Had a great session of Rogue Trader tonight!
As we played through it, I think I had a revelation on how I want to do a lot the game's broader actions (and perhaps a better insight of how to run a Skill Challenges in 4E).
As I've been listening to the Minions of the Monster Master, I've really been taken with the game With Great Power, which has the players and game master sort of determine the success or failure of any character before roleplay. Basically, you "script" what you want to do first, find out if you are successful or not, and then actually sit down and roleplay the result of your actions. If you fail your test, then you get to determine how you failed, etc.
The point is - roleplay is continuous and unbroken once it starts. I think that I might start incorporating some of this into my Rogue Trader game.
The Dilemma: Spicing Up Broad Actions and Skill Challenges
One thing that Rogue Trader encourages you to do is to truncate broad or time-intensive actions with a series of dice rolls. For example, an Exploration test, which is used to find something during an Exploration Challenge, is a series of dice rolls which accumulate degrees of success. A lot more fun than the old fashioned hex-by-hex exploration of a map in the original D&D.
Now, understand that I like this sort of mechanic. I like it because it's a lot better than the old days of making a check and then seeing if you made it or not.
However, there is this sense of reducing a lot of cool roleplaying into just a series of dry die rolls. Many of my sit-down plays of 4E skill tests have resulted in this kind of experience. The GM describes what he's looking for, the players justify how their skill might help, and a process, which might have resulted in neat roleplay is reduced to just dry dice rolls.
However, in this latest session, I think I've found out how I want to handle situations like a 4E skill test or some of the broad dice rolling mechanics we've been using. And that's this - going all the way back to our first session - handling the dice first and then narrating afterwards.
The Seed is Planted
The solution for this situation sort of evolved organically. As I will report in the next game write-up, the crew's Seneschal had an issue with crew morale. A few crew members were highly disturbed at some supernatural events they had witnessed aboard their ship. Now the Seneschal wanted to quiet them up before wild rumor and superstition spread throughout the ship.
I had the Seneschal explain to me what he wanted to do. I had him make a series of rolls based on what he was trying to accomplish and how he wanted to accomplish it. Essentially, the Seneschal attempted to make the crewmen know that spreading wild rumors and fear throughout the crew would be dealt harshly, but keeping things quiet would result in valuable reward. And if any of the crew blabbed about what they witnessed, all of them would suffer the same fate. We made a few rolls to see if he could accomplish this broad action and we determined that he could.
However, after he made a long series of rolls determining this, we sat down at roleplayed the culmination of his efforts. I staged a scene where the Seneschal interrogated and grilled one of the crew members who had witnessed the supernatural event. He got to describe the scene and the room that the interview took place in. I described the guardsman he was speaking to and his reactions. What was neat about this is that we didn't pause all that often for dice rolls because the result of the scene had already been determined. Thus, both the player and I could build towards that final, expected end.
When Things Really Went Right
Later that night, we really refined this when the Seneschal dealt with another morale issue. Some time ago, the Rogue Trader crew had rescued some Free Traders from certain death. These newcomers were not mingling well with the rest of the Rogue Trade crew.
First, the Seneschal and I talked about the situation openly and what was going on. Then, he explained to me in general terms what he wanted to do to try to solve the problem. He made a series of rolls and we determined that he was successful.
Thereafter, we roleplayed through a scene where the Seneschal spoke to the crew. But what was neat about this, was that we knew what the end outcome was to the situation. So as he would lead the scene in a particular direction, I could follow him with my own NPC reactions.
The best part? A long, continuous scene of roleplaying with no dice rolling to interrupt the situation. Certainly not something I would want to do for every roleplaying situation, but I think I might just have to keep using this technique in my games.
Again, stealing from With Great Power and 4E, the way this system would work is this:
Scripting: Determine with the player generally what they want to do and how they are going to do it. Talk it out.
Rolling: Make a series of rolls and determine how successful they are.
Roleplay it: Now that you know how a given scene is supposed to play out, roleplay it out with the players, allowing the scene to be led in particular direction.