What If You Rolled First?

Posted by on Jan 14, 2010 in Design, RPGs | 40 Comments

During a recent D&D game, a question came up about friction in the game mechanics between the resource-management portion of play — that is, the selection and deployment of daily powers — and the vagaries of random chance. Does it suck too much to have a daily power wasted on a bad die roll? Isn’t the daily power a resource the player should be able to spend and not be usurped by random chance? Doesn’t risk undermine the player’s resource management? Doesn’t it rob meaning from the decisions made in the design of a meaningful play turn for the PC?

I say this as the player of a Warlord with the daily power called Lead the Attack, which grants a nice fat bonus to hit to potentially the entire party if I hit with it, in addition to doing three times the weapon damage. If I miss, it adds an anemic +1 to hit and leaves the Warlord without his most useful contribution to the party — without that power, my Warlord is a meager martial combatant with the ability to occasionally shift someone one square or so. (In contrast, our fighter can shift another character a number of squares equal to their full speed — why isn’t that a Warlord power?)

My immediate response is: No. Risk doesn’t undermine the choice, because the risk is apparent. Risk must be part of the equation the player finagles when selecting when and how to use a power. The game isn’t one of resource management but of risk management, with resources involved.

If that doesn’t fly for you, though, think about this untested mod for the game:

Roll the die at the beginning of your turn and then select the power, attack, or Skill you want to employ using that number.

Thus, when your turn comes around, you roll a d20 and use the number generated to determine what course of action you want to take. Say you roll a 14, which you think is enough to hit the AC of the monster you’re facing. You therefore choose to try out an encounter power, much more confident that you’re going to hit with it. If you miss, it’s because you underestimated your enemy’s defenses — the choice was truly yours. As combat goes on, and a monster’s defenses are gradually determined by watching hits and misses go by, the player doesn’t choose when to employ a daily power and then hope to get lucky; instead, he waits around for a die roll good enough to warrant unleashing that daily.

Does this work? I don’t know. I haven’t tried it yet. It seems to me, though, that it subtracts the visceral rush of risk when using a daily power — the chance that it might fail — and potentially leads to a lot of waiting around on the player’s part. You know that feeling when you declare you’re about to use a daily power? Is it worse to have that feeling of participation and adventure undermined by a bad die roll, or is it worse to lose that feeling altogether as the bad die rolls come at the top of the turn and shut down the player’s options?

In other words, is it worth shifting suspense around for the sake of making PCs appear competent?

Alternately, think of it as roleplaying the information given to you by the dice — the roll informs the player early what quality of action he has forthcoming and the player selects an action that dramatizes it. Not every action is equal, still, but the player knows in advance whether he’s about to begin a turn of excellence, mediocrity, or woe. Then he takes an action to match.

This is what I do when making things like Diplomacy checks, sometimes. The idea being that it undermines a character too much to have the player give a decent speech or find a solid argument and then see that performance undercut by a natural 2 on the die. Instead, I sometimes have players roll their Diplomacy (or Intimidate, or whatever) check first, and then roleplay the result. It asks dramatic questions like, “How could your character mess this up?” or “What does a brilliant diplomatic maneuver look like from your character?” instead of using the die result to randomly determine whether or not the target NPC is, say, somehow offended by a perfectly reasonable argument.

But can this be shifted to combat? Let’s see. I think I’m going to give this a shot in my D&D game tonight and report back to you tomorrow.

Here’s the rough rules I’m anticipating:

  • Roll a d20 — this number determines the quality of a standard action for this turn. If it’s a lousy roll, the player is free to simply not take a standard action or to attempt something that does not require the roll (like shifting twice).
  • The roll can be applied to a move action (e.g. an Athletics check) [only if a standard action is not taken?].
  • The roll cannot be used when making a saving throw.

I’ll be using a brief in-setting excuse for the game-rule experiment (a flash of divining magic gives the characters the temporary power of foresight, maybe), but — and this is important — I don’t think it’s necessary. The characters don’t need an excuse to appear more competent, necessarily. They’re adventurers. It’s fine if they appear competent.

