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Why are the players rolling the dice?

March 11, 2012 - General

A common piece of GMing advice is you should only roll the dice when a successful and failed outcome would affect the PCs. To me the intention of this advice is to avoid games from bogging down in needless dice rolling. I was discussing this piece of GMing advice the other day and we both agreed that you should only roll the dice when there is risk. However the application of this rule differed between the two of us which got me thinking about how I applied the rule in my games.

When I’m applying this piece of advice I tend to think along the following lines:

For example: A corp research scientist hides some paydata in a hidden sub-node as a security measure if her extraction goes wrong. The PCs have been hired to get the paydata and not the scientist and have hacked their way into the main node after social engineering the scientist for the system codes. All the PCs need to do is make a matrix-perception roll to identify the hidden node and download the paydata.

Why are the players rolling? Is it necessary and does it make sense in the game-world? From a story viewpoint it makes sense that the paydata would be hidden otherwise Mr. Johnson would not have hired the PCs to retrieve it. Hiding the paydata also makes sense in the game world because double-crossing is common inĀ  Shadowrun and I would expect an NPC to have a plan B.

Why do the player’s want to be successful? Can I add an element of risk? Why do I need to ask for a roll? In this example there is no element of risk but a roll (Matrix Perception) is still required. If this situation presented itself to me I would probably add some IC, Databombs or spiders to create a sense of urgency or threat. If the situation didn’t warrant a sense of urgency or threat then I would move the paydata to another part of the story avoiding a situation where the PCs are just going through the motions.

I don’t always apply this GMing advice at every stage of the game because it’s important to create an ebb and flow to allow the GM and players to relax during points of tension and risk. However most of the games I been dissatisfied with had an element of pointless dice rolling so it’s important to keep in mind why you’re rolling and why the PCs want to be successful.

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