Monday, January 3, 2011

The DM’s Best Friend

I’m coming back from the last holidays, trying to catch up with my studies, job hunt, my games and a possible move to another town… so, please forgive me for the lack of posts in the those days (and for the short article today).

Well, by “DM’s Best Friend”, I’m not talking about the traditional +/-2 modifier from the 3rd Edition Dungeon Master Guide (where, I guess, the term was coined). I’m hinting here to what I believe to be a more universal mechanic, easily applicable to almost any RPG out there: rerolls.

Let’s face it, most players deeply enjoy rolling dice. Actually, in my gaming groups I can even find some players who flatly refuse (or see with great suspicions) any RPGs where you don’t roll dice to accomplish actions. Dices are fun, after all.

Another positive point for rerolls are its psychological effect on players. I’m not an expert at math or probabilities (nor are any players in my groups), so I don’t know the exactly difference between rolling a second time or just giving a bonus to the check, but I can tell you that by giving a another chance to a player I easily increase the tension and the fun at the table.

Rerolls can simulate a thousand different situations, not necessarily covered by the game’s rules, but constantly reinforced by the genres that inspire most RPGs. A couple of examples used at my table:

Boons and curses: roll twice (or even, in rare cases, thrice) and take the worst result (or the better, in case of boons). Especially useful with unique curses and dooms tied to a setting or plot element, maybe an artifact (instead of a normal spell or power). Also a good fit for a more subtle kind of magic, like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

Divine interference: my favorite! It encourages the party to pay tribute to deities at city temples and to fear divine retribution, all without forcing the Game Master to summon avatars or others direct interventions.

Mastework weapons: rerolls can simulate an unique weapons (or tool, or instrument) of non-magical nature. Usually one reroll per combat (or scene) is more than enough to represent the finely balanced sword, forged by the greater blacksmith of the kingdom.

Tactical advantage: one or two rerolls can represent intense studies or research about a foe’s weakness. It can also simulate sudden changes at the battlefield (or a good plan).

Unique knacks or training: rerolls can be used to simulate special training with a great swordmaster, legendary archwizard or the classic prince of thieves.

Metagamely speaking, rerolls are also a great way to reward clever ideas or good roleplay. This approach is fitting for light-rule games (or gaming groups that prefer to stay away from such things as Action, Character or Fate Points).

Finally, it’s good to remember that the question of granting a reroll before or after the result of the action is described. I think both approaches can be used in the same game without any problem. A reroll that only can only be called before the action’s consequences are announced can denote a lesser advantage or boon (let’s call it a minor reroll), while the other may signify a greater dramatic or situational benefit (a major reroll) – this last option is a good fit for divine interventions.