The gnome NPC just rolled a 1.
Tracking down the source of the rumors led to a paranoid gnome minstrel named Barty who just couldn’t stop telling tales about the true (and imagined) indiscretions of the daughters of the finest families in town.
Barty was causing other problems, too, which is why the PCs felt that had to intervene. Of course the problem was a particularly sticky one: How do you make a gnome shut up?
This was strictly a roleplaying encounter, so even if I believed the thief was in the corner thinking about just slitting the gnome’s throat to be done with the whole affair, the group’s bard seemed to be angling for a musical throwdown at the Leaky Roof inn and tavern.
Sitting in the DM’s chair, I was ready. My dice had been hot all day. I was going to send the bard PC packing. No one was going to show up my cleverly conceived (and fully statted out, I might add) npc gnome.
So I rolled …. a 1.
There it is, staring in my face. Barty the gnome turned from Taylor Hicks to William Hung in a heartbeat. How do I roleplay such a disastrous turn?
I had Barty’s mandolin string break, then failing a followup Will save, became so flustered that instead of trying to replace the string, he frantically tried to tie the two busted parts together. While the bard PC smirked, the PC thief (the one thinking evil thoughts in the back of the room) decided to chuck a tomato at poor Barty. The toss missed, but it was enough to inspire the rest of the crowd to do likewise. Just seconds from his planned triumph, Barty now had to retreat from the stage in the face of a barrage of flying vegetables.
The encounter didn’t go how I had it planned at all. And in the end, it was the PC bard who wowed the crowd — not my gnome npc (though, the PCs would have been, in comparison, far more gracious in defeat, and sympathetic in the eyes of future npc contacts). The gnome, who would have been haughty and arrogant in victory, was sore and humiliated in defeat. The players reveled in their triumph and the encounter turned out to be a fun way to close a session.
The point of my now, rather longwinded tale? Storyteller GMs sometimes will fudge rolls for the sake of the story — ofttimes for the players’ benefit. I’ve done it, and there’s no crime in it.
But sometimes you just need to go with the flow — or the roll — even when it turns up 1. You might be surprised at how rewarding — and fun — failure can be.