“I wanna roll dice” vs. “Only roll when it’s truly difficult”

A lot of games, Blade & Crown included, have a specific statement that players should only roll for success on task attempts when there’s actually a chance of failure. If a halfway-competent sword-fighter is trying to hit a rock that’s just sitting there, there’s no point in rolling — they just succeed. And you don’t make a chef roll to make a peanut butter sandwich.

Illustration of dice use in Blade & CrownBut this comes into conflict with a very strong tendency among a lot of gamers: we play tabletop RPGs partly because we enjoy the tactile feel of rolling dice. So, for a lot of us, there’s a strong motive to roll dice every time we can.

That means sometimes we want to roll dice even for things that are guaranteed successes. (Or even guaranteed failures.) And that can cause annoyance or even conflict, because it turns something that was a sure thing into a possible failure. It’s easy to imagine a scenario like this playing out:

“What do you mean, I fell in the water? My AGL is 97, and the bridge is paved! How could I fail to just walk across the bridge?”

“Well, I said you didn’t have to roll, but you decided to anyway, and now you got a natural failure, so the only person you can blame is yourself.”

“I just wanted to roll the dice. I haven’t had a chance to all session!”

I don’t know if that kind of thing has happened in actual play, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it has.

How to resolve this? I can see at least a couple solutions:

  • Have players roll anyway, but give huge bonuses to truly mundane tasks. Problem: if there’s literally no chance of failure due to huge bonuses, then it feels hollow. But you can’t have everything. Maybe make it so the rolls are only to determine whether it’s a success or a critical success.
  • Make sure there are plenty of challenging things to do, and lots of situations where PCs’ skills are really put to the test. But this can turn into “The whole world is out to get me” — i.e., the feeling that the setting or scenario is too difficult.

Or maybe, like so many things, it just comes down to the social contract: how often we call for dice rolls, and how we interpret them. Hmm.

Have you encountered this tension? How have you resolved it (or not)?


“I wanna roll dice” vs. “Only roll when it’s truly difficult” — 3 Comments

  1. In the example above, the GM could also say, “OK, you can roll, but if the dice happen to land in that freaky 3% failure zone, then something really unusual happens – and I may have to call on you to help explain it.”

    • Players certainly do like to help narrate their failures, as Chad’s experience with Heirs has shown.

      As I think about it more, it seems that rolling the dice is, like so many things we do at the table, a chance at the spotlight. When everyone is waiting to see what your die roll will be, it’s well-appreciated attention, and a chance for your character to be important to the game. So maybe encouraging die rolling, even when failure isn’t very possible, is a way to help players claim well-deserved spotlight time. Hmm…

  2. Yes, I guess “the roll” is the ludic nexus for most RPGs, the gamist moment. And there is always something fun in seeing fellow players’ reactions to exquisitely disastrous or fantastically good rolls. It’s one of the areas where sportspersonship comes in to play, as it also does with willingness to give others the spotlight.

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