Battles in Roll for Growth

So I did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit last week. A public interview on social media! And it was so amazingly received, I had an amazing time asking some incredibly thought provoking questions. Here’s one of my favourites!

Best question!

This was a BRILLIANT question. These are high fantasy stories we tell in the Roll for Growth games, so there’s knights and wizards, dark lords and goblins. There may be epic battles – monsters to fight, dragons to slay, villages to protect from bandits, you know, the usual stuff when you’re a big hero in a fantasy world.

At the end of the day, the players have chosen from the above, to represent how they defend themselves and their values in the story they want to tell. So we do include battles against fire spirits or dark wizards, but also as puzzles – with easier and more rewarding ways to achieve victory than fighting.

But I knew from the start that my goal was to provide opportunities to find solutions to conflict without fighting. Of course, bandits or goblins may not always listen to reason, but often our stories involve violence as a last resort, or as a consequence of bad choices.

Engaging the combat encounters in Roll for Growth games can be a great way to explore values! Why are my players choosing this fight? Why have the party decided to fight the bandit army who are attacking the village, rather than defusing the situation with diplomacy? Or teaching the villagers to stand up for themselves and taking on the bandits themselves, a’la A Bugs Life or season 1, episode 4 of The Mandalorian? Before making major decisions, we discuss why we’re choosing that course of action, and sometimes we get a great look at the thought processes and values that influence decision making, and help the party understand why we make the decisions that we do.

And, well, sometimes its nice to feel like a hero and tell the story about fighting the dragon, or the dark lord, or the bandits, or the supervillain. It gives the party a story they can engage in and enjoy hearing a story where justice is done, and the forces of good prevail. Which is a special kind of magic in itself.

However, I want players to meet a confrontation with other ways out, developing their understanding and reasoning to bring an end to conflict without unnecessary aggression. Navigating a situation with a rude shopkeeper or strict guard doesn’t have to turn to a fight, and standing up to a bully doesn’t have to perpetuate a cycle of violence.

To paraphrase; “to win and never fight is the Art of War”. One of the Roll for Growth lessons is that there are better ways to victory than fighting.

So what happens?

Well it depends on the maturity of the group. The game gives the players the freedom to do what they want to do – but the outcome is moderated by myself, and the dice. So a player can respond to a situation, say, a charging orc, with a simple “I swing my sword!”, or “I step to the left, into the traditional sword-fighter’s stance of my people, and I cut at the beast and chop off its head!” Players don’t get to decide what happens. They can make a choice in what they try to do, but the final portrayal of success or failure is up to the dice, and me.

As the moderator/referee, decisions on outcomes come down to me and the dice roll. Some players like to describe big, melodramatic fight scenes they’ve lifted from movies or anime, but if their descriptions aren’t appropriate, or even a bit confronting to the rest of the group, I moderate their approach, by toning down my description of the outcome to set a more age appropriate standard in the fight scenes.

It can be hilarious when a player’s incredibly well described and choreographed plan is met with a lower dice roll than required to meet the outcome they wish, sometimes resulting in a clumsy accident. I take this opportunity to make the fight scenes appropriate to the group, and at times, even iterate the impact of violence.

Dice determine the outcome of decisions. From left to right, a d4, d6, d8, d12, and two d10s that can be use to calculate a score out of 100. At the front is a d20, the iconic 20-sided dice of these games.

So in the event of a charging orc, a player has swing their sword and rolls a low score, they may be met with a miss, or a bounce off the orc’s own sword or armour. A high score may be met with something suitable, like “a heroic swing of your sword fells the beast in a single blow!”, like in fairy tales.

And we can use low rolls – even failures – therapeutically. We can work on acceptance and rolling with the punches, building resilience and thinking on our feet.

Things don’t always go the way we plan, and Roll for Growth games give players a safe space to rehearse thinking on the fly, and coping with plans going awry.

As for trauma, I do my best to be open with my players and avoid anything traumatic in my stories. It’s not the kind of game I want to play. So I’m creating my own Consent In Gaming sheet which is age appropriate for children to say what they are/aren’t okay with being involved in their story. Some kids may be okay with skeletons and some may not! Unfortunately, existing Consent In Gaming forms were made for adults, and aren’t age appropriate, so making ones for kids and young people are definitely on my to do list.

I hope this was helpful!

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