Saturday, July 18, 2015

My Rule Zero

I have DMed several systems over the years. Midgard, Vampire:tM, D&D Rules Cyclopedia, HackMaster 4e, WitchCraft and others. Even one using cards instead of dice (Castle Falkenstein). All those games had different rules, of course. And yet I find myself coming back to this one rule in every game. It's my Rule Zero and today I want to share it with you ...

What?

You'll find a "rule zero" in almost all role playing games worth the name. Usually it's something like "The DM is always right" or "This is your game, do as you please". While those are true and right, they don't really qualify as "rules zeros", they are merely a legitimization of the DM as the arbiter of the rules.

The distinction I'm aiming for here is the following: if it's written in your role playing manual, it is not a rule zero. A rules zero is something you bring with you into the game. Into every game. It's something like a signature (maybe).

"High or low?"

It's really not much of a rule. But if a player asks me something of consequence about the game world (usually starting with "Are there ...", etc) and I believe there is a chance that it might, I'll, instead of just rolling for it, ask the player "High or low?" before I'm rolling a d100. The dice fall and then the player is to tell me how he wants it.

This is not only a 50/50 chance, it might be 80/20, 60/40, whatever I think are the chances. If, for instance, the chances for something are 30 percent, "low" would mean a result of 1 to 30 fits the bill and if "high" is what the player wants, he'd be right with a result of 71 to 100.

Sure, this could be done by just rolling the chance and go with the result. But involving the player has, in my opinion, a huge impact on the game. It gets my players every time. Usually they react surprised. then they realize that it's in their hands to make this happen. The roll is done and it's either a high or a low result. Their choice matters. By giving them that little chance to guess the right result for something I'd have decided randomly anyway, I give them at least a little bit power over their surroundings beyond using their characters. It's not more or less fair than just rolling the dice. But it seems more fair and that makes all the difference.

It's also easier for them to accept that whatever they wanted is not there because it was them guessing wrong, not just me rolling the dice "wrong".

It's the one rule I use in every game ...

This was mine, now what's yours?

I'm sure not alone in having such a rule. Of course I'd be very happy to hear about those, so please feel free to write a comment and tell me about it. What's your Rule Zero?

10 comments:

  1. I have forever let players re-roll 1's on damage rolls. 1's suck.
    Another unspoken thing is that what ever the players show interest in will become the focus of the adventure. Sometimes the planed bad guy never even gets into the game and some random NP becomes a major player, simply based on how the players react. The players are onto this and have over the years have learned to steer thing around to focus on what they are interested in.

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    1. Mine tried to find out if I'm having more high or more low results. One even started book keeping :-) Another one rolled the dice for himself to find out if he should go with high or low ...

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    2. And thank you for sharing! Maybe I should have called them "Signature Rules" or something, as they seem to be very different from DM to DM.

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  2. I also roll random things like that, or even ask the players to do it. But actually i havet been dubious, because it is, like gambling, a false choice. There is no way for the players to reason the problem through and come to a conclusion...

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    1. Seeing it like that, you're right of course. But the reasoning players tend to try in such situations is merely a byproduct of the whole thing. In my opinion they try to add to the setting in a small way that benefits them. Giving them a chance to have it is only fair, if the question is reasonable, but giving them a chance beyond that, the responsibility even, to make it happen, has an entirely different purpose. Several purposes, actually. For one it underlines that I, as the DM, am willing to work not only with what I had in mind but allow input, too. And by shifting the final decision towards them, it also enhances the tension (a bit) that comes with being in a position where the wrong answer has an effect. It also solidifies how I as a DM handle random and non-random facts in the campaign. If they ask me something and I'm able to give the answer right away, I'm way more credible when I'm allowing player participation as soon as I'm not so sure and roll for it anyway. And a final point would be, that even if I leave such thing to a random result, if the dice are not in favor of the players wishes (or even if they only start seeing it that way!), it might result in the feeling that I generally block the players instead of going with the flow. With letting them decide I distribute the final decision among the whole group and there won't be any hard feelings because of it.

      Admittedly, it's a small thing, but I'm very fond of this little rule, because it has been working very well in my games so far :-)

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  3. Similar, actually. When I've made a call on something very tense, or that will determine the action for the next half hour, like "There's a 1 in 6 chance that the jailor hears you trying to force the grate" or something, I let one of them pick the number & let one of the others roll the die.

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    1. Nice one, thanks for sharing! I imagine it makes the players very happy, if it succeeds. It's a good idea to make it a collaborative effort like that.

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  4. I think you are right on the last two points, for sure :) What it does is show the players that this isn't a novel, but an evolving thing, and it sows them that you arent deciding everything about the world, as you said.

    By the way, when i was a kid we played the Swedish rpg Mutant, and in it was a d100 table called Fyndtabellen, or The table of Findings. One of my absolute favourite things as a player wasto roll on this table. It contained everything from "a sandwich in Stasis" to "a non functional space ship". Part of the fun was seeing whst you would get, part was to see how the GM would describe it, and figurer out what it was. :)

    Im trying to recreate this feeling in Solum, except Im maning a 3d100 table, but the idea is the same, tons of random stuff that isn't that obvious, and that the players can figure out. And let them roll their own treasure...

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    1. Glad we agree :) Letting the players roll for treasure is also a good idea and somewhat the same principle as asking them "high or low". It makes no difference if I roll it or the players, as it is random to begin with and letting the participate helps making them feel relevant ...

      No worries about the typos, I got what you were saying :)

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  5. Bloody tablet typing.... Sorry for typos!

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