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Or, to phrase the question as a negative, "How do I stop players asking to make rolls?"

An example, from a couple of weeks ago.

Me: You see a pile of bodies at the end of the field.

Player: I roll Medicine.

Me: Why? What's are you trying to achieve?

Player: I want to know how they died.

Me: What are you doing to determine that?

Player: Using Medicine.

Me: You'll need to get closer to see anything. Are you moving or touching the bodies, or just looking at them? How close are you getting?

What I would like to do is eliminate the middle sentences. Something like the following.

Me: You see a pile of bodies at the end of the field.

Player: I move to the bodies and look at them, but not touching, in case they are contagious. What did they die of?

Many of the players are D&D 4E players, if that is a factor. I believe that edition had a strong focus on players asking for skill rolls, though I never played it myself.

I'm having the same issue in another game system as well, but I'm not going to over-tag this question.

I have read AngryGM's 5 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenaged Skill System articles, as well as How do I narrate a player's PC's actions without causing unintended consequences for the PC? (which answered a related question I had about this situation).

Simply put, I need techniques that I, as a GM, can use to get the players to tell me what they want to learn and/or do, not what dice they want to roll. :-)

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closed as primarily opinion-based by inthemanual, mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Mar 14 '17 at 17:37

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers or discussion. Please use answer posts to submit answers and refrain from discussion. Prior comments containing answers or discussion have been removed. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 14 '17 at 15:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is attracting a lot of low quality answers that do not state any experience with their suggestions. I'm putting this question on hold briefly for two things. One, please edit the question to remind answerers of our Good Subjective, Bad Subjective rules here - when you suggest things you need to indicate, through personal experience or citation, how that suggestion works out in actual play. Two, answerers, take this moment to revisit your answer and if it obviously does not meet this standard, save us the work of putting post notices on it and threatening to delete it. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Mar 14 '17 at 17:39
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You'll need to address your players directly.

They are most worried about getting to add their proficiency bonus whenever possible (and some places it's not). So make up a sheet with their proficiency and show them that you have this list, and will reference it when calling for a roll. This will alleviate their worry about not getting the best possible roll. Tell them that you will use this to help decide what skill check to call for when multiple could work.

For example, if you are trying to identify a creature, both nature and survival could possibly assist with this. Your ranger probably wants to use survival, but your wizard probably wants to use nature. This sheet helps you call for the skill which they have the greatest bonus with, which still will give them the desired information.

This will help you to make them not want to call for rolls any more.

Next you will have to break your players of the habit.

Now that they don't want to call for rolls, you have to make them want to not call for rolls. Because this has been ingrained in them for a while, and they will probably continue to ask for them out of habit. The simplest way to do this is with a small (real or perceived) mechanical bonus.

For example, tell your players that you will be giving a -1 penalty to all rolls that a player asks for, and a +1 bonus for every time they role play or explain what they want to do, rather than ask for a roll (maybe you can offer a +2 bonus for exceptional explanation).

Now, if you don't want to throw off the balance of the game, simply adjust the DCs / opposing rolls by the same amount. Mechanically what is important is not the specific values of the roll and DC, but their relative values. Increasing or decreasing both by the same number will have no net result on the outcome.

After they change

After a while, they'll stop calling for rolls, and you can drop the mechanic. Maybe offer to give them periodic advantage or even inspiration if they are particularly clever with their explanation. This is a greater mechanical advantage than a mere +1 or +2 (advantage is approximately a +5), so they will probably accept your offer. That's what advantage/inspiration is there for anyway: to reward creativity and encourage particular styles of play.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer. Judicious application of Inspiration as a reward will help lots. \$\endgroup\$ – Ian Miller Mar 14 '17 at 10:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ With a d20, advantage is not a +5; it's approximately +3.8. Also why use custom bonuses like +1, +2 when there's already a game mechanic designed specially for this (Inspiration)? \$\endgroup\$ – dkaeae Mar 14 '17 at 12:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Per this answer (rpg.stackexchange.com/a/14701/28464), advantage is +24% (see the last paragraph). +5 is +25%, so I'd say that's close enough. And the small +/- 1 or 2 gives small bonuses that are not game breaking. If your players are always rolling skill checks at advantage, they will succeed much more often (an extra 15-20% of the time). Plus giving inspiration either negates any features they have which gives them advantage on skill rolls, or interacts with rogue sneak attack in a potentially game breaking way (hide every round always have inspiration always get sneak attack). \$\endgroup\$ – Shem Mar 14 '17 at 13:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Shem Inspiration, per the DMG, is awarded one point at a time. "Always have inspiration" does not look like a correct statement. (Your point is otherwise an interesting one to ponder). Per your above comment ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 14 '17 at 13:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @korvinStarmast I am well aware that inspiration is a one at a time resource. But suppsoe the following senario: rogue attacks with hand crossbow. Then skampers behind a low wall and "tries to quietly move to another place behind the wall", and gets to hide and get inspiration. Now even if the rogue fails their hiding check, they have inspiration to use on their attack roll to get advantage (garunteed sneak attack if hit). Repeat ad infinitum. This type of manipulation is what I am trying to prevent. That and people using inspiration on every roll because they can get it again next check \$\endgroup\$ – Shem Mar 14 '17 at 15:22
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I think part of the issue here is that players don't necessarily know what the best way to achieve their goal is, while their character in game definitely does. Especially in the case of medicine, it's reasonable to assume that the character is not happily going to touch dead/diseased people, while the player themselves might not think about this.

