Define the Consequeces of Success and Failure Up Front
This answer addresses a very similar question. I think everything I said there applies equally here. In short: if you explicitly define the consequences of success and failure, players are less likely to misunderstand the information and run off doing some nonsense.
Let It Ride
In your case, there's one other trick I would add, shamelessly lifted from the RPG Burning Wheel:
A player shall test once against an obstacle and shall not roll again until conditions legitimately and drastically change. Neither GM nor player can call for a retest unless those conditions change. [The results of] the initial roll count for all applicable situations in play.
In other words, say you roll to search a room for stuff. You get an 8. That's it. That's your result for searching the room for stuff. If you retry the action, you don't reroll. If you try a new action, too bad, you're not gonna gain anything more. Likewise, if I roll 15 to climb a cliff, that applies to the whole climb; the GM can't ask me to reroll every 10 feet or anything stupid like that.
Let It Ride makes sure that rolls actually matter — you can't just turn a round an immediately invalidate something with another roll. Beyond that, it keeps the game moving forward. When we know that each and every result will stand, we can all focus on moving forward incorporating the result.
If you can't abide by a success or failure outcome, then don't put it on the table at all. Manufacturing excuses to reroll until you get the results you want is a sign that you need to rethink how you're scoping consequences. It's possible you shouldn't be asking for a roll at all.
If you want a situation to be a series of rolls, break it up into discrete tasks instead of just rolling amorphously a couple of times and then handwaving that, okay, now this one counts.
Call Them Out
If your players are constantly asking for rerolls, try just calling them out on their weaseling. Like, just straight-up say, "You're trying to weasel out of the outcome we already rolled for. Let's move on."
Why Are Your Rolling for "There is Nothing Here" Anyway?
If there's nothing to find, what's the roll about, anyway?
Occasionally there's some payoff to roll-to-find-out-if-you-know-that-nothing-is-here as a form of information-hiding, but from what I've seen, a lot of GM advice defaults to "Roll for everything just to create fake tension!" way, way too much.
In the example given, I'd only ask for a roll if I could frame it as something like one of these:
"If you succeed, you find everything of value in this room — secret passages, treasure, clues, everything." That way the PCs can discover something for their efforts even if it's not what they necessarily intended to find.
"Okay, so, time is of the essence, right? If you succeed, you find out right away whether there's a trap door here. If you fail, it'd take a long time to search properly." Now the roll is all about "What is the cost of the information you want?" I do this only when there is already pretty obvious pressure of some sort; otherwise you're just kinda manufacturing complications that don't really matter.
Otherwise I'd just tell 'em. There's very little down side to doing so. What's the point of trying to maintain a feeling of uncertainty here, unless you're trying to waste time on purpose?
A Tool to Enable Consensus Decision Making
- Problem: your group fails to make timely decisions due to a consistent failure to reach
- Desired Remedy: A tool that helps alleviate this detriment to fun
- Proposed Tool: Options Identification Process and Voting Tool (see
- Requirements: Buy-in from GM and players on the particular voting
tool that will be used.
A voting tool can resolve all four problems if your group and your DM agree to use a voting tool. We don't know the interpersonal dynamics in this group. (It matters). I will assume that you are all friends or at least on friendly terms.
Note about reality: Who the "alpha dog" in your group is may color your success in agreeing on a decision aid.
What you seek is an in-game usable form of Consensus Decision making
A generic process is illustrated by this flow chart and the previous link is a concise summary of the process that is subject neutral. (Not TTRPG centric, but process/tool set used in many walks of life).
Per your comment that the group is all adults, you could just stop here and look at the summary in the first link, and tailor your own tool. But we'll proceed ...
Apply the voting tool when you find yourselves in the dilemmas you described in the question.
- Identify how many different actions or choices are being proposed.
- If you don't identify what your options are, you can't make a
- You can die roll to see who states his case first, with the DM as facilitator.
- Take turns as pointed to by the DM, as that disrupts play less.
- each player proposing an option states it, along with a brief "why"
for that choice.
- With DM facilitating, you all vote on each option.
- Each player has 2 votes available. You cannot apply two votes to a single option.
- Use a d6 to indicate your vote, in front of you at the table:
- 1 pip is no, 6 pips is yes.
- A brief "why not" for a no vote is an option here
- Rinse and repeat for each option.
DM keeps track of votes received. (as neutral facilitator).
If there were more than two choices to start with, drop option with lowest score, vote on remaining choices per above.
Fourth: Vote To Determine the Group Decision
Voting Criteria For Success:
Unanimity minus one vote
Unanimity minus two votes
Pick from one of the above criteria. Your group has to agree on the level of consensus that is acceptable to all(See Social Contract comment further down).
For the final vote, I suggest Unanimity Minus One or Unanimity Minus Two.
If you end up with a hung jury due to which protocol was chosen (like Unanimous) you have two last resort options to get a decision.
"Person in Charge decides." You can roll for, or each night designate, someone as "person in charge" and accept their decision for hung juries.
Roll the dice (high wins) or flip a coin to decide between the last two choices.
Your problem statement indicates that you want the group to make decisions. The above is a time tested method, adapted for your described table, that will get you decisions.
Summary of Benefits: (to address your stated problems)
- Vote on choices to keep play moving by making decisions.
- Don't split the party.
- You'll have less wasted time.
- Each player participates in making decisions for the group when the group needs a decision.
