Last Minute Rolls

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.

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. That is hard to do. Now the player might start to make some 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.

Now the Last Minute Roll Way.

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.

Player: I rolled a 4.

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 not separated 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.

  1. Heroes are looking for traps.
  2. 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.

Update: I have written more about this subject.

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9 thoughts on “Last Minute Rolls

  1. I really like it, but how would you go about it with players having a really high passive perception og investigation? Wouldnt they spot it without a roll?

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    1. If you are using a non-rolling system for Perception then traps become narrative flavor and not a threat. In this case, I would just give the information at the best narrative point in the story. If you are asking if passive as in the GM rolling, then still last-minute works best.

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  2. If using Passive Wisdom(Perception) scores to determine if the characters detect a trap. You can still use “Last Minute Rolls” in a way if you allow for some random variance to the traps detection DC. When setting any DC, I basically use my instinct to set a DC based on the Typical DC chart in the DMG. Then I roll a 1d12. 1 = -4DC, 2 = -3DC, 3 = -2DC, 4 = -1 DC, 5-8 = no DC change (initial DC set by DM or by published trap author), 9 = +1DC, 10 = +2DC, 11 = +3DC, 12= +4DC. I probably came across this idea somewhere or perhaps I even made it up myself (I don’t remember – if you know someone else who has posted this idea, please post so I may give them credit), but I find it useful because I developed a lazy bad habit of setting DC’s in multiples of 5. I usually do this in advance when designing a trapped area (or any other DC that I might determine in advance), but after reading this article I think I will just set a DC and then roll for the variance when the chance for success/failure is being determined.

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