I like the Lindybeige channel on youtube and today he had a video about dice rolling and what it means. You can see the video here: Die-Rolling in RPGs. This blog post isn't really a commentary on Lindybeige's conclusions, it is just my thoughts on the same subject matter.
In the video Lindybeige basically talks about the gap that can emerge between player perception of the roll's significance and the characters perception of the environment. He suggests this can be used to engineer the setting in the aftermath of the roll. This is an interesting take and it got me thinking about how I approach rolling in my own games.
I think we've all seen this gap emerge. The player character confronts a hill that he knows he can easily climb, but the player makes a skill roll and he ends up falling all over himself like a baby learning to walk. Or you have a situation where a big hulking ogre is arm wrestling in a tavern and competes against a halfling child he knows he can't lose against. But the halfling character gets lucky and wins. Sometimes the players are so focused on the dice, they don't even notice this gap. This is where I think judicious use of rolls is called for.
We've suggested this advice a number of times in our Network books, and it boils down to this: you don't have to roll for everything. The GM should ask for a roll when the outcome appears uncertain or when some other factor like time makes a basic task more difficult. This can apply to any skill. You don't have to roll persuade to get information that an NPC was going to volunteer anyways. You don't have to make a History (Demon Empire) Roll if the information the player is seeking is rudimentary to that period and he has three ranks in the skill (the max in our system).
Just think about this in your own life. If you brew coffee every day of your life for twenty years, would it make a lot of sense if you made a mess of it 15% of the time and had a catastrophic result 1% of the time. Or what about driving. You drive every day, you don't crash 15% of the time. If this were an RPG and that were happening, either the skill system itself needs some work or the GM is asking for skill rolls when they are not needed. In the case of the coffee, I wouldn't ask at all, unless something unusual was going on like the player was late for work and had to make it quickly or he was brewing a special cup to impress Barrack Obama. In the case of the car, I would ask for a roll if something occurred during the drive that required evasive action or if they were being chased by the cops.
So my way of eliminating that gap between character perception and the dice is to only ask for rolls when I feel there is a compelling reason for them to occur.