Thursday, 22 March 2012

Counting Stories

In yesterday's post I posed the following question:
How many stories are there in the manual for In A Wicked Age?
In A Wicked Age has four Oracles - Blood & Sex, God-kings of War, the Unquiet Past and a Nest of Vipers. To start a game the GM and players select one Oracle to draw elements from, and then pick 4 cards (let's assume randomly) from a standard 52 card deck of playing cards. These cards are then matched up to references within the tables for each Oracle.

Let's assume (wrongly, but go with me on this) that the number of stories is the same as the number of sets of four elements that we can take. This being the case, our magic number can be found by multiplying
The Number of Oracles
times The Number of Ways One Can Draw 4 Cards from a 52 Card Deck
times The Number of Ways One Can Arrange 4 Cards
First and last things first: we have 4 Oracles - we've said that quite a few times! If you lay out four cards in an ordered row - any four, distinct cards - then you have 4 choices for what you put down first, 3 choices for what goes second, 2 choices for what you put in third place and only 1 choice for the last one (i.e., whatever card you have left in your hand).

The number of arrangements of 4 distinct objects is thus 4*3*2*1 = 24. In general we can use the notation n! to denote the arrangement of n objects (and we interpret this as "n factorial").

So, how many ways can we take 4 cards from a 52 card deck? Interpreting and explaining the notation is a matter of combinatorial maths, in particular combinations, and while it is not difficult it would take a bit of time to explain here. So if you're really interested, go and read it on Wikipedia!

In maths, if we want to count the number of ways of taking 4 distinct objects from 52 distinct objects then we can denote this as "52C4" which we could read as "52 choose 4". Again, looking at Wikipedia will tell you mathematically what that comes to.

But here we can now say that the number of set of elements from Oracles, and hence the number of stories in In A Wicked Age is:
4 Oracles times 270,725 card draws times 24 ways of arranging cards.
Which is 25,989,600 stories!!! AKA, lots!

While this makes for good maths fun times, I did state further up that there was an incorrect assumption with this process. The maths makes for interesting times, but the assumption that the number of sets of elements is the same as the number of stories is wrong. It has to be.

People interpret things differently. That's one underlying reason. Two days ago, when GMing, we had the element "the guardian of a tomb, a statue cast in silver with ruby eyes". I took that to be, and started coming up with ideas based around the statue BEING the guardian. One of my players, P, took it to be two provocations, that there was someone in the game who was a guardian, and that there was a silver statue with ruby eyes. Already, that's two ways of looking at things.

  • The statue could be like a golem, prowling the tomb.
  • It could be that an eye is missing.
  • It could be that the guardian is a man who pilots the statue like a mecha of some kind.
  • The statue might not be humanoid (I definitely don't want to tick off a silver spider guardian).
  • Or it might be really small, a foot high only.
There are all kinds of ways of taking these elements, these inspirations.

The maths of this is fun: in In A Wicked Age, the invention and creativity of making a story collaboratively is even more fun, both for GM and players.


  1. A foot-high silver spider statue being piloted around like a mecha by an even smaller guardian would have been fucking cool.

  2. The party just hear the faint tick-tick-tick of little legs scrabbing around. Unsure of where the sound is coming from... And then something bursts towards them, the light from their torches catching something metallic with red eyes jumping straight at them!