There are numerous negative phrases about assumptions and assuming. Two of the more common ones are: "When you assume you make an ass out of U (you) and ME." and "Assumption is the mother of all f#*@ ups." Anyone who has GMed for a while knows that both of these are true. Assumptoins on both the player's side of things and the GM's side of things are perfect for causing arguments around the table about what should happen. Because of this, and not wanting to have errors from assumptions affect combat, I have a very simple rule in my game when it comes to things like combat and other "assumptions." That rule? If you haven't told me you are doing it before you make your last die roll you aren't doing it. Today I want to talk about that, why I do it, and how it actually helps with easing confusion - and tough rulings - in my games.
Why By Your Last Die Roll?
The most common question I get about that rule is why it is triggered by a person's last die roll. The answer is simple. In my book a character's turn in the combat order is done when the last die roll they need to make is rolled. Why then? Because after that point it is just using those dice to determine how effective, or ineffective, the player's action was. By ending their ability to modify their turn when the dice leave their hands for the last time I cut off a number of situations, including the spending of valuable resources to help defend against the consequences of an action that wasn't as successful as hoped.
Now this rule obviously comes from GMing bigger games where you need to keep things going, but I like it for small games for the same reason. It is arbitrary, but it is also universally applied and therefore fair. My players know that if they want to spend a Void point for +10 TNtbH for the round they need to make the decision before they roll their damage, not after they see how much damage they have or have not done. It also governs things like calling out warnings, passing gear, and other interactions. For all the arbitrariness though I've found it makes my players think a bit more in preparation for their turn. They know that if they have a stellar idea after the dice leave their hand that they can't use it. So they take that moment to consider their action and then go. Which I like.
You Said Something About Assumptions
The point of this article is assumptions though, so where does that come in? Well, that is also in the rule. Simplyput if you do not tell me you are doing something, then I will not assume you are doing something. It might be obvious that Usagi Tenma wants to be on the Defensive Stance while making a Guard Action but I am not going to assume that he is if I am not told. Why? Because he could have a reason for wanting to be in Normal Stance, or in Center Stance. There could be something the enemy has that triggers against Defensive Stance that is bad, or good, for Tenma and my assumption could then influence the fight in a way it shouldn't be.
So How Do Your Players Work Around That?
My players have worked around that in the most direct way possible. Essentially, when there is a certain set of actions that they want to do the same way a lot they tell me. The conversation goes kind of like.
Player: From now on when I go on Guard, unless I say otherwise, I'm also declaring Defensive Stance.
Me: Defensive Stance or Full Defense?
Player: Defensive Stance.
Me: Ok *makes a note*
And then we're done. From that point on if the player declares a guard action we assume he is also on the Defensive Stance unless he says otherwise. If he forgets to say otherwise and that screws him over, well that is too bad for him. If I forget he is on the Defensive and he reminds me, then that is too bad for me. We've made that deal that when X is declared, Y is also assumed to be declared as per his wishes.
You Mentioned A Daily Routine
I did indeed. A Daily Routine is another way of setting assumptions for your character just on a more day-to-day life plan. For example, my character in the Dresden Files game I was in had on her Daily Routine going to school. It meant that unless something happened to change the norm, or I said differently, we assumed that she went to school everyday.
How does this help me as a player? It means I don't have to remember every little detail. if my daily routine involves going to school, hanging out with the boyfriend, calling my mother, and hanging out at the group haunt then those 4 actions can just be assumed to happen. It means the GM doesn't harass me about "bad attendance" during a 3 month skip if I forget to say I attend classes for "what I am working on" or with an angry boyfriend because I forgot to mention him when dealing with myPCs reaction to the last major plot line. On the other hand, it does allow the GM to have my character's mom get worried when I go 2 days without calling her because the norm is I call everyday.
Assumptions on their own are bad. Pre-designated assumptions are good, and they help take care of a lot of the minutiae of playing a character without having to remember every little detail about life. I mean, come on, we have a hard enough time handling all the stupid BS in our own lives, why add our fantasy lives to that mix?
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