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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Eric Kimball on March 19, 2003, 10:29:40 AM



Title: Book randomization
Post by: Eric Kimball on March 19, 2003, 10:29:40 AM
This is a question I have had for a while regarding methods of generating a binary success or failure.  In most game dice are used for the random mechanics and some games use cards.  The question I have is if any can think of a way to use a standard bound book to generate random results?

It seems like it should be possible.  If you look at a book on the most abstract level it is a collection of random words indexed by a progression of numbers.  Some books (such as poetry) also have a collection of random numbers associated with the word (the verse number).  It seem like a good resource for generating random results.

The problem I keep having is that people cheat.  If some one is given the opportunity to peak ahead and see the result for the next action, they will.  Any system I can think of would afford people this opportunity.

So any ideas?


Title: Re: Book randomization
Post by: Paganini on March 19, 2003, 11:19:17 AM
Well, you could use the book itself as a randomizer. Have odd pages equal success, even pages equal failure.

Or, to make things a little more obscure, you could have odd / even be color coded (I.e., odd = blue, even = red). The GM could draw a random stone from a bag containing equal numbers of blue / red stones to determine the target color.

This is strictly binary, though. No scaling for difficulty or anything.


Title: Book randomization
Post by: talysman on March 19, 2003, 11:33:12 AM
that raises a question: are you talking about a book as a choose-your-own-adventure game (which restricts you to binary choices, more or less,) or just as a replacement for dice in a standard rpg?

in the latter case, if you have a good thick book, you can riffle the pages quickly, open it, and select the last digit of the page number as your result. that gives you a 0-9 range, equivalent to a d10.


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Enoch on March 19, 2003, 12:05:26 PM
When I was in 8th grade I used to use writing as randomizers.  In particular I would build tables for randomly creating areas on a map.  Each area was usually a square or something.  Anyway, I would then make a table from A-Z each letter giving a terrain feature to each part of land.  I was a smart whippersnapper too because I made letters that appear more have more common results.

Wow I was weird.  I never actually used those maps either.

-Joshua


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Jonathan Walton on March 19, 2003, 02:34:15 PM
A good model for the latter, alphabet-based system would be the distribution of the letters in Scrabble.  You know, there's 4 B's and 7 N's and whatnot.  You'd have to readjust things a little bit depending on how you were picking your letters on a page.  For instance, words don't often start with vowels and certain letters almost always show up in different parts of a word.

Later.
Jonathan


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Yasha on March 19, 2003, 03:16:43 PM
A book could possibly be used as a non-quantitative randomizer, similar to the Fortune Deck in Everway.  Just as the Bible or other books are used as divination tools in bibliomancy, where passages are chosen at random and then applied to analyze a situation, a gamemaster could use a random sentence to determine an outcome.  

I just selected a sentence from the closest book (a software manual): “If you print reports while displaying the results of your search, the reports will include only the records in the search result.”  In a game, this might indicate that the character does not notice something outside of where he or she is focusing attention.

A software manual is obviously a lousy book to use, but a book could be written that is composed of passages that can be related to game situations, just as the Fortune Deck was tailored to be a RPG tool.

To add functionality as a numeric randomizer, the sentences could end in a numeric superscript, or the number of words within a sentence could vary within a certain range.  Just as the SAGA cards were packed with information to offer several types of answers, sentences in a book could also use different colors of ink, different verb tenses, etc. to carry multiple simultaneous values.


Title: Book randomization
Post by: M. J. Young on March 19, 2003, 03:47:41 PM
There's an inherent problem with using the page numbers: in a book, odd pages are always to the right, even to the left, and the tendency will be for any particular individual to favor one side over the other, usually the right over the left.

While this might not seem so important in the generation of a d10, the fact is that the average "roll" of odd-numbered pages is 5, and the average roll of even numbered pages is 6 (assuming 0=10; if 0=0, the average is 4). Thus the results are skewed.

Let me suggest instead that, if all you want is odd/even resolution, you pick a page on which to begin and use the letter count in each word in the order that it appears on the page--and that the referee will keep the words themselves concealed, so the players can't know what word is coming next. Thus, to pull a sentence from a book on my desk (Verse Three, Chapter One, the first Multiverser novel), "And even as he realized this, he saw new movement in the distance," becomes OEEEEEEOOEEOE, rather random.

This might be skewed some by the proliferation of two-letter words in English usage; to compensate, you could require that a word must have at least three letters to be included, which gives us OEEEOOEOE, a considerably more balanced distribution.

Is that what you're seeking?

--M. J. Young


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on March 19, 2003, 09:29:53 PM
There have been a couple method for using the book for randomization that I know of.

Some books had random numbers or even pictures of dice on the pages.

There was the Lost Worlds series which is difficult to explain. Home page (http://www.flyingbuffalo.com/lostw.htm)

Quote
LOST WORLDS COMBAT PICTURE BOOKS: Many of you may remember the lost worlds books by Nova Games from years ago. These books are a DICELESS fantasy combat system. Each player has a book, and you play by giving your book to your opponent, who reciprocates. You each pick a maneuver from your list of options, and tell the other player a page number. You each turn to the specified page number, and see what the other person is doing. For instance, you may choose to lunge at me, while I choose a side swing. When I turn to your page, I see you lunging at me, and when you turn to my page, you see yourself getting a hit on me. After I take a specified number of hits, I have lost the combat. It’s very easy (the complete rules are included on each book) and very quick.


