The system we are using is Call of Cthulhu, which focuses heavily on investigation. My players will "line up" to re-do skill checks/rolls when they want to achieve something a certain way. In practice that means that when they're facing a challenge like opening a certain door, they will try to break it one by one so they all can do a strength roll once. While in that situation it's not that big of a problem (after all, that's probably the way they'd do it in real life too), there are situations in which it is worse:

CoC makes heavy use of a skill called "Spot Hidden", which is used when searching an area, person, etc. A passing check will reward the players with information, finding evidence or at least the absolute knowledge that there is nothing of interest to find there.

This leads to my players' investigators lining up to search each room one by one, and on our last adventure I made the mistake of granting each of them the roll. This quickly proved to be detrimental to the challenge and atmosphere.

I am not sure how to best approach this, although I already have an idea or two:

  • Talking to my players about better differentiating between player knowledge and character knowledge. The character does not know a roll failed, he simply missed something - thus other characters shouldn't automatically be inclined to check every spot twice.
  • Penalizing repeat searches. This could be either done implicitly by having the character be busy for some time, or explicitly by making use of the CoC rules for forced rerolls - the second try must be justified with a special effort and will have immediate negative results if failing.
  • Not allowing re-rolls (by other characters), unless it's a forced reroll.
  • Doing these kind of rolls as the Game Master behind the screen, not letting the players know if the roll succeeded. This can keep the excitement up, and will probably more efficient if the GM sometimes rolls the dice without a skill check actually being made, just to keep the players guessing. But it also feels wrong to make player character skill rolls as the GM.

Answers to this question should adhere to Good Subjective, Bad Subjective - it needs to be something you've tried or seen tried. Don't just toss out "ideas" for me to try, I already have ideas. Explain how the thing you're proposing worked out for you/whatever you've observed in play.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you all for taking the time to help me with my question. You guys are all awesome & really friendly to a newcome like me!! :) My biggest challenge now is that SE of course wants me to select one answer, but most of them do deserve credit. Should I just let the vote decide? \$\endgroup\$
    – René Roth
    Nov 9, 2016 at 20:55
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ It's up to you! Generally we ask that askers pick the answer that helped them the most, so that others with the same issue can quickly find what works. But feel free to leave comments on all the answers that helped! \$\endgroup\$
    – thatgirldm
    Nov 10, 2016 at 0:02
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ This question is quite related: Dealing with skill rerolls by several players \$\endgroup\$
    – fgysin
    Nov 10, 2016 at 6:47
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ You could also take inspiration from Gumshoe: if a certain location has a clue, and a player has a relevent skill to find that clue, then they find the clue. You could still use skill checks for bonus info (to reflect time spend for a detailed analysis of the clue). \$\endgroup\$
    – Ahriman
    Nov 13, 2016 at 2:13

8 Answers 8


Note: All of my terms and page references are from my English PDF of CoC 7th Edition. In addition, I have directly dealt with the player behavior described, and I have run CoC, but I have never dealt with this specific problem while running CoC. First I will address the rules as written. Then I have some more general advice based around things I've tried which worked in other games.

The Rules As Written

There is no rule in the 7th edition which expressly forbids players taking turns on certain tasks in order to maximize the chances of success. There ARE rules which can help you remain in the spirit of the setting.

The section When to Roll Dice beginning on page 82, and the section Rolling Dice beginning on page 194 both provide some guidance here. There's too much for a full quote, but the the core of it is "There's no need to roll dice for everything," and "The Keeper decides when to roll dice."

Applying this here, first, you as Keeper will decide when a roll is appropriate. The players can ask, and if allowed and failed, they can attempt to justify Pushing the Roll. But you decide if one is allowed in the first place. More importantly it means you can decide when a roll isn't needed at all.

Player: "We search the shelves for clues."
Keeper: "A quick search reveals one book hastily replaced out of order, its cloth bookmark marking a specific page."

No roll. Just a successful search.

The Rolling Dice section also suggests rolling in full view, even for the Keeper's rolls. I think this creates a different dynamic than rolling in secret.

The rules for Spot Hidden on page 76 address this directly, suggesting automatic success for players performing "a thorough search" might be appropriate.

