D&D General Denying Players Rolls for Attacks, Damage, Saves, Etc

Reynard

Legend
A comment in another thread got me thinking and I am curious:

Is it appropriate for the GM to have an attack roll or saving throw automatically succeed or fail without a roll, or have damage rolls be ignored in favor of other effects such as an instant kill? If so, under what circumstances? if not, how do you deal with certain corner cases? We discuss how GMs call for ability checks/skill rolls or not, and how that's is just part of the way the GM's adjudication works in play. Do you think the same principle applies to the other kinds of rolls made?

For example, let's say that the PC rogue assassin has crept into a sleeping target's chamber. The assassin pulls out a knife and slits the target's throat while they sleep. What happens? Do you say the target dies regardless of how many hit points they have? Do you have the player roll damage (as a crit or not)? Do you force the player to roll to hit? What happens if the tables are turned and the PC is the target?

What if a character is in a 10' square chamber with no furnishing or other places to duck behind and an enemy caster launches a fireball into the room? Should the PC get a Dex save even though in the fiction there is no way to avoid the blast? Do they get disadvantage? What if the tables were turned?

What if an enemy had a conscious PC manacled to a wall and walked up and stabbed them with a dagger? Would they have to roll to hit? Again, what if the tables were turned?

For ability checks, the guideline is to follow the fiction and determine whether there is uncertainty in the outcome. I so, a roll (of some sort) is called for. Does this extend to attack, damage and saving throw rolls?
 

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Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
Is it appropriate for the GM to have an attack roll or saving throw automatically succeed or fail without a roll, or have damage rolls be ignored in favor of other effects such as an instant kill?
Yes to both questions. I regularly do that at my tables, and it works fine.
If so, under what circumstances? if not, how do you deal with certain corner cases?
Whenever you feel a roll isn't necessary. If the player asks to shoot the moon with their pistol, they automatically fail without needing to make a roll. If the level 20 Fighter is attacking a goblin with single-digit hit points, you might as well just say they automatically kill them if they hit.
For example, let's say that the PC rogue assassin has crept into a sleeping target's chamber. The assassin pulls out a knife and slits the target's throat while they sleep. What happens? Do you say the target dies regardless of how many hit points they have? Do you have the player roll damage (as a crit or not)? Do you force the player to roll to hit? What happens if the tables are turned and the PC is the target?
It depends on the stat block and how much damage the PC does. If they're just a normal humanoid, then they're probably going to die instantly. If they're a commoner, I wouldn't even ask the Assassin to roll for damage (and maybe not roll to hit) because they're absolutely going to kill them immediately. However, if they're an Archmage or something else that has enough HP to survive the maximum damage the PC can do, I still have them roll and explain it as the NPC having some way to protect against the action the PC is attempting. If the tables are turned, I do the same thing, just reversed.
What if a character is in a 10' square chamber with no furnishing or other places to duck behind and an enemy caster launches a fireball into the room? Should the PC get a Dex save even though in the fiction there is no way to avoid the blast? Do they get disadvantage? What if the tables were turned?
The PC is effectively trying to jump away from an exploding grenade. That happens all the time in action movies, so I'd run it RAW.
What if an enemy had a conscious PC manacled to a wall and walked up and stabbed them with a dagger? Would they have to roll to hit? Again, what if the tables were turned?
The PC would be restrained, so I'd have them make the attack, but at advantage. Same if the opposite were to happen.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
PC Rogue Assassin: The target is unconscious (sleeping), so the PC's attack roll has advantage and if it hits is automatically a critical hit. That is the system so that is how I run it.

Fireball in 10' chamber: DEX save as normal. A DEX save isn't just moving behind something, but also is the capability to duck, shield your face (an area commonly exposed), etc. That is the system so that is how I run it.

Manacled PC: The PC is restrained, so the attack against the PC has advantage and any attack the PC makes (kicking maybe?) has disadvantage. That is the system so that is how I run it.

