D&D 5E How to Adjudicate Actions in D&D 5e

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
The other had lots of 3.5/PF experience but was playing his first 5e session. He really, really, really wanted to RP like this - "I roll Persuasion to XXXX. Then I roll Deception to XXXX. Now I roll Insight to XXXX."
This is a disease. And we (fellow ENworlders) are the cure...

I suspect that it's a learned behavior, though. Probably from hearing your GM say, anytime you try to do something, "roll it." If there's a cure, it might be to blatantly ignore the die rolls of such players and tell them what happens anyway.

Though she did have a good sense of "what my character would do." Session 1: "I hate tunnels! Why am I in 4 ft high tunnels dug by kobolds!" Session 3, next adventure: "OMG! I'm in 5 ft tunnels dug by dwarves! WHY!!!"
I'm not sure that this is a roleplaying/adjudication issue. It sounds more like a railroad issue. Was your wife playing an Ent, by any chance? ;)

Nice writing [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION]. You should put it in a pdf and upload it to ENworld's downloads section.
 

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guachi

Hero
This is a disease. And we (fellow ENworlders) are the cure...


I'm not sure that this is a roleplaying/adjudication issue. It sounds more like a railroad issue. Was your wife playing an Ent, by any chance? ;)

Nice writing [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION]. You should put it in a pdf and upload it to ENworld's downloads section.

It's the adventure the PCs decided to do. Well, the first one wasn't. It was an adventure I had prepared for an emergency in case I needed something quick. The second adventure was one of the two closest to her home town so she had heard the stories fairly soon after the Bad Things started happening.

Actually, it's the kind of serendipity I really like in an RPG. Now, tunnels can be a running gag for her entire PC's career.
 


Yes, I go over the stakes before each roll. This has a few nice benefits. First, it helps me double-check to make sure this action needs a roll in the first place. After all, if I can't think of an interesting failure condition, then why roll?

This makes sense, but I don't see how it's a unique feature of disclosing the stakes to the players. In other words, as long as the DM knows the stakes, he can confirm that the action requires a roll without sharing the stakes with the players.

As well, it is a way of asking for player buy-in on the stakes. If they aren't on the same page with me as far as what's on the line, they can tell me and we can hash that out.

It strikes me as very railroad-y, if you'll forgive me for using such a loaded term. That the player agrees to come aboard doesn't make it less so, for me. Surely there are many possible outcomes if Lack-Toes manages to swim to Rosemary before the shark reaches her. Put another way, Lack-Toes's declared action wasn't "I try to scare the shark away." It was "I try to swim to Rosemary before the shark reaches her."

Likewise with the chase: Doesn't failure indicate that the yuan-ti catch up with the party? Why does it mean "You're captured and taken before the Great Abomination?"

Finally, it creates good tension before the roll, especially when failure is particularly dire (but interesting!).

To me, it seems to create tension at the cost of uncertainty and suspense. "I will either be captured or I'll escape," as opposed to "The yuan-ti will either catch up to me or I'll escape." The latter resolves the actual action in the same way, but opens the door to new player decisions (fight, surrender, parley, or some combination of those as the encounter plays out) rather than closing it.

The thing is, I absolutely agree with you that the player needs some sense of the stakes. Lack-Toes shouldn't be surprised to discover that he sinks and drowns when failing the swim check to reach Rosemary. The player should know more or less what success or failure of his actual action looks like. In some of your examples, this is what you do: "If you fail, you'll be exhausted." Cool. But in other cases, you go well beyond this and fold "what happens next" into the stakes. That's a step too far for me.

I suspect this is because you are using the checks not just to resolve actions but to very consciously construct story or narrative. Is that accurate?

Regardless, this is great reading. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.
 


Henry

Autoexreginated
Great examples, [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION], I really dont have much to add, other than I loved the names - I'm sure Gary, Patron Saint of Gaming Puns, would approve. :)
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This makes sense, but I don't see how it's a unique feature of disclosing the stakes to the players. In other words, as long as the DM knows the stakes, he can confirm that the action requires a roll without sharing the stakes with the players.

In my experience, there's something to saying it out loud that makes it a good way of double-checking that rolling in a given situation makes sense. For some DMs, there is this reflex of "action = check" without due consideration of whether the situation calls for one. This is one way of checking oneself.

It strikes me as very railroad-y, if you'll forgive me for using such a loaded term. That the player agrees to come aboard doesn't make it less so, for me. Surely there are many possible outcomes if Lack-Toes manages to swim to Rosemary before the shark reaches her. Put another way, Lack-Toes's declared action wasn't "I try to scare the shark away." It was "I try to swim to Rosemary before the shark reaches her."

Likewise with the chase: Doesn't failure indicate that the yuan-ti catch up with the party? Why does it mean "You're captured and taken before the Great Abomination?"

Lack-Toes stated he was going to swim over and "defend" her. I think the fiction in the stakes follows - by getting to her in time, the shark will break off its attack. Failure indicates whatever the DM wants it to indicate because the DM, per the basic conversation of the game, narrates the results of the adventurers' actions.

By definition, if players buy into the stakes (or to follow a plot or whatever), then railroading is not occurring as there is no coercion - instead there is consent. That we skip over that which is a given - the party being unable to avoid capture - in our estimation (the players', not just mine) just means we advance to a new, interesting scene rather than play out a scene to which we feel we already know the answer to the dramatic question.

To me, it seems to create tension at the cost of uncertainty and suspense. "I will either be captured or I'll escape," as opposed to "The yuan-ti will either catch up to me or I'll escape." The latter resolves the actual action in the same way, but opens the door to new player decisions (fight, surrender, parley, or some combination of those as the encounter plays out) rather than closing it.

I get uncertainty and suspense in other ways, chiefly from foreshadowing and other storytelling methods. I want the results of rolls to be clear and to change the situation meaningfully in some way.

Being captured and brought before the Great Abomination also opens the door to new player decisions. It's just the context that is different. So really, as long as we are playing, the door to new player decisions is always open.

The thing is, I absolutely agree with you that the player needs some sense of the stakes. Lack-Toes shouldn't be surprised to discover that he sinks and drowns when failing the swim check to reach Rosemary. The player should know more or less what success or failure of his actual action looks like. In some of your examples, this is what you do: "If you fail, you'll be exhausted." Cool. But in other cases, you go well beyond this and fold "what happens next" into the stakes. That's a step too far for me.

I suspect this is because you are using the checks not just to resolve actions but to very consciously construct story or narrative. Is that accurate?

Yes, as the "lead storyteller" among a group of storytellers, the rules are tools to help us achieve the goals of play, those being, to have a good time and to create an exciting, memorable story in the doing. This doesn't mean there is any pre-planned plot, of course, or that any "railroading" is going on. It just means that for any given action, we consider the most interesting results that will take the story in new, interesting directions and dice come into play to resolve uncertainty. If that means skipping over playing out a skirmish that will lead to an inevitable capture in everyone's eyes (or everyone agrees that capture is going to be a desirable result anyway - for the players if not the characters), then that's what happens.

If you check out my actual play transcripts (linked in the original post), you can see this a lot of this in play in the context of an actual game.

Regardless, this is great reading. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

Thanks for reading - and for the good questions and feedback!
 

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