Home Forums General Game Design Some thoughts about die roll modifiers

This topic contains 18 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by Phil Dutré Phil Dutré 1 week, 3 days ago.

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  • #71509
    Phil Dutré
    Phil Dutré
    Participant

    Some thoughts about die roll modifiers in games design:

    https://wargaming-mechanics.blogspot.be/2017/09/situational-vs-inherent-die-roll.html
    – Are modifiers situational or inherent?
    – What is the purpose of the die roll modifier?
    – How many modifiers per roll?
    – How significant should the modifier be?

    #71522
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    As I think we’ve come to expect from Phil, some good points, well and clearly made.

    I would add the observation that, from the historical research point of view, it is quite rare for there to be trustworthy numerical data on which to base more than a couple of situational dice-roll modifiers. A lot of the shopping-lists of modifiers one saw in some rules in the 70s — Newbury’s “Cambrai to Sinai” I recall as being a particularly bad offender — were really just the designer hoping to impress the gamer with the detail of the rules, and trusting that the reader’s natural gullibility would conflate “detail” with “accuracy”.

    As Phil Barker says about writing wargames rules, “If you can’t be accurate, be complicated”.

    All the best,

    John.

    #71538
    Patrice
    Patrice
    Participant

    Interesting article, thanks for the link.

    “What is the purpose of the die roll modifier? (…) I do think that the true purpose of modifiers should be to influence decision-making during the game.”

    Yes. But then I could ask: “What is the purpose of decision-making?”

    I mean, is decision-making a player’s thing, looking upon the miniature soldiers from a player’s point of view as if they were mere game pawns and deciding to which unit you want to allot your bonus dice / PIP / event cards or whatever gaming device (such things that no officer never thought about in any battle); or is it to be immersed in the game and to imagine the miniatures as living characters, in which case the inherent roll modifiers have a sense because they are a part of their (your) own personality.

    http://www.argad-bzh.fr/argad/en.html
    http://argad.forumculture.net/

    #71543

    I found it almost stunning that some people would not be guided by the chance of rolling a 6+, 7+ or 8+.  The difference is significant!  72%, 58% and 42% respectively.  I’d never considered classifying modifiers.  I’m not a huge fan of lots of modifiers.  I prefer enough to make the game interesting without sacrificing speed.

    Interesting articles.  Keep them coming!

    John

    John

    "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

    --Abraham Lincoln

    #71551
    Tim
    Tim
    Participant

    As per John’s comments, I enjoy reading Phil’s articles. This one was easy to follow and made excellent points in a very short time. The scope of it really affects game design, especially in terms of what is easier to do.

    I’ll voice my disagreement that modifiers should preferably be situational. I think that if you exclude inherent modifiers altogether, you discard a tool for distinguishing between types of troops. To me, a subunit having to check morale or rally should surely have an inherent modifier reflecting how well a green or badly trained unit fares versus a veteran and/or well trained unit. Certainly such an inherent classification will influence a player’s decision making as to whether to choose to attempt a rally, especially if failure to rally has serious consequences (re Crossfire). I can think of a couple of other areas where an inherent modifier is required, one in particular is whether one allows actual recce troops trained as recce get a bonus for spotting hidden subunits.

    I found it almost stunning that some people would not be guided by the chance of rolling a 6+, 7+ or 8+. The difference is significant!

    I must say my mouth went open a little there at first. 🙂 Translated to percentage chance for effect (and it was 5 to 7):

    5+ = 83.33%
    6+ = 72.22%
    7+ = 58.33%

    But I’ll note that Phil was also mentioning that “it was the tactical situation on the field that drove the decision what unit to activate next. Thus…”. So in that context, I can understand it.

    #71558
    Phil Dutré
    Phil Dutré
    Participant

    Thank you all for the nice feedback. I like tinkering with rules and writing my own, so that’s why I enjoy thinking about game mechanics. One of the ideas of the Wargaming Mechanics blog is not to say “this mechanic is bad, and that one is good” (although, sometimes ;-)), but rather point out the pros and cons of certain game design choices.

