Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Too Many Helpers

This is partially a build off of something I talked about last night (when the PCs know they probably failed a roll) and also inspired by recent events in the Dark Heresy game that I'm in. It also just has to do with some fundamentals of how people and gamers interact. What is it? Well, I'm sure you've noticed in your time as a GM that people love to use their dice pools. If there is a task that a PC can do, odds are they'll try to jump in on the roll to help out. The only problem is, sometimes this should make the situation even harder, or more tense. So, let's look at the how and why that could happen.

The Situation
First, the anecdote. In the last session of the Dark Heresy game I am in, the group was holding ground in the hangar of an ancient ship and waiting for their evac shuttle to arrive. The pilot, an illiterate back up to the back up pilot (everyone else was dead)  arrived and was going to bring the craft into the bay when we had the wonderful idea of boarding the ship while it was outside of the hangar - we figured it'd be safer. So, then the pilot needs help with the controls to override the safety and open the side door into vaccuum and the GM calls for a tech-use roll. Three PCs start going at once, and the GM rolls to see which one the NPC listens to. Luckily, the NPC chooses well, the door opened, and we managed to get out of dodge. However, I couldn't help but think that the GM had been nicer than I would have been in that situation.

The Reality Of It
Quite often in RPGs, we have a large group of people jump into a task at the same time without a thought for how it would work. Someone is trying to diffuse a landmine, and suddenly two other people are offering to help because they also have the explosives skill. Can you imagine the mess that would happen if three people tried to work on a landmine at the same time? At the least, everything would slow down as they all tried to not jostle each other with the fine instruments and sensitive triggers they were working to circumvent.

Heck, even in other situations where it can be even more clear that help would be nigh impossible you'll get it. I've had people ask if they could help out with drive checks, when everyone was on the same vehicle, and with computer use checks when there was only one computer in the room.

Let Me Just Make Sure
The other trend you see a lot of as a GM is PCs confirming other people's results. This is what I was alluding to yesterday with the effects of the players seeing their own rolls. See, what happens is one person makes a roll, and the group sees them roll poorly. So, another person rolls to check, and then another (or a whole group at once), with the idea being eventually one person will make the result. Technically, there isn't anything wrong with this from a game playing perspective, but from an RP one it is an interesting action choice that I don't think a lot of people really think about when it happens.

What is Going On IC?
So, let's take a look at this from an IC perspective. You're playing a thief, and you go in and check a door for traps before signalling the all clear to the party. You've checked the door, you didn't find anything, you know it is clear. The next thing you know though, Sandra the Bard wants to check the door as well. As does Jim the Barbarian, Tim the fighter, and Mikaela the Sorceress. Then, only after all of them have checked the door do you get to move on.

Or, in another way, you are fixing a car with your mechanic character, and report that the car is fixed. Of course, then every other character comes out one by one and also wants to check out the car and your work to make sure that it was done right.

At the very least here, a lot of time is being wasted as everyone checks, rechecks, and double rechecks everyone else's work. The only thing is, odds are that it is only happening when a roll was openly bad, so for the character's perspective, their work is just randomly not trusted.

Play It Up
As a GM, personally, I love to play this up when it happens. I don't do it all the time, but when I notice it I do go for it. At the very least I add in the extra time going into confirming someone else's work, and at times i'll even raise the difficulty on the check, since a PC has already gone about making a mess of things and not finding whatever it is. IC wise though, you can just tell people what is going on, and see how they react. Mention that after the thief clears the door, that the bard, barbarian, fighter, and mage all also check it out. If one of them does find something, play that up as well.

Now, to be fair, you don't want to go nuts with this. The idea isn't to be adversarial, or try to rip the group apart from the inside out. I'd also only do this in a game with a much stronger RP focus than one focused more on the G. However, if you don't point out how these actions are being played out, then the PCs will never know either. It is important to know when time is sensitive that double/triple checking someone's work takes time. It can be important to know for forming group dynamics that people randomly thoroughly recheck each other's work. If that is how the group works, that is fine, but in some situations it could lead to more RP opportunities between the chracters, and isn't that what you want?

In Short
In short, pay attention to what your players are doing and the situation it is in. There is nothing wrong with wanting to help, or with wanting to win, but sometimes the situation is such that the presence of another set of hands will actually slow things down. Be aware of that, and let the PCs know the consequences when they want to try it. It can help make the times when they can work together all the better, while helping give tension as the fate of the group occasionally rests on one member's shoulders.

Am I Off My Rocker?
Am I off my rocker with this? is it too antagonistic? Something you haven't thought of before? Further advice or comments? Sound off below!


  1. I don't usually play that you only get one chance. For example rolling to repair equipment, in real life you usually know that it didn't go together right. Even if you think it's right, you then test it. Unless it's something unusual you know it's either fixed or not. Seeing how the first PC that tries it is usually the best at a job, then they can try again.

    Another option that I like to use is, if the PCs are working on the same equipment, I'll usually have the players designate one PC as the one doing the repairs and others as helping and advising. The helpers and advisors roll on the same skill but either add or subtract from the difficulty of the task based on how they roll. That way if a PC is likely to fail they don't throw their hat in the ring because they make the job harder. The same thing can be done for a pilot/co-pilot situation, if the vehicle allows for it.

    But those only apply to some situations.

  2. Oh, god yes. If something is noticed as not being done right, it can be fixed or gone over again. Not trying to say not to allow that, just pointing out that it takes time. Also, that with a failed roll before it, it could be harder to fix (or easier) in the future due to the previous work.

    There are also some situations where help with advice is a good thing. I honestly really like how 3rd ed Roll and Keep handled it. All helpers rolled against a TN 5 lower than the one the main person was at, and if they succeeded they gave a bonus to the main attempt.

    However, sometimes this help is going to slow things down, and sometimes it just flat out shouldn't be possible (or would actually be detrimental). These situations are rare, but knowing how to handle them can be good.