Never Volunteer rule and Adventure Leader

I’m having trouble figuring out how this works. The never volunteer rule as i understand it is to stop players from jumping in when they hear what skill is being tested. Here’s an example from play: the players killed some rats underneath the three squire inn, and Karolina suggested we turn them into rations. Gerald realized this was going to be a cooking endeavor but I ruled since karolina came up with the idea she would be the one to test it. Karolina tested with beginner’s luck and Gerald helped. Ob set at 6 and they fail of course. I think Karolina might of strived for a check by describing how she was doing the cooking because she had to make sure it was cooked right so the rest of the party didn’t get sick (defender). Anyways I hand an exhaustion to Karolina and an anger to Gerald. Mostly that felt pretty good, I felt like the system was helping me and the resulting event was fun.

So I have two questions…

I know the party leader is pose to be modeled after the caller in Moldvay. but the never volunteer rule says if you describe a plan where you are taking no risk you make the test. So i’m trying to figure out how those two rules play off each other.

Second question is more a comment and asking for advice. Because we established early that if you describe the action you roll the test, some of my players have been avoiding coming to harm by just not describing interacting with any of the obstacles. Basically Karolina has taken the brunt of most of the damage from the dungeon because she is the only one pushing forward with much gusto. I guess the answer would be throw twists instead of conditions when this happens. I was wondering if anyone else had encountered this and how they dealt with it.

I use Never Volunteer in a few ways.

It keeps the dungeon crawl moving forward by creating the expectation that the players will be narrating actions rather than discussing everything at length.

It gives characters that have the skill but maybe not the highest rating in the party a chance to make the rolls.

It prevents abuse by people sending other people to make key rolls.

I handle the party leader by giving them the authority to intervene when I call for a roll from certain players. I might, but don’t have to, decide to change the person rolling based on their input.

Either way, I tend to wait a beat before calling for a roll so that the players can roleplay the election of a specific character. If they start talking about who has the most dice in order to select who rolls, then I put the kibash on that and cite Never Volunteer.

My groups have gotten accustomed to occasionally being forced into rolls. Failure is fun in Torchbearer, and sometimes necessary.

I wouldn’t have forced Karolina to roll for cooking just because the idea was hers; to me, that is a bit harsh. I see no problem with Karolina having that idea, and then asking someone more competent to cook them, otherwise having ideas could be very hazardous and you might dampen peoples enthusiasm and willingness to contribute.

Karolina could help if she had an appropriate skill, I’d for example allow using Hunting in this case to gut and prepare the rats for subsequent cooking.

“Someone should cook.” is an idea, not a declaration of intent. Same with, “Hey, can anyone cook?”

“Karolina cooks for everyone.”
“We cook a meal.”
“I cook some food.”
Those are all actions and Karolina would make the test.

“Who has the highest Cook skill? They should cook.”

“Someone should cook… anyone? Anyone have the Cook skill?”

These statements will both trigger Never Volunteer in my games. The speaker in both cases is rolling the dice. Notice the language from the book “a plan that suspiciously does not involve risking yourself…”

“Pilfer, you’re a good cook, make us dinner.”

“We don’t have enough rations for everyone, who wants to make a go of cooking?”

Those statements will not trigger Never Volunteer in my games.

Notice that the word “skill” comes up in both of the NV trigger statements. Basically, we’re very strict about not using dice ratings to make in-game decisions. We treat NV as an extension of the “Description Forward!” rules. It keeps the game moving along, it’s sort of realistic (since PCs really don’t have an objective comparison of talent to make decisions with), and it gives lower-skill characters the tests they need to raise their skills. Otherwise, the rich get richer while the poor help… which may be “realistic”, but it’s not cool.

I understand this approach is not for everyone, but you can be very strict with Never Volunteer if you choose. It won’t break the game, and it won’t even be that unpleasant for the players. It only takes a session or two before people realize that passing tests isn’t everything – in fact, only passing tests leads to stagnant characters.

Some good points made here. Remember that under Describe to Live, the GM doesn’t call for a skill or lay down an obstacle until someone describes their character doing something. Table chatter is fine. But when someone describes their character taking an action, the rubber hits the road. Because of that, the Never Volunteer rule isn’t strictly necessary. But there is this thing that occasionally happens in Torchbearer games where a player will volunteer someone else’s character to take some incredibly dangerous action. Never Volunteer is meant as a check against that behavior.

The Leader role is different. Time is a limited and very precious commodity in Torchbearer games. The leader is an organizer and arbiter. They take input from the other players on what the next course of action should be and then make the final decision so that characters don’t run off in four different directions at once and eat through turns.

Elf: “Halfling, you should really scout ahead in the dark with no shoes and see what’s up there.”

GM: “The Elf just volunteered to scout ahead. Describe what you’re doing!”