that computer RPGs focus the gameplay on the things that work well on a computer, and for many this means combat, and for some it means combat and stealth.

    What we were looking for when we designed the fortune system for Unexplored 2 was some thing that had the same level of engagement for the player as rolling a dice on a table, could easily express many different types of skill-checks, and offer a level and depth of gameplay that would not pale next to real-time combat. The fortune system is not a direct translation of dice, but an enabler that allows us to tap into a wide palette of possible encounters to craft adventures from. We are quite happy with the end result, but it did take many iterations to get there.


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