40 Comments

  1. Rob Donoghue
    January 14, 2010

    Hmm. Ok, so one one hand when I’ve seen things like this tried, they definitely have the effect of sucking some of the excitement and spontaneity out of things (though you can get some fun when the player tries to find a way to use his *really good* roll). *But* D&D has a fair amount of hidden information – enough that you won’t be certain that a good roll is good enough, so it’s possible that this won’t be quite as much of a problem.

    However, the counterargument is that I think this would take some of the fun out of scrambling for bonuses, especially combat advantage. It it so psychologically valuable to get that +2 _before_ you roll that it’s probably the biggest reason 4e fights stay dynamic. If you already know your roll, you’re going to be less hungry for that bonus (because you don’t need it, or it won’t help) and thus more likely to just stand still and hit a guy.

    So, points for and against. Either way, I’m intensely curious to hear how it works out in actual play.

    -Rob D.

    Reply
  2. R
    January 14, 2010

    stupid idea

    Reply
  3. Will Hindmarch
    January 14, 2010

    Certainly there are trade-offs and pitfalls with this idea — I’m not suggesting it as the solution to all that ails — but can’t combat advantage be worth plenty when you know what roll you’re adding it to? I think there’s still value in turning a 12 into a 14, for example, or for getting combat advantage to improve next turn’s roll. Etc. We’ll see.

    Perhaps it’s worth noting that the session where the discussion on resource management came up… ended with three of us (including the DM), standing still and attacking each other again and again, rolling dice again and again, into a spastic stand-still, even with combat advantage in play.

    But, for sure, bonuses will interact with the tactical decisions… differently.

    Reply
  4. North
    January 14, 2010

    This will be interesting to try. On the one hand, it will allow players more focus in RPing the results of their actions, but I worry it would cause me to want to delay planning my action until I see what roll I’m going to be working with. That might end up being a touch disengaging. It will also be easy to describe my characters’ actions in ways that might infringe on DM-fiat world details. If I say my badass sword trust deflects off the monster’s scale, but it turns out to be important that these particular monsters don’t have scales, that could be frustrating.

    Typed on my phone, pardon any errors.

    Reply
  5. Rob Donoghue
    January 14, 2010

    I think it’s one of those math vs. perception issues. Combat Advantage is always valuable, but if I roll, say, less than an 8 or more than a 14 then I’ll make the decision based on math, so the result is that I don’t care about 2/3rd of the time.

    But when I’m uncertain, that +2 is going to matter to me 100% of the time, not because it’s 3 times more valuable, but just because we’re willing to go to crazy lengths to avoid the equivalent of buyers remorse (in this case, missing by 2). Just one more case of getting a little more juice when you hit the gambling centers of the brain.*

    The point about advantage for the _next_ turn is a really fascinating one though, and I can see a case for that shaking out either way.

    And, oh, man, I know those 3 man spasms. They hurt me deep inside.

    -Rob D.

    * And definitely not holding this up as a AND THIS IS WHY IT WILL FAIL! Just a unique intersection with one of the underpinnings of 4e in my mind.

    Reply
  6. Will Hindmarch
    January 14, 2010

    This may well slow play down as decisions need to be made after the die roll, rather than before. But it could speed play up as less time is spent in preparation for subdued turns.

    I don’t see how this change in the order of operations changes the appropriateness of narration, North. Can you elaborate? When do you presume the narration happens? How does rolling first introduce more erroneous details into play than rolling second? To my mind, it reduces them, because we have fewer instances of players declaring bad-ass sword strikes that somehow end up whiffing through the air. But I may well be missing something.

    Reply
  7. Rob Donoghue
    January 14, 2010

    Though the one point unstated: It sets players up to fail AWESOMELY, and there are few things better than that.

    -Rob D.