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Johannes on March 19, 2003, 10:58:11 PM
How about this?

First choose a random page from the book. Then look at the first letter of the first word on the page. That will be the "roll" of the active side. Then look at the first letter of the last word on the page. That will be the "roll" of the passive side. Now compare the results. Many methods can be used for comparison but I guess the easiest way is to use the alphabet somehow.

You can add the effect of the skill of the participants or difficulty like this for example:
- Unskilled characters must choose the first word as above
- Skilled characters get to choose from the word of the first sentence.
- Expert characters get to choose from the first paragraph.
- The venerable ninja grandmaster gets to choose from the entire page.

You can apply the same principles to the passive side as well. And of course Scandinavian letters must yield extra special megasuccess ;-). This method falls apart if you use a phonebook (all the A's are in the first pages and all the Z's in the last pages).


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Eric Kimball on March 21, 2003, 07:11:24 PM
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
There have been a couple method for using the book for randomization that I know of.

Some books had random numbers or even pictures of dice on the pages.

There was the Lost Worlds series which is difficult to explain.


This is an idea that has potential.  Having the page you turn to based on your opponents action gets around the dobble randomization error. See the problem I have been having is to use a book for randomization you have to use some other system first.  Every idea I had started out with “randomly turn to a page” but then the question is how do you randomly turn to a page?

But if the opponents action determinins the page you turn to, there is no need to use dice, cards or stones.  Also, this way the player would have some idea about where the page would land but not know for sure.  You could work out some sort of metagame system with this.  I wonder how you would work it out for unopposed checks.  It is something to ponder.  Thanks


Title: Book randomization
Post by: JMendes on March 24, 2003, 01:59:54 AM
Hey, all, :)

About this two-books thing. There is a WWI aircraft dogfight game, called Ace of Aces, IIRC, that uses just this mechanic. It makes for very fast, very dramatic game. The obvious disadvantage is that it only works for one-on-one combat. Also, it makes for very gamist play.

Cheers,

J.


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 24, 2003, 08:27:07 AM
Ace of Aces is put out by the people who put out Lost Worlds. It's very much the same system, just in different application.

Quote
Every idea I had started out with "randomly turn to a page" but then the question is how do you randomly turn to a page?


How do you "randomly roll dice"? Basically you have some control over both processes. The only question is it "random enough", and the answer is probably yes to both. Just riffle* through the pages and stop at one suddenly. Or, if the page number is not itself part of the process, you can select pages numbers randomly from the range available, not choosing the same number twice (this has obvious limits).

That said, there is a problem with the book methods. For one, books tend to get worn unevenly, and as such they will fall open to certain pages with more frequency than others. Worse, there is a theory of numbers that says that certain numbers will tend to show up more than others using such processes. I can't remember the name of the theory (help me out here people), but basically it says that, due to common patterns in life, certain numbers are just more common than others. So this may skew things a bit, as well.

But one of the problems in this discussion is that you haven't let us in on all the parameters, Eric. Are the books themselves reandomly selected? Is there more than one available to the process? If you could narrow this down, we'd probably be able to give you better responses.

Mike

*Riffling is a technical term in cards for "shuffling" by letting half the cards in each hand quickly slip past the thumb and into each other's piles aned then pushing the piles together. People call this shuffling all the time, but technically shuffling is holding the deck in one hand, and letting some cards fall into the other, and then placing these cards on top of the pile. Note that riffling is about ten times more effective than shuffling in terms of randomizing cards. Four riffles is considered well enough randomized to play without visible effects from the previous game (such effects are sometimes noted, but they are coincidental).


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Paganini on March 24, 2003, 09:00:24 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
How do you "randomly roll dice"? Basically you have some control over both processes. The only question is it "random enough", and the answer is probably yes to both. Just riffle* through the pages and stop at one suddenly. Or, if the page number is not itself part of the process, you can select pages numbers randomly from the range available, not choosing the same number twice (this has obvious limits).


The obvious obstacle here is that riffling whill always return two results: L and R = L+1. (Assuming you use page number as previously described.) Which do you use? I think if I was doing this in a game, I'd use the right-hand page only, and *not* use page numbers. I'd have cute little dice graphics on the rght hand pages.

Quote
Riffling is a technical term in cards for "shuffling" by letting half the cards in each hand quickly slip past the thumb and into each other's piles aned then pushing the piles together. People call this shuffling all the time, but technically shuffling is holding the deck in one hand, and letting some cards fall into the other, and then placing these cards on top of the pile.


To be *really* technical, "shuffling" means "to reorder the cards in a random way." The first technique you describe is the "riffle shuffle" or "dovetail shuffle," the second technique is the "overhand shuffle." Mark Wilson (a magic dude) also differentiates between the riffle shuffle as most people perform it (cards held in hands) and the table shuffle (cards resting on the table, only the corners are dovetailed), but I've never seen a professional dealer make this distinction.

