In role playing dice are used to resolve actions. Sure there are diceless RPGs but resolving success or failure is a basic tenant of all RPGs. Considering that resolution as a roll for success there are two ways to accomplish this that Role players are familiar with. First, the player rolls and then the GM narrates the results. Second, the player narrates the results and then rolls to see if it succeeded.
These two types of resolutions can be used to categorize RPGs, but there is a third. This is where the players roll and then narrate.
A player’s first experience is usually the first type type where the GM narrates. It represents the “GM is god” stereotype. Players take actions by describing a simple request and then a roll to verify if it worked. Why things succeed or fail are up to the GM who is responsible for keeping things withing the bounds of the game world and expectations of the group.
The second type in which players narrate then roll constitutes most of story gaming. Players come up with a plan and then a difficulty is decided. This decision can be entirely on the GM, a mix of factors from player and GM, or up to the group as a whole. Reaching for the difficulty with the dice determines the success of that plan and sometimes how well it succeeds or fails.
The third type is often mixed in with the first. Critical hits and very high success rolls are the most common types. This becomes powerful because now the “player is god.” Narration from the player takes precedence and the story telling of the game world becomes even more so a shared method of telling the story. Not just telling the same story, but pausing to allow different styles story telling. A clever GM who asks “A critical hit! Well, what do you think happened?” has introduced this concept.
There is more than just the order of resolution or who holds the narrative burden to this. We see that the first type focuses on specific actions and specific resolutions while the second creates longer chains of actions before resolving. The third widens the playing field even more. It takes away a mechanical result to success and replaces it with an entirely story driven method.
The first two types establish a plan and then resolve to see if the plan is carried out as desired within the mechanics. The third method uses mechanics to establish an acceptable range of options but do not limit the result to a specific plan. The player’s first desire may have been to swing a sword, but now they are free to say the sword lobbed off a head which landed into a bucket and scared away the victim’s friend. The original desire to defeat one enemy now opened an option that was not possible before, or if it was possible, was way too difficult and unexpected. Suddenly the high success, in this case a critical hit, makes the previously unexpected perfectly reasonable! What an interesting change in player expectations!
There’s a challenge to this, though. Since “GM is god” players have learned not to “Feed the GM.” That is to say players never make suggestions that will make their next roll harder. If a player jokes about how muddy the ground is, the GM may give them a penalty. But if that same player rolls a critical miss and then convinces the group that he slipped in the mud, there suddenly is a flavor to the game that was missed. Now players and NPCs alike will enjoy including the detail into their own part of the story. Chances are the final blow will involve a wizard boiling the muddy pit and anything left in it. Now it’s exciting!
Timeless has always kept the core of this issue at heart. Sure, players are expected to plan and then resolve rolls for success, but there is another element at the heart of this. Timeless does not lend itself well to simple player narrative followed by GM decision of difficulty. Instead it expects discussion from all parties about narrative, difficulty, and then results. The decision lies on the player to find a skill that matches a challenge. The decision lies on the group to establish difficulty as well as advantages. More importantly the end result will rely on input from all. See, there is no feeding the GM. There is only feeding the story. It’s an important mechanic for making sure world comes to life in people’s minds.
So as Vanilla Ice put so plainly: the next time you want to know if your attack simply hit the target, stop. Collaborate and listen instead! You’ll enjoy that result much better!