For ability checks, the guideline is to follow the fiction and determine whether there is uncertainty in the outcome. I so, a roll (of some sort) is called for. Does this extend to attack, damage and saving throw rolls?
All those situations have uncertain outcomes:

The sleeping target might roll over just as the Assassin strikes, foiling his attack.

The DEX save PC drops and covers up, lessening the damage from the spell because they reacted in time.

The manacled PC turns as their captor strikes with the dagger, so it sheers off and hits the stone behind.

Is it appropriate for the GM to have an attack roll or saving throw automatically succeed or fail without a roll, or have damage rolls be ignored in favor of other effects such as an instant kill?
No.
 

Unwise

Adventurer
I only roll when:
A) the result is in doubt
B) It will build some dramatic tension
C) It's more fun/funny that way

If somebody sneaks up on a sleeping person and wants to slit their throat, is the result in doubt? You could argue that for dramatic tension the stealth might be in doubt, so they roll for that. If they succeed at that, is the result of the attack (in-world, non-mechanically) in doubt?
In the case of a PC getting their throat slit without a roll, point C above probably applies. It is more fun to roll the damage so the player feels some agency and the PC has a chance to live.

As for the example with the fireball. The fact that you cannot escape the fireball is exactly what the half-damage effect already represents mechanically. The best you can do is tuck into a ball behind your shield or backpack, or hit the deck for a moment (dex save), either way you are getting hurt.

The manacled person example, the result is not in doubt, whether it takes one or two attempts to stab the person, the person is getting stabbed. There seems little point in rolling due to doubt. For dramatic tension though, it might be necessary.
  • If it was an PC trying to stab a normal NPC, there is no tension, so it just happens.
  • If it was a PC trying to stab Black Widow or James Bond, then they roll, since the NPC might pull off some dramatic kick-necksnap thing and escape.
  • If an NPC is trying to stab a PC, that will always be dramatically important, even if the result should not be in doubt, so I would roll.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
For ability checks, the guideline is to follow the fiction and determine whether there is uncertainty in the outcome. I so, a roll (of some sort) is called for. Does this extend to attack, damage and saving throw rolls?
Short answer: yes with attacks, not really with saves.

In your assassin example, I would not call for a check; I don’t see a reasonable possibility of failure, so I would simply narrate the successful results. If it was an NPC assassin trying to slit a sleeping PC’s throat, presumably a lot of things must have gone poorly for the PC already in order for the NPC to have gotten into this position. I might ask the player to make a save of some kind, just to give them one last chance to wake up just in the nick of time.

See, the thing about saving throws is, they don’t really follow the normal pattern of DM describes environment, player describes action, DM determines results potentially relying on a die roll to resolve uncertainty, DM narrates results. I mean, sometimes they kind of do; if the player’s action triggers a trap or similar hazard, the DM might call for a saving throw to resolve the uncertainty in that action. But generally speaking, saves aren’t voluntary actions on the character’s part. They’re automatic, like a reflex. And at least as often as not, they’re called for by some specific bit of rules text, rather than the DM’s discretion. You roll a Dex save for fireball not because the DM determined that some action you performed had an uncertain outcome, but rather because the rules text for the fireball spell instructs you to do so. Which means, even in the featureless 10’ by 10’ room, you still get your Dex save against fireball because that’s just part of how the spell works.
 

the Jester

Legend
The rules cover everything in the OP pretty clearly. I use the rules. As DND_Reborn posted:

PC Rogue Assassin: The target is unconscious (sleeping), so the PC's attack roll has advantage and if it hits is automatically a critical hit. That is the system so that is how I run it.

Fireball in 10' chamber: DEX save as normal. A DEX save isn't just moving behind something, but also is the capability to duck, shield your face (an area commonly exposed), etc. That is the system so that is how I run it.

