The Heart Of A Game: Crunch And Fluff
September 29, 2013

When Should You Roll?

“Before you stands a tall man with long black hair and a piercing stare. He gazes at you, his eyes cutting into your…”

“I roll Lore to see what I know about him.”

“Lore? You use that to know about magic and supernatural stuff. Why are you rolling Lore on him?”

This sort of thing comes up from time to time in my weekly Dresden Files game, and it is something I have seen in lots of games. I call it “preemptive rolling,” rolling a check before your Gamemaster has called for it. Sometimes it works. If you are trying to look out for an ambush or find something you think may be hidden nearby, it is a pretty good guess that you will be rolling some sort of Perception-based check, but using the above example, it is a better idea to wait for your Gamemaster to call for a test than just to assume. In The Dresden Files, Lore is both your knowledge of magic and the supernatural. It is most often used to identify magic or supernatural beings, and in the above example there was nothing about the character that indicated that he was a supernatural being. He was, of course, but that is beside the point. With nothing to go on, nothing to identify, there is really no purpose in rolling Lore. Once the man transformed into a giant black wolf with a broken shackle on its leg and a collar from which a severed human hand hung, it is a bit more information to go on.

A much better idea is to describe what your character is doing, just as you would if writing a book. Saying “my character is going to try and strong-arm the guy into talking to us” is much more interesting and flavorful than saying “I am rolling Intimidate,” or saying “I want to search around the fireplace” is a better description than “I am rolling Search.” By describing what your character is doing rather than going straight to crunch-talk, you give your Gamemaster a much more diverse range of narrative options, which leads to a more immersive gaming experience not only for you, but for the entire group. Jumping the gun and calling out a roll will often lead to disappointment, as the Gamemaster might not have anything available for you. Using the above example, it would not matter how well you rolled on Lore, with nothing to go on you cannot tell that this dark man before you is actually the Destroyer Wolf, Fenrir, in a human form. He is disguised, and that is the whole point. At present, there is not anything you can learn from a Lore roll.

I know it can be difficult, players, but be patient. Wait for the right moment for the Gamemaster to call for a roll or to ask you what you would like your characters to do, and then act. Role-play what your characters would do. Tell us, your fellow players and the Gamemaster, what it is your character is doing and what they would like to try and accomplish. This way the game feels much more real, more tangible, and less like a game of “roll to win.”

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