Yesterday I talked about how I want to reduce the amount of die rolls I call in my games. To begin the discussion, I laid out what I wanted die rolls to be (representations of times when failure is possible and dramatic), and what criteria I intend to use to determine if a certain situation falls under that criteria. Today I intend to talk about how I hope to do this, and what I hope to get out of it.
This one is fairly specific, but have you ever been GMing and called for a notice roll when the information about to be gleamed was something of importance for a scene? For example, you have the group roll to see who hears a scream coming from inside the building. I do this all the time, but the problem is that this is literally a nothing roll. See, no matter what someone is going to hear the scream, even if it is only the person who rolled the highest. So why don't I just give the information over to someone? If someone has something like "Keen Hearing" or a really high perception/notice, than they should hear it. Otherwise, just pick someone at random (perhaps the person sitting their quietly while everyone else discusses how to break in?) and tell them what is going on. This removal of die rolls keeps things going, keeps the focus on what is important (how the players react to that scream for example), and is the core of what I am talking about today.
The best way to reduce die rolls is to simply say yes to your players. This is a good rule for GMing in general, but what you are doing here is a bit stronger. When a player asks something, or says they're doing something (i.e. I jump to the next building) you take a second and assess your criteria. In my case I determine how likely the player is to fail (their relevant skill/attribute versus the difficulty of the roll) and the situation at hand (does it really matter if they succeed/fail here?) and base my answer off that. If they have a good chance at success, and/or it doesn't really matter, then instead of going "roll athletics." I can simply say, "yes." If I'm feeling particularly GM-ie, maybe I give them a description of how they do it.
The key to this that players have to understand is that what they're asking for also has to be reasonable. My saying 'yes' to reduce die rolling isn't a license for the player to go nuts with things. For example, someone with no strength/athletics can't establish a baseline of expectation by constantly jumping from building to building across streets when it isn't important just to have it there. Why? Because you can not reasonably expect your non-athletic character to be able to do that. This basically falls under the "This Is What I Do" rule, but it is also just common sense. Basically, I'm trying to streamline the game, not give players a free ticket to be jerks.
That's Not Fair!
Do you remember the Steve and Sasha example from yesterday? If not, it basically is this. In some situations some players will have to roll dice, while others do not. This may seem unfair to some players who want to know why they have to roll dice to see if they hurt themselves, while the other person doesn't. First off, before you ask, less people rolling dice does go faster at most groups. Second off, the way to defeat this is to explain the reasoning (Sasha's +20 means she succeeds on a 3+ on that D20. You need a 15+ to do it) and make sure that you don't always end up waving Sasha having to roll and making Steve roll. In much the same way of moments of cool, these moments of automatic success should also be getting spread around. There simply should be a time when Steve's awesome computer skills means that he just gets a hand waive to hack into somewhere and do the awesome.
Will Not Can
What do I truly hope to get out of this? Honestly, I hope to get stronger stories with faster play and a greater emphasis on the characters and their choices. Every time a die roll comes into play you are making it a question of "can I?" As in, "Can I jump across that gap?" "Can I hack into that server?" "Can I shoot this guy?" What I want though, is for the focus to be on questions of "Will I?" As in, "Will I hack into that server to get this data," "will I shoot this guy for lying to me," or "will I jump across that road to escape these guards?"
Questions of "can I?" have their place, and they should be used to arbitrate what is going on when failure is bad. However, keeping the focus on "Will I?" not only keeps things moving, but it keeps the focus on what and who the character is, not what they are mechanically capable of doing. After all, what is more likely to be talked about down the road? That time that Bob rolled a nat 20 at just the right time to save the day? Or the fact that that fight began because Bob told the demon prince to go eff himself?
There is one bit of danger here that I want to touch on. In focusing on the Will and not the Can, and if you hand waive too many rolls, you may shift the game on a fundamental level away from what your group wants. After all, there are games out there where you roll for narrative control, and your group may have actively chosen to not do that. So find a balance, and remember that the dice should come out when failure is dramatic and possible. So that big car chase to escape the big bad before the nuke goes off? Die rolls, totally for sure. But that set up scene? Not as important.
I'll let you know how it goes, but please sound off if you have any experiences with trying to do similar things. Tricks that works? Pitfalls you found along the way? Sound off in the comments below.