This morning, The Angry DM posted an article entitled Angry Rants: Randomness which shared some of his views on the place of chance in a role-playing game and his opinions thereof. As you might guess by the title, he wasn't a fan. While I can see his point, I'd like to offer an alternate take.
Random chance in a game is a very specific tool in the GM or game developer's arsenal. Like electricity, it is a neutral force. Used correctly, you produce wonders. Used incorrectly or carelessly, you're going to get someone fried.
The argument presented in the Angry DM's article is mostly demonstrated through a discussion of a poor experience in a prewritten module and from what I understand of it, yeah. It sucked. At a glance, it seems to ask players to play through what is essentially a lottery to determine an important plot point, and that is a very poor way to make use of chance. I can't blame him for not being pleased.
That said, what the Angry DM is addressing is player agency. Players want to feel like they are making decisions, and that those decisions matter. This is a big deal for a game, as otherwise you wind up just going through the motions. "Oh, there's a monster? I guess I keep rolling dice until it dies."
I'm a big fan of player agency. In fact, that's one of the driving design goals in Band of Bastards - that everything from character creation to combat and social politics are based on interesting decisions that the players have made, rather than simply "how many dice can I roll?" or "How high is my modifier?" It's the chief reason that there were no "combat bonus" Edges one could take, as we wanted explicitly to get away from the idea that you had to "build" your character a certain way in order to be effective. It's about choice.
But does that make randomness the enemy? (Even a necessary one?) Absolutely not. It's about how you use it. So how do you pull this off correctly?
Join me again tomorrow, where we'll explore that very topic and more.