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Less Math for the Apocalypse
More Paper for Pen & Paper
By cecil Posted in game design on November 24, 2019 4 min read
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This Isn’t Perfect

The other day I saw a post from someone talking about how they run tabletop games as a person with dyscalculia, which is a situation where someone has difficulty with numbers. This person’s solution was to have a spreadsheet printed with a bunch of pre-rolled results, and as they used results they’d mark it off the sheet. Seems like a pretty radical solution, but not a perfect one—I don’t think there is a perfect solution to the problem though. The problem being: can we make analog tabletop game tools useful and fun for folks who have number troubles? If you want to skip me jawing on about the solution to this problem, then click here for the proof of the concept.

The obvious solution is to just not make games that use randomness because randomness is inherently mathematical. But randomness is chaotic and chaos can be pretty cool. So just assume for the duration of this article that we must have a game with randomness.

There are a few ways to get close to solving the problem and the most common is probably hiding the math. Using proprietary or art-focused dice is a common solution, but then you need the pretty dice or to know how to convert numbers and pips on regular dice into the proprietary ones. That doesn’t really help the numbers situation. So I decided I’d take a stab at coming up with a good solution for The Forest Hymn & Picnic, but it is not super refined, a bit clunky, and not ready to show. Games that are powered by the apocalypse, however, have a super simple dice mechanic that can easily be turned into something useful.

What I did is look at the numbers under the standard 2d6 roll in Apocalypse World and convert it to a chit pull mechanic. This is where you pull slips of papers with results out of a bag or hat. It’s not just 12 slips of paper either, because that wouldn’t have the same results as 2d6. A 2d6 roll has a curve that makes the most common result the middle result, which is about seven. Knowing that seven is going to pop up a lot is useful to decide how a dice roll is determined to be good, or bad.

To get the same results as you would with dice, you can use 96 chits and arrive at this:

The top graph is dice, the bottom is chits!

Just glancing at this graph, you can see that by using an arrangement of 96 chits we can get almost the exact same results as dice. You can check out the actual math with AnyDice (Click!). Here’s another image that shows this a bit better; at the very top of the graph is seven, the most common result. To either side are all the numbers that come before and after seven. The lines are close enough that it does not change the “balance” (dumb word) of Apocalypse World.

The black line is dice, the yellow is chits!

By putting symbols or words on the chits this becomes a pretty quick tool to avoid adding the two dice together but still letting us know how we did.

However, Apocalypse World also has those pesky modifiers that you might add or subtract from your dice result after you’ve added the two dice together. But we can do that too, even if it’s where this becomes a less perfect solution to the problem. By pulling the same number of chits as your modifier you can get the nearby results of someone using dice and math, and then you would pick the highest or lowest chit depending on if your modifier was positive or negative. So for example, a 2d6+3 dice roll becomes a pick three chits and use the best pull. A dice roll of 2d6-2 becomes a pick two chits and use the worst pull.

At any rate, there you have it. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it works! It would work better with actual chits instead of folded paper, but that’s expensive. This is a proof of concept that you can download by clicking here. I’m putting it out there for other people to fuck with, adapt, and turn into something useful. Reach out to me with your results, I am turbo interested!


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