Manacled PC: The PC is restrained, so the attack against the PC has advantage and any attack the PC makes (kicking maybe?) has disadvantage. That is the system so that is how I run it.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Is it appropriate for the GM to have an attack roll or saving throw automatically succeed or fail without a roll, or have damage rolls be ignored in favor of other effects such as an instant kill?
Absolutely.
If so, under what circumstances?
Extremely limited cases. I allow things like sneak up and knockout and killing in sleep. If someone's helpless, tied up, unconscious, etc there's literally no way they can resist so things like AC, saves, and hit points are irrelevant. This cuts both ways, of course. Though I've never actually used it against PCs. But the threat of it is usually enough to put the idea of keeping watch and using that tactic against NPCs into the players' heads. So mission accomplished.
We discuss how GMs call for ability checks/skill rolls or not, and how that's is just part of the way the GM's adjudication works in play. Do you think the same principle applies to the other kinds of rolls made?
If there's nothing at stake and no chance of failure, there's no reason to roll.
For example, let's say that the PC rogue assassin has crept into a sleeping target's chamber. The assassin pulls out a knife and slits the target's throat while they sleep. What happens? Do you say the target dies regardless of how many hit points they have?
Yes.
Do you have the player roll damage (as a crit or not)? Do you force the player to roll to hit?
Nope.
What happens if the tables are turned and the PC is the target?
The PC dies.
What if a character is in a 10' square chamber with no furnishing or other places to duck behind and an enemy caster launches a fireball into the room? Should the PC get a Dex save even though in the fiction there is no way to avoid the blast? Do they get disadvantage?
Depends on how you read the DEX save. I think of it as rolling with the punch or minimizing damage, so generally yes, they'd still get a roll. But I'm an old school referee and I still use things like expanding fireballs and bouncing lighting bolts. So in those exact, utterly white room theorycrafting circumstances, nope. Just toast 'em. An explosion massive enough to fill a 30ft radius contained in a 10ft room? Whoever's in there is dead.
What if the tables were turned?
A PC in that room? Still crispy.
What if an enemy had a conscious PC manacled to a wall and walked up and stabbed them with a dagger? Would they have to roll to hit? Again, what if the tables were turned?
Roll to hit, yes. Likely with advantage. The PC is restrained but not helpless. I'm imagining having some slack in those chains so the PC can move around a bit. Hence the roll. But their movement is limited. Hence the advantage.

Tables turned? Whatever's good for the goose is good for the gander. The PCs don't have immunity from the consequences of their actions nor script immunity. If a PC dies, the PC dies. The player should already have a back up character ready to go and I'll introduce them as soon as possible.
For ability checks, the guideline is to follow the fiction and determine whether there is uncertainty in the outcome. I so, a roll (of some sort) is called for. Does this extend to attack, damage and saving throw rolls?
Basically, yes. If there's nothing at stake and no chance of failure, there's no reason to roll.
 

payn

Legend
There was a time where I would, as GM, stick to what was hardcoded in my mind. Like the fireball example, I might reason that there is no space for the evasion or save to happen or whatever. Although, I might have forced the coup de grace and/or encounter rules on stabbing a defenseless PC/NPC. I played it by feel.

Then, as a player I was in a group with an old schooler (older than me!). This guy was always coming up with stuff to force on the PCs. Got feared? "Yeap, that PC runs straight into a raging river which will likely kill them by drowning...no exceptions...I said no exceptions!" Got grappled? "Oh yeah you toss your weapon at least 30 ft during the grapple. Yes, that is correct over the edge of the bridge and into the 1000 ft ravine...no exceptions!" He always had the absolute worst interpretation of the rules and he wasnt even the GM. Yes, he was saying these things from the player seat to the GM running the game... 🤦‍♂️

I realized how unfun it was to play with this guy. His interpretations always screwed the PCs hard (well he always clammed up when it was his turn of course). It occurred to me that its better to stretch my imagination a little and let the PCs be awesome and have fun than to hardcode reality into the game.

As for attacks, damage, and saving throws, what is the context? Why is a PC tied up and defenseless? Why is an NPC stabbing them? Sadistically hurting a character? Thats not likely something I'm gonna put in my games. Now, there might be an elaborate encounter where the PCs have to stop a madman from hurting their companion. Thats gonna be a series of checks and such that gives everyone a chance. As much as I love the PCs being awesome, they can still fail and face consequences and death. Though, they will always get a fair chance.