- The GM doesn't pull his hair out.
Caveat to this answer:
- If you are the only person at the table concerned about this, the
above as a decision aid is probably doomed.
- If the other players care, then you have something to discuss within your group
and get buy-in.
- Getting buy-in on collaborative processes like this is part of your Social Contract, which from your problem statement is not robust in your group -- at least in this area.
Small group dynamics and decision making have been in my professional life for a few decades. I'll use an informal group example of a decision process following the same steps tailored to a different situation:
- RL example: seven men, one van, Friday night, which bar to go to? Thumbs up and thumbs down rather than dice. Same basic process, different objective, small social group dynamics.
So just to be clear, you're looking to pull off a con, and part of the con requires seducing the party. As a DM, you're okay with failure, but you would like a reasonable chance of success. Your conman already has an established identity which prevents them from leaving town on extended forays. And your party tends to believe that any NPC displaying a sufficient level of Interest must play into the plot somehow.
Well, first things first, you've got to figure out your angle. This is a con after all, and should be played accordingly. As someone who plays exclusively with metagamers, I will reassure you right now- this will make your job easier, not harder, as you'll see shortly.
In order to pull off a Con, you need the following components:
The Artist: The guy actually pulling off the job. If it's a complicated job, the artist might have associates working with them, but the important thing is that the artist(s) each have a specific role that they play, and the role is designed for one purpose... to convince the Mark to behave predictably.
The Mark: The target of the job. You might think that you want the Mark to believe you, but that is the simplest, most straightforward con. Your true goal is to control their behavior- while it would be easy if they just did what you said, the con will work regardless if you have the Angle.
The Angle: A motivator which the Mark will respond to predictably. Its sometimes also called the Hook, for good reason- if this were fishing, this is where you would "set the Hook." You're thinking of using romance as a motivator, and that is a classic angle, but you'll need something else.
The Kick: A play that forces the Mark's hand. I've also heard it referred to as a Hurrah, but it works the same- you give the Mark a sudden, drastic impetus, knowing that if they are sufficiently motivated by the Angle, they'll act in only one way.
So how does that apply to you and your metagamers? One of the classic Angles is to let your Mark know they're being played... But convince them that they're involved in a different con. If you can convince the Mark that they're the ones pulling off a con, they'll happily put their heads in a noose, the entire time convinced that you're going to be so surprised when they pull it off.
Let's run an example for you. Say your metagamers run into the NPC, who promptly begins throwing themselves at one of the party. This is obviously suspect, and a metagamer worth their salt (playing a "canny" adventurer) will instantly assume something is up. This is an expected response, and what you're looking for. As the con moves forward, you'll want to keep your Mark acting as expected.
You then introduce your Angle, which in this case we're going to pretend is presented by an associate. This associate "reveals" that the NPC is attempting to scam the party... and more importantly, introduces to them the idea of turning the tables. This is the most subtle step, and if possible the party should "come up with" the idea on their own. The associate can make the idea attractive by presenting their own reasons for wanting the NPC's downfall or mentioning something that they don't want, but that the PC's do... and which the NPC allegedly possesses.
If you set this up right, your PC's will buy into it precisely because they're metagamers. The way you've laid this out, they'll assume this is a quest, and they're either running with it or wrecking it. They certainly won't think them running a Con on the conman NPC is exactly what the NPC planned. At this point, the party is hooked. They'll play along with the seduction, waiting for their chance to act, and this con can otherwise work as originally planned. When the time comes for your party to play their desired role in your con, you just have to make sure your Kick convinces them they have to move on the NPC now or lose their chance (maybe it seems like the NPC is about to get caught or flee town, so they have only a small window to pull off their own con). If your "hook" is properly set, they'll gamble that they can pull off their con, act accordingly... and your plan, which relied on them acting in just such a fashion, comes to fruition. Best case scenario is that, while the party was suitably distracted, the conman hit their real target. Other possibilities are that the party's efforts were a distraction; that the party is "caught red-handed;" or even that they succeed, but were tricked into conning an innocent NPC by the associate, who was your mastermind the whole time.
This is, like I said, an example. When I've run this con on my party, I used a slightly more straightforward method, with my almighty DM powers- I made it look like the NPC was trying to seduce them as a plot point. While they were trying to figure out whether she was actually a damsel in distress or (because I'm so sneaky) an agent of the BBEG, she was making sure to show up to every major shop in town with the PC's in tow. They later discovered her missing and a ransom note left at their inn- still wondering whether she was actually in trouble (and I was just badly acting out the role) or if it was a trap, they went to the drop-off point several days away, and found... nothing. When they got back to town, they were met by the shopkeepers, who were relieved that the party had returned, because they still owed quite a bit of money. For what? Why, all the purchases the NPC had made in their name! Wasn't she with them? She had said they would be back shortly to settle up!
It took the party some time to catch up to her... But that is beside the point. The point is, you can definitely pull off a con job on a party of metagamers, so long as you count on them metagaming. The key is that they behave predictably, which you can plan for, and ultimately take advantage of.
One last example before I stop. Same party, several levels later, encountered a bard who took an immediate shine to a party member. They just as immediately assumed something was up, went in force to confront said bard, and stumbled upon a body. They were then immediately arrested for murder- they had assumed they knew what kind of con job they were walking into, and so confidently walked right into a frame job. Like I said, predictable behavior.