Quote
Note that riffling is about ten times more effective than shuffling in terms of randomizing cards. Four riffles is considered well enough randomized to play without visible effects from the previous game (such effects are sometimes noted, but they are coincidental).


To give some perspective for the other end of the scale, Bruce Schnier (author of Applied Cryptography and designer of the Solitaire cipher) holds that 10 to 12 riffle shuffles provide cryptographically strong randomization.


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Ron Edwards on March 24, 2003, 09:54:51 AM
Hi there,

The Fighting Fantasy solo adventure books all had little dice facings on their pages just as Nathan suggests. I don't know much about how they handled the distribution of values throughout the pages.

Best,
Ron


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Paganini on March 24, 2003, 10:37:36 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards

The Fighting Fantasy solo adventure books all had little dice facings on their pages just as Nathan suggests. I don't know much about how they handled the distribution of values throughout the pages.


Hey Ron, I'd like a little more information about this, not having seen Fighting Fantasy myself. (My solo adventures were Lone Wolf, which have a Random Number Table in the back. You're supposed to point with a pencil.)

Are the Fighting Fantasy books of the typical "If you cheat at the card game, turn to 6, if you decide to spit the dealer like a pig, turn to 12," variety?

I was thinking that having the randomization use the same pages as the adventure could cause some problems. You'd have to make sure you didn't lose your palce while randomizing, which could affect the distribution.


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on March 24, 2003, 10:54:03 AM
Heya.

The Fighting Fantasy books worked pretty much like Choose-Your-Own-Adventure or Lone Wolf. You do have to hold your place if you use the randomizer on the pages, but that isn't a big deal. I know that in practice, most people probably just used six-sided dice the way I always just used a ten-sided die for Lone Wolf, but it was nice to have the option if you didn't have the dice handy.


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Jason Lee on March 24, 2003, 11:34:24 AM
To solve the page flippy issue you can just use each result to seed the next one.  

Choose a random page.
The numeric result equals number of letters in the first word.
For the next result flip forward a number of pages equal to the last result.

It's atleast as random as a computer generated number seeded by the time.


Title: Book randomization
Post by: M. J. Young on March 24, 2003, 06:59:19 PM
Just a random thought (pun not intended)--if you're using this idea for a sort of choose-your-own-adventure book, could you set it up such that at the beginning of play the player selects a number, and this is his word? Thus if the player takes seven, when he needs a die roll, it's always the length of the seventh word on the page.

You'd still have some trouble with the proliferation of two-letter words, and also the aspect that shorter words are more common generally than longer words--but as you were looking at an odd-or-even system, this might not matter.

--M. J. Young


Title: Book randomization
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on March 24, 2003, 09:09:14 PM
This is just my opinion, but I really hate the idea of counting the letters in a word to get a random number. How is this better in any way than just printing numbers on the corner of the page and rifling the pages to get a randome number? Not to mention then the bell curve gets weirdly skewed because of the average word length found in the English laguage -and- you would have to be careful not to use overlong words like antidisentarianism (18 letters) and lousing things up. That and it's not always so easy for everybody to count letters. I counted the letters in antidisentarianism four times and got a different answer all four times.


Title: Word length data
Post by: Stuart DJ Purdie on March 24, 2003, 10:17:39 PM
Ok, just ran a large set of text files through some custom code. (Total
284961 words)

Interesting stuff.  Firstly, the test corpus consists of English prose, dating over the past 10 years.  Shakespere gives different answears.  All facts below could be artifacts of selective loading in the corpus.  I've not properly eliminated that yet.  

First point, the word "can't" is 4 letters long, and "role-playing" is 11 letters long.

Interestingly,  3 letter words are more common than 2.  Surprised me too.  

Other than that, and possible 1 letter words (I ignored them off the bat), there is a decreasing exponential curve - approximatly frequency(WordLen) = exp(-0.38 * WordLen).

If you take just Odd/Even as your yardstick, then if the shortest word you tak is 2 lettered, then you get a 47/53 split, in favour of even. If you start at 3 letters words, you end up with a 42/58 split, in favour of odd.  On the basis of this, I'd reccomend against anything using odd/even word lengths.  Shame, it's otherwise a very elegant system.

If you wanted to to a target number type mechanism, that's doable.  The length of the word you end up picking is your 'roll'.  The cumulative frequency is quite similarly behaved to an exploding die.  I've stuck a graph up http://wired.st-and.ac.uk/~spurdie/wfreq.svg, or http://wired.st-and.ac.uk/~spurdie/wfreq.png in PNG format.  They show the chance of a random word having at least a minimum number of letters.  Blend this with cruciels plan of using one result to seed the next, and that's a workable solution.

Note that the choice of book can skew this a lot.  A text book would tend to have longer words, with biochemistry really showing something quite different.  However, that's easily balanced off by using one single book for all randomisation, PC and NPC.  Use Sweet Valley High for gritty hardcore,  average SF book for middle of the road, and a biochem textbook for over the top cinematic (Assuming a higher is better mechanic).