So, my answer hasnt really changed over the years, I still do it by feel. Though my adjudication of the rules and fiction scale has slid over into a slightly more lenient space that encourages better fiction and fun. Obviously, subjective and going to be different at different tables.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Is it appropriate for the GM to have an attack roll or saving throw automatically succeed or fail without a roll, or have damage rolls be ignored in favor of other effects such as an instant kill? If so, under what circumstances? if not, how do you deal with certain corner cases? We discuss how GMs call for ability checks/skill rolls or not, and how that's is just part of the way the GM's adjudication works in play. Do you think the same principle applies to the other kinds of rolls made?
If someone is tied up and helpless and a player announces that his PC is going to kill that person, there's no roll to hit or damage. The bound person just dies.
For example, let's say that the PC rogue assassin has crept into a sleeping target's chamber. The assassin pulls out a knife and slits the target's throat while they sleep. What happens? Do you say the target dies regardless of how many hit points they have? Do you have the player roll damage (as a crit or not)? Do you force the player to roll to hit? What happens if the tables are turned and the PC is the target?
The PC rolls per the assassination rules. The reason is that the sleeping person could hear what is happening and wake just prior to the attack and not be completely helpless, just royally screwed. The bound guy above has no such way out.
What if a character is in a 10' square chamber with no furnishing or other places to duck behind and an enemy caster launches a fireball into the room? Should the PC get a Dex save even though in the fiction there is no way to avoid the blast? Do they get disadvantage? What if the tables were turned?
Luck and divine grace are part of hit points. Maybe he just got lucky and didn't get burned as badly. I'd still give him a save. I don't give helpless people saves, though. That bound guy in the chair takes full fire damage. And yes, I know that technically he could get lucky or divine grace, but I view being helpless as basically giving up your hit points.
What if an enemy had a conscious PC manacled to a wall and walked up and stabbed them with a dagger? Would they have to roll to hit? Again, what if the tables were turned?
For that I'd have him roll to hit with advantage, and if he hit it would be a crit. If he missed it would be a hit. The guy can wiggle a lot on those chains, so a clean kill or crit is not guaranteed, but still pretty easy.
 



GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Is it appropriate for the GM to have an attack roll or saving throw automatically succeed or fail without a roll,
A roll without a roll? This is a standard contradiction.

or have damage rolls be ignored in favor of other effects such as an instant kill? If so, under what circumstances? if not, how do you deal with certain corner cases?
The basic rules call for the DM to describe the outcome of player suggestions. The DM can then call for a roll if there is uncertainty.

For example, let's say that the PC rogue assassin has crept into a sleeping target's chamber. The assassin pulls out a knife and slits the target's throat while they sleep. What happens?
Most people die once their throats are slit. And the PC is showered with XP.

Do you say the target dies regardless of how many hit points they have?
Hit points are used in the combat subsystem. Does this midnight murder involve a combat?

What if a character is in a 10' square chamber with no furnishing or other places to duck behind and an enemy caster launches a fireball into the room? Should the PC get a Dex save even though in the fiction there is no way to avoid the blast? Do they get disadvantage? What if the tables were turned?
A dexterity "saving" throw seems to assume that the PC can be "saved." Further, the point of a Saving Throw is to follow the magic spell's Saving Throw rule: probably that a target takes only half damage from the spell. If you're concerned with the Damage, go ahead and call for a save. Otherwise, stick to the fiction.

What if an enemy had a conscious PC manacled to a wall and walked up and stabbed them with a dagger? Would they have to roll to hit? Again, what if the tables were turned?
I'm seeing a recurring question here. Which is: what am I, as DM, allowed by the rules to do? To me, the question should be: how many rules must I follow to keep the players happy?
 

Archlogus

Villager
A comment in another thread got me thinking and I am curious:

Is it appropriate for the GM to have an attack roll or saving throw automatically succeed or fail without a roll, or have damage rolls be ignored in favor of other effects such as an instant kill? If so, under what circumstances? if not, how do you deal with certain corner cases? We discuss how GMs call for ability checks/skill rolls or not, and how that's is just part of the way the GM's adjudication works in play. Do you think the same principle applies to the other kinds of rolls made?

