101 Days of D&D: say "Yes" or roll the dice

Okay, it’s only day #4 and I’m already veering away from the D&D stuff. Sorta. In a “See P.XX” column from a while back, Robin Laws, author of Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering and the Dungeon Master’s Guide II (both books I plan to discuss in these 101 days) says that having players roll for routine tasks is stupid (well, that’s not exactly what he said — I’m paraphrasing). He argues that:

Routine failures are just about unknown in non-rpg adventure fiction. They make the protagonists seem incompetent, and unworthy of our sense of escapist identification. More importantly, they bog down the story.

It’s an idea that’s cropped up in a lot of indie RPGs, too, and I like it. I haven’t, however, been using the principle much in my Eberron campaign. I plan to rectify that Friday night. I think it’ll speed the action along some and give the players who want to roleplay and take a little more narrative control do so (and I’m perfectly okay with that, even in D&D — the narrative control thing, I mean, not roleplaying — roleplaying is always good).

Robin even gives us a little flowchart to illustrate the conception:

1) Will this die roll generate suspense? Do the players really care all that much?
a)If yes: proceed to die roll
b) If no: proceed to next question

2) Will failure be at least as interesting, introducing as much forward plot movement, as success?
a) If yes: proceed to die roll
b) If no: success is a “gimme.” The character automatically succeeds

And, for me in regards to D&D, 2.b there means without having to go the route of taking 10 or even taking 20 — the “gimme” is made before you get far enough to consider the time requirements, etc. of taking 10 or 20.

Another option is that, if the player wants to roll for it, they can. If they suceed by a very wide margin, they can do that routine thing extremely well, even to the point of doing some ebellishment through narrative control.

Despite my protestations to the contrary, I’m not trying to make D&D something other than D&D. You can play D&D as an extremely tactical game, though I choose not to do so most of the time. Plus, I think this is a rule/concept/practice that makes exceptionally good sense in the swashbuckle-y goodness that is Eberron.

I’ll report back on how it goes in Friday’s session. [Editor’s Note: Actual Play posts will commence starting this weekend. I’ll also write up at least some summaries for the first three sessions to catch folks up on the action.]