    Reply
  8. Rob Donoghue
    January 14, 2010

    And just because I like filling the board, here’s a crazy ass variant. What if you knew your next _5_ rolls? Not as relevant out of combat, but that introduces some more choice and a sense of pacing into the whole affair.

    -Rob D.

    Reply
  9. Will Hindmarch
    January 14, 2010

    Exactly! Too often, I feel like what happens is that a player describes his turn and then, with the bad roll, it immediately ends and he loses the conch and the next person tries. This way, you can more easily miss IN CHARACTER, or set up combat advantage for the next player, knowing that you’re not going to hit with your power anyway, or whatever.

    It robs suspense to pay the dramatist, I think.

    Reply
  10. Rob Donoghue
    January 14, 2010

    (And further variant, those 5 rolls were a pool you could use in any order. Good to have that 19 when you need it, but sooner or later you have to use that 3).

    Reply
  11. Will Hindmarch
    January 14, 2010

    I should also point out that my D&D group is under-manned, so I’m looking for ways for them to keep their resources better in hand. Maybe this does that.

    Reply
  12. Eddy
    January 14, 2010

    I feel I was lied to about the amount of drunken narwhals in this post.

    But the “knowing your roll ahead of time” variant kind of reminds me of the Marvel Saga system, where you had a hand of cards and could play them based on your perception of what’s going on. You’d generally want to play something that just beats what you’re going for, saving your big cards for later. Also, events with low stakes are a time to play bad cards, to get them out of your hand.

    Adding even more cards to D&D might be a bit much, but it does seem similar to the idea Rob proposes.

    Reply
  13. Will Hindmarch
    January 14, 2010

    I’ve used “divination” to give players rolls that they can keep in store to use later when they want, and what I find is that most would rather take a chance than even use a 12 or 14. Maybe when they have to use up their 3 before they can roll the next five, it’d be different. I’m enticed.

    I’m also interested to explore ways to use this variation for just a week or so by drawing on divination-related fantasy BS to explain it. It’s what I’ll be doing tonight, at any rate.

    Reply
  14. Matthew Gandy
    January 14, 2010

    Rob, you’re neglecting the group dynamics, so let’s kick it up a notch:

    What if all players rolled first, and the party had those rolls to choose from, in initiative order? I think that would have interesting effects on party play.

    Also, what about the idea of extending it to damage rolls as well?

    Reply
  15. Will Hindmarch
    January 14, 2010

    Right on, Eddy. I played the Saga System for years and love it still. (I have unopened decks of the fantasy version of the game here on my shelf.) Once you get into multiple rolls, you really are very nearly at the same kind of system, aren’t you?

    (Doesn’t surprise me, I guess — I have a card-driven indie system in passive development, and am a fan of systems in which players choose how to fail and succeed, so maybe my bias is heavy.)

    Reply
  16. Eddy
    January 14, 2010

    How odd — I also have a card-driven indie system in passive development. 🙂

    I still do like the speed and randomness of dice, but a hand of cards seems like a natural balance between randomness and having some say in when your character succeeds or fails.

    Reply
  17. Scionical
    January 14, 2010

    Man, talk about taking a machete to a sacred cow, huh?

    I like this idea almost as much as I don’t like it. Part of the joy to me is the excitement – I am gonna damn well try this, win or lose. I think if you’re looking for certainty, taking dailies/encounters with the Dependable keyword fills that need.

    I have never been a fan of direct checks for roleplaying scenes, though for the past few years I have been forced to take a lot of that back (Exalted and Social Combat). What I typically do is let the character make their speech or whatnot and apply its overall impact as a modifier, then make a die roll. If I come up with some type of botch result and the speech was great, then it was a random happenstance. No need for huge explanation here, I know a lot of people do that same thing.

    What really makes think is exactly what Rob said, about Math vs Perception – and that is a constant thing in table top role playing (the ever present kabitzing and table talk – or metagaming for you younguns). If you know you are going to get a good roll and have combat advantage (and possibly situational modifiers), then it seems like it would drain the excitement away and turn the game into an exercise in calculations. Sure, you don’t necessarily know the targets defense score, and determining that margin becomes the only aspect you need to determine.

