Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Action: Reaction Rolls, Take Two...

Reaction rolls seem pretty old-school to me. It's just the sort of sandbox, create-the-world-as it-happens provision that early gaming thrived on. But like the grappling tables, it might be one chronically ignored by later generations who inevitably simplified their new hobby through selective application. It happens. Don't like [insert mechanic here]? Vote with your feet and leave it out, all the easier if it seems extraneous to being with. Monsters are the bad guys, so roll for initiative already. That's my experience anyway; yours may vary...

But if you want to incorporare reaction rolls and keep it simple, you have options:

Take One: Assign predispositions to enemies in advance. Most are irredeemably hostile, doubtless explaining why so many have abandoned (or otherwise ignored) the idea straight away. Those foes amenable to bargains or bribes can be identified in advance, with terms and conditions spelled out. The Goblin Chief is wicked, but appreciates bribes of 100 GP or more per the GM. This is implied in certain rulesets and bears elaboration.

Take Two: Once again; the above, in some form, is close to standard practice, with countless iterations befitting the milieu. Another approach, for the adventurous, is to rework a game's entire system, merging combat initiative and enemy reactions in a single roll. One player rolls for the entire party (a rotating duty) with enemy reaction and initative as indicated:

2-4      Hostile; enemy takes initiative and attacks immediately
5-7      Negotiable; monsters hold initiative, but may pause for sufficient overatures
8-10    Hostile; party holds initiative and may attack or attempt to bargain
11-12  Negotiable; characters win initiative, but the enemy displays hesitation  

Of course, any openess to negotiation is lost with hostile action from the party, noting that superior players will already know to inquire about an enemy's non-verbal cues, saving themselves needless bloodshed. The GM will still need to establish temperment in advance, adjusting accordingly. This approach has the added benefit of being easy to remember in battle, and easy to tailor to conditions. Reactions are only positive when conditions are met, meaning that Take One (above) still applies. A great choice for Mydwandr.

Some enemies are always hostile, others always amenable to negotiation. In these instances, dice indicate potential attack order only. The rest comes down to the fine art of game mastery. That's because while the dice can generate outcomes, only a seasoned referee can translate entries on a table into a natural and seamless narrative where player decisions matter. Reaction tables are old-school because old-school rests on a sandbox stocked with random outcomes seasoned by strategy. But it needn't be difficult...


  1. I use a slightly modified reaction roll table for the initial reaction, because I like my monsters to be cautious. Running away and getting help is an option for them too!

    <2 Immediate Attack
    2-3 Hostile (will attack if they think they have advantage)
    4-5 Unfriendly (can be provoked)
    6-8 Neutral (will act according to their nature)
    9-10 Friendly (inclined to negotiate)
    11-12 Welcoming
    13+ Potential Allies

    For "enemies" I roll 1d6, for strangers I roll 2d6, and for "friends" I roll 3d6 (yes former friends can turn unfriendly or even betray you [on a "3"]), if you haven't been around for a while.

    The nature of the creature does affect the response. For example bandits are likely to ambush travellers if they think they will succeed. Merchants will sell stuff (the reaction band determines the price list they use).

    Charisma does not affect initial reaction, but may be used through skill checks to improve the reaction once talking actually starts. [Skill checks IMG are ability rolls which skills may make easier; skills have no actual values associated with them.]

    [Note that IMG players are geniuses in the original sense of the world; that is they are free to come up with any idea in the world (good or bad) but their ability to communicate that idea (good or bad) does heavily depend on their ability scores. Even good ideas may be ignored by NPCs if the character isn't charismatic; it has happened quite a lot amongst players at my table in real life! (Which made me sad).]

    Social status may provide a modifier in certain cases (this effectively replaces the Charisma modifier for initial reaction). Their true reaction will be what they rolled but their actual reaction is modified by this. [Outlaw -3, Peasant -2, Freeman -1, Townsman +0, Gentry +1, Noble +2, Royalty +3] The exact social band the other uses depends on how the players present themselves (clothing, equipment, and entourage [the more people that "look" to you the more important you must be]). Generally adventurers get between -1 (normal characters attention to presentation) to +1 (if well presented with good clothes, servants to take care of the mundanities of travel etc).

    People are generally very cautious when it comes to strangers and travellers (one of the reasons being that their are no legal or social methods to generally deal with travelling troublemakers).

    That said level does have an effect because in my game XP is effectively Glory, and the greater your level the more people will have heard of you and tell stories (true or not) about your exploits.