I've tried to focus my group heavily on Role Playing, perhaps too well given some of my recent problems, which are Orthagonal, and linked mostly to provide historical context.

A lot of the answers to these questions revolve around "have off the rail's multiple angles" and "don't make people roll for information they must have". That seems well understood to me at this juncture, in fact I have been doing just that, and I think it's causing some other problems. I have only rarely made people roll for anything (combat aside) anymore, unless it's absolutely non critical. I try to get the players to Role Play their investigations and give them information when they look in the right places, and their are multiple right places.

This results in skills, especially social/mental, being completely inessential, and players not gaining important information because they aren't poking around the right area at all, or asking people who aren't interested in talking to them because they're currently a bunch of random Joe's.

The players aren't stuck at this time, I'm just trying to get better and not have functionally dead scenes, that don't rely on the players to play "what is the GM thinking" nor do I want to just give them every answer.

The reality is, I'm not sure when to make them roll to find things out. what criteria? or other advice, can I use to decide that the players are better off making a Roll to move forward than to purely use Role Playing?

update This question focuses on the Social and to a lesser degree Mental aspects, as it's usually pretty easy to tell when a Physical Roll is needed, even out of combat. It's harder to tell when to make people roll for things they can talk their way through.

I'm playing World of Darkness 2nd Edition, but answers not specific to that are welcome.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you sure this is a problem? If you don't mind it and your players are having fun, then you might have found your group's sweet spot. If your players are asking you for rolls, though, then they would probably like to rely more on the mechanics than they are now. A combination of your current and a "roll for clues" could work really well - if the players don't "guess what the GM is thinking", you could suggest - or they could ask for - a relevant skill roll to realize what they're overlooking or who they haven't talked to. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 14, 2014 at 22:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ if the scene is dead and nothing is getting accomplished, go ahead and ask for rolls. Ask "Anyone trained in Investigation/Socialize?" or "Who has the highest Perception check?" or even be as blatant as "Want to try to Intimidate the bouncer who told you to 'eff off'? Maybe he knows something." ^_^ \$\endgroup\$ Dec 14, 2014 at 22:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I can't organize what I'm saying well enough to make it a decent answer, but I hope I'm getting my point across. If a scene is unfun, do what you need to make it fun. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 14, 2014 at 22:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ This blog post was linked from a similar question relating to specifically D&D and seems relevant \$\endgroup\$ Dec 18, 2014 at 1:44

2 Answers 2


Whenever I ask players to make a roll I have the following two things into consideration:

  • Would it be dramatic for the players to fail at this point in time?
  • Is this a place where the failure or success of the players can lead to a branch or some other consequence in the story?

A practical example:

The current plot requires that two characters sneak into a place to retrieve something. This is not a maximum security facility and even if the characters get into trouble, they could easily overpower any attempt to stop them (either to Disciplines, Arcana, Contracts, whatever). However, they have a good reason not to get caught: another supernatural considers itself the owner of this territory and they don't want to make enemies because they might need some help from them or one of their allies in the future.

I have the players make an extended Dexterity + Stealth to sneak in unnoticed, but they fail. I give them some choices:

  • Spend some Mana/Vitae/Aether/whatever to force their way through (and potentially risk Paradox/Cover or something else as well).
  • Have the other supernatural eventually learn about their imprudence.
  • Give up on their mission and try a different approach next time, which might require a different kind of roll to get what they want.

As you see, the roll is dramatic and failure provides new options for the story, which is the perfect situation where some random chance should be involved.

Edit: Interestingly, the above example is from a real game and the players chose a dramatic failure to get a beat. They got stuck with two negative consequences.

Another edit, to give an example of a social situation where rolls and other mechanics are used, this is also from that same play through, it was Blood & Smoke:

The characters want to setup a trap for the kindred that governs an affluent territory and convince him to give it up. Of course, there is no way this can be done in a amicable fashion but combat is out of the question to prevent sheriff intervention.

They decide to do some investigation and target the right hand man of the territory holder. Some of their investigation rolls (calling friends, contacts, checking the books, asking witnesses) are a success and they discover that this right hand man has a grudge against his boss, but don't know more yet (they didn't get enough successes for that). Judging it to be enough knowledge (they don't want to waste more time investigating and risking rolls), they confront him and ask him for a deal.

Here we used the Door system. The target has 4 doors to be opened if they want to have his help in setting a trap for the boss. They prepare a nice environment for the man (including some feeding opportunities) and treat him with proper etiquette (throwing in some Socialize rolls to see if they know what etiquette is proper). We agree to a Good first impression, so its gonna take them 1 day per roll. Once everything is in place, the seductive member of the group brings up his relationship with the boss with a Manipulation + Persuasion roll. A success means one door comes down, and the man spits out some information on the grudge, confirming their investigations.

