Diceless Moments in an Otherwise Dicey Universe


I've mentioned this in brief before, but one of the things that was most pleasurable about our short cinematic GURPS Black Ops campaign was the concept of the diceless TEASER. Because the game was about these action movie badasses, I started each episode with the end of a previous, unseen mission. Something like the teasers in James Bond movies. Within the parameters of their character sheets (a guy couldn't suddenly fire bolts from his eyes, for example), the players simply responded to the situations narrated by the GameMaster, going for big and spectacular and not having to worry about rolling for it. Such spectacular effects would normally have generated massive modifiers, but we made as if they always rolled a critical success, basically. They could also fail on purpose to make the situation more dramatic and cutting the successes closer. No "XP" was ever handed out for this, but I handed out "Cinematic points" (call them what you will, Hero points, Karma, Story points, Bennies) which could then be used in the full scenario that followed. This teaser scheme had a variety of effects:
1) The players got into describing actions in a more exciting way reducing the boring "I shoot him" stuff to a minimum during the session.
2) The players got into the spirit of the game very quickly and carried on with the right tone through the whole of the game.
3) Because there were no ruling issues, these encounters didn't take long and yet were quite memorable.
4) Set up any subsequent challenges and opponents as more epic because they had a greater chances of failure.
5) [System-specific] Served as a smooth Cinematic points engine.

Now last week, I was reading a post at the Dungeon's Master.com about "Calling the fight" and it made me realize that a similar diceless moment can come in handy at other times. What Ameron was saying there was that the last rounds of a fight are often a war of attrition. The PCs have already won, but have to go through the motions of rolling dice until the monster's hit points drop below zero. In such situations, he recommends you "call the fight" and end it there, especially at higher levels where dropping the enemy may well take 10 more rounds. Now, his article is D&D-centric, but he makes a good point. A GM in any game could conceivably call the fight for the PCs (never for the bad guys, of course) and narrate over their victory. "With a few extra slashes, you cut down your enemies and they now lie at your feet. What's next?"

What I propose however is to marry this idea to the one before it. DON'T narrate the PCs' victory, but allow THEM to do so. This has a few results I like:
1) You don't rob the players of the joy of victory. In fact, you heighten it by allowing them to create a "FINISH HIM" moment all their own.
2) It allows players to get the result they want from their success. If they want to capture a foe, they can (no more "oops, sorry you did too much damage, shoulda pulled your punch, he's dead"). If they want to let a goon get away so he can sow fear into his organization, they can. If they want to knock out rather than kill, they can. And no crunchy rules required.
3) Saves time. This isn't really for your climax, but all the intervening fights keeping you from getting to that climax.
4) Everything I said about the teaser holds true as well.
So let them strategize, let them get their noses bloody, let them surge back. But when it's clear they're going to succeed, reward them with a cool moment. "You did so well, you get to do whatever you like!"

Dicelessness, it's not just for Amber anymore.


Darius Whiteplume said...

I like that idea. I hate a fight that goes on forever just because there are hit points left, plus it gives the option of combat not always being lethal.

Siskoid said...

That last point is what charmed me as well.

Jeremy Patrick said...

The "calling the fight" is something I've done before, but it always left the players feeling a little frustrated--the cinematic way of resolving it is a really interesting idea and something I'll have to keep in mind


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