One of my best tricks as a GM is to wait until the last-minute to make any dice roll. I do not pick up the dice until the roll has immediate effects. I cannot always do this, but one place I can is with traps.
Imagine a Hero in a dungeon. They turn a corner and are now looking down an empty corridor. The Hero instantly suspects something is up.
Player: I check for traps.
GM: Okay, roll.
Player: I rolled a 4.
Well with a roll of a 4, both the player and the GM know traps are still in play. At this point, the player is supposed to role-play as if they don’t see this information, but for many, that is hard to do. You know they are making meta-gaming choices. But it isn’t their fault. In my view, it is the fault of the GM who asked to them roll to detect traps.
Player: I think I will go back to that door I passed a while back and check it out.
Imagine you are a new player to my game. This is how I handle the same situation.
Player: I check for traps.
GM: You don’t find any.
I did not roll any dice or have the players roll any dice. There is nothing to meta-game. Therefore there is no reason for the Hero not to walk down the corridor. Once they do walk down this trapped corridor…
GM: Okay, please roll to detect traps.
I ask for a roll now that it is in fact, too late. If the Hero fails to detect it, they have activated it.
Player: But I looked for traps?
GM: And you didn’t see any. But you are now getting a chance to detect it.
Player: I rolled an 18. I made the roll.
GM: As you walk down this corridor, you noticed a loose stone on the floor. Looking closer, you are sure it is a pressure plate. The hallway is trapped!
If they failed, then I would have them make a saving throw against the trap.
GM: As you walk down the corridor you step on a pressure plate causing stones to fall from the roof. Make a saving throw to avoid the damage.
Because the roll to detect was separate from springing the trap there is no chance to meta-game. This was done by waiting until the last possible moment.
The standard way to handle traps creates opportunities to meta-gaming.
The added bonus is that I have created a system for my players where we remove the idea of saying, “I look for traps!” It becomes a meaningless phrase.
This has worked for me for years because as a GM, I have two beliefs. Heroes are looking for traps and traps are hard to detect.
The idea of a Last-Minute rolls works well in all areas of GMing. I try to always say yes and then roll when it matters.
The Heroes want to set an ambush.
They don’t roll to see if they can. I tell the player that they set up an ambush. Then just before rolling initiative, I have the player make an ambush roll.
The Heroes want to make a raft to go to sea. They make the raft. Then they set sail, they make a roll to see if the raft was good. If on that roll they get a 1, then I would go back a bit. It is apparently not seaworthy, so they never get into the water. Perhaps they never finish it.
If you get in the habit of waiting until the last moment to make a roll, you will find your game runs smoother and has more tension.