On this week’s page, an NPC slipped away from the table without rolling Stealth; following that, when a PC wanted to sneak after the NPC, she had to roll Stealth. Why is that? What happened there?

The topic of game-world knowledge is huuuuuge, and I’ve discussed it before several times. Today I’d like to focus on a something that’s on the fringe of this topic: Ways to convey information to the players.

Before we begin, here’s a general rule that’s useful to GMs playing with quick-and-dirty success/fail resolution systems, like you see in Savage Worlds: If the players need to know this, because it’ll advance the plot or create interesting dramatic situations, then don’t involve the dice.

There are several important remarks to be made here. For example, you should totally ignore this rule and instead roll like crazy if you’re using any of these:

  1. A system with a spectrum of varied results, such as Genesys or anything Powered by the Apocalypse;
  2. Savage Worlds, but you implement RP tools such as “failing forward” or “success at a cost” (like Conan does);
  3. You’re using a system that’s all about the hard, crunchy simulationist experience, such as Dungeon Crawl Classics.

If your group’s social contract dictates that simulating “a real world” takes priority over narrative considerations, then it simply isn’t fair if an NPC can do something and have no chance of failure. PCs and NPCs should play on exactly the same field.

This is not the case with Nadav’s group, however. The players trust the GM to make some narrative decisions that might go “against” their chances of success, because success in any specific objective is less important to them then having an interesting narrative experience (and they know their GM well enough to trust that he can provide such an experience, should they let him).

Okay, enough disclaimers and caveats – let’s discuss what happened here and why.

You notice that… vs. Roll to notice that

The GM decided that Trombone is leaving the table. Let’s go through four possible ways to convey this information to the players, and their consequences.

Stealth vs Notice

Have all sides roll for it. If Trombone fails, then everyone around the table saw him trying to leave; if he succeeds but someone else succeed as well, that someone will probably say something about it, bringing it to everyone’s notice. In both scenarios, it’s probable that Trombone will say “oops, sorry” and return to his seat, switching the focus back on Muna and Contessa, and canceling anything dramatic that could have happened. If he makes his roll and nobody noticed, it’s even worse, drama-wise – he gets to do something interesting, without the players even knowing about it; they’ll only learn of it by witnessing its consequences, who knows when. The party’s social contract says that the PCs are the heroes of the story – they should be automatically involved in anything interesting going on, so that’s not a satisfying outcome.

The only exception to these scenarios is the specific case in which Trombone makes the roll, and only Raf makes her notice check, thus leading to exactly what’s going on in the page – since Raf isn’t one to “tell everyone”, and instead, is very much likely to push herself into somebody else’s business. Lily is a risk-taker player, we all know this by now – and this fact is the main influence on Nadav’s choice of information-conveying method, as you’ll see in a moment.

No Stealth, but Notice

Have Trombone automatically slip away, but have the players – and only them, not any NPC – roll to notice him. This gives a pretty good chance someone will make it, and, since the offer to roll was presented to all of them as equals, it’s quite likely they’ll discuss this among themselves as equals (and our players love discussing things). Rotem and Guy, at least, are the sort of players that will bring this sort of information “to the table”, talk about it with the group, and ask to reach a mutual course of action.

But because they’re currently in a pretty delicate social situation, it’s very likely that Rotem and Guy will pressure Lily into not doing anything crazy, and instead, would have said something like “oi, where are you going”, again bringing Trombone to say “oops sorry”, preventing the drama.

And again, there’s an exception: if Raf is the only one who makes the Notice roll, then Lily will probably feel more confident in acting alone and not turning to the other PCs for advice.

You all notice that…

Have Trombone automatically slip away, and have all the players become aware of it. Basically the same result as above, since, again, it’s quite likely that the players will turn this into a discussion that ends with a lukewarm result. Only this time there’s no chance that only Raf notices it.

In both this and the previous case, it’s of course possible that Lily will insist on “doing her thing” and going alone after him, which is the result that’s Nadav is hoping for (thinking it’s the most interesting one). However, while it’s possible, it’s not likely, at least not when compared to the last option:

Lily, you notice that…

Lean toward Lily, and say “While Muna is talking, Trombone is slipping out of his chair.” This is what happened in “the real world” of our story’s party.

This might seem almost exactly the same as the previous option, but the subtle change – turning to Lily and giving her the information directly – makes for a huge difference in results. By directing his words at Lily, Nadav is making it clear to everyone at the table that only Raffaela noticed Trombone slipping away; however, he still makes sure that all all the players are aware of it. He isn’t whispering Lily a secret – he simply directs his words at her. This completely turns around the probabilities from before: Now it’s really likely that Raf goes after Trombone, and while it’s possible for the other players to make this into a discussion and pressure Lily into not taking the risk, it’s not very probable. Encourage the drama to happen, and help the players circumvent their own drama-blocking reservations without taking away their agency.

As a GM, notice who you are giving the information to, and in what way. That really encourages the players to perceive some courses of actions as more legitimate than others.

So why did Lily roll for Stealth?

The dramatic scene begins the moment Raf leaves the table. Dice make for excellent drama, since there’s an inherent risk and therefore tension in rolling the dice; again, however, we should make sure that failing doesn’t result in stopping the scene. And it doesn’t – should Lily have failed the Stealth check, then the valet would have noticed her, as she enters the living room, thus complicating matters without negating them. A less practiced GM might have ruled that failing the Stealth roll means Raf never made it out of her chair without notice, which is total negation of the action scene.

So to answer the question presented at the top of this article: in our party, having Trombone roll for Stealth, and having Lily roll for Stealth, are two completely different matters, with wildly different rationale behind them.


Here’s something I thought about while re-reading this article before posting: plot vs. dramatic situation. I mention this distinction earlier, above, but it’s worth repeating and clarifying: These are two very different goals, even though both put the spotlight on narrative considerations. In the case of the party’s current adventure, for instance, there’s no “plot” – except for meeting Contessa’s team and Draculetta, nothing else needs to happen. The PCs are placed in a situation, and it’s up to them how to “solve” it. What do need to happen are dramatic moments, and Nadav’s priority as a GM is to encourage such scenes – for example, by having Trombone leave the table, and encouraging the most risk-taker player in the party to react to that.