Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Random and Biased

Following on from my post "Different Dice" a few days ago, I think there is another important distinction to be made between the ideas of random and biased.

For example, if we roll a fair d6 - i.e., one which is not weighted in favour of any particular result - then whatever it lands on we know that it the result is both random and unbiased, because the die is fair. If we roll 2d6, paying attention to the sum as the result of this event, then while the result itself is still random it is biased. Because of the different ways that you can make a total of 7 from rolling two d6 dice, a 7 is six times more likely than getting a result of 2 or of 12 (both of which have only one way of being achieved).

I'm interested in this kind of bias a lot at the moment; I was tinkering/hacking together a zombie game* based a little on Risus and a little on Apocalypse World. Apocalypse World works well with its main dice mechanic because it is so straight forward: for around 60% of the time on a general (unmodified) roll your action carries - or at least you get some success. For less than 20% of the time the dice give you exactly what you want. This seems like a neat way to do it: the outcome is random, and there is a slight overall bias towards success.

But in the messed up post-apocalypse, maybe those are the kind of odds you need.

*more on that setting/game another time!

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