Another one of the members at the table uses a Merit (in this case Friends in High Places) to make a call and ask for this guy to get a promotion just in case something happens to his boss. The merit allows to immediately break another two doors. The characters basically convince him that they are on his side. Help us and we help you. The man tells him that he has to think through all this situation, after all he is going to betray his boss and could end with him dead if something goes wrong.

At last, they get a call from him, "I never liked working for this guy. There is another ally of him that spoke against me in front of the prince and got me demoted, forcing me to be his servant. I know this other ally is trying to embrace one of her favorite followers and I want to get even. Get the mortal out of the equation and help me look better than the boss again (which was already covered by the Merit used before), and I will set up any kind of trap that you want."

So to break the last door, they have to find a mortal and either kill him or scare him away, not hard. They have to make several rolls through this side-quest but the very last one is going to be the one that counts towards fulfilling the Social maneuver. They ended up kidnapping the guy and rolling Presence + Intimidation (aided with some Majesty) to break his will. They somehow FAILED. The puny mortal was way more strong willed than they thought.

Instead of simply telling them to try again or halting the story there (although we did take a few moments to laugh at the situation), I gave them an option: this guy has seen through the masquerade and knows way too much, he either has to die or be embraced. One of the characters was a Lancea et Sanctum and he convinced the others that the guy should decide by himself. We made no rolls for the embrace and staking scene that followed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ they never take dramatic failure to gain xp, oddly. Do you have any advice specifically regarding more social or mental skills, they seem to be more problematic for these choices than the obvious punching stuff, or sneaking past stuff. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 14, 2014 at 22:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can always ask players "wanna make it dramatic failure for a beat" whenever they miss a roll where you think things could go worse. More XP means playing with more potent toys earlier and they should go for it. Regarding your specific question, I will think about another social / mental example and edit the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – arthexis
    Dec 15, 2014 at 2:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ yeah I do ask them that sometimes, no idea why they avoid it, I think they fear the consequences more, but I think it also comes from not having nearly enough rolls to begin with. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 15, 2014 at 5:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Added a long example, I hope it helps \$\endgroup\$
    – arthexis
    Dec 15, 2014 at 21:34

It seems to me like you've taken the wrong message from some of the previous answers; I haven't read them, so I don't know exactly where they were coming from, but here's the gist:

While "don't make the players roll for something they have to find to proceed" is an okay rule of thumb, it's not very nuanced. A better version of that rule is "do not give the players a hard fail situation on something they have to find to proceed." Allow me to provide some examples:

The corrupt Count Von Hedelstein has some information the PCs desperately need to continue their investigation. The PCs are attempting to persuade him to provide it. The PCs should ABSOLUTELY roll an appropriate social skill in this situation. There are lots of ways this could go without presenting a "hard fail". "Very well! Very well! Just leave the Countess out of this!" (Success!) "Of course I can provide you with that information, but you will... owe me a favor." (Not such a good success). "Hmpf. Perhaps we might discuss this if you were to bring me the head of a particularly bothersome individual that has been... troubling me lately." (Even less good success). "If you think I know anything about the location of Phyrinese Falcon, you are sadly misguided. Perhaps some time in my dungeons will teach you to accuse your betters thus. Guards! Take them away!" (Fail-ish, but maybe gives away that the Count DOES know something after all.)

Similarly, if the PCs are rummaging someone's apartment for evidence, a "search" roll should be used. Even if the evidence in question is critical. A success finds the evidence quickly and easily, allowing a quick getaway. A failure has the apartment's resident come home and interrupt the search just as the PCs find the document or whatever they are looking for. If there's no threat of interruption, perhaps they have to turn the place upside down and leave evidence that they were there. Or if it's perfectly fine that they were there (Police with a warrant or something) it just takes a really long time and allows something else to happen elsewhere.

So you should use rolls pretty much anytime you can find a way to give the players what they need AND still present an awkward, complicating situation or otherwise assign some sort of "cost" to failure. Hacking a computer? You get the info you need, but set off an alarm/trace/whatever... or their countermeasures fry your hardware. Questioning a suspect? You get your answers, but the bomb goes off or the criminal strikes again - or at least, you have very little time to prevent those from happening. Trying to persuade someone in authority? You'll have to sweeten the deal with a hefty bribe.

If you just give the PCs whatever they need, because they need it, you're both devaluing their skills and sucking the drama right out of the game.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1. Rolls are only a thing to be avoided if failing them results in the game grinding to an unsatisfying halt, or if there is no meaningful difference between success and failure. In all other circumstances, they're exciting. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Dec 17, 2014 at 6:37

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