When the players roll all the dice
DM: “The Orc Shaman utters the cursed syllables and flame erupts from his hands!”
Rogue: “I dive out of the way!”
Wizard: “I use a counterspell!”
Fighter: “I raise my shield!”
DM: “… it’s +8 vs Reflex. Sorry guys, you’re all ducking for cover.”
All: “But that makes no sense!”
DM: “The Orc Shaman utters the cursed syllables and flame erupts from his hands! DC18, take 3d6 if it hits.”
Rogue: “I dive out of the way!” (rolls Reflex and makes it)
Wizard: “I use a counterspell!” (rolls Will, fails and takes damage)
Fighter: “I raise my shield!” (rolls AC, fails and takes damage)
Now, I don’t know about you, but to me the second setup works so much better. The onus is put on the players to react to events rather have the rules dictate how they respond. In a good scenario events should revolve around the heroes in much the way that the central characters in a novel are just that – right at the centre. What happens off-scene (for example, the Evil Necromancer summoning his Undead Legion) might be impressive in the GM’s mind’s eye, but it’s really just window dressing in preparation for the PCs fighting said Undead Legion further down the line.
When the heroes are centre stage (which should be pretty much all the time) it is their tale, and the GM’s role is to act as narrator and instigator of stimuli. This is where having the players roll all the dice comes in. Their character’s fates are (literally) in their hands when the players roll to see how much damage they take.
Here’s how it works.
- When the players attack, this works as normal. They roll to hit, and roll damage.
- When their opponents attack, give them a DC of (10+to hit value) and tell them the damage effects. The players roll against their Defences (or a skill, if they’re being especially creative). For example, the Fighter in the example above would roll d20+(AC-10) to use his shield and armour to absorb the blast.
- Opponent Saving Throws against ongoing effects are rolled by the player who caused the ongoing effect. For example, if an attack by the Wizard leaves a monster Immobilized(Save Ends) then the Wizard’s player rolls on the monster’s turn to see if the effect continues. If he forgets, the effect has ended (he’ll only forget once :D)
- Skill checks, etc work as normal. If the DM should roll a dice (for an opposed check, for example), use a level appropriate DC value or 10+the NPC’s skill rank.
Obviously, the players will play to their PC’s strengths in a system where the dice (and what to roll) are under their control. The Rogue with the obscenely high Reflex defence will always want to dodge out of the way, and the high AC Fighter will let his armour take most of the impact. On the one hand this makes the game easier, (but this is balanced by the risk of low rolls), but also reinforces the nature of their characters. A Rogue will dodge where possible, and a Fighter will raise his shield. It’s the nature of the beast.
The key as GM is to mix regular attacks with ones which limit their options (without looking like you’re limiting their options, of course). Bad guys use Poisoned Blades (DC check versus Fortitude or take Ongoing 5 damage) and mind-controlling magic (you can’t dodge that) for a reason. Use Acid attacks which puts the Fighter at risk of reducing his precious AC until he finds an armoursmith, or narrow corridors with no room to dodge out of the way. Just don’t do it all the time – they are the heroes and deserve to shine, after all.
This might sound like the poor GM is being short-changed, but once the dice move over to the other side of the table it frees the GM to focus more on the story, NPCs and action.
They become an Unconstrained GM. I’ll talk about that, next time.