Difference between revisions of "Randomness"

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(Can Be Modulated By)
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=== Can Be Modulated By ===
=== Can Be Modulated By ===
Non-Renewable Resources
[[Non-Renewable Resources]], [[Arithmetic Growth]], [[Geometric Growth]]
[[Arithmetic Growth]], [[Geometric Growth]]
=== Potentially Conflicting With ===
=== Potentially Conflicting With ===

Revision as of 15:26, 7 December 2009

Effects or events in the game cannot be exactly predicted.

Randomness is the process of making effects and events unpredictable in games. It does not necessarily make games totally unpredictable, as the Randomness usually has a structure where players can know the chances for certain effects and events.


Very few card games do not randomize the cards by shuffling them before giving the players their cards. Not doing so would ruin nearly all games, and especially games that include Betting.

Many roleplaying games use random encounters to spice up the Game World and give the players the impression that there is more to the Game World than they experience.

Using the pattern

Examples of real-world concepts that are often modeled in games partially through Randomness include Combat, and especially Damage, and the starting conditions for Characters. The use of Skills that represent many actions or actions done in hazardous situations also make use of Randomness to abstract complex situations into a manageable situation in game terms. The use of Randomness in these cases often causes Tension, as it is part of actions that players have initiated but they do not control, and initiating them becomes a Risk/Reward choice for players.

Generating Asymmetric Resource Distribution and Imperfect Information can be done either before the actual game play begins, as for example in many games with Betting, but can also find use during gameplay. The time until Delayed Effects take place is one example of how Randomness can be used during gameplay. A more complex use is to randomize future events in the Narrative Structure to create Never Ending Stories.

Besides deciding what outcomes should be possible, one can also choose between randomizing among these outcomes each time a new outcome is needed or by creating a random permutation once.

Common game elements used to create Randomness are Dice and Cards, in the latter case, often to create randomized Card Hands through Drawing Stacks or dealing out Cards. The main difference between them is that of memory and static distribution. The roll of Dice is unaffected by previous rolls, so the randomization process can be seen as having no memory and the chances for any result are exactly the same as they were the previous time. Cards, on the other hand, use outcome like a form of Non-Renewable Resources, so Memorizing what Cards have been used allows players to have better chances of predicting what cards have not been used yet. Further, Cards allow the distribution to be changed explicitly during gameplay by adding or removing Cards from those that are randomly selected. Tiles can also be used to create Randomness, most commonly through Tile-Laying.

In computers, Randomness is typically generated through pseudo-random sequences that are not random but seem random. In Self-Facilitated Games, low-level uses of Paper-Rock-Scissors can serve the same purpose for generating Randomness.

Diegetic Aspects

Rather than being something that may be difficult to describe thematically, Randomness in the real world is easy to translate into a game setting although the outcomes and their likelihoods may not be comparable with the real world. Randomness can also be used as a way of getting around having too fine granularity in a game system when trying to model a world, instead of providing detailed deterministic rule a randomized outcome can simulate this.

Interface Aspects

The way players generate Randomness in a game can be vital in determining if an Illusion of Influence occurs or if they feel that Luck matters in the game. Although this may vary significantly between players, Dice and Cards are physically handle by the players themselves are may thereby promote player agency more than other means such as computer generated results.


Randomness makes it impossible to have Perfect Information about events in the game. This can be true even if players have complete access to the game state (e.g. through Game State Overview) since future events cannot be calculated. When introduced in games it thereby makes Predictable Consequences more difficult and give players Limited Foresight and Limited Planning Abilities. This is usually done for three reasons: to generate Asymmetric Resource Distribution, ensure Imperfect Information, or lessen the risk of Analysis Paralysis in the games. By doing so a game can thematically simulate events in the real world that are chaotic and unpredictable but can also may Replayability more likely to be interesting since each game instance will have variations.

Given that players may have some information about the Randomness distribution the patterns often supports a bounded case of Uncertainty of Information. This can encourage players to perform Memorizing of the distributions to gain Strategic Knowledge that can be used to make better Risk/Reward choices. In the case of Cards, players may also do Memorizing of the cards played or revealed to be able to know the distribution of the remaining cards.

Randomness can create an unstable form of Player Balance. It is unstable because all players may have equal chances to receive what is randomized, but as soon as the outcome becomes apparent, players may feel disadvantaged. Similarly, the presence of Randomness typically provides a weak form of Balancing Effects, as the outcome is not affected by players' skills and affects all players impartially. These Balancing Effects become stronger the more Randomness is introduced if the outcome produces Arithmetic Progession rather than Geometric Progression. However, this tends to lessen the chance for Perceivable Margins depending on players' skills in games and makes Game Mastery less noticeable.

Randomness also allows players to have a Perceived Chance to Succeed that does not depend on any skill they have, and thereby reduces pressure on their own performance. It does this while still allowing players to have an Illusion of Influence, and feel like they have or lack Luck, as long as they feel that they have some influence on how the randomization is done, e.g. by physically shaking and rolling a die. As long as players feel this Illusion of Influence or are emotionally affected by the outcome, Randomness can create Tension but may equally well ruin already existing Tension if it is based upon Game Mastery.

The use of Randomness can limit the influence of Dedicated Game Facilitators but is usual only interesting if the facilitation is done by other humans. A special case when this is more likely to be interesting is in roleplaying games (such as Dungeons & Dragons or GURPS), since the Game Masters there wield life and death powers over the players' Characters and is in some sense a player also.


Can Instantiate

Limited Foresight, Strategic Knowledge, Player Balance, Memorizing, Balancing Effects, Risk/Reward, Imperfect Information, Tension, Luck, Limited Planning Ability, Replayability

Can Modulate

Never Ending Stories, Quick Games, Characters, Perceived Chance to Succeed, Narrative Structures, Asymmetric Resource Distribution, Betting, Skills, Illusion of Influence, Delayed Effects, Predictable Consequences, Uncertainty of Information, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Game Masters

Can Be Instantiated By

Damage, Combat, Cards, Drawing Stacks, Dice, Paper-Rock-Scissors, Tile-Laying

Can Be Modulated By

Non-Renewable Resources, Arithmetic Growth, Geometric Growth

Potentially Conflicting With

Perceivable Margins, Perfect Information, Game Masters, Game Mastery, Analysis Paralysis


A rewrite of a pattern that was part of the original collection in the book 'Patterns in Game Design' (Björk & Holopainen, 2004).


Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.