On Legwork

A lot of new GMs have problems with determining how much information should be given in legwork, and how to handle legwork in general. There are a few key things to remember about legwork: first, regardless of rolls, a character should be given *something*, simply for making the effort to perform legwork. This should be tailored to the character's strengths. This isn't to say that rolls are unimportant, merely that some basic information should be given regardless. If the character fails his or her rolls, this information may be laden with consequences or complications, however.

The difficulty of rolls should be determined on the standard 15/20/25 scale in general, modified by enemies' ability. If the character is attempting to talk to contacts, and an enemy has laid false information, it's quite appropriate to have the enemy roll a Bluff check, and use that as the difficulty of whatever information is being pursued. A highly skilled and lucky enemy could yield far higher DCs, such as 30, 35, or even 40. This should be fairly rare, though.

If the character fails the roll, they get very basic information and may have complications — the bad guys become aware of their pursuit, perhaps, and may go to ground. If they succeed, they get more than basic information. If they succeed by 5+, they get thorough information, and if they succeed by 10+, they know what the target had for breakfast </Inside Joke>.

Example:

  • Sapphire wants to use her Scent ability to track Magma to its source from the scene of a battle. I set the DC at 20, as tracking something like that in a city would be difficult, what with the overlaying smells of gasoline and other, less savory aromas. She succeeds by 2, so ends up at the docks at any empty slip. She then decides to use Gather Information to ask around, and rolls a 15, just enough! She discovers that a ship docks at that slip from time to time, and that when the ship docks, there are a variety of thugs. She now has a name. If she'd failed the roll, she'd simply be told that sometimes thugs are around the slip, and she'd have to stake out the dock and maybe draw attention to herself. If she succeeded by 5 or more, she may be given the name of the owner of the boat. And if she succeeded by 10, she could even be given the times when it shows up, so all she has to do is monitor at those times if there's a schedule.

Basically, the thing to remember with legwork is that you don't want players to fail. If they keep failing, your plot can't progress, and this isn't something we want. But, you say, this way the players will solve the plot immediately! Not necessarily. What I do is have discrete steps in the plot. Go from Point A to Point B to Point C, investigating. Each Point is a scene premise. The first scene might be establishing things. Second scene might be investigating the docks, and getting into a fight. The third scene might be raiding a major Magma lab, and dealing with issues. The fourth might be facing the mastermind.

The important thing is having a sense of progression — in having the players feel they're moving the plot forward instead of spinning their wheels.

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