Flash: Roll to hit the ceiling

Photo by Alperen Yazgı on Unsplash

“Roll to hit the ceiling.”

Jeremy looks at me. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope. The building you guys have been fighting in has taken a lot of damage. It isn’t a roll to hit the ceiling so much as to not hit a structural wall on the way up.” The superhero team had been fighting for most of the session and thrown everyone and their brother through the walls. “Roll to hit the ceiling, just don’t roll a one.”

Shaking his head, the player of only flying character of the group picks up the twenty-sided like his super strength PowerPal picked up my official big bad of tonight’s session, cocky and confident. He rolled it with a smirk. “Satisfied?”

“Dude, you rolled a one,” says Emily, whose character just got paused on the countdown to negative ten thanks to a hail mary power throw by the group’s healer. Two more points damage and she would have been rolling a new character tonight, as it is, zero isn’t exactly out of the woods even with most of the bad guys minions unconscious or disabled. She watched everything like a hawk.

“Wait, what?” Jeremy picked up the die and confirmed a one. “Bad die, into the dungeon with you.” He tossed it into the little prison the group sets off to the side during games. “So what now?”

“See if you noticed.” I respond. “Roll … perception, wisdom bonus, not intelligence.”

“That’s my dump stat.”

“Don’t care.”

Jeremy wanted to play Superman, but limits applied for game balance. Fortunately a low perception and wisdom works well for how he normally played. “Um, a five.”

“You fly up through the ceiling, clipping the structural wall on the way out, dragging the alien Black Cringe up in your wake, flying to … outer space you said?”

“Yep, going to see how he likes being dropped from orbit. That should do like ten thousand points. Let’s see him heal that.” Jermey leans back on the sofa, crossing his arms.

“Okay, it is going to take you about…” I roll a die behind my screen, “seven rounds to get high enough for that. And will be another two rounds to fly back.” I move paper around, flipping over Black Cringe. That would be one very dead guy soon. “So you are out for the next nine rounds.” I make a mark on the back of the defunct big bad sheet, noting nine rounds. “That is going to take a while to sort out with everyone else. Do you want to make the pizza run now?”

Jeremy shakes his head, confused. “I thought Emily would be doing that like normal. It’s not like she is going to be doing anything, just like always.”

“Hey,” Emily protests, “just because I don’t make tanks doesn’t mean I’m useless.”

“Watch it, Jer.” Mark says, he who is Emily’s boyfriend. Unlike most couples, the female of that romantic team drags the male to the game, but like most sacrificial significant others doing the roleplaying thing with dice, he always volunteers as the healer. We try very hard to ignore their discussions of the roleplaying things without dice she will do at home as a reward for his actions in our RPGs. “My turn to cover, right?” At Emily’s nod, Mark drops a twenty on the table.

After tossing in his ten, Chris tears a new sheet out of his gaming diary. “Mushroom for you, right Erin?” Being the DM, I don’t have to pay. Our group uses that as an incentive to keep someone in the big chair. I nod, before concentrating on making notes and figuring out what happens next.

Andre adds his ten to the pile. “Veggie and a bottle of Pepsi. If there is money left over, grab some ice, I emptied the ice tray earlier.”

“Whatever.” Jeremy grumbles, pulling out his wallet. “Meatlovers, and here is the extra three dollars for that. Mountain Dew as the second bottle.

“You okay with that Erin?” Chris asks me.

I shrug. “I brought cream soda last week. There should still be some left unless Andre drank it.”

“As if.” Andre snorts. “I don’t have blood vessels. I have a caffeine circulatory system.”

“Don’t we all.” Mark winks at Emily.

I shake my head. “I wish.” My friends know I can’t have caffeine. Tomorrow, after today’s long session, is going to suck at work.

Phone call made, Chris counts the money. There isn’t enough to cover a tip, but since we aren’t doing delivery this week, the small amount of extra will be enough to cover a bag of ice and maybe some cookies from the Mexican bakery next door to the pizza place. What kind will be Jeremy’s call as the “volunteer.” Emily usually brings back a vegetable tray. With Jeremy doing the run, I expect a pile of Orejas and some Yoyos. He has the best job of all of us, so he likely will dump in some extra funds to get everything he wants. Not that the bakery is expensive, Jeremy eyes are always bigger than our group’s mutual stomach.

Once out the door, I pull the group back into the campaign by rattling some dice. “PowerPal had the last action of the round, except for Emily.”

“I lie there NOT bleeding this round,” she smiles at her boyfriend. “Thank you SuperAid.”

“Well, the building falls in. Everyone takes three D ten damage.” I roll the dice outside the screen for extra oomph. “Fuck,” escapes my lips. “Ten, nine, three. Twenty-two points of damage.”

“Well, I can’t dodge that.” Emily says. “Dead.”

“Um, can we dodge for half?” Chris perks up, half raising his hand, taking the meta hint Emily just gave the group.

“Sure, but it is difficulty 15.” I smile an apology. “You are inside the building.”

“Ten.” “Seven.” “Fourteen – hey babe, look over my sheet and see if I missed any bonuses.” Emily confirms that Mark did not.

“Okay, everyone takes twenty-two points. The three stories above of the lobby fall down. SuperAid you dodge a ….”

“I’m at negative eleven.”

“You don’t dodge a group of filing cabinets. They fall on top of you. It’s from the second-floor doctor’s office. Buried in medical paperwork, the very nightmare you sought to escape when becoming a superhero.”

