Gamemaster's Corner: When to Flash Forward

Posted by Labyrinthian in



As a GM one often encounters situations where a decision must be made whether to play out an event or to simply skip it and describe what transpires.  One of the most common situations that necessitates such a decision is when the PCs no longer have direct influence over the events.  This can be for a number of reasons but perhaps the most common is that all the PCs have been killed or incapacitated.  That very situation came up recently in my group's Pathfinder game, and though I am not running the game, it struck me as an interesting decision and one that is certainly worth some thought and discussion.

The decision essentially comes down to three basic options which I will discuss below.


1.  Roll it out - This option can take a long time if, as in the example mentioned above, the PCs have been eliminated from the fight but one or more NPCs continues to fight.  This option literally means that the GM will be rolling against himself until the fight is concluded with the players at the table being merely spectators.  This option offers the most detailed and accurate outcome but as I said takes some time.  If you opt for this choice consider assigning combatants to players at the table who would otherwise have nothing to do.

2.  Assign a Probability - With this option you decide on a probability and roll a single time to decide the outcome of the entire event.  Continuing our example let's say the GM decides that the NPCs who continue to the fight even after the PCs have gone down have a 40% chance of victory.  He rolls one time and that d100 decides it all.  This is a quick method, but not nearly as accurate as rolling out the whole battle.  In many examples this may not be appropriate.  What if the allied NPCs losing means the end of the campaign?  If they fail on their 40% chance the characters are dead and the campaign is ruined.  If that be the case this option really isn't a good choice.

3.  Make the Call - GMs these days seem loath to do this, but sometimes when you are the man behind the screen you just need to decide what happens and convey this to your players.  No dice.  No rolling.  Just common sense, logic, and a good description of the events.  This option is also very fast.  Just remember this option doesn't need to be a happy one.  If you feel that the PC side is losing and they are defeated and all captured that is fine.  Hell that might even make a great story (see Scourge of the Slave Lords for details!)

In the end no matter which option you choose make sure it is one that you are happy with and your group is comfortable with.  Maybe your group enjoys watching you roll out the battle and cheering on their allies last desperate attempts to save their unconscious characters.  If so then go with it!  If they would rather skip this battle and move on to what happens after then that works too.  Remember the ultimate goal is for everyone to have fun. 


This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 01, 2009 at Tuesday, December 01, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

2 comments

Hackork  

tpk in pathfinder too? You guys are out to get each other.

how is pathfinder playing? compared to HMB?

I like the 'fade to black', throw survivors in the dungeon or left for dead and let them guess/figure out on their own what happened. A little mystery helps keeps the campaign going.

December 1, 2009 at 2:21 PM

Low level play is dangerous! Fortunately we are still going with our Pathfinder game and there should be a very very late Diary of a Gamer update soon!

December 2, 2009 at 5:42 AM

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