So you have spent hours writing content for your next adventure. You have created maps, encounters, NPCs and have all the trappings of a great adventure. You are getting excited at the prospect of your players working their way through your scenario and you have imagined in your head how each encounter will go. Play starts and after a few hours the players approach the huge steel reinforced door to the inner sanctum. Now you know the party thief has a decent lock picking skill so if he rolls a Nine of Higher on a Twenty sided dice (better than average chance), he will succeed in picking the lock and the party will be set for the final confrontation with lord Yarnspinner (or whatever the hell your NPCs name is). He rolls and …..its a THREE!!! well now what? “We try to break down the door!” says the Barbarian. Well in your description of the STEEL reinforced door, you told them it looks like it was built to withstand the mightiest of battering rams so you tell them “You can try but you feel like it may be a futile effort.” They roll any way… a Nineteen. With the barbarians strength and miscellaneous modifiers that’s a twenty five. Sadly you already knew there was no chance of succeed. Maybe on a natural twenty they may have put a dent in it. So now here the party sits pondering how to get through the door. Their IS no other way in, you made sure of that, so now what?
This is where YOU the Dungeon Master are at fault. You wrote in a single method for the adventure to continue and made it reliant on a single dice roll. Firstly don’t do that. You should always have a back up plan. Remember its no fun for anyone if the adventure fails due to a single skill roll or missed subtle clue. Unfortunately you DID make it dependent on that pick lock test (shame on you) so how can we resolve it. Lets put ourselves in the players shoes for a minute. A player says “I scout around the side of the building and search for any hidden entrance or exits.” He rolls the dice and gets an eighteen. With his search skill its a total of twenty eight. The Dungeon Master says “No sorry there are no secret doors.” He didn’t put one on the map or write it into the adventure so their is not one to be found. Well this is where The Dungeon Master needs to consider saying YES. While you may not have written a secret door into your adventure, the players just gave you a way to allow the flow of the game to continue and avoid twenty plus minutes of futile attempts and player frustration. In this case it would be smart to decide perhaps their IS a secret door, and as the players rolled so well allow them to find it. The players will be happy and excited, and will think that (being the great Dungeon Master that you are) you were smart enough to include that hidden entrance in your encounter (they need not know of your failure). This is one example of saying YES to your players.
Often your players will ask to do things that you did not plan for or have even considered the outcome of. You can not possibly determine every single eventuality ahead of time so you (like all great Dungeon Masters) will have to rely of your ability to improvise. If a players asks to do something you should ask yourself a few questions.
- If I say yes will it alter the adventure in a negative way?
- If I say yes will the action give the player an unfair advantage?
- If I say yes will it have significant consequences later?
If you answered No to all three of these questions then let the player do what he wanted to do, or grant him success in his action.
Players are happy when things they do go well. Decent players of course expect failure and embrace them, but when an idea they had is rewarded with a positive outcome it will encourage more creative thinking in the future. Even If a good idea fails due to a bad dice roll, (on Howreroll this happens all the time), allowing some margin of minor success is a good way to encourage that kind of play from your players.
I will give you an example of how to reward a good idea even when the dice roll goes bad.
In our Marks of Intrigue campaign our hero’s were traveling along a narrow road with hills on either side. As they came around a bend they see a cart upturned blocking the road, and crates and barrels strewn all about the place. There is also a dead body. On closer inspection they see he has arrows protruding out of his back and they are aware of movement behind the bushes on both sides of the road. The sorceress casts Invisibility on the rogue and they prepare for an ambush. Well to cut a long story short, the cleric is on the road engaged by several bandits, and the sorceress is offering fire support. The rogue on the other had has moved stealthily up the hill to where she can see one bandit who appears to have a young girl hostage. He also is guarding several crates and barrels that they obviously were in the process of collecting. She sneaks behind him and pulls of an amazing back stab “Peekaboo Bitch!‘ after that she is looking down the hill and sees the cleric is slowly being overwhelmed so she has an idea! “I want to line up and roll one of the heavy barrels down the hill and into the group of bandits!” she proclaims. So to me this was a decent improvised idea and I like to reward out of the box thinking. So I tell her to make an unskilled ranged attack roll. She rolls very Poorly. Instead of the Barrel smashing into the bandits at a great speed its going to miss, and her idea will be rewarded with total failure. Well not necessarily. I want to encourage that kind of thinking so I decide upon the outcome and say the following. “You line up and push the barrel down the hill towards the bandits. It starts collecting speed and looks like it would make a real impact. Half way down however it hits a rock in the hill side causing it to veer to the left and instead of it hitting the bandits it smashes into the cart with a loud crash instead. Several of the bandits are startled by the noise and glance behind them to see what was responsible. Cleric seeing this, you have a brief moment of opportunity and may make an attack while they are distracted if you wish.”
So even though the dice roll dictated the action was a failure, I allowed some level of success to come from it to reward the good idea. The cleric gained an attack of opportunity, and as such the rouge didn’t feel robbed by the bad dice roll.
In general it is never a bad idea for the Dungeon Master to allow players to have success in their actions. Even if it is minor. Of course you also get to enjoy the great failures too, but I tend to reserve those for more standard moments or even IF I am going to make an action fail hard, sometimes I still sneak in a little margin of success.
Learning when to allow your players to succeed and learning how to say yes to their ideas is a great way to reward them and encourage better game play, deeper Role Play and creative thinking……