Thursday, July 11, 2013

Die rolls killed the good GM

Or should I say proficient GM instead? Anyway, here's a thought, excessive die rolling is killing good GMs. Using die rolls to justify NPC actions which would otherwise be role played by the GM is killing the decision making power of the GM and the ability to play really well fleshed out NPC. Instead, "player luck" demanding the outcome give players a "chance" is putting the decision power of NPCs on the dice and not on the NPCs best interests. Not only that, it is adding unnecessary die rolls to the game in the hopes of preventing discussion and long conversations between players and GM as to how and why an NPC acted. Certainly rolling dice is faster than having the discussion, but not as fast as not rolling dice AND not having the discussion at all. Which would be done if players sucked it up and kept quiet. Which sounds kinda rude and close minded, but read on.

I'm not saying the GM should send a rock downhill and say it runs over a character, that should require a die roll at least. But rolling for NPCs decisions strips the GM of power to create an interesting and real NPC. If the NPCs decisions don't please the players, too bad. I would call it unfair if the GM used inside knowledge to change the NPC's decision, but that would just be poor GMing which should be sanctioned by players in another way which is not long discussions during play. Keep playing as player and express your concern later in a constructive way. It will give the GM feedback and allow him or her to improve.

Now for an example of this. The example comes from +Zak Smith blog post which got me thinking about this whole issue.

" The bar is completely empty except for the bartender who is behind the bar, looking at the door, holding a shotgun."

The player wants to get in. Clearly a hard task with the barman looking straight at the door. The player sets a fire outside to draw the attention of the bartender. The GM rolls to see if the bartender leaves the bar unattended to investigate the fire and thus grant the player an opportunity of entry. (roll roll) The barman does indeed decide to go investigate the fire out....wo wo wo, what wait what?

An experienced barman who's clearly waiting for something suddenly decides to leave his "high ground" position to investigate a fire outside. A fire that happens to occur on the evening the bar is totally empty and he has a shotgun in his hand and is clearly waiting for something. Am I the only one who sees the flaw in making a die roll for this just to grant the player "a chance"? The GM should act on the bartender's best interests and not allow the bartender to take such an risky action, even if it hinders the player's plan. Is the adventure so railroaded it absolutely requires the player to enter the bar through the door? Is that the only way to keep on going?  Please.

Die rolls are a good thing to use to prevent debate that may drag a session unnecessarily long discussions. Nonetheless it is better not to have those discussions in the first place. Although I've been an advocate of such rolls for NPC decision making Zak's post and the conversation that followed got me thinking if doing so just prevents a real grass roots solution. A solution in which both players and GM alike mature into better players with a better understanding of the game.

Are die rolls preventing GMs from acquiring that instinct as to what is good and bad to do to create tension and excitement in a game? I'm sure that much of what I say here is shocking and against all sorts of best practices out there. No giving the players a chance. A die roll to at least see if it happens. Balanced play.  Low character death rates. We all want to make it out alive, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on and on.

But wouldn't the GM's way or the highway be a better way to solve the issue? Traumatizing in the beginning, no doubt, it puts some evolutionary pressure on the GM to improve his or her GMing and not rely so much on dice to create a feeling of "impartiality".


Before you flame me. I don't actually play this way, I'm just putting this on the table for discussion.

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