Storytelling Vs Rolling Dice

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Southron
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Storytelling Vs Rolling Dice

Post by Southron » Sun Sep 10, 2017 4:08 am

We are playing a game based off of a story. In the tale things happen as the Professor planned them. In the game things such as the encounter expectations/interactions are there to give targets to dice rolls.

Save for combat, where the roll of the die is generally a given, how do you play between creating an entertaining tale and a game where bad rolls can create missing some interesting situations that could enhance the tale?

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Re: Storytelling Vs Rolling Dice

Post by Glorelendil » Sun Sep 10, 2017 12:05 pm

My short answer is don't make the interesting/important bits a matter of dice rolls. Since that's probably obvious...and I have some blessed time at my coffee shop first thing on a Sunday morning...let's explore that a little bit. In the absence of a specific example, here are a couple that occur to me.

A simple example is that of Journey Hazards that are important to the story. What happens if nobody rolls an Eye on their Fatigue checks? Simple: they get the important Hazard(s) regardless of how they roll.

A trickier example might be if the players are 'intended' to have a conversation with an important NPC, and upon spotting him/her they decide they specifically do not want to interact with him and try to sneak by, and they all succeed at their Stealth rolls! Uh-oh...what to do now? (This is where I think, 'Crap...why I did set this up in a way that gave them a chance to stealth.') What sort of event would precipitate that without it seeming like I just negated their stealth rolls? Because, after all, they are 'meant' (in a sense that combines author privilege with Ardic inevitability) to have an encounter, right? So maybe while they are sneaking past so cleverly, in fact because they are sneaking past so cleverly, they notice some bandits sneaking up to ambush the LMC. This being Middle Earth and not Greyhawk, contriving to kill and loot both the LMC and the bandits is not an option, so in all probability this would lead to the desired outcome. So, as it turns out, their decision to sneak by was exactly the right thing to do.

The only hard part, of course, is improvising well in the heat of the moment.

And since that's all probably pretty elementary for experienced gamemasters, I'm wondering if your question had some subtle facet that I totally missed.
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Southron
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Re: Storytelling Vs Rolling Dice

Post by Southron » Sun Sep 10, 2017 1:15 pm

Thanks for your response Glorelendil.

Your last sentences says it all. I don't consider myself an experienced GM. I have only done so either beause no one else wanted to or to give someon a break. The question popped into my head concerning the Hermit and Wolfbiter. I thought that it would be nice if they could return the shards and could that could seed another adventure. However, my next thought was what if they rolled poorly during the encounter and that chance didn't arise?

It seems that fudging certain rolls can make the game more interesting. While die rolling for other makes things more interesting.

The question may not have been articulated well, but I put it out to at least generate some responses that might give different perspectives.

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Re: Storytelling Vs Rolling Dice

Post by Falenthal » Sun Sep 10, 2017 4:57 pm

I think that's probably the most important role of the LM in any game, regardless of system or even the design of an adventure: making sure that interesting things for the players happen.

Many games even have mechanics to address (or that give the GM an approach) to do that. I'm not an expert at many systems, but I've seen that Powered by the Apocalypse games seem to give the GM the advise not to plan ahead, and let the players and dice rolls surprise everyone with unexpected derrailments or variants.
The Gumshoe system says something like: "If a character has a certain skill (even 1 point), they automatically discover/get whatever the adventure planned to be necessary to advance the plot".
The 7th editon of Cthulhu has several ways (Luck points, pushing the roll,...) so that the characters most surely don't miss those important rolls to find the secret book hidden behind a cabinet.

TOR has Traits that can be used like that if the LM wishes, and of course Hope points.

But this all depends on the players wanting to look or do the right thing (for the plot advancement, I mean).
My first advice, as Glorelendil also said, is to design the adventures so that there aren't all-or-nothing situations, that could induce to stoping the development of the story. The adventure should branch depending on a failure or success, but not stop. This is easier said than done, mind you.

