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Unlucky GM Syndrome: What To Do When You’re Rolling Horribly
From JohnnFour | Updated May 20, 2021
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #024
A Brief Word From Johnn
Last week, on The Art Of Game Mastering discussion list sponsored by Wizards of the Coast [ http://www.wizards.com/lists/ ], an interesting discussion about GM bad-luck streaks popped up. I thought this would be a useful topic to all GMs, regardless of game systems you play. The posts on the list had some great tips about what to do and I’d like to thank Lythurienne, Max, Brad & Eric for allowing me to add their tips in today’s newsletter.
Thanks to everyone who sent me their villain tips. I’ll be putting them in an upcoming issue, soon. I appreciate your time spent in writing and sending them along to me.
And thanks to Kevin Lawrence who suggested I ask you all for newsletter tips and topic requests. So far I’ve just been identifying problems in my own campaigns, finding solutions and writing about them. But I’d much rather receive and answer your requests first.
So, send me your tips and topic requests when you have a moment! Thanks.
Top 7 “Unlucky GM Syndrome” Tips
- Use a GM screen and fudge your dice rolls
- Increase the power level of the bad guys
- Create scenarios where die rolling and combat won’t solve the problem
- Use spells and magic items against the PCs so you don’t need to roll dice
- Go with the flow and don’t worry if the characters cream the monsters sometimes
- Have your players do the rolling for you, or do the rolling for the players
- Stay away from casinos
Here’s The Original Question From Lythurienne SunHawk:
Okay, this is probably a little bit of an odd question to come up, but how would you deal with an unlucky GM?
Basically, here it is. As a player, my luck seems to be perfectly normal. If I have a 75% chance of succeeding at something, then 75% of the time I will succeed. As a GM, however, if I have, say, a 50% chance of succeeding, I will succeed closer to 5% of the time.
(AD&D) I had a Level 1 party (average AC: 8) fighting about 6 zombies (THAC0 20)
[Johnn: for all the non-AD&D players out there, Lythurienne is saying each Zombie had a 15% chance of a successful attack.]
My players still remember how, for 3 rounds straight, every single one of the zombies’ attacks missed.
(AD&D) I had a Level 2 party (average AC: 7) fighting 5 hobgoblins (THAC0 19)
[Johnn: 25% chance of successfully attacking.]
In one round I made 3 critical misses (10% chance each) and 2 normal misses. Next round all the hobgoblins missed again (not critically, though).
(These examples are from combat because, out of combat, I don’t find very many situations which can be resolved using AD&D’s system.)
Those were extreme cases of unluckiness, but I’ve also been known to roll…the pattern: 5, 7, 5, 7, 5, 7. None of which were nearly high enough to hit the players.
[Johnn: hopefully Lythurienne means the players’ characters here ]
Oh yeah, and this seems to happen no matter what dice I’ve tried, so I don’t think it’s the dice.
So, how would you deal with this? My players’ “assurance” that I’d never kill them in combat was the fact that I continually roll low. I tried disregarding any critical misses on the parts of the opponents, but the PCs would still get by practically unscathed. Combat was no challenge to them. (Okay, I’ll admit that this tendency to roll low is one of the reasons I don’t like combat so much.) Obviously, running a diceless game would solve the problem, but other than that solution, (ie, without completely changing the rules system) what would you do?”
Here Are Some Great Responses To Lythurienne Predicament
From Emperor Mad Max
“My first solution would be to change the game system, but that is my advice to anyone that wants more out of RPG than combat. If you are set on sticking with AD&D, then the solution is to upgrade the bad guys some. This can be done by either making some of the normal people more exceptional, or just using more powerful foes. The first way is better as it catches the characters by surprise. Imagine having one or two hobgoblins from your example with a Thaco of 12.
Outside of that, the idea that “if the NPCs miss hitting the characters [therefore] it is bad for the GM” is not a good idea, at least not to my opinion. The challenge to me is to create an interesting story full of good things and bad. So in your story, perhaps the heroes always beat the hobgoblins. Either the hobgoblins will get better, or they will be exterminated from the realm. So this removes the challenges from the players? Nope, see, while they were out fighting the baddies, the tavern wench discovers she is pregnant with the child of one of the heroes.
She tells her mother [who] is the servant of the local Baron. He feels that a little bit of settling down would be good for the realm, so he demands the hero marry and take care of the family in addition to being a hero. Now they may be used to swinging swords at the bad guys, but how do they react to the claims of the tavern girl? Maybe she is not telling the truth, but the Baron believes her. Anyway, the chances are that you have just had some bad rolls with your dice.
Chance works that way, and the larger number of rolls you make, the better the chance of getting a better average. In the games I run, I make and require a large number of rolls, with the largest portion of them being Observation. My biggest problem is when the players roll bad when I want them to see or experience something. In the end, don’t worry about the characters coasting through the hardships you create. As a GM, you win when everyone leaves the game with a feeling of having a good time and enjoying the story you have put together.”