The Tyranny of Chance: How Often Should A Player Succeed?

Role-playing game designers that use a random element (eg dice)as a task resolution mechanic (combat, skills)  have to ask themselves the same question: How often should a player succeed?   Tasks that are too easy (high probability of success) lack challenge and the sweet taste of risking it all and your PC living to tell the tale.  Overly challenging tasks (low probability of success) quickly become a dull exercise in futility.”Oh, look I failed to roll 100 on a percentile dice…again.”

I am not interested in crunching lots of numbers to answer this question because this is  less about statistics than when those statistics start stepping on the “fun” in a game and fun is subjective.  I am just looking for a number you as a player can live with and still enjoy the game.  Can you have fun with an overall  5% success rate on tasks? 10%? 25%?

I wrote this post because game designers have to ask this kind of question to create a game. A (good) game designer is acutely aware of the math underlying their game and designs within those boundaries.  Sadly, many adventure designers both professional and amateur overlook the math in an encounter and clobber players with mathematical misery. If a monster absorbs 7 points of damage per attack and the players are dishing out 1d6+2 per attack that is just painful. Tedious and a likely TPK.

I suppose this post is both an intellectual exercise and a plea for sanity. I genuinely would like to know what success rate is fun for a player and raise a flag about an issue that is all too common in role-playing games.


What say you?


Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

3 thoughts on “The Tyranny of Chance: How Often Should A Player Succeed?

  • October 22, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Its probably more a range. I think you want difficulty to ramp up to a climax and then slough off back down again before ramping back up.

    I think it also relates to the frequency of the task. In combat, you are repeating that task multiple times in a short period of time. The result there is that a lower success rate is less frustrating if you can try again 1 second later. On the slip side, combat successes may not be ultimate successes if the opposition doesn’t die right away.

    Neither of these points actually answers your question though. So I’ll say that in a quickly repeatable task that needs to succeed more then once for an ultimate success that something around 50/50 isn’t a bad starting point.

  • November 25, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    A really good game of Role Playing should not rely on heavily on chance as a arbiter of success. Chance should be relegated to those many other things that give the game randomness and life.

    Instead, the success of a player should (mostly) rely on their skill in handling different circumstance and using their minds to solve problems.

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