[MUD-Dev] [DGN] The psychology of random numbers

Ted L. Chen tedlchen at yahoo.com
Mon Jan 5 17:42:35 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004


It's been a while since my last post, and it has taken some time to
catch up on the interesting reading.

The old thread about hiding numbers from players has got me thinking
about the probability-based formulas that rely on said numbers.
This musing has generated an interesting dilema:

How does one convey, to the player, the fact that the output is
probalistic when most numeric measures appear determinant?

To illustrate, take your standard RPG combat roll and answer the
following two cases:

  A) Bubba is fighting Buffy.  He has a STR of 255, she a STR of
  240.  Who will win?

  B) Bubba is fighting Buffy.  He is very strong.  She is also very
  strong.  Who will win?

My supposition is that most people are inclined to say that Bubba
will win in A (strong expectation), while they remain unsure as to
the winner in B (weak expectation).  While both win-distributions
are almost even, the weaker expectation matches reality more
closely.

Why the fuss?  When Bubba plays and sees his stats greater than
Buffy, his expectations of winning are skewed by the concrete
measuring yardstick.  When he loses to Buffy, his world view is
shattered and the game becomes bugged, Buffy is cheating, or he
somehow has nerfed equipment.

Working on the loose assumption that displaying some sort of measure
is inevitable, is there some way we can better manage player
expectations?

  NB: The discretized vagueness of case B is one obvious way.  I'm
  just looking for other possibilities here.

- TLC
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