The rules for "More than one player rolling dice for a skill roll" on page 86 should help you decide when you allow multiple skill rolls from the group. One of those examples expressly states all characters in a position to potentially spot something get a roll. But those rules also give you some idea when separate rolls should be allowed, and even required in some circumstances.

Lastly, if you or your players have access to the Investigator Handbook, the Rules Advice beginning on page 216 has some useful information on how to approach the CoC mindset, including this tidbit on Accepting Failure:

Don’t be disappointed when you don’t win every roll. Accept failure—it can take the story to unexpected places. Sometimes, in hindsight, you might be very grateful your investigator didn’t manage to open that cellar door.

General Advice

The rules for Pushing the Roll (I think this is what you referred to as "forced rerolls;") begin on page 84. These rules DON'T refer to multiple players, but I reference it here because they lay the groundwork for something you can try, which I have done in other games. Consequences.

When Pushing, the player must explain what gives him the impetus to make a new attempt, and then the Keeper must explain the consequences of failure. As Keeper, you could use this even when multiple players are trying. There are possible consequences to multiple attempts which could occur regardless of who's making the attempt.

  • "A second complete search of the room will take time you can't afford. If you fail the Cultists will be one step closer to completing their ritual."
  • "A second attempt to break down the door will definitely attract unwanted attention if you fail."
  • "A second attempt to repair that engine might irreparably damage a vital part, making it useless until you can have it in a shop during downtime."
  • "A second attempt to intimidate the guard may make him mad enough to sound the alarm and attack you."

Several of the above examples touch on the second point. Your players should always consider time. Time is a HUGE factor which will work for or against the players. Wasting time on multiple attempts at the same action is certainly one way to ensure time works against them. The enemy may be closing in... or getting away...

In play, I've simply made players aware of the time required to perform repeat attempts. Sometimes I mention a specific possible consequence, but others I just say something like, "Sure, you CAN all search in turns. Are you sure you want to take an entire hour?" Then, after warning them, let them do it if they want. And make it matter. "You find that piece of information that eluded you, but now you hear a key in the lock of the front door!"

Properly used, time can help you.

There's an old text-based computer adventure where all the events are timed. It's literally possible to "wait" through the entire game and the adventure will just pass you by. I'm not suggesting anything this extreme, but if you demonstrate the world isn't static while they're busy, it will encourage players to move along.

Finally, consider the necessity of the roll. The absolute best way to discourage re-rolls is to not require rolls in the first place, except when needed. We touched on this above as it related specifically to the rules, but it's something to consider all the time. Is a roll really necessary?

In play, I generally call for a roll when the result will be interesting no matter how it comes out. Failure can move a story along just as well as success. And failure can be just as boring as success in some cases.

As a corollary to this, I use a rule I borrowed from another game called "Say Yes or Roll Dice." As GM in most games, it's my job to let players have their way, OR to make a conflict out of it. I love to RP and interact, but at some point the players will ask, "look, is this guard going to get out of our way or not?" And then I will say "yes," or the scene will become a conflict and the dice will decide.

As a final note which isn't really GMing advice, just make sure your players are up for the game you're running. Your descriptions make it sound like you have a conflict of tone vs expectations. There is a... pressing darkness... an urgency implied in many situations of CoC. The looming horror isn't going to wait around for your team to make 6 separate attempts to do ANYTHING. So, what are your players expecting out of this experience?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ It looks like you're speaking from expertise and experience, but could you speak to how this may have affected players in your games from first- or second-hand experience to solidify this answer further beside our GS/BS rules? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2016 at 19:14
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ thank you for giving me the correct phrase for Pushing the Roll! Playing in German I couldn't find the official English translation. \$\endgroup\$
    – René Roth
    Nov 9, 2016 at 20:57

Some of your suggested solutions will definitely help the problem, but this kind of player behavior is a symptom of a bigger problem. You need to address the root cause, which is that your players feel like the only way to move forward is to roll until they succeed.

Players who double-dip on skill checks like this are usually doing it because they feel like it's the best way to get what they need to continue the game, so you need to break that action-reward cycle. This means setting up your game so that a single failed roll, such as failing to break open a door or failing to find the hidden secret in a room, is not a game-stopper.