I've had this often in my own games, where GM's expect me to specify exactly what my character is doing, which makes little sense, since that just makes my characters skills irrelevant.

Whenever it's reasonable, I'll assume that a player's character thought of something, even if the player themselves didn't.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You had something in the first 2 paragraphs, there, but your third could do with a bit more explanation. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Mar 14 '17 at 9:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Counterpoint is that the DM determines which skill/ability applies to the actions declared, not the player. Put simply Players declare actions, DMs everything else (DC, ability, skill, effect etc.) The DM could just as easily ask for an Investigation(Int) check when examining the body depending on what the player declares as their action. They can also give automatic success based on the action declared. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Mar 14 '17 at 13:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 The medicine and touching dead/diseased people is one. Another example could be where the witch hunters are going into this dungeon full of undead, and before you enter you mention to the players that their character has a strong feeling it would be stupid to enter without holy water. Instead of waiting for them to need it and then go "Ha! But you didn't say you were bringing it!". As if the witch hunter would ever forget it, or ever not have it on his person regardless of where he was going :/ I mean, they're there to be epic, not stupid. \$\endgroup\$ – Aeolun Mar 17 '17 at 6:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth That's true, to a point, but if a player encounters corpses, and declares they want to use medicine, there's only a few possibilities of what he could mean, and the overwhelmingly likely one is going to be figuring out how they died. Whether the action follows from the check, or the check follows from the action matters little to me. \$\endgroup\$ – Aeolun Mar 17 '17 at 6:40
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Treat the fiction as primary and the rules as a fallible and negotiable representation of it. Make this explicit to the players.

Whenever you encounter a situation that the rules do not explicitly cover, tell this to the players and say "I think [suggestion] would be a good way to represent this in the rules." or, if you don't have any suggestions, "What rules should we use to handle this situation?". This makes it explicit that the rules are a model of the fictional reality and apply if and only if they make sense.

Other than this, always keep asking for what the characters do, and make the answers relevant (when the situation warrants it). If touching the bodies to investigate them is neither dangerous nor useful, and mere background colour, then why should players bother with it? But if moving close triggers the poisonous mold or reveals more of the contents of the room, then it makes sense to ask the players to go into such detail.

As a referee, I simply visualize the character action and ask for confirmation. Like "You are first looking at the corpse from distance and then closing in to look at the wounds and see if any are hidden below the clothes, right?"

It is important that sometimes when you ask of this, something happens; but you must not use the suggestions to intentionally put the player characters into trouble. Simply consider the most straightforward way to do the action, regardless of any present traps or trickery.

This will lead to having the fictional detail you want; sometimes it is supplied by you, sometimes by the player; and sometimes the player corrects your suggestion or takes the action back.


The general idea with this approach is that the entire group is playing the game, together, to create a vivid and credible challenge; the referee (GM/DM) by neutrally presenting the setting as is, and the players by trying to have their characters succeed at the challenge as well as they can.

A neutral referee can present possible actions for the player characters; an adversial GM may not, without causing immediate suspicion and ill will.

A player out there to solve a vivid and credible challenge can take part in deciding how the fiction is represented with the rules and should also feel comfortable describing the actions of their character. A player who fears the tricks of an adversial GM is less likely to give any extra detail, and is more likely to want to treat the rules as the only thing they can trust to defend them against the capriciousness of their GM.

Since this kind of neutral refereeing and challenge-focus play form a coherent philosophy of play (some might even call it a creative agenda), the practices support each other and benefit from being explicit.

