Saturday, 17 October 2015

To roll, or not to roll, that is the question: Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

An analysis of why I might be wanting to roll some dice...

6. Character is seeing how their body performs, without any external interference whatsoever.
Yes, #120 is me!
The canonical example is running – as a runner I know that all races are really against yourself, it is how you perform on the day. I also know that the variation between my time on a good day and on a bad day is very small in comparison to the overall time. A 5% slowdown is awful, and 10% would be an abysmal performance. There might be more variation in the distances and heights you can jump, but it is a similar situation, as is the amount of weight you can lift. These are all skills where your ability should be “you can run *this* fast, you can jump *this* far and *this* high, and lift *this* much”. For these skills as the Referee you should choose realistic values for obstacles in the game world, whilst incorporating an element of chance. For example you might note that to roll the boulder takes 100+d% lbs force (depending upon how smooth it is). When a character decides to push it, you roll and find it’s 183lbs, you can then see if the character can move it or not. By rolling for it when the situation arises, and not beforehand, you've introduced tension and uncertainty. Until the player decides to roll it, you don’t know any more than the players whether it’s possible. The cat remains both alive and dead until the box is opened.

7. Perception
Rolling dice should play a minor role for perception. Players should be able to find out most information by role-playing the interaction with their environment. You tell people the important things they notice, with enough information that they know what to ask about. For example, you might give them a brief description of the contents of a room, which contains several pieces of furniture including a bedside table; that's probably enough unless there's something that would stand out, like an Orc stood on the table! It is then up to them to ask about the table, in reply you say it’s got a vase on it, they ask about the vase and you say it's got runes on it. Don't bother overloading the players with too much info, let them discover it for themselves. This enables the investigation to be player lead, and less of a one-way Referee info dump on the players.

If they are about to leave the room you might mention there was a vase on the table (as in, you nearly missed that), but you wouldn't say that there was a liquid in the vase unless someone said they looked. As a shortcut they might simply say they search the room, which obviously would include looking at the vase and I'd ask who's examining the vase and tell them what they see.
If they have made efforts to search, and at the end there is something they missed, I’ll give them a perception roll to notice something. For example, a crack in the plaster, or a slight breeze from the west wall, or that they haven’t looked behind the tapestry. That is, I'll give them a clue to the presence of the secret door, not just tell them there is one. Since this is a pure-luck second chance for them to get information which they could have elicited themselves, I’ll make this perception check a saving throw against intuition.

This is where my pre-rolled cards for saving throws comes in handy  - draw a card for every room and they never know which times it was important, whether it was perception or a spell save or a save versus poison, all without adding any overhead to the game for those dummy checks.

In a dungeon crawl we assume that a party moving around the dungeon would be constantly vigilant; they would glance round corners before proceeding carefully. However, they are unlikely to be actively searching for secret doors, hence the perception roll also applies here - you would give them a saving throw to spot signs as they pass. Spotting a sign just when walking past should be harder, so I'd give +3 on any roll that's as a result of an actual search.

8. Surprise
More skeletons. I don't think Sam liked them as he pulled them apart when they died...
Surprise - we’re back to combat again!
Traditionally every encounter started with a roll for surprise, but this is a bit random (pun intended). You should only get a surprise round if you make an ambush. To make an ambush you must launch an attack before your opponents know you are there. For example, if you enter a room unannounced you should be able to surprise the inhabitants, but if they know you're there then instead they should get the advantage and win initiative. So the question becomes, how might you spot an ambush before it occurs, which sometimes might be a perception roll (to spot someone hiding behind that pillar).  It's often a bit arbitrary, so for the “bursting into a room unannounced” scenario I add some uncertainty by the players rolling a d6 to see how well they do, and if anyone can beat that roll then they simply lose initiative rather than getting no attack.

9. Character performs some skill they have learnt how to do, and can perform to a consistent standard.
I never said a high standard.
For example, language skills. People are usually “basic” (know a few words, basic concepts but lots of misunderstandings and lots of blank looks), “intermediate” (with effort can generally make oneself understood, can understand someone who is cooperative, lots of halting and repeating), “conversational” (can have conversations with people) or “fluent” (conversations are flowing, but accent and odd usage clear), or finally “native” (indistinguishable from native speaker). It makes little sense in an RPG world for someone to have expertise in excess of that. I’ll take this as a model for a wide swathe of skills: languages, music, acting. In these you generally do not roll dice – your skill level determines what you can do – and I won’t bother with rules for dice rolls until an issue demanding one comes up in play. Hence attributes (aptitude) should contribute mostly not to improve your chances of performing a task, but instead to make learning quicker. I’ll cover the solution for Explore in a separate post.

10. Games of chance
If there are dice being rolled or cards being drawn in the game, then play it out for real. If it’s supposed to be character not player skill, or an evening of gambling is incidental then the resolution method depends upon the skill versus luck nature of the game in question.

Conclusion in Part 3...

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