System Consistency vs. PC Consistency

I’m thinking about the game I’m developing, and how to set up contested actions - i.e. attacks and skill checks. I see two basic ways to make these rolls work:

System Consistent

1.) Like D&D, the rules for the PCs are the same as the rules for NPCs. Whenever anyone acts, they roll a d20 vs. a static number defined by what they’re doing (AC of their target, for example). Or, for things that have a saving throw, the target rolls a save.

PC Consistent

2.) Like PbtA or Blades in the Dark - whenever anything interesting happens, the PCs roll - they roll moves, or for Blades, they roll to resist something bad happening.

What this means for players

In the System Consistent format, sometimes PCs roll when there’s an action (when they attack), and sometimes the NPCs roll (e.g. when the NPCs attack). The nice thing about this is that once you understand the system, you always know who rolls, so it always makes sense - everyone uses the same rules and the same process.

NPCs roll = passive PCs

One thing I don’t like that it can make the PCs feel like they have no control when NPCs are attacking them. When the DM rolls a d20 for the dragon to take a swipe at you, the player doesn’t do anything. They report their AC and hope the DM rolls badly. It almost feels like the character is just standing still, even though AC in theory takes into account dodging and hiding behind a wall and all that.

Consistent for the PCs = active PCs

In contrast, the consistency for the players way of having the PCs always be the ones that roll feels a lot more active for the players. “The dragon takes a swipe at you, make an AC roll…” Now it feels more like the player is the one in control of dodging the dragon’s attack. That’s awesome.

PC Consistent -> 2 different ways for everything

My worry about this way of doing things is that now the way the PC attack and the way the dragon attacks are different. When a PC attacks, they roll d20 + attack bonus against a static AC of the target. When the dragon attacks, it has a static attack value, and the PC makes an AC roll (probably d20 + Dex + Armor bonus in D&D). That’s two different ways of doing things. It’s more fun for the PCs to give them more rolls… but it also means there’s twice as many ways of doing things… so the PC’s abilities don’t match up with how NPC abilities work.

Is that a problem? Sort of? Maybe not a huge deal?

Everything else is unknown

One benefit of rules being different for PCs vs NPCs is that it makes it more explicit that NPCs are not PCs. They’re something else. They work differently. They may have different rules and you can’t always compare them 1:1 with PCs. I think this is a good thing. PCs have constraints that NPCs don’t. PCs need to be able to be recurring characters for the full campaign. They need to be at least somewhat broadly “balanced”. You can have a world-shaking NPC with powers that would completely unbalance the game if used incorrectly… but as GM, you can just decide they don’t do that.

Which would you pick?

Would you use consistent rules so any actor uses the same rules, or something that always lets the PCs act in the same way and feel more involved? What informs your choice?

I prefer the system consistent approach, though I can certainly work with the other. I’m a grognard, having gotten involved in minis and board wargames prior to RPGs, so I expect the other side to have a chance to respond while I wait to assess the damage.

For a PC-centric approach, I reckon I’d give the opponents attack ratings in the same fashion they have AC, and the PCs roll for defense in much the same fashion as attack. That would allow the players to use skills and feats and such in defense in the same fashion as when attacking, which makes for a consistent experience. (Note: It can also slow things down a great deal.)

Yeah, for the new game I’m designing, I’m thinking of what you said in your second paragraph - NPCs still initiate attacks, but using a static value, and PCs roll defense rolls. I wonder if this would actually slow things down, since now you have 4-ish players doing the rolling instead of 1 GM. I wonder if it actually might be faster and more engaging for the PCs. No more sitting on your phone, call out AC as needed, mark down damage while scrolling through twitter. Now you have to roll dice even when it’s the opponent’s turn.

I was thinking of the slowdown cause by choice paralysis. I’ve read so many reports of players being slow about making choices in combat because of all the feats and stuff the characters have available. With the same thing being available for defense (and to be consistent, the amount of options in defense should mimic that of attack), it could be slow. The fewer options available in either case, the quicker it’ll play.

If you prefer “PC consistent” but want players to feel more in control of things happening during an opponent’s turn then you could make attack rolls opposed rather than simply a roll vs a passive defense score.

Speaking personally as someone who’s a lifetime GM I’d mention one issue with the “PCs roll everything” system is that, as the GM, it can feel boring. I like rolling dice too!

As far as slow-down issues, I run a lot of opposed-roll systems and I generally don’t find it to be an issue. The one exception being cases like Exalted where players have access to a very wide array of powers and have to deal with a lot of resource management, but if your system basically comes down to something like “make a dx roll, add your Parry/Dodge bonus” then I don’t think you’ll notice a significant lag with most groups.

Yeah, I was basically thinking that it would be rare for there to be actions to perform on defense, so most of the time it’s just transferring the roll to the player, with the attacker still choosing options etc… but it’s a very good point to make sure to avoid decision paralysis by not giving too many defensive abilities. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s super valid.