I've been running games like this for some years and I've also played in games run like this. The players generally describe what their character is doing and then the referee makes a ruling as how it works by the rules, if such a ruling is necessary.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related additional suggestion: have a (mini)session without dice. No, really, I've done this many times, prominently with Paranoia RPG (since it's built-in the system) but also with C'Thulhu, D&D and Legend of the Five Rings. Once my players play a whole game without dice they realize how irrelevant they are (the dice, not themselves). What's important is the action. They want to do the action. The dice is just a randomness component linked to that action, not a requisite. \$\endgroup\$ – xDaizu Mar 14 '17 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I just thought yours was almost perfect and wanted to add that little thing. But if you think it qualifies as answer, I'll try to add one :) \$\endgroup\$ – xDaizu Mar 14 '17 at 14:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @xDaizu I think your comment is reasonably suited for an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Doomed Mind Mar 14 '17 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ While this is a very informative post, I can't help but feel you side steeped the question and didn't explain why. OP is not suggesting that he should set up a "gotcha!" moment for his players by narrating them walking into a trap when they didn't want to, but asking how they can convince their players to stop saying "I roll medicine" and start saying "I examine the bodies". \$\endgroup\$ – Shem Mar 15 '17 at 16:26
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I will take a hint from Dungeon World that has worked for me.

Address the characters, not the players

Well, not really. In DW you're just supposed to call the players with the name of their characters, and this improves immersion. Here, just ask what "your character" does. It is almost impossible to answer "Jozan rolls Medicine". Assuming this isn't a gonzo game, characters don't roll dice. Characters do things.

If they insist on telling you what they do, you might add "no, no, no. I asked what does (s)he do, not you".

Hopefully, they will embrace the paradigm more easily.

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Talk to them

Discuss this issue with your player's, and make it clear that you expect discussion about things that are happening in the game world to use game world terms, ideas, and actions. My DM has taken this approach, and it's helped us significantly to get more into character and feel like a part of the world. Sometimes we still forget, however, and he jokingly suggests that our characters roll dice in their world, to the confusion of everyone around them. It's a simple joke, but it prods us in the right direction when we slip up.

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Player: I move to the bodies and look at them, but not touching, in case they are contagious. What did they die of?

I see a problem here. What happens if the player with a +12 "Medicine" skill says "I go over to the bodies and try to find out how they died."

Without the "but not touching", do you assume this person highly skilled in Medicine touches the possibly diseased bodies?

Clearly they failed to be cautious of the possibility of disease and now must make a Con save.

Imagine this in combat:

I swing my sword at the foe!

Well, a competent swordsman would actually approach, attempt to bait a foe into making an opening, then exploit that opening. The above character just ran up and left themselves open!

Clearly the foe stabs them and kills them before their blow lands.

Me: You'll need to get closer to see anything. Are you moving or touching the bodies, or just looking at them? How close are you getting?

This can easily read like "please list the ways I can screw you over if you do something that could cause problems".

When someone says "I use skill X", treat it as "I want to engage my characters expertise at X to determine what I should do or what I can know from what I see".

Me: You see a pile of bodies at the end of the field.

Player: I roll Medicine. I get a 32.

Me: They appear to be dead, but it is hard to tell from here. But if they are diseased, you don't want to touch them; it could be plague.

You provided stimulus; the bodies. They asked to use their skills. Lacking an action backing up the skills, this is a knowledge-type check.

If they roll well, you give them good advice for this general situation based off that kind of knowledge.

Now they say "I want to know how they died", they have already made a medicine knowledge roll. You can say "you cannot tell from this far away".


To directly address the issue, when someone says "I roll Medicine", tell them "you cannot roll a skill without saying how or why you are using it". If it continues, add "please stop simply invoking the names of skills." If it continues, talk about hard consequences "if you simply roll a skill without saying why or what you are trying to do, you are now going to be spending the next 10 to 60 minutes reminising and rambling on about your training in that skill unless something urgent comes up and the situation changes".

This is direct communication. No back and forth. You start with "that won't work". You then ask them to stop doing the thing that won't work. You then outline consequences, and deliver.

Note that the rambling bit is "until the situation changes". Basically it is now up to the rest of the party to cause the situation to change; if someone else moves towards the corpses or does an action, this gives the "I roll medicine" person back their "turn". Meanwhile, they are rambling about medical training:

Why, I remember when I was a wee lad and I had to deal with a corpse pile much like that. Oh boy did it stink. To high heaven. Pee-yew. Not as stinky as the time I had to cut open a cow to get a calf out. We penetrated to bowels, and it got all over everything, even my lunch. Had to clean it off before I could eat it...

Next, when you actually get them to do things, don't play genie. They don't touch dangerous corpses without first making a medicine check to know not to do it (or anything appropriate), even if they said they would or you imply they would from what they describe they do.