    I would need to try this out – its a neat idea, and I may just be resisting it because Gygax Said Do It This Other Way, but I am just not convinced.

    Reply
  18. North
    January 14, 2010

    To elaborate: One possible problem could arise if players unintentionally narrative the results of a roll in a way that doesn’t fly with the setting, particular setting features that have not been revealed to the players. Normally, the player describes the action they take and the DM describes the results. Here, we’re talking about the player describing both. This might involve players dictating monster traits or reactions in ways which befuddle the DM’s plan.

    Reply
  19. mds
    January 14, 2010

    To make this work, I think you’d want to adjust the to-hit numbers for encounter and daily powers, and perhaps give them more time-sensitive advantages.

    If your regular attack gets a +2 bonus that your encounter powers don’t, one of your allies is dying from poison and you have an encounter power that, if it hits, will give him another save with a bonus, when you’re rolling the die there’s still going to be suspense over whether you’ll roll high enough to help him before he dies, or if you’ll have to settle for just killing the radioactive scorpion that poisoned him to begin with.

    Reply
  20. Will Hindmarch
    January 14, 2010

    Thanks for elaborating, North. Maybe I’m unusual, but the division of description isn’t pre- and post-roll at my table. Players have some freedom to describe the outcome of their rolls, with the DM clarifying details or quashing elements that don’t jibe with the specific monster or setting. So maybe my table’s weird, but I don’t anticipate that descriptive problem you’re talking about being too much of an issue.

    Even if it were, you could still divide the description to be everything up to the moment of contact — the player describes his dashing attack with the confidence of a storyteller who knows the general outcome (a hit), while the DM describes exactly what results from it. Or something.

    Thanks for the comments, all. I’ll try to keep all this in mind during tonight’s session.

    Reply
  21. Will Hindmarch
    January 14, 2010

    Scionical, what does random happenstance mean in the case of one character trying to persuade another? Doug made a great argument and had a great chance of making his case but Edgar the NPC just, by happenstance, decided nah? Edgar was distracted by a bumblebee and missed Doug’s argument? Whatever the outcome, once the speech is made, reveals a lot about the characters involved. If you’re willing to characterize Edgar (and potentially any other NPC) as a flaky, random personality type, the die works fine. Otherwise, I find it supposes a degree of randomness that interpersonal exchanges often don’t involve.

    To me, it’s easier and more satisfying to roleplay the die roll as an inspirational source — learning that maybe Doug stumbled when he spoke or accidentally mentioned a sore subject, for example — than it is to have the dice tell me that, apparently, Edgar doesn’t like great oratory. It would mean that there’s a 1-in-20 chance that every character hates great oratory, which is kind of nutty. (I mean, random conversation determiners are nutty to begin with, so I’m admittedly arguing from my own bias, here.) But we’re getting into material for a different post, at this point.

    Great example of how tension can still creep into the situation, MDS. I think there’s still suspense at the top of the turn when you roll your die, but we’ll see if it’s enough for my players. Likewise, I’m not sure when we’ll see at-will powers used under this mechanism, but that’s why I’m testing it out. Maybe they’ll need to be 10% more reliable, as you suggest.

    Reply
  22. Scionical
    January 14, 2010

    Pretty much, exactly that – random things that happen out of the speaker’s control that can disrupt or flub their social attempt. Those embarrassing moments that people wish they could die after having – a biological sound after saying something intense, workman crashing things together while trying to persuade someone. These sort of things happen.

    I still hate dice rolling for role-playing, but I do understand why it is there. I am not as eloquent as a 22 Charisma person with Diplomacy as a class skill would be – there is no way I could talk my way out of things that character could. That’s why there is a system for it. Just like I can’t chop off someone’s head with a sword (not that I’ve tried in a while), I can’t make a speech that would move millions.

