Alexis at Tao of D&D is one of my blog-heroes.
Analytical, thoughtful, creative, and able to communicate in a clear, attention-getting fashion. I have learned a ton about playing FRPs from just reading this blog.
Recently I was catching up on my reading and found this gem: The Presence of Death
I can only hope I bring this level of immersion to my players!
Today I wrote,
During the crossing, there is a small percentage, 2%, of something troublesome happening. There are six of you in the boat, and to save time, I will roll for each of you: Embla, Marcule, Nadia, Pandred, Vafrandir, Valda. Pandred, sorry to say, your number came up (I rolled 1 in 50 for each of you alphabetically). I will need Pandred to roll a d% as the fjord is crossed.
A 2% chance per player—and one third of those players being NPCs—are pretty good odds. If the pilot, Nadia, had been the one getting the bad roll, there’s really no chance of her suffering any part of what came next. But Pandred is nearly a landlubber.
Why this matters, and why I’m highlighting this particular moment in this campaign, comes from how often I hear players on the internet bitching about how UNFAIR it is that a single roll of the die can unreasonably ruin the fun of a campaign. I believe this carping is partly the substance of bad temperaments and a failure to recognize the characteristics of games, where any bad move can, without your expecting it, cause you to suffer a consequence. If my knight is taken unexpectedly in a game of Chess, is the game “ruined”? What if I bet and lose at Poker? What if I fail to attack Irkutsk in RISK, and that turns out to be a fatal mistake? Who are these people who don’t realise that games always involve a chance of loss? Did their parents keep them in bubble wrap before unleashing their snowflakeness on us?
Watch how it plays out.
Not only is this a great tale of how a “simple boat-ride” can be made into something dramatic, it is an example of how letting the dice decide things can create drama. This practice, when used often, will create more drama that any DM can ever invent on their own. Sure, you can railroad your players by coming up with a plotted scene or device, but you will then train your players to be passive listeners, rather than active participants.
The key to this idea of letting the dice be the guide, is having the right tool for each situation. Alexis has created one he calls the Malady Table, and I absolutely love it!
This is a very useful drama-generator:
When I look at this I am filled with ideas on how to customize it for the Belowdark, for a Town, and for the Howling Wilderness.
For example, for a Belowdark version of this table I could change “Cuts self on blade or sharp wood” to someting more appropriate to an underground setting, such as:
“While moving rock during exploration, the PC dislodges a stone and a pocket of water gushes forth. Character soaked. Begin Hypothermia countdown.”
This is definitely going into my game!