For example, let's say that the PC rogue assassin has crept into a sleeping target's chamber. The assassin pulls out a knife and slits the target's throat while they sleep. What happens? Do you say the target dies regardless of how many hit points they have? Do you have the player roll damage (as a crit or not)? Do you force the player to roll to hit? What happens if the tables are turned and the PC is the target?

What if a character is in a 10' square chamber with no furnishing or other places to duck behind and an enemy caster launches a fireball into the room? Should the PC get a Dex save even though in the fiction there is no way to avoid the blast? Do they get disadvantage? What if the tables were turned?

What if an enemy had a conscious PC manacled to a wall and walked up and stabbed them with a dagger? Would they have to roll to hit? Again, what if the tables were turned?

For ability checks, the guideline is to follow the fiction and determine whether there is uncertainty in the outcome. I so, a roll (of some sort) is called for. Does this extend to attack, damage and saving throw rolls?
In other editions instant death spells, abilities etc were common place... They all but vanquished instant death spells from 5e, maybe not saying much but maybe they make that decision with reason (as monsters are bound to be able to utilize such spells more often if not more effective lively than players, if only due go frequency and numbers)... But that is not to say an instant death situation is not appropriate for your campaign... After all if a level one player jumps from 300ft cliff, well bye... So instant death is surely part of the game...

That being said ,let us look at what the game provides by way of rules already:
(i)players always get their passive perception as a note (maybe at disadvantage but in that case even allowing a skill Check (and a roll for AC, incapacitated is like the worst condition) is allowing the player a chance... As opposed to them just well dying...
(ii) death from massive damage rules would really be where it is at... It is based on the CURRENT BP so one would have to deal DOUBLE a creatures MAX HP at full health (notice that instant killing a level one commoner is easyish)... Note, if your assassin is incapable of dealing this much damage in one blow, well then, let the player fight it out... Also if a player drops to 0 then all the assassin may need is an extra blow...

As a note, in a case where we are talking about the death of a player then auto success in favor of the outcome "death for player" would be inappropriate as far as I am concerned... Hope this helps.
 

It depends on the game style, but it can be. I had a jackwagon player back in 1E put his throat against a loaded crossbow because "the damage can't kill him;" he was surprised when he died. Back then, you could just have your throat slit while under a Sleep spell, so obviously a character who deliberately exposed his throat to an attack would suffer the same. I also had a player autofail a Fireball that he cast in a 10x10 room (yes, he died too). Before 3E tried to codify what happens when you're completely vulnerable, the idea that there were some things you couldn't escape with a die roll was widely accepted (if not particularly enjoyed). Later editions took away this idea, putting lots of mechanics in the way of logic, but the DM is still given a lot of leeway when it comes to modifiers.
 

aco175

Legend
Somehow he got out. Made his save vs. laser and avoided the crit while in shackles. I let the PCs have a roll to do spectacular. And I would grant inspiration to the funny witticism.

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It depends, really. Does rolling add anything to help you succeed?

Is the monster's health less than or equal to your minimum damage? Then it goes squish if you hit. Don't bother with damage. Is your target bound up, helpless, or otherwise unable to defend themselves? Then you hit, just go ahead and roll damage. Is your skill bonus so high that even on a 1 you pass the DC? Then just go ahead and do your action.

The only time I really skip saving throws is when I GM. If I know that the fireball is going to kill the monster, even if they make their saving throw, then I will just skip it and start removing baddies from the field.
 

RuinousPowers

Adventurer
I wouldn't do instakill or HP bypassing lethal attacks vs characters. HP represent the heroicness of the character, that touch of skill or destiny that sets them apart. A drop of the assassin's sweat awakens the character at the last moment, the character's clothing protects them from the flame, and I would never manacle a PC to the wall and stab them, because I'm not playing Hostel: the RPG.
 

