A Pirate101 Thought Experiment: Part 1
In my Twitter bio for the last few years, I’ve included that I “hate RNGesus” (Or more simply, RNG. Essentially: luck). Why? I tend to not be a huge fan of luck-based outcomes in gaming. Sure, they often make for great stories, and many of my most memorable experiences in Pirate101 have been impacted by RNG.
However, it has a tendency to dilute skill, something that occurs all-too-often in both of Kingsisle’s MMOs (think of shadow pips, criticals, high/low rolls, etc). Oftentimes, an almost certain victory can be robbed by something completely out of your control, leading to a tilting experience. So, I want to discuss the question: Can RNG truly be removed in its entirety from Pirate101?
(Disclaimer: I am not necessarily advocating for implementing the measures I discuss in this article. As noted, this is merely a thought experiment)
What Does Removing RNG Mean?
I think this is a useful place to start. Before discussing whether or not it’s possible, we should first identify exactly what it would mean to remove RNG from a game. I’ve been playing quite a bit of online Chess recently. I’d say that it’s essentially an RNG-free game. It’s often described as a game with “perfect information.” For the sake of this article, a game without RNG is one with perfect information.
In a game theory sense, a game with perfect information is one where all players have full knowledge of all events that occurred previously in the game. All players also have full knowledge of all possible events in the future. For instance, in chess, every player can see every move being made. Furthermore, they know, at least in theory, every possible move going forward, as well as their exact consequences.
So, my requirements for an RNG-free Pirate101 (or any game) are these:
- All players have knowledge of all previous moves or conditions.
- They have knowledge of all possible future moves
- There is no variability in the ability to make a certain move (ex: not drawing a certain power at a certain point)
- The precise consequences for all of these moves are known to both players.
In a game like this, your fate rests entirely in your hands. I’ll discuss each of these conditions, mentioning how well they’re implemented in the current game. If the conditions aren’t met, I’ll discuss how, if at all, they could be implemented into the current game. The first article in this series will feature the first 3 conditions, while the second will feature the final one.
All players have knowledge
of all previous moves or conditions
This is a pretty simple requirement, and one that is mostly fulfilled by the nature of the game. Since Pirate101’s combat is a board game, all players can see all moves that are made. However, there is one very important “previous condition” that remains hidden to all opponents. Do you know what it is? Take a second to think.
If you thought of the player’s opening hand (or hand of powers more generally), you are correct! A player’s hand of powers is a piece of information that remains hidden throughout the entire game. Although this isn’t necessarily RNG, I think talking about it is worthwhile. Would the game be better off if players could see their opponents’ hand of powers?
In the current system, a skilled player generally operates under the assumption that any power that their opponent can use is in their hand at all times. Thus, it’s very important to have knowledge of all classes’ powers, as I discuss in this guide. However, operating under the assumption that a player can use any unused power they have a trained at any time is different from actually knowing what’s in their hand.
Let’s take an example from a hypothetical match. I’m playing a buckler mirror match. I have one unit in range of the opponent’s team, fog in hand, and it’s my turn. Should I use my fog here? Normally, I would have to assume that my opponent has their fog as well. Given that this one unit is probably not going to be able to kill an opposing unit, fogging here is unwise. They would be able to both protect and generate value from their attacked unit, while my attacking unit would be vulnerable.
On the other hand, if I had perfect knowledge of my opponent’s hand, and I saw that they didn’t have fog, my decision would be much easier. An attack would almost certainly be profitable. You can think of a variety of other examples like this, where knowledge of an opening hand informs your play decision.
However, I don’t think adding this information would be of net benefit to the game. Forcing players to have knowledge of their opponent’s class and to play around all possible moves leads to more exciting play. For instance, you could immediately tell, with ease, if a musketeer used their knockback or regular bombs (instead of using context or the sound trick). This leads to more boring play and doesn’t reward skilled, knowledgeable players as much.
Players have knowledge of all possible future moves
This part is relatively simple and is an extension of the previous section. Since player hands are hidden information in the current game, the only way to have knowledge of all possible future moves is to operate under the assumption that any trained, unused power can be used at any time. Making this assumption obviously requires that you assume that certain “impossible” moves are possible (powers that they don’t have in their hand). So overall, this condition, like the one before it, is essentially met, but requires you to assume a broader set of moves are possible. Like I discussed before, revealing both players’ hand would be an unwelcome change. The current system allows for skillful bluffs and rewards an ability to pick up on signals an opponent gives in regards to their hand’s contents.
Once again, this underscores the importance of having knowledge of game mechanics, particularly movement and shooting range. Lacking this information only hurts you, as it limits your knowledge of future moves. Therefore, you allow an opponent to ambush you with an unexpected move.
There is no variability in the ability to make a certain move
Going back to my chess example, if a move is legal in a game of chess, you are always able to make it. For instance, you don’t roll a die that tells you which piece(s) you are allowed to move at a given point. The same isn’t true in Pirate101. The best examples are power drawing and spawn points.
Power drawing obviously breaks this rule in the current game. If you want to assassin and don’t have one in hand, you can’t assassin (this should be obvious). Sure, you can discard or use other powers more aggressively, but you cannot control with certainty whether or not that power comes into your hand the instant you need it. As I’ve been underscoring throughout this article, you don’t have absolute control over your fate in combat. You are limited by the RNG of power pulls.
However, as I’ve argued in the past, I don’t think “fixing” this issue would be a good idea. The game would become much more theory driven. Furthermore, I think forcing people to have the flexibility to play without certain “key” powers at times (ex: fog) is a good thing.
Spawn points also break this rule, however, it’s a bit more subtle. In the spar chamber, your units spawn surrounding your pirate, on the far side of the pillars. However, there are 3 columns they can spawn in, chosen randomly. This is obviously RNG, but is it impactful? To an extent, yes.
Most companions in the game have 4 movement. If a unit spawns on the most exterior point possible, it is 2 squares to the left of the most interior point possible. This corresponds with 1/2 a turn’s worth of development (4 squares = 1 turn). While this isn’t game-breaking, it’s certainly to your advantage to have your units spawn as close to the center as possible, since you want to take control of the center. (You can think of a similar example in chess. If 1 of your center pawns could randomly spawn 1 tile ahead of the rest, but still be allowed to move 2 squares on its first move, it would likely be advantageous).
So, to fix this issue, spawn points would have to be standardized. Your pirate would always spawn on a certain square, your first unit on another, etc, etc. I don’t think this is particularly necessary, as the advantage gained is generally pretty small.
I hope this article shed some light on the inner workings of Pirate101 PvP. Stay tuned for the second and final article in this series!