    Reply
  23. Christian Lindke
    January 14, 2010

    One of the things that I like about the new Dragon Age system, and which I blogged about here, was how Dragon Age’s stunt system allowed for the very kind of effect you are striving for with your current house rule.

    The character can attempt a “more narrative” attack after knowing he/she already succeeded in an action through the expenditure of stunt points.

    I think your system of roll first is essential in “conversational encounters.” Players hate it when they act out very compelling reasons for taking a particular course of action, only to have the 5-10 minutes of roleplay undermined by the roll. By shifting the roll to the beginning of the action, the player can still act out a compelling argument but the DM — knowing the result — can modify his own performance to match the mechanical results. The player doesn’t have the change his approach, but the DM can modify behavior of NPCs easily without affecting game flow.

    I, too, am a huge fan of Marvel SAGA. Naturally, the base Marvel campaign should adapt supplemental rules from some of the Dragonlance expansions, but that game was/is a wonderful creation.

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  24. Will Hindmarch
    January 14, 2010

    Rolling first means spotting the inevitable flub or gaff and incorporating it into the initial description. Rolling after the player has made some shade of the great speech means going back and rewriting a gaff into what might have been a genuinely cunning turn of phrase, impressive soliloquy, or well-aimed rhetoric.

    Rolling first says, “Uh oh, your character didn’t make his best speech ever. What does that look like?”

    Rolling second says, “You roleplayed that just wonderfully, but it doesn’t matter. Your character must have burped.”

    I find the second option much less satisfying because it undermines a good idea. Then, if I want to try again, I have to come up with another approach, even though I probably tried my best approach first, even though the second is demonstrably less logical or well played than my first.

    It’s akin, to me, to moving your character on the board — a decision that the player shares in with the character, even if the character has a 20 Dex and the player is a klutz — and then rolling to see if he actually gets to move where you put him.

    Rolling first doesn’t change the fact that the character is better skilled than the player at these things — it heightens it. We roll and see that the character hit a DC 22 (or whatever) and then we decide what that means in the context of the character, be it a simple gesture or a lengthy speech, even though the player isn’t called upon to actually make that speech. Otherwise, it seems to me, every Diplomacy check comes down to an assertion that the 22-Charisma diplomat is suave, only to find out that he’s not. It leads to inevitable humiliation of the character and a campaign loaded with random farts. It leads to the same joke, over and over: the diplomat who puts his foot in his mouth. The would-be talker who turns out to be a fool.

    Making the roll first lets us save the assertion of suavity for a moment when the dice support it. If you roll a 2, then maybe the character didn’t even try his best. The alternative is to characterize him as having tried his best beforehand only to learn that his best sucks. It undermines the appearance of character competency in a way that I’m not crazy about.

    More to the point, the random interference in interpersonal exchanges happen in real life, which is funny or humiliating, or in comedy, which is also. But I don’t want that stuff in my dramatic, blood-tinged dark fantasy adventure. (For example.) So I look for other options to explain bad RP rolls, to keep those rolls from undermining good Actual RP that’s already happened, and I find they tangle up with our visions for characters less when they happen first. (In my experience, anyway.)

    Combat should be more chaotic than diplomacy, anyway, shouldn’t it?

    (Do I come across as a jerk here? Not my intent. I’ve given this some thought, though, and am happy to have found a solution that works for me.)

    Reply
  25. Will Hindmarch
    January 14, 2010

    Word, Christian. I’ve been using a roll-first system for some things, like Diplomacy, for years. The stunt system for Dragon Age is very nearly identical to the extra-successes mechanics we used in a Coda-system fantasy campaign (a la Lord of the Rings) at the White Wolf offices, in which additional levels of success allowed you to buy effects like extra damage, wound penalties, pinned foes, etc.

    I like it when players get to design turns for their characters sort of like GMs design encounters.

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  26. Rob Donoghue
    January 14, 2010

    My kid brother has just described this as ‘”Roll before Role”playing’ and I think I love the phrase.

