Rolling with the Unexpected

One piece of advice I give to new DMs is “don’t let players roll for anything unless there’s a decent chance they could actually succeed.” After an unlikely stroke of luck resulted in major character development, however, perhaps it’s time to embrace the near-impossible.

To give a little background, my fortnightly home game operates on the principle of having a large party and playing regardless of whether everyone can make it – this is the only way we’ve been able to make an ongoing campaign work when everyone has jobs and/or children.

Normally this works out just fine, but the people unable to make it last week happened to be particularly vital to the main story thread. This meant that the session was a little more relaxed than usual, with the party spending most of the evening having exploring a Dwarven city. The Fighter ran into an ambassador while bathing at the hot springs and ended up having a night on the town, our Rogue tried his hand at the piano and the Ranger tested a hotel’s patience by insisting he be allowed to keep a bear in his room.

The party’s Sorcerer, a female Tiefling, spent the evening alone, lamenting the fact that she had been separated from her Dragonborn lover – a sergeant in the Queen’s royal guard. The romance between them had sprung up over a previous adventure, aided by her Draconic heritage, and deepened when she took a few days out to help him recover from a particularly severe wound (another example of a player not being able to make a session).

The informal tone of the evening meant we were making more jokes and being a little sillier than usual, and naturally someone at the table wondered out loud if there had been any consequences to the affair. While I initially ruled that it would be impossible for the pair to conceive, we ended up embroiled in a discussion involving the Sorcerer’s Draconic Bloodline and the fact that the pair had actually met an avatar of Bahamut shortly after beginning their relationship.

Eventually I relented, and asked the Sorcerer – after checking that they were okay with it – to make a near-impossible Constitution saving throw to see if there was any chance she could actually be pregnant. And naturally, the dice came up 20. And naturally Sorcerers happen to be proficient in Constitution saves.

When you let players roll for something and they get a result of 26, it’s hard not to rule that they succeed.

So now, despite my best judgement,  we have a pregnant sorcerer in the party. However, once reality set in and we began to discuss the ramifications, it occurred to me that it may well end up being one of the best things to happen to the party.

Though the character herself remains ignorant for the moment, the Sorcerer will soon realise what’s going on and this single event – which only occurred as a result of a lucky roll – may very well reshape the campaign.

Suddenly the Sorcerer has a much more compelling reason to make sure the world is protected by the evil forces stirring, and an even greater connection to her lover and therefore the Queen he serves. The potential for character development is huge.

We have agreed to put a few limits on this, however. As a group we decided to stay away from the more harrowing storylines that could spring up around a pregnant adventurer. This makes the Sorcerer effectively invulnerable for the foreseeable future, but these minor issues look like they will be more than balanced out by the roleplaying benefits.

Should I have just stuck to my guns and ruled that they weren’t allowed to roll for something virtually impossible? Perhaps. But for once, I’m glad I ignored my own advice, even if means I need to spend a couple of hours deciding how Dragonborn biology works…

One Comment Add yours

  1. PW says:

    What are your thoughts on using a d100 for those really hair-brained rolls and declaring a 1 or 2% chance of success?


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