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I've been running a lot of and games lately, and I've run into a common challenge with several players: They'll roll the dice before we establish what kind of action they're taking and how (and, for Fate, what the difficulty of the roll will be).

This leads to all kinds of problems, because these are things we should decide before knowing the outcome of the dice so that our choices (on both sides of the table) aren't influenced by the random element which should rise out of those choices. In the case of Cthulhu Dark, it often means they rolled the wrong number of dice!

This is a minor blip in the grand scheme of things, but it's disruptive to the momentum of the game nonetheless: we stop to negotiate whether/why to re-roll, or try to make decisions which should influence the outcome while the outcome is already known.

Should I just crack down on the behaviour and force re-rolls every time, or is there a kinder, more gentle strategy? (I'm not even sure cracking down will be effective; it took a year of enforcing "roll on a manual and if it falls off, re-roll" to get them to regularly be able to keep dice rolls on the table.)

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Whenever my players roll before they establish their actions in the fiction (my system is Dungeon World), I say something like: "Whoa whoa whoa wait a moment. What are you doing and how are you doing it? We do not even know yet whether a roll is even required for that."

I then have them explain what they do and if it triggers a move (=rolling), I'll have them roll again. Any rolls before that are invalid.

Even though they know that premature rolls are invalid, they still do it occasionally. However, for me this is a simple and clear rule to handle these situations: a roll is only valid when the GM has prompted it from the player.

Why?

Because it is an easy and clear rule. It also follows from the rules. In Dungeon World, for example, a move always follows from the fiction, and a roll always follows from a move. Thus, a roll can never precede the fiction. I presume it it similar in most game systems.

What alternatives are there?

If you as a GM want to grant your players a bit more autonomous freedom, you can of course define situations in which players can roll on their own. However, these must be clearly defined situations. For example, in my games I do not prompt for a damage roll after a successful Hack&Slash roll, because a player always rolls his damage in this situation.

Another alternative?

A roll is only valid if it's been announced before the dice were rolled. Usually, it'll be announced by the GM asking for a specific skill, but a player could announce a roll if they think it fits the action. Irrelevant rolls are ignored (and replaced by a relevant announced roll) not because the GM didn't ask for them, but because they don't fit the proposed action. This could be a good compromise between making sure the players don't cheat or use the wrong dice, and not interrupting gameplay with the GM calling every roll (credits to 3Doubloons).

Other than that, if your players cannot show the discipline for basic rolling and rerolling rules (die off the table or stuck on its edge), you probably have deeper interpersonal conflicts that you might need to resolve.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Absolutely. Also, from experience after a player has rolled amazingly well only to find it is invalid for some reason a few times, they tend to change their behaviour pretty quickly \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Oct 2 '14 at 8:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ The one exception I tend to allow, is if a player is narrating a course of action, and wants to roll what they think is appropriate as the roll for that course of action as they narrate it - declaring it at that moment - I'll let the roll stand if it was relevant. For example, "I'm going to sneak up behind him -and roll stealth - and then try to stab him in the back! [roll to hit]" \$\endgroup\$ – LessPop_MoreFizz Oct 2 '14 at 12:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LessPop's exception can be the basis for a more lenient rule: A roll is only valid if it's been announced before the dice were rolled. Usually, it'll be announced by the GM asking for a specific skill, but a player could announce a roll if they think it fits the action. Irrelevant rolls are ignored (and replaced by a relevant announced roll) not because the GM didn't ask for them, but because they don't fit the proposed action. This could be a good compromise between making sure the players don't cheat oruse the wrong dice, and not interrupting gameplay with the GM calling every roll \$\endgroup\$ – 3Doubloons Oct 2 '14 at 17:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @iraserd Go right ahead, if it'll improve the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – 3Doubloons Oct 2 '14 at 17:28
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Train them, or it will lead to bad habits

Establishing a clear statement that you always use before a player rolls helps, I find.

Saying "Roll them" (or ringing a small bell) before every roll is a bit tedious but it helps form a habit, so if the words haven't been said they know.

If they roll before the cue then simply ignore the roll completely, don't acknowledge it. Then when you've finished determining the odds/whatever say "Roll them" again. If they say they say they've rolled already then point out you didn't say the "secret phrase".

Players can be trained, it just takes a little effort ;)

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    \$\begingroup\$ When I DM, for a roll to count--even mine!--the roll must be made in the tray. With but 1 tray at the table, extraneous and independent rolls disappear, and if I hide the tray nobody's rolls count. A lot of problems--not the least of which are disappearing and cocked dice--go away. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 3 '14 at 20:03
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Choosing an action after you already know the result is a form of cheating. Any of the GMs I gamed with back in my college days would have simply declared the roll to be some sort of saving throw. (such as vs. DEX to see if you tripped over a root, or whatever was appropriate to the setting). Players got the hint real quick when their impatience caused them to spend a round of combat stunned or worse.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Haha! I like this. Couple this with iraserd's and Rob's answer for the ultimate setup. The GM must say "Roll them" prior to any roll counting towards action, and any rolls out of turn become random saving rolls. In this manner the GM controls the speed/pace of the action (which allows her or him to insert information as needed when the players are just forging ahead of the story), and there are fewer delays due to discussions about what a dice roll meant after the fact. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Davis Oct 4 '14 at 12:27
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Crazy idea: Try it the other way.

Have them roll a dozen dice at the start of play... Those are their rolls. They can line those rolls up however they want, but they don't get new ones until they've used ALL of the old ones.

I had this used on a character of mine as a result of consulting an oracle. Don't know if I liked it or not, but it certainly was interesting! I'd love to try it out on a group of PCs, could build a different kind of play.

Works best with systems that use one size of die, of course, or only applied to one kind of roll.

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Hand them the dice.

This has worked in small tables, especially for games that don't use lots of different dice. Whether you give them the dice in person or they are kept on a bowl in the middle of the table, have touching the dice be a part of the ritual.

You may also want to reinforce their behavior with treats when they wait for your input to get the dice.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This might work in a game without much rolling, but for hours long combats this sure seems tedious. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex Oct 4 '14 at 14:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to rephrase you last paragraph. You probably didn't mean it(?), but it implies the players are like pets or children to the GM. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 4 '14 at 17:03
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One answer may be to not have every action decided by a roll.

"I try to unlock the chest."

"Okay, it's a basic lock and you just jemmy it with a knife."

or

"I climb the nearest big tree"

"The tree has lots of branches; it's not a problem for someone that's been exploring dungeons for four years"

or

"Do I think he's lying?"

"Yeah; he's awful at it and you have a wisdom of 16."

A lot of the time I'm just wanting the player to show that they're considering what's around them and I don't need a roll as such. High stats, in particular, will grant you automatic results if you make at least some effort at roleplaying the character's actions or behaviour.

But in any case, rolling before the GM says to roll is what's called "practice rolling" and is not applicable to the actual test.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There are games that are more discretionary about when a roll is called for, and games that are very specific and non-discretionary about when rolls must/may be made, and a spectrum in between. Fate is not on the end of the spectrum that this answer is assuming. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 4 '14 at 16:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Even most versions of D&D say not to roll unless the action is "challenging," while Cthulhu Dark says rolls are for when it's "interesting to know how well you do something" and Fate calls for rolls when "both success and failure are interesting." So this really isn't suggesting anything that most gaming groups shouldn't be doing by default anyway, and more importantly it doesn't provide any new help for when we should be rolling the dice. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Oct 4 '14 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd adjust your answer to consider it a failure if they don't follow proper rolling protocol. \$\endgroup\$ – Smithers Oct 10 '14 at 0:18

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