Engage the Mechanics
“The dice are there on purpose. They aren’t for ambiance, or as an obstacle to clear before getting to the real story [...] You’re supposed to fail sometimes. You’re supposed to be caught off guard. The rules will interrupt you, and thank goodness that they do. Every time you pick up the dice, you invite a little bit of the wild unknown in to your story. [...] When you pick up the dice, you invite them to change everything. Listen to them, and say what the rules demand.” Avery Alder in Monsterhearts 2
Role of the Dice
Roleplaying Games have traditionally turned upon the conflict that arises between three distinct stories: The story that the GM expects, the story that develops from individual’s inputs at the table, and the interjections of dice. This conflict defines the story we create in these games. To often I’m seeing people decry the interjections of the dice as some kind of inconvenience.
Often this will begin with an assertion that their table’s best session “didn’t roll the dice once”, or a GM will gift success to a player if the description is sufficiently entertaining. The philosophy is that the dice might get between the players and the story they want to tell, which, as far as I’m concerned is the whole damn point. As GMs we should invite rolls because they grant us narrative authority to input complications upon which the game is predicated, and help the table to push the PCs towards the exciting, fun, rewarding parts of the story.
Dice Rolls Drive Games
Players want to roll dice. Besides dice rolling being an incredibly rewarding tactile activity, victory snatched from dice feels more satisfying that victory granted by GM fiat, and failure creates exciting twists. Players want failures that may offer new opportunities. Not to mention the progression systems of both story and character (XP, story progression, etc) are predicated upon rolling dice. Rolling makes success and all the rewards of success into a consequence of player choices, not a gift you’ve bestowed upon them.
Tools to Take Away
Taking lead from the excellent post in “how to ask nicely in dungeon world”, instead of having a freeform chat with the prisoner, keep your ears pricked up for a skill roll. If you don’t hear one, ask questions that push the character toward one. Ask them what leverage they’re using against this prisoner. Is it threats of violence? Roll intimidate. Is it lies? Deception. Is it kindness? Persuasion. We should be requesting, even demanding of ourselves and our tables, that we find a reason to engage the mechanics of our games.
One of the big misunderstandings in DMing at the moment of the idea that “if failure isn’t interesting, don’t roll the dice.” This line isn’t a rallying cry against dice rolls, it’s a rallying cry against boring failures. The take-away from this advice shouldn’t be that we should roll less, it’s that we should fail more interestingly!