Jeremy Morgan

Written by Jeremy Morgan, tabletop games editor, gamer, and software developer.
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Planescape 4E - On Chaos

27 October 2011

The Lady of Pain's Crest

I know I said that the second part of Limbo was going to be next, but I’ve hit a bit of a snag with it. I was thinking through what the concept of chaos actually means and how to craft rules that support it.

Conception: Chaos Defined

Chaos is the antithesis of order; no rules, no “system”, no meaning. Usually, one models that with randomness. Randomness appears on the surface to have that element of chaos that we’re striving for, but that’s not really my conception of chaos. Randomness isn’t chaos in that regard; it’s a way of accounting for the things that we can’t (or don’t want to) describe in detail. To my mind, it’s not truly random in the abstract sense. Trying to capture that in some kind of mechanical effect, I think, isn’t possible. Even if you could do it, I think you’d end up with something unworkable at the gaming table, either from complexity or failure outside of a narrow range of effect.

So then I had a conversation with someone about it, and he helped me see that the problem is that we have to define our definition of chaos to something that we can actually quantify. We can’t really define chaos as a lack of order, as that’s a non-state state. Let’s define it as entropy. Furthermore, let’s define randomness as the agent of that entropy. Now we’re cooking with gas. (Thanks, Quinn, you rock, by the way!)

Implementation: Chaos in Motion

I talked before about randomizing the damage type of powers while in Limbo, but what if we took that to its logical conclusion. All resistances would have the same type of randomization. Let’s add in forced movement as well, slides could become pushes or pulls, and vice-versa. Now we’re getting something that looks really chaotic at the table.

Outside of tactical combat, we could add movement to the mix. After each extended rest, the party continues on the same path, but they’re no longer moving in the same direction (north has now become southwest, for example). Distance to known locations could also vary randomly from day to day.

Closing: Chaos Waning

I have two concerns with what we’ve got so far, and they both impact the DM. One is the amount of rolling/bookkeeping the DM has to do to make all of this go. Some of this can be mitigated by pre-rolling, but it’s up to the DM whether he wants to implement all of these or only some of them. Options, they’re a wonderful thing!

Second, some of this may increase the length of combat, which is already an issue for some groups. Again, DM fiat comes into play here. Feel free to use all, part, or none of the above suggestions.

A DM doesn’t even have to be consistent in either of these! He could choose to determine randomly which effects occur in which rounds of combat (first round: movement affected, second round: damage affected). After an extended rest, the DM decides whether direction or distance has changed.

Let me know what you think. Chaotic enough for you? Have I missed something obvious?