    But anyway, about the 5+, 6+, 7+ activation rolls: it was in a game of Dragon Rampant, which states activation rolls per unit type, but also per action (move, shoot, charge). I have the habit of asking players after a game what they thought about certain mechanics, and in this game, they both said the difference in activation rolls was not a major factor to decide what unit to activate next. Decisions were indeed more determined by the tactical situation on the field. What also contributed, was the confusopoly of the activation rolls. Specifying it by troop type AND action makes it too hard for players to get a good grip on the mechanic, so they just don’t bother and consider it as “random noise”. Having to look up each and every activation roll number also makes it a “non-fun” mechanic to use.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by Phil Dutré Phil Dutré.
    #71560
    Phil Dutré
    Phil Dutré
    Participant

    I’ll voice my disagreement that modifiers should preferably be situational. I think that if you exclude inherent modifiers altogether, you discard a tool for distinguishing between types of troops.

    I agree that distinctions between troop types should be present, but I do think they should be part of troop statistics, rather than modifiers. E.g. a unit might roll more dice in combat, or might use different dice types, or might have a different base number, etc.

    I know it’s a grey zone, and sometimes, mathematically, it all comes down to the same effect whether you define a difference between troops in terms of an inherent troop statistic or as a die modifier. However, I think it’s preferable if both concepts (situations vs inherent characteristics) do not get mixed in the same game mechanic (i.e. a die modifier). E.g. I don’t like it when in combat, “large units” always get a +1 modifier, and “small units” always get a -1, next to modifiers for cover, charging, and so on. That’s an ugly way to factor that in. But in the end, it also depends on how all these things come together in an elegant gaming engine …

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by Phil Dutré Phil Dutré.
    #71561
    Phil Dutré
    Phil Dutré
    Participant

    Yes. But then I could ask: “What is the purpose of decision-making?”

    It’s to provide an interesting game.

    But yes, in wargaming there’s always this tension between the wargame-as-a-game and the wargame-as-a representation-of-a-battle. Without wanting to open that can of worms 🙂 , I think a wargame should also work properly as a game, and design principles can be used to make the game engine itself smooth, elegant and intuitive to use. That does not mean certain effects should not be included, but the games designer should decide how to translate a certain effect into the gaming engine. And I think there are good ways and bad ways to do that 😉

    #71564
    Victoria Dickson
    Victoria Dickson
    Participant

    I agree that distinctions between troop types should be present, but I do think they should be part of troop statistics, rather than modifiers. E.g. a unit might roll more dice in combat, or might use different dice types, or might have a different base number, etc.

    But isn’t that what happens in the activation example you gave?  If that example counts as modifiers then all differences in unit stats should count too shouldn’t they?

    #71570
    Whirlwind
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    However, I think it’s preferable if both concepts (situations vs inherent characteristics) do not get mixed in the same game mechanic (i.e. a die modifier).

    Why do you think it is preferable to have a separate mechanic for these  as opposed to additional factors on the same mechanic?

    #71573
    Phil Dutré
    Phil Dutré
    Participant

    Why do you think it is preferable to have a separate mechanic for these as opposed to additional factors on the same mechanic?

    Because inherent modifiers apply always to that specific unit(s), and cannot be influenced by the player. Also, they clog the list of modifiers with things that you cannot really control. Suppose I have a modifier “Unicorns +1”. Then whenever I go over the list, I am thinking “This unit is not a unicorn, so no +1” or “Don’t forget to add the 1 because I have a unicorn here”. Some units will never get the +1, the unicorns will always get them. This is mixed with things like cover, flank attacks etc, that can apply to all troop types, depending on the tactical situation.

    #71575

    Chris Pringle
    Participant

    Nice post, thanks, Phil!

    I agree with your key point about the role of DRMs in influencing players’ decision-making. They should reflect the major factors that would influence the decision-making of the commander in the field: can I get on the enemy’s flank? Is the cover those woods offer my troops worth the problems they might cause when I want the unit to move out of them? Should I attack by assaulting in dense columns, or firefighting in skirmish lines? Players who pay attention to the significant tactical factors the DRMs represent should be rewarded; those who neglect them should be punished.

