The Magic of GM Never Roll Systems

For the first time in a little over two years, I’m finally a player again! With one of my players taking in reigns and a brand new campaign, I can temporarily step aside as the GM and embrace my inner chaos. Now with our previous game on-hold I finally get to roll my precious shiny math rocks again.

Yes, you caught that right. I was still GMing, without ever rolling a single die for the past two years. And that’s because I’ve been using a GM Never Rolls System, a system where, you guessed it, the GM has no use for dice. It’s all on the players. There are two primary reasons for implementing a GM never rolls system: streamlining, and player agency.

Player Agency

The most important component of GM never rolls systems, is player agency. Now, player agency is something that we’ve talked about a lot in our Railroading series, and a few other articles, but let’s do a quick recap. Player agency is the amount of influence that the players feel like they have over influencing the story. 

While players are not able to control the outcome of the dice, the fact remains that if the GM isn’t rolling dice, then that means that the outcomes that affect the party are always the direct result of the player’s actions and rolls. This puts the narrative torch into the player’s hand.

Streamlining

The next great aspect of GM Never Roll systems is simplicity. As a GM, you’ve got to keep track of a lot of things at the same time. The world, important NPC’s and even enemies. While shuffling through your documents is never fun, it’s worse when once you find the information, you still have to divert your attention, roll, calculate the math, then relay that information to your players. 

All of this takes time. On the small scale, this doesn’t seem like much in the short run, but with multiple enemies or checks, this time can really add up. Instead you can have your players roll their stats, which they are likely much more familiar with. Each time that they’re rolling grants you precious seconds to plan your next move or look up another stat. In essence, this really comes down to being able to split up your tasks with your players allowing you both to work in parallel. This can be especially helpful if multiple enemies are moving at the same time. You can have multiple players rolling their dodges at the same time for increased efficiency!

GM Never Roll Systems are about Opportunity

From the first episode of The Adventure Zone: Amnesty, I’ve been low-key obsessed with GM never rolls systems. They can provide a fast-paced game template with a fun new twist. My players get to roll more dice, which they absolutely love, and my job comes out a bit easier! Talk about a win/win! 

In my playing, it feels like it shifts the power dynamic of the table a bit as well. Instead of secretly rolling behind a screen and dictating the narrative, as a GM you can now begin an opportunity. Your players are the one’s to react and roll every time, so they are taking the narrative initiative based on your cues. I love that this technique lends itself so well to collaborative storytelling.

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Converting 5e to a GM Never Rolls system

If you’re looking to give a GM Never Rolls system a try, we would recommend any Powered by the Apocalypse games. However, if you’re a Dungeons and Dragons 5e player, we’ve got some quick-and-dirty house rules to modify it into a GM never rolls system.

1. Player’s Dodge House Rule

Instead of having enemies roll attacks, your players will instead roll an AC vs their attack. This conversion is simple: Players will reduce their AC by 10, and all enemy attacks will increase by 10 (so a +1 to hit would become an attack of 11). Then when an enemy attacks, the player will roll 1d20, adding their newly reduced AC. If it equals or exceeds the attack’s value, then they successfully dodge the attack. If the player rolls a natural 1, then consider that to be a critical hit as usual.

2. Alternate Saving Throws House Rule

This is probably the least intuitive of the rules. Normally, when an enemy makes a saving throw, they would normally have to roll a d20, and add a relevant modifier. If the result meets or exceeds the DC, then they would succeed.

However, in this case, we’re going to be doing it in reverse. When a player causes an enemy to roll a saving throw, the player should roll adding the opponents modifier, with the goal to be under the total DC instead of over it.

For example: you use the Gust of Wind spell that affects 2 enemies. Then at the beginning of each enemy’s turn you will roll their saving throw for them. If the value is lower than the DC, then the effect takes place, otherwise the enemy saves.

3. Alternate Damage House Rule

There are two ways that you can calculate enemy damage in a no-roll system. The easy way, and the slightly less easy way. The easy way: do average damage on all hits, and full damage on a critical hit. Players, naturally, will roll as normal.

However, if you want a little more granularity, you can split it into thirds. A regular hit doing ⅓ Maximum damage, however, if the difference between the attack and the player’s dodge is greater than 5, then it does ⅔ maximum damage instead. Critical hits would still be applied as max damage.

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4. Opposed Checks

This is a pretty easy solution. When you would normally roll an opposed check against a player, instead have a difficulty check. However, I often find a Skill Challenge would be more appropriate in these circumstances.

5. Random/World events

Sometimes an adventure, item, or circumstance will have you roll a d20, or another die, to determine the outcome of an event. When this occurs, have one of your players roll it. Let them decide who, unless you have a reason to choose a player.

This article was sponsored by Mitchell Wallace. Thank you Mitchell!

Image by Mitaukano from Pixabay