GMing Mistakes 14 – Meaningless Rolls

I get it. You have a tool (the system), so you want to use it.

Lets take a situation. I guess any activity that requires physical effort is a good example, but lets take driving, because this is something that happened to me. Our characters were trying to get somewhere and the weather was horrible, so the GM wanted a driving roll from us. Since none of us had really put any points into driving, we failed.

What happened? We drove into a ditch and had to work ourselves out of it. Basically just a boring scene, because there was nothing at stake. We weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere (at least not as far as we knew), no one was chasing us, nor was this a survival game, where this might have impacted our precious resources. It was just a minor, meaningless obstacle the GM threw at us in order to have a little more content.

Did it work? Of course not. There needs to be something at stake. Yes, you can have the players come across a river they have to cross or a cliff they have to climb, but no rolls should be involved unless there’s something at stake. There are other points to putting them into your game. Maybe the characters have to return there at some point and then they are in a hurry and its actually risky.

You could, of course, actually put the characters lives on the line, but that’s really quite stupid. I know many introductory adventures back in the day did this, but that’s the worst thing you can do. “Here, have this cool character. He’ll die a meaningless death in ten minutes, when he can’t do a pretty jump over a chasm.” This is how you want your stories to end, right? Players want their characters to be meaningless fodder, right?

Your job is to make the lives of the characters interesting and present them with interesting obstacles, not have them go through situations just because. You should budget your time and this kind of thing just shouldn’t fit into the budget.

Another reason not to do these meaningless rolls, is character shaming. Do you really want the primary characters in your story to seem uncool? Sure, they might have some uncool qualities, but let the players highlight those. You don’t need to.

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