Oofta

Legend
A comment in another thread got me thinking and I am curious:

Is it appropriate for the GM to have an attack roll or saving throw automatically succeed or fail without a roll, or have damage rolls be ignored in favor of other effects such as an instant kill? If so, under what circumstances? if not, how do you deal with certain corner cases? We discuss how GMs call for ability checks/skill rolls or not, and how that's is just part of the way the GM's adjudication works in play. Do you think the same principle applies to the other kinds of rolls made?

For example, let's say that the PC rogue assassin has crept into a sleeping target's chamber. The assassin pulls out a knife and slits the target's throat while they sleep. What happens? Do you say the target dies regardless of how many hit points they have? Do you have the player roll damage (as a crit or not)? Do you force the player to roll to hit? What happens if the tables are turned and the PC is the target?
The target can always roll over in their sleep, by sheer luck happen to wake up, or even just be a light sleeper that can effectively sense danger and so on. Odds are the assassin will still kill the target if they're unconscious. A 1 still misses, but a miss may not awaken the target.
What if a character is in a 10' square chamber with no furnishing or other places to duck behind and an enemy caster launches a fireball into the room? Should the PC get a Dex save even though in the fiction there is no way to avoid the blast? Do they get disadvantage? What if the tables were turned?
Saves vs fireball are always a bit wonky, aren't they? You don't ever get a free move out of the area of effect so I assume people do the Batman thing where a cape protects them from damage or they hide behind a shield, duck and cover.
What if an enemy had a conscious PC manacled to a wall and walked up and stabbed them with a dagger? Would they have to roll to hit? Again, what if the tables were turned?
The PC is restrained. That's all. If held down by more than just manacles I might consider them paralyzed so it's an automatic crit.
For ability checks, the guideline is to follow the fiction and determine whether there is uncertainty in the outcome. I so, a roll (of some sort) is called for. Does this extend to attack, damage and saving throw rolls?
You can always roll a 1 in my game. That will be a failure, whether you can try again will depend on some sort of check.

Last, but not least, whatever is good for the goose is good for the gander. PCs and NPCs follow exactly the same rules, the PCs don't get any metagame advantages.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
What is the story we at the table are telling? And do the game rules facilitate interesting twists and turns and compelling action for how the story progresses, or are they just wasting our time and blocking the advancement of the story for no other reason than "dem's da rulz!"?

If the story the PCs are playing is trying to silently break into a castle because McGuffin is taking place and they are there to try and stop it... I am more than happy to facilitate that story. Which means that we have pseudo-cut scenes of PCs sneaking up on lowly castle guards and snapping their necks and slicing their throats on their way inside towards the McGuffin taking place. Because dealing with the McGuffin is the story the players wish to engage with.

The story is not... "Try and gain Surprise on first guard they come to and hope they can do enough damage to kill the guard in that Surprise round because otherwise they now have to engage in a hand-to-hand melee combat with that guard over X numbers of rounds... while hoping the fight goes quickly and quietly enough so that it doesn't get heard by the next guard about 100 feet away. Then move up to the next guard and do the exact same thing again. And again. And again. Slowly inching their way through guard after guard after guard, hoping not to be heard... because if it does get heard (because I roll a Perception check for that guard), then that guard joins the battle and causes enough ruckus to alert three other guards... who then alert other guards in the castle and so forth until eventually the story is 'Party gets into massive fight against the entire castle guard at the gates of the castle and they never actually get to the McGuffin because they either are killed, retreat, or wasted so much time in an endless battle with the entirety of the castle that the folks at the McGuffin sped up their timetable to get it taken care of before the party was able to reach them.'"

One of these is fun. The other is getting stuck doing endless trash pulls. (In my opinion of course.)
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Basically, much of D&D mechanically is about resource attrition. If there isn't going to be any (or meaningful) attrition, speed play and just narrate.

One DMing trick I picked up from another game is when the character rather exceed the task do no rolling but instead just do a quick montage going around the table and everyone highlighting one awesome thing their character did in resolving the issue.
 

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