Choosing from what Remains

   An idea for determining outcomes of actions in a narrative game: It's like choose your own adventure, but a number of the options are eliminated at random based on your character's skill in this situation, and then you choose one from the remains.

Procedure

  • Player describes their character's action.
  • A set of possible outcomes is generated. In a GM-less RPG, each player would describe one possible outcome for the action with rules for this based on the theme of the game, such as all options flowing logically from the character's action for a game that isn't just silly.
  • Each possible outcome is written down and then associated with a card.
  • Shuffle the cards, and stack face down.
  • The number of cards to remove from the deck is based on ... whatever rules make sense for the kind of game you are playing, such as character skill appropriate to the action if this is a typical role-playing game.
  • One or more cards based on the number arrived at in the previous step are then eliminated at ... random or some other method appropriate for your game.
  • The remaining cards are revealed, and one is selected by the acting player.

Train of Thought

   I was working out the probabilities for rolling dice multiple times and picking the highest, and noticed that the probability distribution shift as you roll more times resembles the concentration of say sprinters on the "right tail" of human variability for sprinting. A human being can not exceed the hard limits of human physiology, but with training an individual can shift their position on the bell curve closer to the right tail.1 I also thought that picking the best of several options resembled the benefits of privilege. A privileged individual receives more opportunities. Each die roll is like an opportunity for success and the more you roll to determine the outcome of a single challenge, the more opportunities you have to succeed. Then all of this shifted into thinking about possible outcomes of an action as a set of things to choose from - like in a choose your own adventure game. Finally I arrived at the procedure above.

   I do not have the time right now to design a game which uses the procedure as a core mechanic, but maybe someone out there can do something with this idea. Perhaps its also adaptable for an OSR style role-playing game (original D&D). OSR games are rife with tables of random consequences, characters, events, treasure, and all kinds of things to liven up the game with procedural world building and unexpected cool stuff. The items on a table of random possibilities could perhaps morph into a set of items which will happen, but each only happening once. Perhaps these things are cool events for the players and there are more or less of these cool things depending on what the players pursued during their down time between adventures. You could also begin by eliminating a number from the list at random based on prior player actions. Or perhaps the reverse happens: You begin with a large set and add to it as players do stuff. Then move things from the master set to small tables on the fly during play which you use to roll from. Once an item is moved from your master set to a table you can't use it again elsewhere. I dunno. Maybe someone else can think up better ideas for OSR uses. The idea is: you have a set of things. The players have done stuff which influences what remains in the set. You assemble a table from the remaining subset.

   The most interesting parts of this to explore for me are the rules at the junctures in the procedure I highlighted above, but I am too occupied by other things to design a game around that. I'll probably revisit this later, or simply use it for fun in pick up narrative games with my two boys. All you need is a deck of cards, and maybe a piece of paper for jotting down the list of possibilities as it comes up. Then again if you do not want a list, you could divvy up positive and negative to different people at the table, and associate each person with a card. Then when their card is selected they narrate what happens, positive or negative based on how they were labelled. But then again an important aspect of the game is coming up with the list of possibilities out in the open together which I think is both fun, a healthy exercise, and introduces a psychological aspect of the game with how people narrate outcomes for one another based on how the acting player last described an outcome for the player currently narrating, and then weighing that against whether the game is cooperative or competitive.


  1. Stephen Jay Gould mentions the results of the pursuit of excellence on human variation, and discusses far more interesting things at length in Full House. I highly recommend reading it. Gould exposes the myth of progress as a misreading of forces acting on variability. He explains that variation rather than progress is the irreducible concept, progress being but a human interpretation of factors acting on variability. I agree.