“No, not the healer!” Chris protests.

“I’m sorry guys, but to heal Emily last round, I didn’t heal myself.”

“How are you doing MetalMan?” I ask Chris.

“To be honest, worse than SuperAid.”

“Really?” I’m surprised, as Chris’ character’s invulnerability could rival PowerPal’s.

“Yeah, well, I was fighting the two minions with swords, so I had shifted my invulnerability to sharp physical weapons.”

I close my eyes, sighing. “So, bludgeoning.”

“Yep, double damage.”

Game balance was a harsh mistress. His invulnerability was good, but he could shift it around to be even better against specific threats, but that left him weakened against other threats, and he had declared a switch from energy to sharp weapons when the sword minions closed after Firebrand had been defeated by Andre. I might get a Total Party Kill (TPK) by accident.

“I need something heavy to land on you … a wood desk?” I tap my chin. “No, I got it. The bathroom toilets landed on you.”

“Oh, shit!”

Everyone laughs.

Chris flips over on the floor to face his high school buddy on the opposite side of the couch from Jeremy’s character sheets. “Andre, you are the speedster, can’t you use your extra action to maybe grab us? At least SuperAid, so he can bring us back from the dead?”

“Maybe…” Andre looks over his sheet. “I used the extra action earlier, and most of my movement, but I might-could, if I activate my surge power.” He glances my way, raising an eyebrow.

“How many extra activation points do you have left?” Maybe I could avoid a TPK. I never had one before and really don’t consider it a mark of good DMing. But the dice were working hard against me today.

There needed to be a chance of losing, otherwise the winning isn’t as fun. To win, they do need to actually win. And while I do a lot of tweaks behind the screen to create the feeling of a great story, I rolled the dice outside the screen this time the storytelling impact. Ugh.


I rub my forehead. “Remind me how the activation works again.”

“I need to roll versus my will.”

“How is your will doing?”

“Not taking into account the twenty-two points of damage?”

I consider a moment. “You didn’t dodge successfully. How did that happen anyway, don’t you have a plus 20 or something?”

“Plus eight, I rolled a two.”

“Of course you did.” I sigh. The dice really are hating the players right now. “But sure, not counting the damage. If you can power surge and get out of the building before it collapses, you won’t be taking the damage.” I hate backtracking actions like the dodge, but the TPK is worse.

“Okay, then my will power is … one for what is left in my activation powers …. And another three for health, I’m at half my hit points … plus a plus two for wisdom. So six at the moment. I need to roll a six or less.”

Normally his will powers are above twenty and he doesn’t need to roll at all. It will be tight but doable. “Sounds right. No added difficulty. Do you have any inspiration so we can have an advantage roll?”

Andre shakes his head no.

“Alright then. Go for it.”

Andre rolls. “Now I get a nat 20?”

“Don’t you fall unconscious when you use the last of your activation points and your power runs out?” Emily inquires as she returns from the kitchen with a cooler to act as an ice bucket for when Jeremy gets back.

“Fuck,” Andre curses. “Yeah, I fall unconscious.”

“Whistling Wind trips on the broken tiles where he had slammed Firebrand, draining the last of his superspeed. He doesn’t even feel the roof falling on him.” Getting an idea, I pick up my backpack and rummage through to see if I brought a particular supplement. There was no reason for me to have done so, but maybe … AHA! “How many hit points do you have left?” I ask while pulling out the multi-verse supplement.

“Negative four.”

“No way PowerPal will be back before you bleed out.” Not even a single round had passed since Jeremy left.

“Nope.” Andre picks up his character sheet and wads it into a ball. “Actual D&D next, or should we try Vampire?”

The players start reaching for their backpacks and carryalls.

“Hey,” I smile evilly, “What is everyone doing?”

Chris looks up at me and sees my expression. Cautiously he says, “We are all dead, shouldn’t we be making new characters?”

After staring at me a moment, Emily and Mark glance at each other. “Oh, no,” they say in unison.

I lift the supplement so they can see the title.

Emily rubs her hands together gleefully. “What do we see?”

“White, glowing white as far as you can see. Beside you are your fellow supers, just Know-it-All, SuperAid, and MetalMan right now. Whistling Wind, you will show up when you finish bleeding out. A figure in black robes, carrying a scythe approaches.”

“Hell, ya!” Andre claps his hands.

Chris frowns, shifting in his seat. “It won’t be fair if Jeremy can’t play.”

“Don’t worry.” My expression turns even more evil as I flip back over the Black Cringe character sheet. “I never said the villain was unconscious. While you eat, I’ll run PowerPal’s sky battle one-on-one if no one minds. A hurricane was rolling in, if I remember.”

“No, are you … no.” Emily says. “But…”

I shake my head and hold up a finger. “No meta.”

“What?” Chris eyebrow crunches, and he picks up his diary, flipping pages. “Storm … storm powers.”

I can tell when he hits the section from the superhero game I ran last year before Andre took his turn at the chair for Space Opera in the summer.

“Oh my fucking god.”

There is a knock on the door.

“No meta.” I repeat firmly as Andre opens the door, where Jeremy is juggling three boxes of pizza, a plastic bag of ice, and two paper bags of Mexican bakery goodness.

(words 2,069; first published 11/13/2023)

Roleplaying Group Series

  1. Roll to Hit the Ceiling (5/30/2021)
  2. When a DM asks a question, you say yes (7/28/2024)