    Reply
  27. Scionical
    January 14, 2010

    No dude, that totally all make sense and I do not disagree with you – hopefully I am not coming off as dense in this one. I’ve had to backtrack the gaffe in from time to time, and you are right – it is not satisfying at all. My soloution has usually been to keep dice out of it unless absolutely essential, but again the downside is that the characters stats can’t really come into play – it will always depend on what the group wants to go with.

    Your approach makes total sense, I just still feel the old “Do it, then roll it” instinct that I’ve had since the red-box.

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  28. Seth Ben-Ezra
    January 14, 2010

    Just as a datapoint, this was apparently the thought process that brought about the system for Dogs in the Vineyard. You roll your dice, and then you make choices from there.

    There are ways of shaking up the determinism, by bringing in Traits and equipment, or by escalating, but the determinism then pushes you in that direction.

    Of course, the “buckets of dice” of Dogs feels different than a single d20 roll, but I figured I’d point this game out for further inspiration.

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  29. John Donoghue
    January 14, 2010

    I really like the idea of “Roll before you Role” Playing, and not just because it is a catchy phraise.

    I see every Dice Roll is pure roleplaying gold. If you have reached a point where it is time to roll, something important is happening and the dramatic narrative should reflect and respect the results. Essentially, take the roll and think of it as the dice handing you a cue card for how to describe your action.

    Move over it gives you a chance to Own the action & description, giving it a flavor that fits your character… even their failures.

    After the roll, your description is easy to color with success or failure. Don’t let you bad ass fighter miss because his skill was in some way lacking, make it because right as he was reading to swing the screams of pain of a nearby ally gave him pause enough for his foe to slip away.

    Don’t fail just fail the Oratory because the dice say so, have it be because you come off as condescending, or you are wearing the colors of the enemy accidentally, or have a heckler get you riled.

    It is generally thought that failure is the end of it. I think that is a shame. You Didn’t succeed in figuring out what sort of moss that is, or what way is north, or the weakness of the Lich. and thats the end of it… but is it? What did you discover while you were researching? What false facts did you walk away with that are Role Playing GOLD. Werewolves are weak against gold too? Who knew?

    K I am done. I’ll stop there before I go off in a different direction. Roll so you know your Role. Bam.

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  30. Justin D. Jacobson
    January 14, 2010

    My first thought was striving for the best of both worlds. Start of each encounter everyone rolls 4 x d20 and stores the results. You use those results as your first four d20 rolls. After that you roll as normal. For important/challenging encounters, this would have the added advantage of switching over to the more suspenseful traditional system as the encounter reaches its climax.

    FYI, there is a compendium MI, the die of auspicious fortune, that does something similar. Daily power: Roll 3 d20s and store the results in the die. Encounter power: Use a stored roll instead of rolling the d20 as normal. Our sorcerer is using it right now and early results are promising from both a roleplay and gameplay standpoint, which bespeaks to the promise of a hybrid approach.

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  31. Lugh
    January 15, 2010

    Will, you don’t need to resort to divination to explain rolling before. In fact, IMHO, that undermines the concept.

    First, by and large, we are talking about characters who are experienced combatants. Pretty much every experienced combatant, from high-school wrestler to Navy SEAL, will tell you that there is a rhythm and flow to combat. All we are doing with this change is giving the character’s sense of that flow back to the player. This is the kind of stuff that ends up in description as “he always drops his left shoulder as he attacks, leaving him open for a head shot.”

    Second, knowing the roll is player information. The character has no idea that he’s got a 17 to work with. He just knows that his opponent has over-extended himself, and it is time to strike! For great justice!

    The point here, and the point to my basic argument in favor of dice in social contests, is that those rolls don’t represent randomness. They represent the vast myriad of influences on the outcome of the event that we, as players, can’t even know about, let alone account for. Subtle aspects of body language. The irrational effects of emotional states. The fact that this guy’s older brother always used to nail him with this exact trick so he totally sees through it.

    Dice rolls are used to resolve chaotic systems into simple steady states, not to add randomness to an already stable system.