Yes, this means that the pitch black hole in the statue's mouth containing the globe of annihilation doesn't get touched unless they first fail a knowledge(arcana) check.

These are all sticks. When a player actually does describe in reasonable detail how to go about doing something, give out advantage. Like candy. Provide a carrot to go along with the stick.

Stick: a roll without action is merely a knowledge check. It gives a clue asto what to do, it doesn't do anything. Eventually it even wastes time (you "lose your turn"), or forces disadvantage on the knowledge check ("Next time be more specific. No, you cannot reroll").

Carrot: describing actions more than typical grants advantage on the check like candy.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, maybe they're good enough at medicine to know they shouldn't touch the bodies and anyway they're playing D&D, not gotcha!. But maybe getting closer has them step on a trap, or be seen by an enemy past the wall corner. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Mar 14 '17 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel Then again, a perception check to hear the foes/spot the trap is appropriate. As in "you walk towards the corpses. Roll wisdom(perception)". Note that this also gives the players a chance to say "oh no, I am not going anywhere near the corpses, I want to know what I can see from here" before you say "you fall down a pit" or "you walk around the corner and enemies see you". Ie, write reasonable fiction, give them a chance to retract before consequences occur. Give advantage (a 5e catch-all) when they first destribe a reasonable plan. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Mar 14 '17 at 17:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ which is good, I was just pointing out that the reason to know what the character does isn't necessarily tied to that roll. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Mar 14 '17 at 17:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I roll Medicine." Good roll respond with "You check your skill level and determine that you are relatively skilled with Medicine. You feel confident that you could DO something with this regarding what you see, but you didn't specify what you want to do that has to do with Medicine." Bad roll respond with "You check your skill level and don't feel confident right now. On the other hand if you were to DO something specific with what you see, you may be able to respond appropriately even though you don't feel so confident right now." \$\endgroup\$ – Keeta Mar 14 '17 at 17:32
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First of all, you need to know what skills (or in this case proficiencies) your players have. Then you need to either let them take their proficiency bonus or ask them if they have a proficiency that applies on each roll. Most players who state actions do it to make it clear to the GM what mechanical bits they intend to engage. If you can convince them to trust that you will invoke the right mechanical bits or ask them which bits they intend if it's unclear, they will have less of a problem stopping this behavior.

Second of all, you will need to decide how to resolve the narrative problems this approach causes. Let's say my character wants to sneakily ascend the castle wall to speak through an arrow slit with my undercover compatriot. If I have to narrate my actions before rolling, I might say "I slip silently up the wall, moving from hand hold to hand hold with ease. I knock outside the slit upon reaching it to signal my presence". But if I then roll, say, a '2', this narration no longer corresponds to the world. This can be frustrating. Even if I'm successful, it may well turn out the DC for the climb check was higher than I thought and the wall should certainly not have been scaled 'with ease'.

There are a variety of ways of dealing with the various problems, but you should read up on them so that when these problems come up in play you can resolve them confidently and competently and thus build your players' trust that this new way of doing things works.

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Teach your players how to ask for skill rolls.

You're already doing a textbook job of it by asking them what they're trying to accomplish, how their character is trying to accomplish it, and for narrative details, so unfortunately I don't think there are any great shortcuts.

Keep asking them "what are you trying to achieve?" or "what's your goal?", etc. Keep asking them "what does your character do?", etc. Once you know what they're trying to accomplish and how they're trying to accomplish it, then say something like "do you have any relevant skills?". Let them know that you're looking for three things:

  1. What you're trying to accomplish
  2. How you're trying to accomplish it
  3. Which skill (if any) you think applies

And then coach them, just like you're doing in your example. After the process is pretty well understood, then you can start doing things like saying "you need to closely inspect the bodies to use Medicine" and "sure, roll Medicine with disadvantage, since you're so far away", or even "okay, I'll let you roll Medicine, but from this distance you'll only be able to tell if they have obvious wounds, boils, etc".

The other thing you'll want to do is build trust with your players. Show them that adding detail isn't you giving them rope to hang themselves with. Detail helps their characters get to the right skill roll. In the answer above, unless the character gets close and examines the bodies, I wouldn't let them use Medicine--use Perception or Intelligence. Also prompt them for detail if they're in danger. If the bodies are contagious, ask them what their medically trained character is doing to prevent catching anything--or at least warn them that touching the bodies could pass on infection.

What I wouldn't do is add bonuses to reward them as suggested in other answers, especially if those rewards are secretly erased by your setting difficulties higher. Just teach them how the game works, and award inspiration if applicable. Otherwise you're setting the expectation that they should get bonuses for narration, which isn't what you want.

Good luck! You're going a great job.

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