Friday, March 23, 2007

Lesson: Whiff Factor

The term 'Whiff Factor' refers to a higher-than-desired rate of failure in a mechanic used for conflict resolution, particularly physical combat.

It is likely that the phrase originated as sports culture jargon; for example, 'whiff' in baseball refers to a missed swing. Entry into RPG culture probably occurred in the game Dungeons and Dragons, due to the nature of its combat system in which every attack has a random 5% chance of failure. This can result in characters with extraordinary combat prowess failing to connect an attack against even the weakest enemy.
When the whiff factor produces incompatibilities with the perceived or expected competence of a character, it is considered to be a form of deprotagonization and disruptive to immersion, thus its general recognition as a design flaw.


VBWyrde said...

Ok but it's not necessarily a design flaw. Personally I don't like a system that creates conditions in which said Super Character can never miss. To my mind, that's not realistic. No matter how good you are, there's always a chance you can miss. Should that be 5%? Or 1%? Or .1%? That's up to the discretion of the GM, I should say. However, another way to view it is to ask the Players, in the case where the situation is reversed and you have a scrawny 1st level guy and you meet Mr. DeathCrushYouNow the Super Ogre, wouldn't you like to have some chance that he might miss? Even at the expense that when your character is MaximumDeathSmasher Level you might possibly miss a scrawny runt such as yourself. This will usually cause the Players a moment of pause, and I've found they more often than not opt for the chance to miss.

ArtMonkey said...

I think the "whiff" factor is more an issue of wasted resources than just a "miss" chance. I suppose a "wasted action" is a resource, though. Anyway, why bother with that 5% chance to miss. Sure, the ogre might miss 1st-Level Joe on his first hit, but he's totally going to cream him with the next one or two, so why bother prolonging the inevitable? Similarly, if you're a 20th level badass who happens to be wasting his time fighting kobolds, is there really a point in having a chance to miss? Does anyone really think that the kobold has a chance?

gunderval said...

Is the issue not "the character can fail" but how the system handles failure?

Failure = dead or stuck or just keep repeating until you don't fail, is unfun, failure breaks character concept. (classic game design). This is when "whiff" comes into play.

Failure = compromise, fallout, change in character is fun, can be narrated in keeping with character concept. (newer generation game design).

Difference of fun/unfun being "nothing new being added to story, story ends, story repeats, story stalls" vs "story changes and continues".

Fun requires "movement" and "more content" in the fiction, and less "random damage" to character concepts.