Historically, randomization has been one of the most important factors in role-playing games (RPGs). The first computerized RPGs were heavily based on table-top RPGs, which rely on dice rolls to determine gameplay. Random factors can include character statistics (health, strength, etc.), damage dealt in combat, and skill checks. This legacy of randomness persists in many ways even in modern RPGs, in both Western-style and Japanese RPGs (JRPGs).
Learning how random numbers and randomness work is helpful for developing RPGs. Let’s look at examples of how randomness shows up in different RPGs.
Loot and Item Drops
One of the most important aspects in many RPGs is random loot and rewards. The actual mechanics and systems can differ between games. In many games, enemies often randomly drop items after the player defeats them. This is true in games with turn-based battle systems (such as the Final Fantasy and Pokemon series) and real-time action battle systems (such as the Fallout series).
Some games, like the Borderlands and Fallout series, have randomly-generated loot scattered across the game world in chests and containers.
Other games, such as certain Dragon Quest and Yo-kai Watch titles, have in-game lotteries and minigames that award random prizes.
Many RPGs include a “gatcha” or loot box system, where players spend in-game currency to gain random, often rare loot. These systems have attracted criticism and controversy, as some allow players to buy the currency with real money. There’s some concerns that the systems are a form of gambling that might lead to addiction for some players. Popular RPGs with loot and gatcha systems include Genshin Impact, Puzzles and Dragons, and Diablo Immortal.
Randomness is a critical component in RPG battles. Here are several ways that randomness shows up in RPGs.
During battle, the damage that a player deals is often determined based on some sort of strength stat, and is a random number within a certain range. For example, consider the battle system in Final Fantasy 6, according to the Final Fantasy Wiki. A series of mathematical formulas and conditions determine an attack’s base damage, and then “the game factors in random variance.”
Many RPGs also include a random chance that a character will deal a “critical hit,” which inflicts significantly more damage than a regular hit. There’s also often a chance that the attack will miss. Certain conditions, such as a blindness status effect, or a “shadow” effect on the defending player, can increase the chances of the attack missing.
On the defensive end, certain equipment, such as shields, may have a random chance of completely blocking the attack.
Some attacks may also have a random chance of inflicting a negative status on the enemy, such as a poisoned status.
For many RPGs, enemies attack and act at random. There’s often some sort of artificial intelligence (AI) that determines how likely certain actions are, but there is still an element of randomness. For example, consider the JRPG Chrono Trigger. According to this enemy AI guide, Magus, a boss character, changes attack pattern at less than half his maximum health. He will “choose randomly” from a set of spells or attacks, attacking a randomly selected player character.
Random Battle Encounters
Random battle encounters are a hallmark feature in many JRPGs, such as the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series. Generally speaking, the way it works is that with each step the player takes, there is a random chance that an enemy encounter will occur. The exact details are different depending on the game. For example, according to the Final Fantasy Wiki site, in earlier games, there “is a small chance that a random encounter will initiate” after each step, so theoretically, it would be possible for the player to go through an entire dungeon with no enemy encounters at all. Later games generate a random number in a given range after each battle. The number represents the number of steps before the next battle. Games such as Octopath Traveler increase the chances of an enemy encounter under certain conditions, such as if the player is sprinting on the map rather than walking.
In addition to encounter frequency, another random mechanism in many JRPGs is which enemies show up in each encounter. The player might encounter some enemies only rarely, which can be an extra challenge if that enemy drops valuable loot or if the game has some sort of bestiary system that keeps track of enemies that the player has defeated.
Randomly Generated Levels
Some games have randomly-generated levels and dungeons, so that each playthrough provides a different experience. The actual procedure for generating them can involve complicated code, but underneath it all is random number generation. Examples of RPGs with random level generation include:
- Rogue-like dungeon crawler games, such as Dreamcast’s Evolution, feature randomly generated dungeon maps as a centerpiece of the genre. Action-RPG Binding of Isaac also randomly generates levels (though I have seen some dispute as to whether it’s an RPG).
- The popular JRPG Persona series includes some randomly generated dungeon levels in several of its games.
Interactions with Non-Playable Characters (NPCs)
In some games, certain interactions with NPCs might involve randomness. For example, some Fallout and Elder Scrolls games have dialog systems allowing players to get different outcomes from NPC conversations. The conversations are usually based on a speech or charisma skill. If the player invests in that skill, there’s a chance that the player persuades the NPC towards a different result, based on the selected dialog choices. A higher speech skill might open dialog options that yield a high chance of getting a reward or desired action. Even with a high skill level, the player might still fail, leading to an unsatisfactory conclusion to the conversation.
Octopath Traveler also has NPC interactions that are governed by random chance. Certain characters can attempt to steal items from NPCs. The player has a much lower chance of stealing rare items, even as low as 3% in some cases!
These are just a few examples of randomness in RPGs, and there are many more. Please feel free to share others in the comments.
Hopefully this article helps you better understand why randomness is so important in RPGs. If you’re learning about this topic in a programming class, maybe you’re inspired to use it in your own games!