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02 June 2015 @ 03:11 pm
Failed Stealth rolls derailing a game: not just for PCs anymore  
Monday was another session of my relatively long-running WFRP game--if I'm counting right, it's the 16th session--and the entire plot may have just been unraveled by an NPC critically failing a single roll.

In my last post about the game, I mentioned that I was planning on running my players through the basic plot of Ashes of Middenheim but with all the idiocy stripped out, and that's what I've been doing. I took out the Skaven, ignored the BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD Khorne-themed dungeon, and brought things down to a more mundane level. From what the PCs have figured out so far, there are factions among the cults of both Ulric and Sigmar who want to use the societal upheaval of the Storm of Chaos to spark an Ulricite/Sigmarite religious war. They aren't clear how much of either hierarchy, if any, is in on it, what the end goal of the war actually is, or whether either or both sides, or a third party, is framing someone else.

Having solved the mystery of the murder of Father Morten and the theft of the portrait of Sigmar, and found that a devotee of Ulric appeared to be behind it, the PCs consulted priests of both Sigmar and Ulric about what to do next. With somewhat confusing information and the knowledge that they were being watched, they returned to their ramshackle tenement and went to bed, making sure to set up a watch.

In the night, I called for Awareness rolls. The elf treesinger sleeping downstairs failed, her familiar animal also failed, the Arabyan duelist-poet who was awake also failed, and I thought that this was where the next phase of the game unfolds. Then I rolled Stealth for the intruder who was sneaking in the downstairs window and rolled 100. WFRP is a blackjack-style percentile dice system.

As the intruder knocked over a chair and table, making a tremendous racket, he leapt out the window while the elf grabbed her bow and leapt after him in hot pursuit. Because elves are faster than humans, and because the intruder kept failing his Athletics rolls, and because the elf's familiar is a horse that she jumped onto as it ran up next to her in pursuit, she was able to ride him down, knock him prone, and hold him prisoner with her bow until the other PCs caught up with her.

I say "derail" above, but I think this is really more an example of why trusting the dice is a good idea. I wanted the intruder to [REDACTED] and then escape, and I could have ignored the roll. Even if he had failed, I would have let him get away with it since the PCs all failed their Awareness rolls as well. But with that 100 staring me in the face, the game went off in an entirely new direction and now I have to figure out what's going to happen when the PCs question their mysterious prisoner.

That's one of the best part of RPGs, though. It's the same reason I love procedurally-generated CRPGs, but with the added depth of interaction with other people. Running that kind of game means that I'm writing a story where I don't know how it ends or even what's going to be on the next page, and that's not something you can easily get in other forms of media.
Current Mood: surprisedsurprised
Current Music: Nothing
Bendrydem on June 2nd, 2015 08:56 pm (UTC)
critical successes and critical failures are some of the most interesting storytelling tools available in the RPG. Good on you for letting this one happen.
dorchadas: Pile of Dicedorchadas on June 3rd, 2015 02:18 am (UTC)
Thanks!  photo Emot-neckbeard.gif

I think RPGs should move away from crits in combat (which tend to disproportionately affect the PCs, since over the course of a game more hits will be directed at them than at any single enemy they're fighting) and toward crits in skill usage, precisely because it ends up with far more varied and interesting results.