Calling Rolls and “Unresolving” statements

So, while getting feedback for my “Poolpendium”, I have recently discovered that a specific way I play “The Pool” is not that common among other people as I had originally thought.

When I’m GMing, I’ll sometimes give bad or undesirable outcomes to see if the player is willing to roll for it, sometimes reminding them of the option. When I’m not GMing, I’ll call for rolls sometimes to (attempt to) modify resolving statements made by the GM.

—You get to the keep with the rest of the fleeing soldiers, however in the rush to escape, Lady Lafrenia’s wounds get the best of her and she is left behind. She’s probably dead. Unless you roll for it.”

—No she’s not, I wanna roll for that.

Or similarly:

—General Meyer takes the idol and leaves with his soldiers.

—The hell he does! I’ll roll for it.

The statement is “unapplied” and turned into a statement of intent as soon as we decide to roll for it.

This is similar to how turning a statement into a conflict works in Polaris, or to my drifted application of the Resistance rules in Scum&Villainy/BitD.

In the end, this turns out to be incredibly functional and fun. In a “What do you think about that, huh? Wanna roll?” kind of way.

At least, I like it.


11 responses to “Calling Rolls and “Unresolving” statements”

  1. Oh man, this is powerful.

    I’m comparing this in my head to how I would state those moments. Like:
    —You are almost to the keep when you notice Lady Lafrenia’s retinue falling behind. The Lady has collapsed. Their pursuers are catching up. What do you do?

    By choosing the moment of decision for them, I am perhaps hinting at what I think they should be doing (i.e. obviously I think they should run back and defend the Lady).

    Your way seems more dramatic — you are definitely signaling what’s at stake here! And I think your way is less suggestive of what the player-characters _should_ do — which is a good thing. You just state an imminent outcome and let them react. It’s cleaner.

    • Yes, I think this might be one of the reasons that I like this. There’s no suggestion that the player -should- do something.

      Obviously, if sometimes I want to suggest that they should do something, I also do it the other way around.

      “As you walk through the tunnel with the other refugees, you see Esphére the quartermarter slip away in a side tunnel. Do you do anything about that?”

  2. And well, obviously it only works if the players *know* they can invoke a roll. But player-invoked rolls happen quite a bit in my games, so they usually do.

  3. It’s interesting that you relate this to Resistance rolls in Blades in the Dark because I was just explaining to some friends that I don’t like Resistance rolls precisely because of this phenomenon. I said that I don’t like being forced to roll-back things I’ve already stated. It feels like wasted words.

    Partially, this is because I don’t like putting in the cognitive effort of imagining and stating an outcome only to have it erased. I find that exhausting. I prefer to identify that a situation is tense and then only worry about “what goes wrong” after I know it has gone wrong.

    In your example of fleeing pursuers on the way to the keep. I would call for a roll to see if they make it safely. If they fail then I will think about what not making it safely means. “Ah, The Lady falls behind and is captured.”

    Sometimes, I might get a little more concrete, “The lady stumbles and falls behind what do you do?” But then I don’t want to think about what leaving her behind means (Is she dead, captured, lost?) until I know for sure she is left behind either through inaction or a bad outcome. And succeeding doesn’t mean she didn’t stumble and fall behind, it just means you successfully went back and got her. So there’s no unwinding of my words.

    There’s a bit of subtlety around this because of course there are times I assert things and a player might say, “Wait, can I intervene in that?” Most of the time, I say yes unless there’s an obvious reason why they can’t intervene. But I consider this case to be more like an overplay on my part. I accidentally skipped over a bit of tension that should have have called for a roll. Which, to me, is different than asserting something and allowing a roll to revert it as a matter of base procedure.

    • I get your point, on the other hand I think this works *if and only if* the call for a roll is made shortly after the statement.

      If you think about it, you do the same thing when you say “I hit the goblin with my sword!”. You’re not hitting the goblin, you’re declaring your character’s intent. If this is common procedure, it’s understood by anyone at the table.

      When analyzing “The Pool” we talked about how I+IEE feels different than IIE+E and how the first feels like “rolling back” if you’re used to the second, and how it’s mostly a question of habit.

      I think this is a similar thing. Essentially, the statement about Lady Lafrenia was a statement of *risk* until everyone had the chance to, implicitly or explicitly, decide if they wanna roll for it or not.