The best way to do this is to provide options. If they're faced with a door they can't break down with main strength, perhaps there's also a window that they can use agility to slip through instead. If the plot hinges on the players finding the Key of Importance, you should have a way for them to find it in the Bad Guy's lair - but also in the Bad Guy's bedroom, or even perhaps spotted on the Bad Guy's belt and pickpocketed. In other words, don't lock important plot pieces behind a single successful skill check.

You can help reinforce this by never outright stating "Your roll succeeds; you find the Key of Importance". Instead, simply state, "While searching the room, you find a large key taped to the bottom of a drawer", or, "You search the room thoroughly, but find nothing". It's important to be consistent with this regardless of the success or failure of the players' rolls - perhaps have some rooms with nothing in them to be found, or one with the important thing sitting in plain sight, or a door that simply can't be broken down (because it's barricaded from the inside), or which is so rotten that it crumbles at a touch.

You can also have partial successes - perhaps they don't break down the door completely, but they make a hole big enough to slip an arm through and unlock it from the inside. Or perhaps they find the Big Bad's diary, but not the Key of Importance. The goal is to separate the players' rolls from whether or not they're able to advance in the plot. Reward creative thinking and problem-solving. Give them partial successes, and keep them guessing by having high rolls result in nothing, and low rolls result in something. Always make sure that the players know they have a way forward even if a single roll fails.


First of all, you may want to consider using a different system. In my experience, Call of Cthulhu isn't really a game meant for people who want to optimize their play. And players who want to optimize usually don't find CoC the most rewarding system. That said, I think making the checks yourself is valid.

Making them all make their checks simultaneously is also valid for something like Spot Hidden.

Or if you just want them to stop searching together so much, you could always make some places dangerous to search. Sure, the master bedroom might contain the key the group need, but the bathroom contains something horrific in the mirror. Something better not seen. Honestly, I think you'll know you're doing your job if your players feel some trepidation towards making Spot Hidden checks. This is Call of Cthulhu we're talking about, after all.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ By our rules of GS/BS (now linked at the end of the question), how have these stratagems worked out for you in play -- doing the rolls yourself, and creating dangerous searches? How's it affected player behaviour or dissuaded multiple attempts? How have players responded? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2016 at 19:12

A dice roll failure should not necessarily mean the failure to do something. It could mean a failure, or more interestingly it could mean a complication is added. For example, a spot hidden success could means one leaves no trace whereas a failure could mean that there is evidence that the place was searched.

The main idea behind this is that failure is no fun. PCs miss a roll and miss a vital clue and spend hours doing nothing but wondering where they went wrong. There is no fun in that. So, change failures to add a complication: the PCs still get the information but at a cost. Costs can vary and should always make the story more interesting in some way. In the above example, traces of the search could be found by LEO. Now, the PCs might be suspects in a crime: When they are caught, they have to explain themselves and potentially get the grisly old detective to join them in their quest, maybe via the police armoury.

What's that mean in play for affecting player behaviour?

This gives the players a sense that even if they fail a roll, the story continues to move forward. It gives them another thing to look forward to and to potentially turn the tables on. More importantly they can use their brains to work out problems instead of relying on random events.

This would be a house rule but does work well in CoC and any other system I ever ran. Numenera has a similar mechanism called intrusions which while different are similar enough that you might want to have a look at.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ By GS/BS, how has this worked out for you in CoC? How's it played out in practice, what kind of fail-forwards have you used and what effect did it have? (I know you give an example, but "what's that mean in play for affecting player behaviour?" is an important question to have answered.) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2016 at 19:09
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Does my edit make things clearer? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2016 at 8:24

I had plenty of experience specifically with Call of Cthulhu and BRP variants, and yes, I had the same problem.

As you stated yourself, in some cases (like breaking down the door) it is perfectly normal, and as someone else suggested in another answer at worst you can apply situation-dependant effects to prevent this, like "there is not enough time to try more than once" or "your lockpick attempt fumbled with a 00% roll, so the pick broke inside the lock and nobody can try anymore".

