Friday, 22 June 2012

Once the Dice are Out of Their Bag, They Must Draw Blood!

This better be worth it
Here's a classic mistake I made recently while running a game. There was a storm, the ship was in trouble. A PC was on deck and I said "give me a Dex roll". They failed....and I had no idea what I wanted to do with this information. I certainly wasn't going to kill the character by throwing them overboard from a boat with low-level characters who had no way of rescuing them in the middle of a heavy sea and strong winds. The character was simply standing on deck for some reason, so there wasn't even a task to interrupt by falling.

Characters do not need to roll for every task, even when things are difficult. If the result of failing is simply "well, I'll get up and try again" or whatever, then the dice roll is pointless. Just tell the player that they succeed, perhaps adding that it was tricky. Want to climb a tree to see where you are? You climb the tree. Ride a horse out of town? Fine. Even a character who can't actually ride should not be forced to roll until they succeed if all that's going to happen is exactly that.

Dice are about risk and as previously mentioned AD&D deals in resources (much like life), so risk is about wasting those resources and if no resource is at risk the dice should stay in their bag. A "resource" can be time, money, hit points, loyalty, the character's life, a henchman's life, personal reputation and goals, or any number of real or abstract possessions. When those things are on the table then there is a reason to get the dice out because then the result is meaningful to the players and there is some thrill of waiting to see the outcome and the relief of a good result and the adapting to the setback of a bad one. If you as DM can't think of any resource which would be lost by a failed roll or gained by a successful one, just narrate some reasonable outcome and press on.

In the case of the ship in the storm, "You're tossed around by the rough seas for about half an hour at which point you hear a horrendous cracking sound as the main mast splits about half way up" (as the damage from the storm accumulated) would have been much better and, if you don't rush it, might even give a player a chance to ask about the mast and whether anyone should be doing anything about the fact that the sails were still unfurled.

It's easy to slip into a habit with dice but always remember that there are resources at the table too: fun, momentum, and play time being key ones. Don't waste them with pointless dice rolling.

1 comment:

  1. Good advice. I have made this sort of mistake before, as well. Not so much these days, but I could imagine it happening again in the heat of play.