    • Hi! I can imagine this being a functional technique if the group first enjoys functional play without the technique, in terms of clearly understood and implemented authorities, proactive play, etc. And I agree that in that context, it probably can be compared to when a player shouts “I decapitate the goblin!” and everyone knows that a roll is about to decide initiative or the basic outcome of that player’s attack.

      However, it’s probable that my experiences of dysfunctional play, especially in Blades in the dark, make it too easy for me to see the various ways the technique can be put to problematic or un-fun use.

      From one angle (in the dysfunctional context), it looks like outcome-controlling “stakes setting” before the roll, from another angle it looks like a good way to keep players/PCs reacting (rather than proactively acting), and from a third, similar to what Jesse said about resistance rolls: a rather brutal undoing or unwinding of what has been established in the fiction.

      (I do agree that it looks similar to the Resistance rolls in Blades in the dark, which is a game and mechanic I have had bad experiences with in part for the same reason that Jesse mentioned.)

      But the above is in a context of dysfunctional play. I want to know more about how it looked in fun play!

      FroggyC, are your examples from an actual game? I think it would be helpful to read some more about it, to be able to understand how you implement the technique in The pool. How the technique can be fun when played in good faith etc. Specifically, I would like to know how one or two of these situations (or any other you remember) played out after the roll in terms of narration. What happened on a failure, and what happened on a success?

      I think I have a question or two for later about what you wrote in your reply to Jesse, regarding the habits of describing I+IEE vs IIE+E (*). But that can wait.

      * (IIEE: the intent, initiation, execution and effect of a character’s action in the fiction)

    • Yes, the examples are from actual games.

      I am actually in agreement with you as to all of the ways this can go wrong if authorities aren’t clear.

    • So, regarding how this looks in failure, which is really the interesting part. In both examples above, the rolls were a success, so I don’t have examples from those.

      I think it’s fair to ask whether this ends up in practice being sort of pre-narration or “stakes”-setting as you called it.

      I think it’s obvious — if the roll would have failed, Lafrenia was likely going to die. She’s dying, we were rolling to save her. This is just the outcome scope of the roll, not prenarration. I don’t feel this was dysfunctional.

      On the other end, it was clear to me that the narration on failure would have had to be new narration, integrating the results of the conflict — at least the various characters involved trying to do things that weren’t stated before. It’s not a repeat of the “unrolled” statement — we are making new things, right now.

      Does this answer your question?

    • “Does this answer your question?”

      Yes, or a big part of it! Thanks!

      So, saying it for myself: on a failure, the narration will change the previously stated or threatened risk by incorporating characters’ actions and effects, but it will probably not change its basic outcome. Yes. The important thing for me, after the scene, would be that we (the group) should know what the relevant characters and entities did and didn’t do, and where that has landed us now, i.e. in a changed situation.

      I’m interested in successes too. Even if the stated risk or event is converted to the barest of intent in the moment the dice come out, I can imagine that the monologue of victory, if a player takes it, carry over properties from it, as “creative fodder” if nothing else.

      I don’t know if what I wrote there made sense or was clear: I mean that if I know what would have transpired if my character didn’t intervene, I can work with that in my narration. Or it will probably affect my narration (in a good or bad way, I don’t know, maybe just different).

      —No she’s not, I wanna roll for that.

      —The hell he does! I’ll roll for it.

      If you remember, what did the players decide to do exactly? Or rather, if they didn’t describe much of the actions before the roll, what traits did they decide to use, and how did they succeed?

  4. Going back to this post after a few months, I’ve been reflecting how hyper-functional play such as:

    — The player knows the GM is not the “narrative authority” or whatever and they can interrupt and call for a roll, and turn the GM’s statement into one of intent—something that can happen *only* if authorities, listening, reincorporation are 100% clear and working.

    Can look remarkably similar on the surface to hyper-dysfunctional play such as the common interpretation of the Blades in the Dark resistance rules:

    — The GM narrates an entire outcome and the player interrupts, saying no! I roll for resistance, let’s rewind and rewrite it.

    (For the record, when I used to play BitD I wasn’t playing this way.)

    Someone really traumatized by the second type of play might say something like “no rewrites!” and refuse to participate in the functional example. Or worse, games could be written in a way to explicitly prevent that from happening.

    I remember Ron said something many years ago about “crutches” and what roleplaying will look like when people stop playing with them. Is it possible that this is a little bit of the answer?

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