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  32. Will Hindmarch
    January 15, 2010

    Oh, I know that I don’t need an in-setting explanation for the change-up in the flow of information, and in fact I ended up not making it a setting issue at all. But I also enjoy the challenge of tying such things to the metaphor of the setting, sometimes.

    Anyway, well put, Lugh. For the record, when I talk about “randomness” I’m often also talking about imperfect information and the hidden collisions of unseen factors. Including those factors that are invented after the roll to support the conclusion imposed by a die. There’s more to say here than I have, obviously. I don’t think I argued against dice rolls in social combat, and I know I’m not arguing in favor of ditching tools out of the toolbox. Dice are just one tool for resolving social interplay.

    Plenty of good techniques exist to incorporate the dice into social situations without resorting to burps and demeaning comedy — but I’ve watched a lot of people undermine characters because they think the dice are telling them to, also. Again, the topic is bigger than my post or any of my comments have made it.

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  33. Rob Donoghue
    January 15, 2010

    Just FYI, this post/thread is totally responsible for this post.

    -Rob D.

    Reply
  34. Lugh
    January 15, 2010

    Just FYI, Rob, that post was totally responsible for me reading this post, and posting that comment. And this comment.

    Will, as a brief follow-up to incorporating dice into social situations, especially with an eye to describing failures, is that a failed roll doesn’t have to be a screw-up on the character’s part. Your failure is also your opponent’s win. Resorting to “you must have burped” is, IMHO, lazy scripting. It is much more exciting for the opponent to just start screaming “Stop with the big words and logic! I know what I know, and your pretty talk can’t change that!”

    Because, you know, we never see that on the internet.

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  35. Will Hindmarch
    January 15, 2010

    Great post, Rob.

    Word, Lugh. Obviously, I’m cherry picking examples that make my case (rhetoric!) when I use exemplary burps.

    Consider, though, that the dice in a social situation often characterize PCs or NPCs, whether by making the PC look bad or by suggesting that the NPC simply won’t (because of a bad die roll) listen to reason — regardless of how that NPC may be written. (Suddenly the NPC has a brother who treated him badly, for example.) If a PC comes up with an airtight argument, and you want the NPC to appear as a reasonable man, you can fudge the DC so the roll doesn’t matter or you can avoid the roll altogether. If you, as the DM, want some data from the dice to help you decide how the NPC reacts, why not get that data up front and then roleplay the result?

    For some, roleplaying means making choices and hoping they work. For others, it means a mix of that and dramatization (acting!). A GM needs to know what the players are there to do, and use dice rolls to serve that purpose.

    “Using dice rolls” means, in part, timing them right — whether it’s fortune-in-the-middle or rolling up front or any other style that works right for the specific situation.

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  36. Lugh
    January 15, 2010

    I’m not necessarily taking issue with burps, per se. In this case, I’m not even taking issue with introducing random inappropriate events because “the dice say so.” What I’m taking issue with is the tendency of GMs (putting you in the position of devil’s advocate on their behalf for the moment, not saying this is your style or one of your failings) to automatically assume that if it is the player rolling the dice, then if the dice come up short it represents a shortcoming in the character’s actions. It often makes for better story to step back and look at other reasons why the check failed.

    I will agree with you that knowing that the check failed up front often makes it much easier to craft the scene.

    I’m also noticing that I keep wanting to drag other related tangents into this argument. If you really think its an airtight argument (and making such an airtight argument makes sense for the character), then why is failure even on the table as a possible consequence? A low roll should be a complication instead. But, of course, I’m pretty sure that’s a whole thread of its own, and one you’ve probably gone down more than once.

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  37. Will Hindmarch
    January 15, 2010

    Great point, Lugh. I’m not necessarily attributing the dice to the character, either. Certainly, when I’m actually running a game, what I do is take the roll and determine how to make the scene out of it. Complications can come from anywhere.

    To me, the option of not consulting the dice in certain social situations is implicit (nay, perhaps any situation). For others, that cheats in favor of the social player over the social character.

