Of Hail Marys & Full-Court Shots

You can’t make the shots you don’t take. And you can’t land the crits you don’t roll. Keepers will hear this all the time, “my [fill in the blank skill] is only 5%, I’m not going to bother.” But wait, why not? Aren’t players supposed to love rolling dice? Sure, it’s unlikely to succeed, but when it does your entire table may remember it as a resounding success and a fun campaign moment. Trust me, even those clutch extreme Accounting rolls. You can facilitate this fun in several ways and might be something you want to bring up during Session Zero and remind your players about during your sessions. Instead of overtly asking your players to attempt a low probability roll, you can nudge them in the direction by the way you frame a more skilled player’s failure during their attempt.

Tip stands by watching the group’s occult expert, Irina, poring over an arcane text the group pilfered from Dr. Lemming’s library in hopes of learning more about the Cult of the Bloody Tongue. Irina, fails her roll, as she flips through the illustrated pages and crowded text. This offers an opportunity for a prompt.

Keeper: “Irina sees many bizarre illustrations and references, but she can’t draw any useful conclusions from the book. Might these illustrations have interested anyone else looking over Irina’s shoulder?”

Tip: “I’ll take a look.” (Occult 5% – rolls a 3%).

If you like, this can be used as an improvisational platform as you may prompt your player to provide a reason why someone with such a low skill might know the answer. Take Tip’s brief but excellent response for example:

 Tip: “I knew there was a reason I went to all those damn meetings at the Masonic lodge!”

Instead of being stranded without useful information, Tip made a low-stakes die roll and added some flavor to the scene. By adding a rewarding clue or revelation for their effort, your player should feel quite satisfied.

Framing the skill success with an impactful result can go a long way. Maybe that Extreme Accounting success of 1% while reviewing some financial figures in Roger Carlyle’s library desk reveals the combination to his secret book stash instead of some throw-away boring fact about expedition planning.

Maybe all your players won’t remember the successful moment, but the one that scored that success will, and they’ll likely bring it back up as a cherished memory, especially during the Investigator Development Phase. Lucia recalled a particularly delightful success from New York while rolling her skill checks.

Already on a hot streak from an Extreme Engineering success to crack Roger Carlyle’s safe and recover his books, Lucia lent a hand in identifying the unusual binding of “Amongst the Stones.” Dr. Dibden had already attempted with his modest biology skill (40%) and failed, leaving limited alternatives among the group. Feeling luck on her side, Lucia grabbed the book and ran her hand across the cover while making a natural world check (10%). Another Extreme success. Delighted, Lucia subsequently explained that she handpicks all the material for the seats in her race cars, and she knows all manner of potential leathers and fabrics. A truly outstanding in-character improvisation. For this, the characters discovered that the material binding the book (the skin of a hunting horror) feels unusually frictionless, almost slimy, and resembles no animal that any would have ever encountered on this earth. Lucia immediately demanded more to wrap her steering wheel!

In taking the long shot and succeeding, your characters can potentially advance over the length of the campaign. Successive attempts with skills like Navigate and Disguise reflect your players’ evolution as they operate in their dangerous and unfamiliar world. An extremely lucky and resilient player has the potential to grow a skill from 5% to 55% before your final chapter if you run Development Phase at Chapter end (not even accounting for additional scenarios). Again, you might want to consider revealing this possibility to new CoC players at Session Zero as added encouragement. If you don’t like your players spamming rolls for everything or you find it disruptive, you can avoid this suggestion, but consider it a tool that may promote player enjoyment and improvisation over the length of your campaign. 

How do you feel about players taking long shots? Is it something that you actively encourage at your table?