Saturday, October 24, 2020

Dice, Mooks, and Consequences


So Jim Desborough posted a video lamenting the loss of DM mystery with rolls being made out in the open.  Of course he mentions not being able to fudge dice rolls for dramatic effect.  Which, naturally, brings to mind Dyson Logos’ frequent cri de cœur that, if you don’t like one or more (or all) of the possible results of a roll, why are you even touching the dice?


But I think we can take this a step further.  If you don’t like an array of potential results but still really, really want to roll dice, why not just change the array?  You want the fight to last no more than three rounds, but the dice dictate whether the orcs are all dead at the end of the fight or if they run away.  Or, maybe the orcs all die, but if the PCs didn’t reach a threshold of damage dealt, the ogre in the next room hears the commotion and sets an ambush.


I’ve never been a big fan of mook mechanics, failing to see the point in using valuable game time on a fight that is unlikely to result in any interesting consequences.  This is especially true in 5e where even the possibility of draining the PCs of limited resources is extremely remote. 


But if something interesting happens if the PCs don’t slay the mooks before a timer runs out, or slay them in the proper order, or slay them without using fire or something similar, or the mooks explode like piñatas of poisoned and serrated death, or explode like piñatas of gold and cool randomly determined magic items, now we’re talking about fun.    


And you can apply this all over the place!  Roll well and the merchant is successfully haggled to a lower price; roll poorly and the merchant is successfully haggled to a lower price and is so smitten by your haggling skills they propose marriage.  PCs can’t die, but instead we’ll roll on a nifty Table of Traumas & Scars that leave a map of their adventures literally carved into their flesh and psyches.  You roll well and fail to convince the king to give you his crown, but he’s amused by your attempt and appoints you Court Jester; or you roll poorly and fail to convince the king to give you his crown and he’s enraged by your attempt and orders that you be drawn and quartered.


We’re picking class and race before rolling stats and instead of 3d6 for your class’ prime stats you roll 1d4+14.  Or maybe we’re rolling first, but we roll 3d6 twice, 1d8+10 twice, and 1d4+14 twice.  If you’re playing with a de facto or de jure rule that no PC can have a negative sum of modifiers, you’re already playing with rules even more forgiving than these.


Yora said...

I've recently fallen in love with Blades in the Dark, which does something kind of like this as its core mechanic.
Every roll can either be a success, in which an action does what the player intended with it; a failure, which means there's negative consequences; or a partial success, in which case you get both the desired result and the negative consequence.
The negative consequences can be a range of different things, which are decided by the GM for what is appropriate for the situation and what would be fun for the adventure. It can be that the character gets hurt (if trying a dangerous stunt or fighting with enemies), that the desired result is less effective than intended, or that the next action will have more severe consequences. (Say a PC is arguing with a group of mercenaries in a tavern, a roll goes badly, and another group at a nearby table gets up and walks over, backing up their friends.)
The players explain what their action is meant to accomplish, and they understand the potential risk before they commit to the action, so there's relatively little GM mystery. But at the same time they have clear evidence that the negative consequence happened because of their roll. Which they chose to make as their course of action.

trollsmyth said...

Yora: I probably got the idea from the Leverage RPG where every roll is a success, but there's a chance of a complication being added to the situation.

I really appreciate your recent writeup of Blades in the Dark. It's a bit too "storygame" for me and my crew, but I can absolutely see why it's so popular.