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Freeform or Luck of the Dice?

Written by James Down


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To roll dice or not to roll dice? That question faces everyone who endeavors to join, develop, or moderate any RPG today. Some prefer the freedom of freeform, while others demand the structure of statistics, turns, and dice. Each has its advantages, but is one really better than another? Or is it just a matter of personal preference and/or the type of game?

First, let’s investigate one of the main ingredients for a successful and enjoyable game: realism. Sure, the beauty of roleplaying is that it allows us to see, do, and live things that would otherwise not be possible, such as dragons and other mistical creatures and huge vessels that can go from here to Andromeda faster than you can walk to the corner store, but too much creative license can spoil a game like too much fuzzy creme on a birthday cake. Let’s look at this in context of this comparison.

Freeform has perhaps a greater capacity for realism than dice-rolling and stats in several ways. First, in terms of the plot and game as a whole, freeform gaming allows players to move about and perform actions as the would in real life: freely. In life there are no turns and no dice. The success of an action is determined by when, to whom, and how well the action is done. In freeform often the success or potency of an action is determined by how well the player writes it out, when, and to whom. Look at this example.

I try to destroy the wizard by throwing a fireball at him.

This player either was in a hurry, is not very creative, or doesn’t really care about the game at all. If someone did their job at their place of employment like this entry was written, halfway, then they would probably be looking for another job.

Mustering up the last of my energy, I yell the incantation for Fire Orb spell and cast it at the evil sorcerer in desperation.

This player cares about the game. He enjoys playing. And if it’s a freeform game, he’s probably going to do better than the first guy. If you were moderating this game, who’s fire orb would be more potent? Therefore, in freeform games as in life, the better an action is done(written) usually the more successful the action.

In turn-based type games, creativity is not necessarily a prerequisite. If a game is based on turns and stats, then the success of the action does not depend on how well the action is written, but more so on mathematics. If these same two players were in a game such as this, even though the second player’s spell was more enjoyable to read, if the first has a higher exp. level or more MP, it won’t really matter. Plus, one thing that can kill a statistical RPG is if it becomes too much like a board game. That is a major possibility and something to watch out for. Noone like monotony.


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