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  38. Cixtian Trybe
    January 26, 2010

    I wasn’t really looking at this as a question of removing the randomness of die rolls from the game so much as enhancing the usefulness of -certain- powers and abilities.

    Take a typical fantasy game. Have you -ever- played and felt like your character is pretty much uninspired and uninspiring, because no matter what’s going on, you can’t -ever- catch a break with the dice? Ever felt, as a Game Master, that your game doesn’t have those crucial moments of stupendous action that you read about in novels, or see in the movies because players are afraid to attempt the die rolls that are needed to accomplish those cinematic feats?

    It’s a matter of either feeling like. “Ok, I only have a 15% chance of doing this heroic, and cinematic feat successfully, and my reward for it is really not worth the risk.

    Let’s look at a session example. After watching a marathon of LOTR, we decided to start playing AD&D 3.5. In the game I created an elfin Archer, to mimic one of my favorite characters. At some point in our exploits, we had a situation arise where the group got separated by a small earthquake. One of the part was on one side of a chasm, and the rest of us were on the other. AND… a big bad nasty popped up, grabbed him, and started dragging the lone character off deeper into the dungeon.

    My -THOUGHT- was what would Legolass (Sp?) do!!! I drew an arrow, tied a rope to the end, made an archery roll, and anchored the shot into the stone on the other side of the chasm. Then the thought went to getting across. If I handoverfoot across It’s gonna take time, and our friend was probably being snacked upon as we spoke. I -could- _POSSIBLY_ Jump up, and run across, but the GM informed me that only on a natural 18 or better could I do this.

    Honestly… I didn’t think the risk was worth it. I -could- with by chance, get across and aid my comrade, but I could in the greater possibility, fall into a bottomless pit and never be heard of again.

    The problem here is that in working out a system of workable mechanics, sometimes we forget that cenematics, and action are often a huge part of the allure of a game. Most gamers want to play a game where they feel like larger than life heros, and honestly often times the mechnics don’t really take this into account. Rolling dice -first- only illustrates this more as now we’re left to make safe decisions based on what fate’s already told us.

    My propositions are these:

    1. Heroic Abilities: Grant some specail abilites based on Class or Role which determine that in this particular direction, this character is among the best of the best, and can do things other characters can only dream of. Maybe say that, for example, an acrobat could 3 times a day perform some impossible feat of accrobatics without even makeing a roll. For a mage, this is the idea that the only way a spell fails is if it’s countered… This sort of thing gives the characters a larger than life quality.

    2. Hero Points: I don’t mean the way it’s been done in one of the 3.5 adaptation, but more in the vein of how the ‘Buffy:The vampire Slayer does it’. Characters start off with a number of hero points determined by the competency of the character they are playing. These points can be expended to add a bonus to an action… Enough of a bonus where typically even a hard action will succeed.

    The point is to make the game more interesting and fun, you gotta make your players feel like their characters are competent heroes, not lucky ones…

    Suffice it to say that I’ve played in games where the party decided that they didn’t want me to play, not because they didn’t like my character… but they didn’t like how badly I rolled. (When you’re the Rogue, and you constantly whiff your spot check, and disarm rolls, the party tends to question your ability position.) With one or both of these additions, I may be a lousy singer… might be horrible with the ladies, or making speeches, or cooking, or even firing my bow… but if my character sheet says ‘Rogue’, you know I am good at ONE THING…

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  39. Lugh
    February 2, 2010

    Incidentally, Cixtian, I would strongly suggest you check out FantasyCraft. It’s a new d20 variant put out by Crafty Games, based on the Spycraft system. It hits a lot of the points you mention. Characters are very good at what they do. They do what it says on the box (for the most part, barring some really poor character build choices). And, the action dice mechanic is very close to what you talk about with hero points.

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  40. gameplaywright.net // story, games, together
    April 21, 2010

    […] on the table all at once), but drastic’s not always bad. (But I’m the guy who tried rolling first for a while, too, so what do I […]

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