Lets say that Dudrik the Dwarf, brave adventurer, is trying to heroically climb a cliff in some unnamed dungeon. Luck’s not in his favor, and the player roll all ones. Time for a twist (or a condition, but we disregard them in this post)! Now, this gives me as a GM a choice:
“Dudrik, as you heave yourself pass an especially difficult outcropping…”
A. “…you drop the torch you carry in your belt. It’s lost, remove it from your inventory”
B. “…your satchel slips open and the entire bundle of torches you have on top gets dropped.”
C. “…you drop your entire satchel! Gone forever!”
D. “…you are spotted by a vile stone spider! It hurries down the cliff towards you!”
E. “…you are spotted by a horrible dragon! It comes soaring down the cliff towards you!”
F. “…you are spotted by a horrorterrorific dragon! It has you cornered on the cliff, roll for kill conflict disposition. Also, you drop your satchel AND your shoes, and it starts to rain.”
Well, you get my point. Twist can go from minor issues to certain death. How do you handle this as a GM without making them arbitrary? I have adopted some habits around this:
- I always try to pick twists or conditions that make sense from the established fiction. Example: If there have been no signs of trolls, trolls wont suddenly appear and attack the players. (This forces me to be generous with signs of trolls wherever the PC:s go.)
- If it’s a high stakes situation, the consequence of failure is more severe. For example: sneaking past the dragon is more dangerous (worse twist if you fail) then sneaking past a kobold, even if the Ob is the same.
- I try to give the PC:s a choice in all major twists. Never: “Monsters attack, roll for disposition”, instead: “You see monsters, what are you going to do about it?”. This is ignored for minor stuff (like “Thing X breaks”).
- I try to spread the pain. If they lost some food last time, I try to make the next twist something else, like an encounter with some monsters, a trap or that a lantern breaks. (I guess you could hit them repeatedly in the same spot if you are particularly evil, has someone tried this?)
- I try to not consider their current situation. If they are low on torches, I will still break their lantern if it makes sense from the fiction.
- I don’t care about the margin of failure. The twists aren’t any worse when the players fail with a margin of one compared to when they fail with a margin of seven.
- I’ll still give them what they want. Like, if they roll pathfinder to travel trough a forest and fail, I might decide that they get ambushed halfway through. But I wont have them roll pathfinder again for the same forest. Or if they try to loot a room with hidden treasure and fail their scout roll, they might get ambushed by kobolds, but they find the treasure first. This one I’m really unsure about as it seems to go against the rules as written, but I don’t like the idea of the players rolling for the same thing over and over again.
- I try to make the hurt affect only the PC that rolled and any helpers. (This is more for breaking their stuff, not for conflicts which usually involve the entire party.)
- I love to do non-mechanical twists, but almost never do. Like a twist that is a conflict between the PC:s: “Dudrik manage to climb the cliff, but his obtrusive swearing insults someone in the party. Any takers?” Or like: “You manage to decode the ancient runes, but their vile magic takes the happiest memory of your childhood from you. What was it? Now it’s gone forever.”
Well, that was a wall of text. I am not trying to codify how to do twists, but it’s an art to do them well and I would be very interested how others do it. Do you agree on my habits? Or are they stupid? I could see the argument for doing the complete opposite on all points (except maybe 1 and 3), and I kind of fell bad for inventing all these “house-rules” (guidelines!). What if this isn’t the way it was meant to be played? Your thoughts!