And then, the GM has to envision what parts of an adventure have to happen (like finding and befriending a certain NPC). For those, you can either make them automatically happen (make the NPC find the PCs, and surprise them by entering their campsite, not the other way round), or if you rely on your ability to improvise, think beforehand of 2 or 3 ways that important part can happen: even if the players enrage the NPC, a common enemy or a shared goal can make them work together for a while, even it that NPC won't be a friend of theirs thereafter.

Something else I sometimes do is to have "interesting plots" (but not "core plots") that can develop or not, depending on the outcome of dice rolling. Your example with Wolf-biter is one of them. If my players had screwed the encounter with the hermit, I would have looked for a way to let them know, during the next Fellowship phase, that this person had an important artifact, and that it was now lost (Ingomer could have told them, for example). This way, players know that "things could have gone another way, if they had tried harder or differently".

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Re: Storytelling Vs Rolling Dice

Post by Stormcrow » Sun Sep 10, 2017 9:55 pm

The number-one thing to remember: you are not writing a story. You are not collaboratively writing a story. You are preparing and managing an environment in which the players direct their characters' actions. You can dictate that an action you want to happen happens, but you cannot dictate how the players will, or even should, react to it. The story is what emerges when you're all done; it's the narrative you relate to others about what happened after the adventure.

When adventures tell you what players should do and what you should make them do, at least the good ones, what they are giving you is not a list of destinations on the adventure railroad that you have to get to; they're giving you a baseline or expected course. When (not if) the players turn away from that course, your job is not to force them back onto it, but to use the published baseline as a way to extrapolate what to do next.

For instance, in "The Marsh Bell," it looks like the first main thing the players HAVE to do is encounter Glóin. But that's not true: the news that Glóin is looking for adventurers is not automatically given to them. It is
revealed to any Dwarven adventurer who makes conversation with a local, but it can otherwise be gathered without the need for a dice roll by any character actively looking for news about the two missing Dwarves in Dale or Esgaroth. If none of the adventurers are looking for news, they can get the same information by picking up rumours and succeeding in a roll of Riddle.
Even the beginning of the description of the encounter speaks about what will happen if the heroes seek Glóin. There are also other ways to discover information about the adventure described.

I have never heard of any group who did not encounter Glóin at the beginning of this adventure. But suppose they didn't? Or suppose they behaved so badly that Glóin told them nothing and kicked them out? How do you force the players back into the adventure?

You don't. You offer them other leads, but you don't hound them. You don't make every Loremaster character they interact with try to con them into going on the adventure. Sometimes, people just don't want to take up on a certain adventure. Since this is a game about going on adventures, your players will probably be perfectly happy to take whatever obvious bait you dangle before them. But it must always be their choice, not yours. The same goes for every turn of the adventure: it must really be up to them, not you. Even giving them the illusion of choice is not good: most players can see through it. A railroad is still a railroad even if the tracks are invisible.

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Re: Storytelling Vs Rolling Dice

Post by Southron » Sun Sep 10, 2017 10:03 pm

Thank you also Falenthal and Stormcrow.

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Re: Storytelling Vs Rolling Dice

Post by HunterGreen » Mon Sep 11, 2017 2:12 pm

This isn't always a matter of the dice -- even when the dice are cooperating entirely with you, there's another huge source of randomness at the table, the players. My session yesterday ended with a big problem when my players never thought to ask someone something that the adventure takes for granted they will, and where everything that's going to happen next depends on it. I''m going to contrive a reason for the NPC to tell them anyway even though they didn't ask. That's not really different from if I'd had to fudge around them failing the Encounter so badly they didn't get the answer, because of a few bad dice rolls. (And they certainly had bad dice rolls yesterday aplenty -- the Eye was coming up so often, and yet somehow, never on a roll that would produce a Hazard, or a Fumble. I've still yet to have either of those ever happen.)
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