    In the 1970s/early 1980s days of mass unemployment, three TV channels, and no Sunday trading (in the UK at least), games with masses of modifiers had the appeal not only of spurious accuracy but also of taking forever to play … things are different now. Your points about limiting DRMs to those that are truly significant and to only a handful per procedure, from an easily memorizable menu, are well made. I’d like to think that the popularity of my own beloved BBB is due in part to following that good advice.

    Chris

    Bloody Big BATTLES!

    https://uk.groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/BBB_wargames/info

    http://bloodybigbattles.blogspot.co.uk/

    #71577
    Phil Dutré
    Phil Dutré
    Participant

    But isn’t that what happens in the activation example you gave? If that example counts as modifiers then all differences in unit stats should count too shouldn’t they?

    It’s a fuzzy line, I agree 🙂

    Specifically for Dragon Rampant, the activation rolls are part of the unit’s stat line. You could think of them as a modifier relative to a baseline activation roll as well, but they do not get mixed in with lots of other things.

    What I’m trying to say is that there is a conceptual difference between unit statistics, and tactical situations. Mixing them often produces less-than-elegant mechanics, but I do agree that in well-designed gaming engines it can be less of an objection. It’s not black-and-white …

    #71582
    Victoria Dickson
    Victoria Dickson
    Participant

    If you consider unit stats as a type of modifier them there shouldn’t really be insignificant unit stat differences, for example I would consider it pointless to have a rule system that rated vehicle movement in increments of 1 inch based on their real life speed, so some move 9″, some 10″, 11″, 12″, 13″, 14″, etc..  Unit moves would be needlessly burdensome to remember, far easier to say there are fast, medium or slow vehicles and remember three movement rates.

    For the situation modifiers I agree, too many is bad design, but I think I’d put my comfort zone higher than yours, 8 possibilities would be fine for me.  I also don’t think the modifiers and unit stats should drive decision making, I’d say good design lets what would be sensible decisions in a real world context give you positive outcomes.

    To use your Dragon Rampant example (I should say I’ve just become interested in this system so don’t know it well), your players think the ratings make little difference.  Statistics suggest they do, and so if the designer got the stats right then players who use the right kind of unit for a task will do better than players who don’t without consciously realising why it worked.

    And a lot comes down to numbers of units, half a dozen units lets you have much more complexity in stats and modifiers than if you have 30 or 40 units a side.

    Sorry if I’ve gone off topic, and thanks for the blog post that got me thinking. 🙂

     

     

     

     

    #71584

    I must say my mouth went open a little there at first. 🙂 Translated to percentage chance for effect (and it was 5 to 7): 5+ = 83.33% 6+ = 72.22% 7+ = 58.33% But I’ll note that Phil was also mentioning that “it was the tactical situation on the field that drove the decision what unit to activate next. Thus…”. So in that context, I can understand it.

    So I demonstrated my super power…as in my ability to munge to pieces of the same paragraph together to come up with something completely different.  😉

    Still the difference between a 5+ (a near sure thing) and a 7+ (kinda “iffy”) is still something that should drive one’s decision process.  I dare say, even a 6+ vs a 7 + changes the context but just not as much as I originally thought.

    John

    "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

    --Abraham Lincoln

    #71596
    Whirlwind
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    Some units will never get the +1, the unicorns will always get them. This is mixed with things like cover, flank attacks etc, that can apply to all troop types, depending on the tactical situation.

    Umm, maybe.  Quite often there are mixed factors like “cavalry attacking infantry square -3”.  But anyway, I  don’t know that having +1 veteran or -1 raw is so much more clunky than having stat lines or whatever.  Thank you for the very interesting post though.

    #71599

    Umm, maybe. Quite often there are mixed factors like “cavalry attacking infantry square -3”. But anyway, I don’t know that having +1 veteran or -1 raw is so much more clunky than having stat lines or whatever. Thank you for the very interesting post though.

    Whirlwind touched on something pretty subtle and fairly important.  If combat or morale is binary (ie pass/fail) then you don’t really care if modifiers are + or -.  However, if the degree of success matters, then it makes a huge difference which unit gets a + or -.  The cavalry vs square, for example.  If degree of success is important then it makes sense that the cavalry get a -3 as they would not perform well in combat.  It would not make sense to give the square a +3 since being in square really doesn’t improve the unit’s ability to inflict casualties.  It improves the unit’s ability to specifically resist a cavalry attack.

    John

    "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

    --Abraham Lincoln

    #71618
    McLaddie
    McLaddie
    Participant

     

    Yes, an interesting post/article. Would terrain be an inherent modifier, providing terrain characteristics much as unit morale classes do. Phil, your example of the hill advantage would seem to make terrain situational. I’m not sure that situation modifiers are ‘inherently’ better than inherent modifiers for decision-making. [excuse the pun…] For instance, Lance-armed cavalry are better for some situations than others… and often come with situational modifiers as well as inherent ones. [Being better against infantry squares than other light cavalry, for instance.]

    A agree with what you say about the purpose of the die roll modifier.

    “Mechanically, the purpose is clear: to increase or decrease the probability of a die roll succeeding, and affecting the outcome that is linked to the die roll.”

    But a more important factor to consider is whether the modifier affects the decisions made by the player. And yes, it can give a false feeling of realism.”

    While this last point can certainly be and is true with various games, I think it overlooks one other reason for modifiers, among other aspects of a game design: Anchoring detail that evokes the event for the players. Have two stand of figures touch, one with 8 factors, the other with 4, and roll a die to see which one wins is pretty abstract.  The same engagement as militia -2 meeting veterans +1, being up by +2 for outnumbering the veterans 2:1, but the veterans are up hill and the divisional commander is leading his veterans into battle, +2 and…. You get the idea.

    That isn’t the only way to infuse a game event with historical detail, but is certainly one that has been used and gamers seem to appreciate.

    “The former is – at least in my view – a much more important effect of die modifiers: do they steer the decisions made by the player?…I do think that the true purpose of modifiers should be to influence decision-making during the game.”

    I always get nervous when designers talk about ‘influencing the players’ or ‘steering the decisions’ made by the players. I would think the designer is laying out the environment the players are to make decisions in based on the real environment, and whatever influence that has on the player decisions is between the player and a well-crafted environment, not the designer attempting to ‘steer’ the player anywhere. That is just me. I want to leave the players to make of it what they want. [Terrain has X effect, period.] The environment of the game is all the restrictions or ‘guidance’ they need or probably want.  When you start steering the decisions of the players, where do you stop before you have a movie that has the same ending no matter how many times you play it? It may be semantics, but it does speak to designer thinking.

    Good point. Certainly, you want to limit the number of modifiers, if you want to use them at all, because too many does slow down the game, but more importantly, if the player can’t keep the number of modifiers in his head, he won’t be using them for decision-making unless he continually has to refer to the CRT or rules. That not only slows down the game play, but limits the players’ ‘flow of the decision-making’ which is the real flow of the game, in my opinion. We often see players simply forget rules or modifiers and never consider them because there are too many to keep in one’s head, particularly those that are only used one or twice in an entire game. Those are the ones that should be jettisoned first regardless of whether they are inherent or situational…

    Again, your post highlighted important design considerations.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 3 days ago by McLaddie McLaddie.
    #71643
    Phil Dutré
    Phil Dutré
    Participant

    I always get nervous when designers talk about ‘influencing the players’ or ‘steering the decisions’ made by the players.

    I think we’re on the same wavelength.

    What I mean by “influencing decisions” is that game mechanics (i.e. die modifiers) should reward good plans or good tactics, and punish bad ones. E.g. you might have a + modifier for a flank attack, if indeed flank attacks were an advantage in that particular period. It’s still up to the player whether he wants to do a flank attack, but if he does, he gets a bonus. Now, if players know the modifiers, they will probably decide in favour of a flank attack if they can do so. If a flank attack does not confer a bonus, why would a player ever decide to do so? And isn;t this similar to decisions real-life commanders would make as well?

    I see die modifiers as a “nudge” towards making decisions that are historically or tactically plausible.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 3 days ago by Phil Dutré Phil Dutré.
    • This reply was modified 1 week, 3 days ago by Phil Dutré Phil Dutré.
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