Last night I ran an experiment. I think it turned out remarkably well. I have another test group on tap for tonight, and we’ll see how that goes.
About a month ago, Greywulf posted a theory over on his blog about having the players roll all the dice. There was an incident at the table two weeks ago that had me looking for a bit more player investment at the table, so I started searching the intertubes for some suggestions by my fellow bloggers. And, as usual, I found one that suits my fancy.
My players are fantastic. They are engaged, involved, and roleplay with the best of em. But sometimes, when it’s not their turn during combat, they can kinda wander off mentally and aren’t paying attention unless I’m telling them they’re taking damage or something from the Far Realm is trying to eat their face. I decided to try Greywulf’s idea and see if it increased player engagement at the table.
Turns out, Greywulf is a friggin genius and the plan works amazingly well. I modified his system slightly, but it still works really well.
Greywulf’s blog post has a simple premise. Turn the static defenses of 4E into active defense rolls identical to 3.X’s saving throws. Thus, every time an enemy is attacking the PC, the PLAYER rolls 1d20+ their defense modifier against the static difficulty of the enemy’s attack.
Example: Trifus the Fighter has an AC of 23 by standard 4E rules. In the “player-roll” paradigm, any time an enemy rolls an attack against Trifus’ Armor Class, Trifus’ player rolls 1d20 and adds his defense modifier of 13 (23-base 10). Likewise, if Trifus’ Will defense is a 17, if an enemy attacks his Will, he rolls 1d20+7. If Trifus rolls a nat 1, the enemy scores a critical hit on him.
The target numbers for the characters to beat with these Defense Rolls are also simply calculated. Simply put, the Difficulty Number = 10 + the monster’s attack modifier. If a bandit is trying to hit Trifus (see above) with an arrow, and the bandit’s attack roll is +8, Trifus has to beat an 18 with his Defense Roll. If a Mind Flayer is trying to eat his brains and has a +11 to attack vs Will Defense, Trifus is in a lot more trouble because he only gets to roll 1d20+7 vs a difficulty of 21.
Greywulf’s idea lets the player choose the way they want to defend against the attacks targeting them, but I’m not THAT lenient a DM. I like the idea of a PC having weaknesses, so if an attack targets Will Defense, the player is rolling their character’s ability to withstand that mental onslaught. I don’t think that Trifus’ shield and armor will protect him against a magical attack against his brainmeats. That’s what he HAS a Will defense for, after all.
Having the players roll all the dice–because they’re still rolling their own attacks AGAINST the monsters, too– had two primary effects I saw at the table last night. We’ll see if it holds up with my other group tonight as well, but I think it is going to. First, it forces players to pay attention to what is going on, and it dramatically increases the number of dice the players are rolling–but not in a bad way. Also, it completely levels the playing field– because you CANNOT hide a die roll in this system, the dice are the final arbiter of the PCs fate, and they know it.
1) Increases Player Engagement. In base 4E, your character defending himself against a monster attack is similar to finding out from Regis Philbin if you got the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire question right– the only drama is in the GM’s presentation of that attack. The player most likely never sees the dice rolling, watching the numbers tumbling by, and has little engagement to the process of their character defending themselves– which is what the 4 defenses represent. When you put the dice back in the character’s hands, all that flip-flops, and now the PLAYER is directly responsible for whether the monster is eating their face or not. They are paying VERY close attention to how those dice fall, and frankly, so is everyone else at the table, regardless of whether or not it’s their turn– because they know they are next on the chopping block.
2) Players Roll More Dice. Some might see this as a bad thing–and there was some initial frustration last night as the players commented they had more to remember now– but as soon as the dice started rolling in earnest, the opinions changed dramatically. In standard D&D, the number of dice the players roll is dramatically less than the GM because the GM is in control of far more creatures than the players are. But the dice-rolling part is something that many roleplayers love, and putting the dice in their hands more often increases the fun for many. It certainly seemed to have this effect last night. Like I said above, they are more invested in the goings-on of combat if there are more dice in their hands, and the randomness of it makes everybody sit up and pay attention. And frankly, rolling dice is fun.
3) Player-rolling = GM Taking the Gloves Off. I admit– I took it easy on the players for the first 5 levels or so. They were learning the system, learning their characters, learning how to work together as a team. When they hit 6th, though– I stopped being nice. I told them so before it happened, but the comment still came across, “Damn. You weren’t kidding. You’re handing us our asses.” And I was– smart monsters fought smart and hit hard. But they rose to the challenge and they’re doing fine now. But putting the dice in the player’s hands is a whole different level of potential lethality. Even if I WANTED to flub a dice roll or lie about a saving throw, I can’t. And the players know it. They are completely in control of their character’s dice-rolling destinies. Likewise, because the number of dice the players roll is increased, statistically the number of critical hits and/or fumbles is increased as well. This had the completely unexpected effect last night of the characters (except Grunthar… sorry, man) feeling extra-super-heroic because the number of awesome dice rolls increased, too.
So in the end, I really think this is a great House Rule to put into effect for your games. If you want to shake things up, try it for a couple sessions and see how the players react. I think you’ll end up with a positive effect overall. I think I’m going to keep it.