To Roll or Not To Roll, That is the Question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the stings and groans of natural 1’s, or to take up dice against a swarm of mobs and by opposing, crit them.
In the course of running a game you are going to find situations where it is difficult to say whether or not your players need to make a check. Perhaps they’re in town pumping the locals for information, or examining a room for specific hidden items. It is possible that by leaving elements of the game to chance, you lose out on key story elements by missed rolls. Conversely you can shy away from rolls so much there is no real chance of failure for clever or silver tongued players. Today, we look more closely at when to use a skill check or combat roll, and when to let players roleplay through a situation.
The key factor you must determine before deciding whether or not a roll is warranted is simply this; Within reason, can the task be failed?
Let’s suppose I’m walking into a village where the entire populace is abuzz with gossip, the goblin raiders to the East are encroaching again! Your players would not need to roll to hear the information all of the townsfolk know, that the goblins are back, because within reason there is no way to miss it. However, when delving into particulars you may decide that certain accurate information might only be pieced together by a high Knowledge Local or Gather Intelligence Check.
But let’s look at how players might approach this. Rather than blindly diving into the crowd rolling for eavesdropping and random questions, one player purposefully seeks out the Guard Post. He finds the Watch Captain, a veteran of many Goblin attacks, and after offering his services asks for particulars to face the threat. Within reason, this player will get more information about the Goblins without needing to make a roll.
The distinction here is that we are rewarding effort put in by the players. Even though there is a reasonable chance that the Watch Captain in the above example won’t know everything about the Goblins or their motivations, we have opportunity to give credit and reward to a player for approaching a situation more thoroughly, and even the chance at a Roll for even more specific information if it seems there is a chance the NPC in question might know the answer.
It is important to note that there in an inverse to our approach, so also ask yourself; Within reason, can the task be passed?
If the information is a closely guarded secret that only a handful of souls have ever run across, or a truth lost to time and ancients alike, then within reason no information could be gathered even on a Critical 20 roll. Even if a player were to approach a random traveling merchant and roleplay perfectly, followed by a magic enhanced roll of a natural 20, there is no reasonable chance this merchant knows the motivations of the dragon that has been slumbering two kingdoms over for the last nine centuries. Make your players work a little harder for this information, going to specific locations, and encourage them to follow plot threads to this crucial information.
If you’re uncertain how reasonable a piece of information is to obtain, a good rule of thumb is to go with the roll. The fact that you’ve hesitated and weighed the option means you already acknowledge there is some degree of uncertainty, so let the dice decide with a check that is fair for your player’s current level. You’ll find you know rather quickly what information is known in your world, and which is impossible to know, so trust yourself and don’t let hesitation slow down the game play.
What are some other situations where you’ve found that using or foregoing dice rolls has helped your games? Leave us a comment below and share your experience!
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