Session Zero

gamemechanics

Games using the Wretched & Alone ruleset typically call for a block tower as a kind of probabilistic counter for determining when play ends. If a block tower is not readily available, or if it's impractical or inconvenient to use one, the following dice rules work as an alternative method. It requires:

  • Two (2) six-sided dice;
  • Some means of tracking points, e.g. pencil and paper, an abacus, etc.

Method

At the beginning of the game, assign a total of 100 points to a countdown tracker. Any time the game directs you to draw a block from the tower, roll two dice.

  • If you roll double threes, combine the results, subtract the total from the countdown tracker, then roll again.
  • If the prompt instructs you to remove the piece from the game, subtract both results from the countdown tracker.
  • If your countdown total is 51 or higher, subtract the lower result from the countdown tracker. (This is rolling with advantage.)
  • If your countdown total is 50 or lower, subtract the higher result from the countdown tracker. (This is rolling with disadvantage.)

Reaching zero is equivalent to knocking over the block tower — typically, the end of the game under Wretched & Alone rules.

Examples

  1. The game instructs you to pull a block from the tower. You roll a three and a five. Since your countdown is currently at 92, you subtract the lower number (92 – 3) for a new total of 89.
  2. The game instructs you to pull a block from the tower and remove it from play. You roll a one and a four, and subtract both results from your current countdown score of 62 for a new total of 57.
  3. The game instructs you to pull a block from the tower. Your countdown is currently at 75, but you roll double threes. You subtract six from your countdown and roll again. This time, you roll a two and five. Since you're rolling with advantage, you subtract the two from the countdown, bringing your countdown total to 67.
  4. The game instructs you to pull a block from the tower. Your countdown is at 14, which means you roll at disadvantage. You roll double threes, subtract six from your countdown, then roll again. Improbably, your second roll also comes up double threes, too! You subtract another six from your countdown, and roll again. This time, the dice come up one and five, and since you're rolling with disadvantage, you're stuck with the five. Subtracting that from your countdown total brings you to zero, ending the game.

Notes

  • Pencil and paper may the easiest tools for tracking the countdown. One relatively clear approach is to create a sort of analog gauge. Draw off ten rows, label them from 100% to 0% counting down by tens, then mark off the points deducted from the countdown time using tick marks.
  • If you use some sort of counter (e.g. pennies, poker chips, go stones) be sure to begin the game by dividing them into two piles of 50 pieces each. That will make it easier to know when to switch from using the lower result to using the higher result of each roll.
  • Other methods for emulating the tower method were discussed during the Wretched & Alone Jam in 2020.

Explanation

The block tower game is played by means of a physical system progressing toward collapse by degrees that are difficult, if not impossible, to estimate. Pulling and restacking blocks can be understood as a way of increasing the entropy of that system. Games built on the Wretched & Alone ruleset use that erratic progression toward collapse to load an element of unpredictability into their condition for failure. Pulling and stacking blocks nudges the game closer toward catastrophe, but by irregular and unpredictable steps.

The dice tower emulates that function by combining two methods familiar from traditional role-playing games: rolling with dis/advantage and exploding dice. Both are used here to approximate the entropy of a block tower over the course of the game. Rolling the dice works approximates something like the normal scale of difficulties involved in choosing and pulling a block where different pressures impact how snug each fits into the stack. A strategic player will always look for blocks that fit relatively loosely in the stack, since those are the easiest to pull without increasing the tower's overall entropy. That's comparatively easy early on, but grows more difficult as the weight of the tower shifts. We simulate that strategy here using advantage, tossing out the higher scores at first, then shifting from advantage to disadvantage midway through the countdown to emulate that increase of difficulty. Subtracting both results reflects the curtailment of a later opportunity to pull a block. Exploding the dice on double threes simulates the occasional outlier move that increases the total entropy of the system by a disastrous or nearly disastrous amount.

One-hundred is a nice, round number, and convenient for presenting the countdown tracker as a percentage, but that's not why it was chosen. It was deduced, rather, by calculating the maximum number of moves possible in a standard block tower game consisting of 54 pieces. By concentrating exclusively on the corner blocks it's possible to pull a maximum of 36 blocks (in 36 turns) from the initial pool of 18 levels. Stacked atop the 18th, those 36 blocks furnish twelve new levels to draw from, for a maximum of 24 additional pulls (bringing the total number of turns to 60), which can, in turn, be stacked into eight new levels. The process can be repeated until the 99th pull, resulting in a stack 54 levels high, each constructed of a single block, at which point it becomes physically impossible to pull from a lower level without toppling everything above it. The 100th move, then, is the point at which the stability of the system necessarily reaches zero.

Levels Pullable bricks New levels Pulls
18 36 12 36
30 24 8 60
38 16 5+1 76
43.3 10 3+2 86
46.6 6 2+2 92
48.6 4 2 96
50 2 +2 98

In simulations of the method, the average number of pulls per game was approximately thirty. Generally speaking, you can expect a lower bound of about 18 pulls and an upper bound of around 42. I haven't been able to find confirmation of Chris Bisette's claim that there are 30 pulls in an average game of Jenga, but the accord between those numbers shows that the dice tower method will generally adhere to typical game length envisioned by the ruleset's creator.

Theoretically, exploding dice make is possible to roll a 100 on a single turn — even your first turn. That makes sense from a simulationist point of view — it is possible to flub your first pull from a block tower so badly that the whole tower collapses right away. If that's less satisfying from the perspective of someone using the dice tower to play a journaling game, the odds against it are so astronomical that you really shouldn't feel cheated if it ever happens to you. After all, what you're witnessing is much, much rarer than a successful game.

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