Lazy Declaration

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The power of not caring what you’re gonna do until you’ve done it.

Here’s an option you can add to most conventional RPGs that have a core mechanic. It’s called Lazy Declaration, and it’s inspired by my work on Storypath (multiple actions) and Modern AGE (finalizing/adding detail to an action after resolving it through stunts).

In Lazy Declaration you don’t say what you’re going to do before you roll the dice. Instead, the dice constrain the set of actions you can pick based on how likely they are to succeed, based on your bonus, the number of dice you get to roll, or however else something becomes more likely to succeed. In lots of dice pool games like Storyteller/ing, that’s the number of dice. In Modern AGE or most d20 lineage games, it’s the bonus to your roll.

Normally, you look at your various character traits, and their chance of success, as a kind of menu. You’ve got +6 in Fighting (Heavy Blades), +4 in Intelligence (Fire Arcana–magic spells), but only +2 in Communication (Deception). You pick one, representing a category of action, roll the dice, and add the bonuses. You probably want to use your sword a lot in the example here, so you say, “I swing my broadsword, determined to behead my foe!” then you roll the dice and figure out what happened.

With Lazy Declaration, you don’t have to do this. Instead, you pick the lowest rank of ability across everything you might want to do–highest number of dice, highest bonus, and so forth–and you roll using it. If you succeed, you can do anything possible for you to do which has that rank or *higher*. You decide *after* you roll. If there are negative modifiers, you apply them yourself, for the worst one you might want to deal with among those that might bother you. So if something imposes a -3 penalty for darkness, you can either apply it to your roll in case you want your action to address the darkness, or you can do without it, but you can’t declare you were doing anything that would be penalized by it.

For example, with our AGE style example character with the +6, +4, and +2, if you rolled 3d6 (the dice you use in AGE) +2, you could declare you’re swinging a sword, casting a fire spell, or fast-talking someone if the roll succeeds–you don’t need to pick until you roll. If you rolled 3d6+4, you could only cast a spell or use your sword. If you want with +6, you can only use your sword, because that’s the only thing you have a bonus that high for.

The GM or whoever else sets difficulties will, of course, have different difficulties depending on what it is you want to actually do–and you don’t know that until you actually roll. So success works differently to. After you roll but before you declare your action, you *propose* a possible successful action to the GM, and the GM tells you if you rolled well enough. You can in fact rifle through various options until you succeed, though there should be a reasonable limit to this, so that somebody doesn’t just go through each of their 20 skills or something, desperate to make something stick and wating everybody’s time. The GM should lend a hand if you’re stuck, but not until you *are* stuck, to prevent overbearing “advice.” So returning to our AGE character, if you roll 3d6+2 and get a 14, you might ask if that’s enough to hit your enemy with your sword, and if the GM says no, you can fall back on casting a Fire Arcana with a target number of 14 or less, or you can trick someone who’d be tricked on a roll of 14 or less. If you have conditional bonuses, you mention them when “bidding” for your action, adding them when they apply.

When the GM needs to make an opposed roll or something like that, they can either do it on demand or use the average result as a fixed number. Lazy Declaration works pretty well with players rolling all the dice.

The principle here–expressed in casual language, nothing formal, as snooty as it’s going to sound–is that the mathematical objects we’re playing with can remain abstract, not meaning any particular thing, for as long as possible, as long as this doesn’t provide a mathematical advantage. I stop thinking about what I’m going to try before I roll. I roll with a bonus that applies to the set of objects I want to use, that does not provide an advantage the individual object wouldn’t have. I can play to my strengths, but be constrained (+6 bonus, but I can only use my sword), or try for a wider set of possibilities (+4 or +2). It gives a bit of an advantage to generalist characters, but that’s fine, since specialists tend to rule traditional games. It also provides time for post hoc contemplation where you remember your bonuses and pin down the “what I MEANT was,” parts of your action. That becomes part of the process in a gradual way instead of being a messy post-hoc thing.

Anyway, that’s it. I think it has neat possibilities and it also gives me a chuckle because in 2000s-era theory, this would be “fortune at the beginning,” which is supposed to be impossible!

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