When you roll the dice, make it matter

Had a brief interchange (not hostile) with another gamer in a different forum. The question was on Will rolls in gaming, and I noted that in The Last Gasp, I call for a will roll if you’re wanting to do something that drains a (now much more debilitating) Fatigue Point.

To quote pieces of the article:

“To simulate this, the turn after voluntarily losing or spending a FP, or immediately after an involuntary FP loss (such as getting hit by a FP-draining spell or power), roll vs. Will+3. If you fail this check, you feel the urge to stop doing whatever it is you’re doing.”

I’d said this was optional, and of course, it is. The comment was that it needs to be optional, because in an RPG setting, he disliked forcing PCs to roll in order to be heroic.

There are several options here, of course. The first is to not make the will roll (you can insert fear checks into this as well) needed at all. You just waltz into gunfire, or sprint at full power, and (in the fatigue example) just burn your Fatigue Points willy nilly until you collapse.

That’s the way most games play – and for the reason my interlocutor mentioned. You want them to be heroic, and take risks.

The other extreme is to make the Will roll, and if you fail, you simply can’t act as you wanted. If you wanted to stand up in the face of suppression fire to blaze away at a target . . . you can’t. Wanted to make a Heroic Charge or Feverish Defense? Nope. Sorry.

A middle ground would be to have a failed roll give some sort of penalty. Margin of failure (perhaps capped?) or derived from margin is good, but then so is something like “you can do what you want, but at -4, or -10 on a critical failure.” That still preserves full player choice – you can do whatever you want, but makes certain things the easier, quicker path (thus the way of the Dark Side!). You could stand up and shoot, but the additional penalties make it less likely to work, so you’ll shift position from behind cover instead.

The one thing you don’t want to do is disrupt the game for a die roll with no bite. If you’re calling for a will roll or some agency-limiting/drama-enhancing action, it has to have consequences. That’s one of the reasons why, in The Last Gasp (same section), I note:

Don’t bother rolling if your adjusted Will is 17 or higher unless the consequences of failure are dramatically significant and the GM is fishing for the rare critical failure. A competent combatant with his weapon skill at DX+2 (+2 training bonus) will thus roll vs. Will+10 when expending FP in combat. If his Will is 7 or higher, he can do so freely. Only if he is tired, demoralized, or terrified will rolling for persistence in a combat situation be required.

While the example was GURPS, this really applies to any game. Crazy stuff can happen, and it can make good games. But bringing out the dice should either mean enabling something good, or inflicting/avoiding something bad. Otherwise, just keep moving.

2 thoughts on “When you roll the dice, make it matter

  1. The two issues which I would consider important on having a die roll depends whether or not there is a sufficient degree of randomness on the event and whether or not there is sufficient dramatic tension within the overall narrative.

  2. "But bringing out the dice should either mean enabling something good, or inflicting/avoiding something bad."

    Yeah, this. Roll when success matters and/or failure matters. Preferably both. If nothing interesting can come of the roll, skip it. And if something interesting should come regardless of the roll, just go with that.

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