A topic came up today about GM intrusions and how they would be or could be used in a D&D 5E game. So that is the inspiration for this blog. Or rather the intrusion into the blog I was working on before I swapped over and began this one. First for anyone does not know what GM intrusions are.
GM intrusion is a great mechanic for injecting drama and additional excitement into a game (and reward PCs with extra XP at the same time): A rope begins to fray, an NPC wrongly accuses a PC of a crime, a foe does something unexpected and awful, and so on.
Great moments don’t just happen on their own.
GM intrusions offer an opportunity for the GM to really shine–and for the players to experience incredible turning points in their characters’ stories.
In most D20 system and even many OSR games a roll of a 1 on a D20 is considered to be an automatic failure or even a fumble. Often everyone at the table takes this moment for a bit of laughter and waits to see what tragic mishap will come from the roll. At the same time with hopes that your Gamemaster is not too vicious and everyone gets out of the situation intact. Classic examples of a Crit Fail is you strike an ally or yourself in combat. Or instead courting the noble as you had hoped you somehow cursed his entire family line and now all hope is lost to sway him to your side diplomatically. In effect punishing the player at your table for rolling a “Poor” result.
This in truth is a very steep punishment for something that is a fairly common occurence. After all a 1 will turn up 5% of the time when you roll a D20. Now having been in the military I can assure you that Murphy’s Law is a real thing but if of our soldiers were shooting themselves or an ally 5% of the time every time they fired a weapon. We would be looking at new weapons to fight wars with.
So with that in mind instead of the boring idea of you hit yourself or your comrade. Maybe instead the ground rumbles and a geyser of steam shoots into the air. Drawing more attention to your location and knocking everyone to the ground. Additionally everyone could make a speed check or take scalding damage.
In this example things have become more complicated but it is not a direct punishment to the player for rolling a “1”. Was it good for the players no, it adds a complication to the environment. Also it is likely that it will draw attention to the location. Maybe bringing more foes or prying eyes that the players would rather not have in the area. Further rolls during a scene can be use to build on earlier results or be completely new intrusions as well. In the above example maybe the now unstable ground begins to give way and a sink hole appears. Thus with the roll of a “1” the mechanic becomes a tool for story development as opposed to theses rolls resulting in player punishment.
In fact in the Cypher System if a GM does intrude he gives the player a point of XP as well. With this point of XP the player may either refuse the intrusion at the cost of an XP or keep the XP and also give another player 1 XP as well. Risk grants reward.
So how wold you use this in a game like 5E D&D. Very much the same as we do in the Cypher System. On a result of a one the Gamemaster could come up with a complication instead of a Failure. In the case of D&D I would attempt to key my intrusions off of the players Traits and Flaws if you are able. If an intrusion occurs I would award the player 1 inspiration point. In this regard I as the GM have played on one of the players traits and meet the intent behind how inspirations are awarded anyway. I have just Intruded on the story by using one of these Traits as the Gamemaster instead of the player.
So there ya have it.