For "information gathering" rolls like Library Use (or whatever the name is now... Research?) or Spot Hidden, instead, I believe that the problem is made more complex by the fact that when I search for something in real life, a failure ("there is something of interest, but I failed to find it") is not really distinguishable from "there is nothing interesting to find here" - because in real life we cannot "see" our roll and compare it with our "skill level".

For these cases, I suggest to use a variant rule (hidden information rolls) which I have explained elsewhere.

This will not "prevent" people from saying "I want to try spot hidden myself" - it will just make their decision closer to what we would do in reality.

(Also, it has a nice side effect that will help solve the very problem that Gumshoes solves at the root: if you, as a Referee, feel that it is imperative that at least one of the players finds one critical clue to prevent the whole adventure to stall, you can just ask for a roll, and even if it looks like a failure, you can provide some information anyway, albeit maybe incomplete or with some elements that are wrong).


Roll the checks for them. My feeling is most checks should be hidden. By letting the player make the roll, you are giving them information they shouldn't have. This isn't terribly important in a situation where the results would be observable, for example breaking down a door. When dealing with something like trying to find a spot a hidden object, the roll gives away too much information. The player shouldn't be thinking "Oh, I failed. I need to have someone else try.", they should be be clueless. Even a success can leak information. If I search a room with no hidden items in it, I shouldn't definitively know that there wasn't anything to find. This method creates a stronger story, especially if you provide a gauge of their success, by way of narration.

If this won't work for your group, you have a couple options. First, you could roll once against the character with the highest skill, possibly with a small bonus. An other option is to limit the number of attempts they get, though the story. If they fail to pick a lock after the second try and attempt a third, they are interrupted by a patrolling cultist.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ By our GS/S rules now linked at the end of the question, how has this worked out for you in play? How have players responded, and how has it affected re-checks and quality of the game? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2016 at 19:13

Clearly, searching the room one by one takes time (at least one round per player, possibly another round to communicate results). Let them do it. As they're trying to spot what may or may not be hidden, unspeakable horror creeps irrevocably closer to happening.

As for trying Spot Hidden again and again, I'd only allow that if the players allow substantial time to pass. Let the first roll be quick, the second be 1-2 minutes, a third maybe 15-30 minutes of elapsed time (as they get more and more eager to try to find something).

Back when I used to GM BRP derivatives, I usually allowed 1-2 rolls, the first being a single round (5 seconds), the second being 6 rounds (30 seconds) and then resetting after 30 minutes of in-game time had elapsed. That worked fairly well. I also allowed the players to do the first check "in parallel" (they're essentially just looking around, not actively searching). That worked OK, but in retrospect I think what I presented above would be better, mechanically speaking.


Allow them to roll simultaneously with a penalty

Ask all the players who are searching to roll the dice at the same time, and increase the difficulty of the check by 10% for every dice thrown. If only one player is throwing, he has the choice to focus on a particular thing in the room, and gets the clue automatically if it is located in the place he focuses on, but gets a negative adjustment for other places, for instance -10%.

Example. Bob is looking for a clue in the kitchen, where a successful check will reveal a knife, which has still some black blood on the blade, located in the knife drawer.

Case 1: Bob searches the room alone, and has a 60% chance of finding the clue.
Case 2: Bob searches the room, and focuses on the drawers, and will find the clue automatically.
Case 3: Bob searches the room, and focuses on the dustbins, he has 50% chance of finding the clue.
Case 4: Several players search the room. Each of them has 60% to find the clue, minus 10% for every second dice thrown.

If you want to avoid calculations before they decide, do NOT tell them how hard it is to actually find the clue. Just present them very clearly the rule, so that their characters decide how important the search is for them and how much effort they want to put into it.

EDIT for the GS/BS : my group and myself used that system in a d20 setting. This stopped the dice flooding, which happened everytime a general check was asked by the GM. However, players optimised towards this, and only one of them increased his Perception skills. In the end, only him rolled the dice for these checks. This system works if the group is happy with metagaming & stat-optimisation.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ By our GS/BS rules, now linked at the question, how has this worked out for you in actual play? How have players responded, and how has it affected rolling behaviour together? Has it increased or decreased the quality of your games? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2016 at 19:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .