There’s a reason that, for ages, dice have been intrinsically associated with games. It probably has to do with weird fertility rites of ancient Celts, but the important thing is that games thrive on randomness. Whether it’s shuffled cards, rolled dice, or procedurally-generated computerized orcs lining up to be killed, games cry out for the unexpected.
Some might say that too much randomness in a game is a bad thing. To those people I say: You’re right. But that’s not the point of this post.
Without randomness, gameplay becomes a pattern to be repeated until mastered. I loved Super Mario Brothers, but I would have loved it more if I wasn’t able to simply memorize every level. Throw in some random goombas where they weren’t before, and I’d be surprised and delighted. Instead, I’m running, jumping and tossing fireballs with my brain switched off.
Randomness helps level the playing field between players of different skill levels. Yes, you’ve been playing Magic: the Gathering for so long, your first deck is old enough to drink in most states. And yes, I’ve just cracked my first starter deck this morning. But if you don’t draw the right cards out of your randomized deck, this noob still has a chance to beat you.
On a related note, randomness lets players take chances. No, you probably shouldn’t charge that machine gun nest with your sword-wielding Hobbit. (Who brings a Hobbit to a gunfight anyway?) But you can still try, and if the dice roll your way–if you get lucky–you might end up with a Hobbit behind enemy lines holding a captured M-60.
But the best thing that randomness does for games is help create stories.
Rolling a natural 20 when your Dwarven fighter needed it most? Drawing the King you needed to finish that winning hand? Stumbling onto a dragon while running from giants in Skyrim? These are the incidents we remember–the stories that we tell–and they are all blessings of randomness.
This, more that anything else, is why I love a healthy level of randomness in any game I play or design. There’s a place for chess and the like, with their pure, beard-stroking strategy. It’s a good place. A fine place. It’s just a place without many memorable moments.
If you have any tales of randomness to share, please leave 3d20 words on the topic in the comments.